Rosemary Russell, with Tracy Gardner and Paul Miller, UKOLN
Version 0.1 - Draft - 22 July 1999
This document will form a section of the MIA Requirements Analysis Study being carried out by UKOLN under the MODELS project.
A hybrid information environment can be described as one where an appropriate range of heterogeneous information services is presented to the user in a consistent and integrated way via a single interface. It may include local and/or remote distributed services, both print and electronic. The environment will provide some or all of the following functions: discovery, location, request, delivery and use, regardless of the domain in which objects are held. Domains may include eg libraries, archives, museums, government. There may be dynamic configuration to reflect an individual user's interests (or a group's interests). The environment will depend on open systems and standard protocols.
The underlying software and protocols will be transparent to the user, who will normally be authenticated in order to provide some form of configured access. A user profile will therefore be maintained, together with information about access privileges. From a user's point of view, the seamless cross-searching of relevant services provided in a hybrid information environment is likely to greatly improve opportunities for finding desired resources (the system will direct searches to appropriate servers); it also eliminates the tedium of manually repeating searches in different services and the confusion of different user interfaces.
An organisational and technical framework is needed to manage the environment in a consistent way, so that the various players involved (systems providers, data providers, information managers etc) have a common understanding of the necessary components and the required standards for interworking. The MODELS Information Architecture (MIA) has been developing such a framework over the course of the MODELS workshops. One of the MIA outputs has been a common vocabulary for describing hybrid library and information system components, which has been adopted by a range of organisations internationally. The MODELS (MOving to Distributed Environments for Library Services) project originally had a specific 'library' focus; however it has increasingly widened its scope over several years to encompass other domains, as the benefits of cross-domain services become apparent.
The title of this study is of course linked to the hybrid library concept which has been developed in phase 3 of JISC's Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib). Here we are considering the same essential concept, although in a broader context. The eLib hybrid libraries being developed certainly aim to provide managed access to all the types of resources mentioned above, but naturally within a library environment (either physical or virtual). Of course if 'library' is understood in its widest possible sense, it can be taken to mean any collection of objects and thus 'hybrid library' is an all-inclusive term. However since some of the environments we wish to cover in this study may not immediately identify with this usage, we prefer to use the broader term 'hybrid information environment'.
There is a wide range of possible types of hybrid information environment. One type may wish to make their own information available to the public (eg the Natural History Museum or the British Library); another may aim to provide access to existing resources for a particular user community (eg the National Grid for Learning). In other cases the environment may be composed of a mixture of both owned and external resources (eg an academic library). A further variation is in the availability of access: BBC resources on the web may be freely available to all, whereas commercial services such as Swets require a subscription to access their electronic journals; another model could be the planned Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) which (for authenticated higher education users only) may offer free access to nationally or institutionally licenced materials, but require payment for eg delivery of specialist electronic documents. The latter model is likely to be increasingly common in an institutional environment.
These variations in service provision mean that very different service and business models may emerge for hybrid information environments. However all share a number of common features and components, which this study aims to explore.
The key aim of this study is to provide support for organisations and services which are developing various forms of hybrid information environment by helping them to specify their own particular requirements. The generic set of scenarios provided by the study will help managers planning service development to understand the components and issues that require consideration. The documentation aims to provide common ground for managers and technical experts to discuss issues. It should also enable managers to compare products from different vendors and validate technical solutions offered.
As a corollary the documentation should therefore additionally allow systems providers to analyse their products against the generic models described and plan their own development accordingly.
It should be stressed that the MIA architecture is necessarily generic and therefore aims to facilitate essential local planning stages and procedures, rather than providing a solution in itself.
By consulting representatives from diverse information environments and eliciting their specific requirements in the draft stages of the study, we hope to provide a framework and models which support essential functionality for hybrid information environments.
Current systems rely on proprietary protocols and it is not possible to simply plug in new data sources or new services. In the future it should be possible to buy a hybrid information system for one vendor and 'plug in' components from other vendors, or develop specialised components in-house. A forward-looking goal of this requirements analysis is to move a step closer to hybrid information systems with 'pluggable' components based on open standards.
The following section lists a set of high-level requirements for hybrid information environments; the aim is to be generic, although there may be an occasional more domain-specific requirement. The list is by no means exhaustive, but seeks to capture some of the essential elements.