Libraries building on-ramps to information superhighway


As a result of several projects that are uniting library resources and the latest information technology, researchers will soon be able to search bibliographies and on-line data bases much more quickly and easily-and plans are in the works to make some journals available to computer users who needn't be anywhere near a library.

The Distributed Library Initiative, or DLI, is a cooperative effort between the Libraries and Information Systems that had its beginnings in mid-1990. The goal by 1998 (five years after staffers developed a vision statement for DLI) is for members of the MIT community to be able to access, manipulate and store computerized information from any source in the world while sitting almost anywhere-a classroom, a laboratory, a dorm room or even an airplane. As well as library and IS staff, the MIT Press and researchers at MIT and other universities are working on projects to increase computer access to lists and journals traditionally found only on library shelves and in card catalogs.

One already-computerized tool that will soon be replaced is the Libraries' 10-year-old operating system, which includes the Barton terminals familiar to library patrons. MIT is a beta test site for the new system called Horizon, which will keep track of acquisitions, cataloguing and circulation. Plans call for Horizon to be fully operational before the start of the fall semester, according to Greg Anderson, the Libraries' associate director for systems and planning. Network Services has installed network wiring for every employee's desk in the Libraries, and most of the computers are being upgraded or replaced. "Essentially, we've been building this technological infrastructure," he noted.

With Horizon, library staff will be able to manage the libraries' collections more efficiently. For example, staff will be able to check in journal issues on-line and display them for users, Mr. Anderson said. And because it operates under the national Z39.50 client-server standard, it will allow easier searching of catalog information over the Internet between libraries at MIT and other universities, he added.

Another new resource is WILLOW (Washington Information Looker-upper Layered Over Windows), a bibliographic searching client being developed at MIT and the University of Washington. As part of a collaborative agreement, MIT agreed to program the Z39.50 component for WILLOW. Bill Cattey of DCNS integrated his Z39.50 program with WILLOW, which permits users to point willow at a variety of network-based resources. WILLOW is available through Athena, and work is underway to provide a dial-in version called WILCO.

MIT is involved in three other projects to make information available by computer. One, called TULIP (The University Licensing Program), is an effort headed by several universities and sponsored by Elsevier Science Publishers, a major producer of scientific journals. The pilot project now underway aims to make available on-line the bit-mapped images of Elsevier publications in the field of materials science. Along with investigators from TULIP universities (the University of California system, Cornell, Carnegie-Mellon, Virginia Polytech, Georgia Tech, and the Universities of Washington, Michigan and Tennessee), MIT is building a delivery system for TULIP data and is trying to learn how researchers access and use this data. As part of the trial, MIT is experimenting with two forms of access; Mosaic is a good browsing mechanism and WILLOW addresses the need for a search and discovery mechanism. Among the work completed at MIT is the programming of a very fast image browser that enables users to page through a journal very quickly.

TULIP raises some universal questions about how electronic information of all types will be managed, Mr. Anderson noted. Those involved in the project must deal with hardware requirements such as high-speed image servers and browsers, questions how journals should be stored and how users will search for and display them, and issues of open access and security. Balancing intellectual property protections and the libraries' goal of distributing information to the MIT community is an issue that planners in TULIP and the other DLI projects must also face, and MIT staff are working closely with the Intellectual Property Office as they go along. "It's a major discussion not just at MIT but at all institutions of higher education," he said.

In another effort, the MIT Press is getting ready to issue a new journal in electronic form only. The Chicago Journal of Theoretical Computer Science will be published more or less continuously, article by article, rather than having a collection of articles come out every few weeks or months as with printed journals. The call for papers will go out in the next few weeks, with the first article expected to be on line this summer, according to Janet Fisher, MIT Press' associate director of journals publishing.

Subscribers will be notified over the Internet via ListServ of new article titles, authors and abstracts, so subscribers can choose which articles they want to receive. Unlike most other electronic journals, there will be a charge for subscriptions, but MIT Press is hoping it will also be viewed as higher-quality than many of the more informal electronic journals now in existence. "We hope that with the name of MIT and MIT Press behind it, it'll be considered just as good as a print journal for academic credit and tenure consideration," Ms. Fisher said.

MIT Press publishes about 30 journal titles, none of them electronic, although an electronic almanac companion to its journal Leonardo, containing conference notifications, short reviews and other items, has been available since September, Ms. Fisher said.

Professor Jerome Saltzer of electrical engineering and computer science is also heading a research project called Library 2000, which focuses on putting images from MIT's computer science technical reports on line. Like the MIT Press initiative, Professor Saltzer's work involves several other universities, although it is not intended for practical application anytime soon. However, "it is not unreasonable to expect" that these documents could be available to everyone at MIT with a networked computer by the turn of the century, he said.

Professor Saltzer and others are exploring the technical and procedural requirements for each university to get its technical reports on-line (including scanning the images) and then sharing them. The goal is to have every page of the technical reports and theses available for searching. He has been working on the project since 1989, and he was the technical director of Project Athena prior to that. Since last fall, the work has had funding from the Department of Defense's Advanced Research Projects Agency, through the Corporation for National Research Initiatives.

Yet another recent high-tech addition to library resources is FirstSearch, a campus network service offering access to many other libraries' catalogues and data bases. The system, which has been operational for almost a year, lets users search through on-line catalogues of about 3,000 libraries and 34 bibliographic data bases containing records for perhaps 22 million items in a wide variety of academic disciplines, explained David Ferriero, MIT Libraries' associate director for public services.

In addition, the FirstSearch network access to 34 bibliographic data bases may enable the libraries eventually to replace many CD-ROM data bases used in libraries at MIT and elsewhere. The service is now one of the most commonly accessed services in Athena, Mr. Ferriero noted. By being able to track electronically what areas and publications that users look for, "it gives us the opportunity to rethink how we acquire materials," he added.

The rapid growth in information technology and the way it is transforming research, combined with the cooperative effort that these innovations are engendering, makes for a heady atmosphere in the Libraries these days. "It truly is an explosion," Mr. Anderson said. "It makes MIT an especially exciting place to be because of the expertise and knowledge around the Institute and the willingness of people to share."

A version of this
article appeared in the
May 11, 1994

issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume
38, Number
32).


Topics: Computer science and technology, Campus services

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