USTLG Summer 1999 meeting – Web issues in Science and Technology

Thursday 10th June 1999, University College London


Report by Joan Drage and Keith Daniels, University of Luton

Introduction to Molecular Biology Information Sources
Frank Norman, National Institute of Medical Research

Frank’s talk focused on accessing information on genomes through the Internet. He defined a genome as “a blueprint for structure and molecular activity of an individual organism from conception to death”.

This area of research is fundamental to all areas of research within the life sciences. Though the Human Genome Project began in 1990 with the intention of identifying every gene present, and the sequence of human DNA, genome projects are now focusing on other plant and animal species. Frank then looked at the composition of genomes, giving examples of genetic maps and sequence data. He looked at the structure and function of proteins, explaining that functional genomics is a new area of work which is just beginning to have an impact.

There are a growing number of information providers and databanks available on the Internet giving access to useful links on genome information. At present, most of this information is freely available.

Information providers include the National Center For Biotechnology Information in the United States, Sanger and the Human Genome Mapping Project in the UK, and GenomeNet, from Japan. Available databanks include GenBank, EMBL, and Swiss-Prot, which provides links to other resources in Israel and Japan.

There are now numerous interfaces to genome information. These are listed on Lis-genome, on mailbase. Three of the main interfaces are Entrez, SRS, and DBGET. Entrez, produced by the National Center For Biotechnology Information offers a rich vein of links through a simple interface. SRS is harder to use than Entrez, but contains more resources. Produced by the European Bioinformatics Institute, SRS allows the searcher to look for specialised resources. DBGET is a Japanese site. It’s coverage includes nucleic acid and protein sequences, metabolic pathways, genetic diseases and gene catalogs. There are numerous less structured resources on genomics available on the Internet, including the Public Health Genetics Unit, and the Human Genome Organisation. Finally, Frank considered the ethical and legal issues surrounding the availability of patent information on the web.

New developments in Teaching and Learning on the web
Ian Winship, University of Northumbria at Newcastle

All the sites referred to by Ian can be found from

There are now a variety of web based resources available for teaching and Learning. During his presentation, Ian introduced the group to examples of these sites, which can be used both on campus, and by distance learners around the world. He also identified important issues which need consideration before such an approach is adopted.

A number of online textbooks can now be accessed on the web. Ian looked at three examples, “Introduction to microengineering”, by D.Banks, “Online biology book”, produced by Maricopa College, and “Industrial economics interactive textbook”, produced by Northumbria.

Whilst electronic textbooks can look attractive with links and diagrams, they are open to plagiarism.

There is also the issue of copyright with this type of resource. At some education institutions, academic staff are making their lecture notes available on the web server. This method could be a replacement for printed notes.

Another development is the mounting of part and complete courses on the web server, often interactive and multimedia in nature. There are now numerous examples of this approach. Examples of part courses include the Virtual frog dissection kit, produced by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the Virtual control laboratory (Edinburgh), and Anatomy of the Knee (Newcastle). Complete courses are now becoming increasingly prevalent on the web. Northumbria provide an MSc in contemporary computing which comprises lectures on the web, and in CD format. An MSc in Advanced microelectronics is available from Northumbria and Bolton, whilst web-based courses in CADCAM and Artificial Intelligence are provided by Western Ontario and London respectively. With these approaches, the results are often impressive, but such multimedia presentations take considerable time to prepare. Furthermore, the right software (eg. Internet Explorer) needs to be available to those who need to access the information. This can be a problem for distance learners around the world.

Courses based on the web need to provide support, as well as courseware delivery. The SALMON site at the University of Plymouth provides study skills and tips on dealing with stress. The issue of student communication on web-based courses can be approached in various ways, through bulletin boards, videoconferencing, the Netskills training programme, and online chat (eg. Yahoo, MOOs).

There is increasing interest in the issue of course assessment on the web. Some institutions are putting multiple choice questions on their pages. Examples of this approach are CASTLE (Leicester), Test and Learn (Bristol), and Chemistry tests (Sunderland).

Finally, software is being designed to pull all of these strands together. Leeds University have developed the Nathan Bodington building. This is a virtual reality representation whereby the user is “walked round” an entire course. This is an effective method of coping with large student numbers.

Linda Kerr : EEVL (Edinburgh Engineering Virtual Library)

Linda spoke briefly about developments at EEVL. The Resource Discovery Network aims to extend EEVL’s subject coverage., with new gateways in the Physical Sciences and Humanities. EEVL has also introduced a new search service for engineering libraries, EASIER. Details can be found on the EEVL website at

Web of Science and the JIBS User Group
Marion Tattersall, (Sheffield University)

Marion Tattersall’s slides are available at

Marion is a member of the JIBS User Group committee and she began her talk by explaining what Jibs is. The acronym is derived from JIsc (assisted) Bibliographic dataserviceS and the JIBS UserGroup is concerned with those data services which are made available through bodies such as JISC and CHEST. It superseded the BIDS User Group n 1995 and works with the following providers : AHDS, ATHENS, BIDS, CHEST, COPAC,EDINA, IBSS, MIMAS (formerly MIDAS), NISS BIOMED.

JIBS is about to launch two subject groups in order to bring together the end users and the providers of the data services available to the higher education community. What these subject groups could do is open to suggestions from users but it is possible that meetings could concentrate on specific databases, for example, Inspec. The groups might also have a role in making submissions to CHEST, JISC etc.

The first two subject groups to be set up are to be ‘Biomedical’ and ‘Engineering and Physical’. Marion stressed that meetings should not consist of presentations by providers but should involve discussion and questions by the users.

ISI Web of Science

The present contract for the provision of the ISI Citation Indexes to Higher Education institutions through BIDS will end in 2000 and be replaced by ISI Web of Science, which will be hosted by MIMAS, with support from JRULM and MMU. The new service will commence on 1st September 1999 although BIDS will continue to provide the ISI indexes until July 2000. The new subscription will not be payable until 1st April 2000.

There are several issues worrying librarians : whether to subscribe and when to launch, how to explain the changes to library staff and users, will the inclusion of the word science in the WOS confuse those searching for arts and humanities articles, how to retrain the end users. In many academics’ minds, the name BIDS is synonymous with the ISI citation indexes so there is likely to be confusion there, and lack of ‘take-up’ of the new service.

After Marion had given her talk there were some lively questions and comments. Sean Dunne from MIMAS was on hand to explain that there would be meetings and training sessions set up during the summer months this year and that there would also be training materials available to download (using Powerpoint). There would be printed guides, both general introductions and subject specific guides. On the question of access to the full text of articles, ISI has not yet made an agreement with Ingenta. Eventually there will be chest-wos list on Mailbase.

Accessing standards information
Mark Hurn – BSI

This presentation by Mark Hurn, a technical librarian at BSI, was held over from the previous USTLG meeting at Coventry. He began by giving a few definitions of a standard including that of a document established by consensus. The committees which draw up standards take their membership from industry but also include others with an interest in that subject. We need standards for the economy and efficiency achieved by standardisation, but also for health and safety reasons and to facilitate international trade. Types of standard include national eg. BS, DIN, ANSI; regional eg . EN (European) and GS (Gulf standards); International eg.ISO; industrial eg. IEEE; military eg. DEF (Ministry of Defence) and company standards – BP, Ford and VW have their own standards. British Standards fall into the following categories : Specifications, Codes of Practice (less specific and more advisory), Methods of Test which are reports of tests, Glossaries, Drafts for Development (standards which are important enough to publish but over which full agreement has not yet been reached), and Published Documents which carry supplementary information. Mark outlined the various sources of information about standards including the BSI printed catalogues and handbooks and guides. Much is available via CD-ROM: Perinorm gives bibliographical information whilst full text British Standards are provided by Technical Indexes. All the major standards bodies now have their own web sites and the World Standards Services Network site gives links to all the standards. Some standards can be downloaded from the Internet as PDF files e.g SA (South Africa) standards and DEF.

It is not yet possible to download British Standards this way as BSIs service is still under development. It was disappointing that Mark was not able to demonstrate the BETA version or indicate when BSI would have this service ready to use. He ended his talk by saying that the hard copy of the BSI catalogue will no longer be automatically sent out to members next year, and there is no certainty that the printed catalogue will be continued for much longer.

On Line Databases
Moira Bent and Jenny Wylam, University of Newcastle (text of talk, supplied by MB/JW)

The use of online databases and mediated searching has arisen as an issue at Newcastle University Library, especially since the recent introduction of minimum charges for certain databases.

We are currently considering;

  • Whether we should be maintaining our subscriptions with these hosts,
  • To which databases should we be keeping a sub (if any)?
  • How should we be promoting them?
  • How should we charge for use?
  • Who should be carrying out the searches?
  • What are the alternatives?

29 responses were received in response to an email sent lis-scitech; it does seem to be an area of concern for many libraries at the moment.


Most libraries reported a decline in the use of mediated searches in recent years, especially with the increase in the number of databases that users can interrogate themselves. A small number of libraries are still running regular alerts (either for library staff and/or research groups), but people also want a way of assessing specialised databases that they might only use once or twice a year.

Those who are still carrying out mediated searches on a regular basis are mainly searching:

  • Chemical Abstracts (STN) – this still appears to be the most cost-effective method, the CD is not a viable substitute for the online version and there is discount from STN if a print subscriber

However, some people are making increasing use of the Crossfire databases, and are wondering whether they would be a possible alternative.

  • World Patent Index (Dialog) – still better than the various web sites that are currently being developed.

The main issues arising from the replies were;


Nearly all the replies were concerned about the increasing costs of maintaining accounts, especially with the recent introduction of minimum monthly charges, and whether they still offer value for money. A couple of institutions remarked that they felt Dialog were no longer interested in the academic market.

Many libraries have cancelled their account with Dialog already, and several others are considering cancelling their subscriptions. Other libraries are maintaining their accounts ‘just in case’, or “because it would seem strange to not have a sub to an online database”.


There was concern about the skills required to carry out mediated online searching efficiently and effectively. Many of us confessed to our skills being out of date. It was recognised that we do not carry out sufficient searches to remain experts in the different databases.

“I really could no longer describe myself as an expert in Dialog or STN, though I feel I ought to be.”

“Staff don’t feel confident about offering [mediated searches] given the low frequency of use”


With a couple of notable exceptions, most libraries are not actively promoting mediated online searching as a service, although many of us are still subscribing. This wasn’t an issue when the systems were ‘pay as you go’. There were some concerns that we should be promoting these services more.

“We ought to remind researchers that we do have access to more specialised databases, and that there is more to searching than ISI.”

There is also a view that maintaining mediated searching allows librarians to maintain control and keeps the profile of the librarians high.

It has been interesting to note that many of us have been maintaining our accounts ‘just in case’ we get a request to carry out a mediated search, or because it would feel ‘odd’ not to have at least one online subscription. Many libraries indicated that they would like to be able to drop some or all of these services, but really wanted to know whether they would be acting alone, or whether other libraries were intending to follow the same strategy.

Future options

So what are the possible options?

  1. Cancel all subscriptions and stop carrying out mediated online searches.
  2. Provide details of other intermediaries who can carry out mediated searching, e.g. BL SRIS
  3. Look for details of alternative end user databases.
  4. Review subscriptions and rationalise accounts – promote the smaller number of services we maintain more actively as a service to support research.
  5. Put pressure to bear re. a CHEST deal for Chem Abs. & World Patent Index
  • There has already been a message expressing interest in a CHEST deal for Chem Abs. Would it be worth responding to CHEST as a group?
  • Encyclopedia of Life Sciences

    The meeting closed with a demonstration of the online “Encyclopedia of Life Sciences” by representatives from Macmillan publishers. Details can be found at The Embyronic ELS will go live in september 1999. When complete, the encyclopedia will consist of 4,000 signed articles covering the whole of the life sciences, but with a special emphasis on Molecular and Cell biology. The product will be networkable, and will probably cost £2,000, and a further £300 per year for the updates.