JISC Information Environment Architecture

General FAQ


What is the JISC Information Environment?

The JISC Information Environment (JISC IE) is the set of networked services that allows people to discover, access, use and publish a wide variety of heterogeneous resources (bibliographic, full-text, image, video, geo-spatial, datasets, etc.) within the UK HE and FE community. The JISC IE technical architecture specifies the standards and protocols that provide interoperability between this network of services.

What is the DNER?

DNER stood for the Distributed National Electronic Resource - the forerunner of the JISC Information Environment. The DNER name is no longer used.

I already make my content available through my Web site. Why should I be interested in the JISC IE architecture?

The JISC IE architecture is an attempt to separate the provision of content from its presentation to the end-user. Currently, users have to learn to navigate lots of different Web sites in order to interact with lots of different collections of data. The JISC IE architecture supports the development of single points of contact to multiple sources of information. As a content provider, being part of the architecture should increase the visibility of your content by making it available to end-users through their prefered institutional or subject portal(s). Of course, some users may still want to use the rich, data-specific services that you offer through your Web site. Supporting the JISC IE architecture simply provides an additional route into your data and services.

So, if I support the JISC IE architecture, does that mean I don't need to worry about Web search engines?

No! In order to maximise the visibility of your content, think about how it will be found by Web search engines and other discovery services, as well as considering support for the JISC IE architcture. For example, if you make available some learning resources from your Web site, make sure that you put 'keywords' and 'description' meta tags in the Web pages associated with those resources. Make sure that key words appear at the top of those pages, and/or in their titles and headings. Register your page with appropriate search engines. Consider registering your resources directly with VLE suppliers such as Blackboard and WebCT.

Finally, think about supporting Z39.50 or, more likely, the OAI Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH), so that users can find your stuff through JISC IE portals.

Does implementing the JISC IE architecture mean that I have to give my content away for free?

No! You can control access to your data in exactly the same way you always have done - using usernames and passwords or IP-address checking for example. The JISC IE architecture provides a mechanism to expose your metadata records for searching and/or harvesting. You can choose to restrict access to your search or harvesting interface(s) if you wish. Alternatively, you can make your search or harvesting interfaces freely available but restrict access to the resources that people discover using those interfaces.

Why does Z39.50 feature in the JISC IE architecture? Isn't Z39.50 a bit dated as a technology?

It depends what you mean by dated? Yes, Z39.50 has been around a long time. One could argue that makes it tried and tested rather than dated :-) Furthermore, Z39.50 is still under active development. For example, the Bath Profile is maintained by the Bath Profile Maintenance Agency.

Most importantly though, at the time of writing, Z39.50 is the only serious candidate distributed search protocol in widespread use on the Internet.

Yes, but isn't Z39.50 only for libraries?

Z39.50 certainly has its roots in the library community. But it has been used elsewhere. For example, GILS is an example of the use of Z39.50 across many sectors and communities, including the government sector. Furthermore, the Bath Profile has a 'functional area' specifically addressing cross-domain issues.

Doesn't SOAP feature in the JISC IE architecture?

No, SOAP doesn't currently feature in the JISC IE architecture. But that is expected to change as the SOAP and SOAP-related standards develop. For example, there is currently an initiative, known as Search/Retrieve Web service (SRW), that is looking at implementing a subset of Z39.50 functionality over SOAP. As this activity progresses, SRW (or something like it) is expected to feature in new versions of the JISC IE architecture.

Is anyone testing for compliance with the JISC IE architecture?

No, not yet. There are some specific initiatives looking at Z39.50 compliance issues (Z-Interop) and compliance with the OAI-PMH but there is currently no central JISC IE activity that is checking for compliance.

If I want to make some content available within the JISC IE, I can either make it available for searching using Z39.50 or harvesting using OAI-PMH. How do I decide which of these options I should go for?

Good question... and not an easy one to answer! There are some practical considerations. If you don't want (or are not allowed) to give away your metadata, then make it available for searching using Z39.50. If you are happy to make your data available for harvesting, then implementing OAI may well be simpler - it is certainly a less complex protocol. With OAI is also easier to share multiple metadat formats, though you must be able to encode all the formats using XML, and have an appropriate XML schema available. You must also be able to offer a DC view of your metadata.