A friendly welcome greeted all attendees at the meeting, as we “networked” over lunch. This set an informal tone for the meeting, the first time this group has met in Scotland, and stimulated advance interest in the various presentations.
Richard Battersby welcomed us to Edinburgh University Library and Moira Bent introduced the speakers.
Frank gave us some figures - Loughborough subscribes to over 6000 electronic journals and 200 databases. He aroused murmurs of agreement within the audience when he said he must justify the cost of these, and make sure they represent value for money. Promotion and training can help to some extent, but Loughborough’s other tool is MetaLib.
MetaLib is an information management system from Ex Libris; among similar products are DigitaLink (from epixtech), TalisPrism, Sirsi Rooms and ENCompass (from Endeavor). These products offer a single interface for simultaneous searching across diverse resources and a de-duplicated presentation of results.
MetaLib acts as a portal to all Loughborough’s databases, and uses the SFX link server to connect to other resources such as the library catalogue and e-journals. It operates within recognised standards for interoperability such as OpenURL and Z39.50. Loughborough has chosen to list cross-searchable and non-cross-searchable resources together, and limits a search to a maximum of 8 resources at one time. Authentication is not a problem as access is via the Library web pages or a user’s VLE user name and password. This allows specific log-ins for individual resources to be displayed if necessary by clicking the appropriate button on the Resources page. References retrieved can be downloaded into standard bibliographical software such as RefWorks. Frank was able to assure us that cataloguing of content is quite straightforward and done by data entry on a form. Configuration is however not so easy, and misunderstandings can arise between librarians and the supplier.
The pilot version of MetaLib received positive feedback at Loughborough, and resulted in greater use of the library. Some startling statistics aroused envy within the audience:
Frank was honest enough to admit that these figures cannot purely be taken at face value, but they were enough to impress many present.
Roddy’s analogy with movies gave a nice structure to his talk, as he started by setting the scene. EEVL (www.eevl.ac.uk) has been around since 1996, and is one of the 8 hubs in the Resource Discovery Network. It is a free service, available to all, but especially geared to those working or studying within the UK HE/FE community. Most of us present were probably familiar with EEVL as an Internet Resource Catalogue, but Roddy was able to remind us how much more it covers, e.g.:
I was especially struck by the fact that resources on EEVL have a much wider application than the academic community for whom they were originally intended. Some of the above services would be just as useful for practising engineers and lifelong learners, and people from all sectors of the community could find the Virtual Training Suite web tutorials on specific topics very helpful. There is a facility whereby the EEVL search box can be added to other sites, which would raise awareness of this as a resource.
The EEVL portal is based on the KISS principle – Keep It Simple Stupid, making navigation very straightforward. Roddy told us how they avoid “branding” as far as possible – results are grouped by type, rather than by name. No login is necessary for freely available information, but an Athens search facility is provided as a means of accessing a user’s institutional databases. The service is not intended as a substitute for an institutional portal but certainly can complement it as a “trusted broker” service. Future plans include the addition of more free content, more subscription databases, e-print archives, patents and standards. A new EEVL site is planned for December 2004, and Roddy is keen to solicit feedback, especially as future funding is not assured
Roddy’s film analogy gave us his conclusion: “EEVL – the sequel?”
John Blunden-Ellis was our next speaker, who managed not to be fazed by a pipe-band marching past the building during his talk! His subject was PSIgate (http://www.psigate.ac.uk/) – the Physical Sciences Information Gateway. This is another part of the Resource Discovery Network and a sister hub to EEVL. Subjects covered include astronomy, chemistry and earth sciences as well as physics, and it contains free access to selected Internet resources in these areas and more. The motto of the service is: “two clicks away from rich information”, and John was able to show us how the service fulfils this aim. The service was launched in 2001, and is constantly being developed and expanded especially to provide value added services. Like EEVL, it was designed for the higher education sector, but now includes resources for further education, and indeed, school pupils. There is also much to interest the practising scientist.
A search on PSIgate produces a list of “quality” catalogued resources from the Internet Resource Catalogue (IRC). At the same time, two other searches run concurrently, one of which acts as a harvesting tool, trawling the “Web Catalogue” within these catalogued sites to retrieve many more relevant hits. Currently John told us this means access to some 122,000 resources. The second concurrent search is of articles in the site’s bi-monthly science magazine, “Spotlight “. This contains unique and well-written articles on topical issues within the physical sciences, together with an image bank and references. Full text of the archive can be searched and viewed. Articles are commissioned from a science journalist, and the publication has received good reviews.
It is very easy from the site to click to a more appropriate search of external resources if applicable. Links provided include patent databases, Institute of Physics and Royal Society of Chemistry publications, and bibliographic databases. Other links in the “Showcase” part of the home page take you to Learning and Teaching resources, tutorials and other topics of interest to a wide range of users. A-Z browse headings seem to be a popular means of accessing information from the site. John told us that more people appear to search by these than by keywords – maybe something we should think about in relation to our library catalogues!
As in EEVL, current awareness is an important feature in the site – with newsfeeds from the BBC, Associated Press, New Scientist and others. There is also a Jobs section, together with a section of courses and research opportunities. One of the most popular areas of the site for student projects and schools (and for general interest) is the Science Timelines feature. This is one of the largest timelines on the Web, and is linked back to the Internet Resource Catalogue.
Analysis of usage statistics of PSIgate appear to suggest that the UK academic community is the highest user group, but there is also significant use by people in educational institutions in the USA. John and his colleagues are always looking at ways to enhance the service – they have brainstorming sessions every month for new ideas.
Future plans for the service include collaboration with UKOLN in the eBank project (http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/projects/ebank-uk/), to provide better access to eprints in UK academic institutions.
John gave us an overview of some of the current initiatives to provide useful linking to digital resources. He introduced the difficulties graphically by describing a library where threads joined certain of the books on the shelves; where as quickly as librarians pinned new ones, previous ones disappeared… One possible solution is the use of the OpenURL. This uses a “link resolver” to direct the user’s search to a range of specified targets. It avoids the scenario where you think you have found just the piece of information you need – but the final link frustratingly asks for a password. This can happen in a library even where a subscription is held for the publication – but the method of retrieval does not make this connection. The OpenURL aims to give users, as far as possible, what they want. John’s allusion to Harry Potter was particularly expressive here: where Dumbledore chose one of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans and discovered he had come up with – earwax. We all know the feeling! Edinburgh University Library has chosen ENCompass from Endeavor to perform this function, rather than SFX, as described by Frank, but it is not as yet fully operational.
CrossRef is an initiative of the publishing world to solve the problem. It uses the unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI) to label a digital document – whether a book or an article. A central directory links the URL and the DOI, and the DOI will always retrieve the item, even if the URL changes. Publishers realised librarians needed to link this method of retrieval with their own resources. CrossRef and the OpenURL now therefore work together, where CrossRef directs the DOI back to the local link resolver, and on to the library’s targeted databases.
John also mentioned the BALSA project (now called GetCopy) at EDINA, funded by JISC, also using the OpenURL standard. It aims to connect users to services to which they have the right of access, and direct the user to the appropriate copy using a “locate” button.
All the talks elicited interesting questions, and only time curtailed what could have developed into even more lively discussion. We look forward to Cranfield in November!