Discovery and Access: Standards and the Information Chain

A JISC seminar co-sponsored by the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP), the Publishers Association, and CrossRef.

Bonhill House, London, 7 December 2006

Publishers' Association logo
CrossRef logo

Introduction | Programme
Summary of the Seminar


Academic users want to easily discover relevant publications and then get access to them. Publishers, libraries, and other participants in the information chain all develop services to make this happen. Standards play a key role in discovery and access, enabling online services to work together and exchange metadata about publications. Standards like RSS, OAI, Z39.50, DOIs, and OpenURLs, ensure that metadata about publications is interoperable across the information chain, so in the end users can find out what's available and get access to it.

JISC has done much work to specify the standards needed to enable seamless discovery and access for the academic community and asks service providers to adopt these standards. JISC encourages publishers and libraries to work together on standards through the PALS Metadata and Interoperability working group and by funding the PALS programmes that explore innovative uses of standards. JISC organised this seminar so that stakeholders in the information chain could review the current use of standards and share views on how to move things forward in a collaborative way.

This is a brief summary of the seminar focusing on the stakeholder views presented - on the current use of standards and priorities for the future. Many other excellent presentations were given. The full programme and all presentations can be found on the seminar web site

After the seminar, members of the PALS Metadata and Interoperability working group met briefly to discuss the seminar and suggest some areas where further work may be needed. These suggestions are included at the end of this summary and will be discussed more fully with JISC. Announcements will be made in due course about any resulting initiatives.

Stakeholder Perspectives


Mark Bide introduced and moderated the seminar. He explained that the purpose of the seminar was to:

To provide a context for the seminar, he presented a model showing how libraries and publishers share metadata. As such a model didn't exist, he prepared a draft model with input from the speakers, and mapped standards that (some) publishers and libraries use to the different types of metadata. He found that metadata tends to flow from publisher to library, and there was some, but not a lot, of overlap in the standards that publishers and libraries use. Some of the reasons for this became apparent during the seminar.

JISC Perspective

Catherine Grout provided a context for the seminar focusing on the Information Environment (IE) JISC is creating for the academic community. The IE is a distributed infrastructure that delivers a wide range of diverse digital content to the academic community. It is a fundamental part of JISC's overall strategy and aims to enable seamless discovery, access, and use of resources for research and education regardless of their location. JISC has already managed the integration of libraries, repositories, and learning environments. Catherine noted some trends that will be important in shaping the future IE, e.g. web services and personalising the IE for users, e.g. blogs, wikis, and social bookmarking.

The IE has implications for participants in the academic information chain, to ensure that their content gets to users in a landscape where electronic resources compete for attention and quality resources are underused. JISC's approach is to work with online service providers in a collaborative way to enable seamless access for users, enabled by a common standards framework (both technical and semantic). The IE standards cover disclosure, search, and access management and include OAI-PMH, Z39.50, RSS, and OpenURL. The PALS Metadata and Interoperability programmes illustrate how JISC collaborates with publishers to explore how to use standards effectively, develop outputs like tools and guidelines for the community to use, plan events like this seminar to disseminate results, and develop a sense of common cause.

Library Perspective

Chris Awre gave a library perspective starting with a view of the standards that libraries use. Some are specific to libraries, like the classification schemes and cataloguing standards that manage collections and help users to find the information they need. They also use standards that originate in other communities, like XML, web services, and RSS. There are also standards that libraries develop that other communities use. He used examples to illustrate patterns in standards development and take-up, focusing on searching (Z39.50 and SRW/U) and linking (OpenURL). Some of the points he made were picked up by other speakers and delegates and are noted in the section on themes below.

He used a triangle to illustrate the interaction between publishers, libraries, and users on standards development. Traditionally the main interaction and data flow has been between libraries and users. More recently, libraries have facilitated the interaction between publishers and users, e.g. through OpenURL. He would like to see interaction on all sides of the triangle, a seamless flow throughout the information chain. For this to happen, libraries need to articulate exactly what they need in order to inform mutual standards development and adoption, and be more open to discussions with publishers about the standards used. He feels that publishers need to be more open to discussion and prepared to contribute to standards development that supports libraries (assisting users) in return for library involvement in areas where they have a more direct interest in (supply).

Publisher Perspective

Cliff Morgan presented a publisher perspective. Publishers are interested in standards that help their customers to do useful things, e.g. discover material, link to it, buy it, know what they can do with it, be kept up to date about it, assess its value, preserve it, etc. In each area he gave examples of standards in use, which ones publishers tend to use, and insights into why some standards have been more successful than others.

There's a cost involved in implementing standards, so publishers have to assess the standards available and decide which ones to use. There has to be something in it for the publisher, so they consider factors like the whether using the standard will generate more income, reduce costs, allow them to make a better product or service, or stimulate the market generally. They also need to think about the standard itself, so they can "back the right horse". As in horse racing, this means studying the formbook and considering issues like who's behind the standard and the likely take-up. Publishers also need to decide if they want to be a spectator (simply use the standard) or a participant (actively influence take-up). Effectively it's a risk analysis.

Some standards are no-brainers and become well established, e.g. ISBN/ISSN, CrossRef, and COUNTER. Some take longer to get established than others. Some never get off the ground. Some standards compete. From the publisher perspective, they are always a compromise.

The Future

A panel representing different stakeholders gave their views on the future and the action they would like to see from their perspectives.


Ed Pentz noted that publishers and libraries have tended to use different standards because of their different goals. Now the focus is on access and efficiently exchanging content, product, trading, and licensing data, so collaboration is essential. His recommendations for the future include:


When the Internet came along, some people thought this would be an opportunity to rethink the supply chain between author and user and get rid of the intermediaries. Ramon Schrama argued that what we really need is supply chain integration - more seamless exchange of data using appropriate standards. Currently agents exchange data with publishers and customers, tend to use different standards for each one, and proprietary interfaces make work for everyone. His priorities for the future are:


Hazel Woodward was encouraged that there's more collaboration on standards. Libraries should use standards to serve their users, and shouldn't be afraid to repurpose a standard to do so. She noted four priority areas for libraries:

Library Solutions Providers

Robert Bley gave an interesting presentation on Electronic Resource Management systems (ERMs), tools that will allow libraries to manage electronic resources in accordance with their business and licence terms according to the DLF ERM standard. He stressed that interoperability with ERMs will be vital for all players in the information chain, including publishers. At the top of his standards wish list were:

  1. ONIX for Licensing Terms - To tell users what they can/not do and ensure compliance
  2. SUSHI - To enable evidence-based librarianship
  3. Acquisitions - A set of standard structures to encapsulate elements relevant to an acquisitions transaction - order record, invoice record, and vendor information.

Key Standards for the Future

At the end of the discussion session, each panel member was asked to say which standard they thought would be most important for the future:

Recurring Themes

Throughout the seminar there were themes and issues mentioned in the presentations and picked up in the discussion. Below is a selection of some of the recurring themes.

Gaps and Issues

One aim of the seminar was to identify gaps and issues, either in the standards that exist or in how they are implemented. The seminar suggests that there aren't many gaps in the standards that are needed, and where they exist there are initiatives under way to fill them. There do seem to be issues related to awareness of standards and their implementation. Below are some areas noted at the seminar.

Areas for More Work

After the seminar, members of the PALS Metadata and Interoperability working group present met briefly to discuss the seminar and suggest some areas where further work may be needed. The following suggestions will be discussed with the wider M&I group with a view to making some recommendations to JISC.

Stimulating Take-up of Standards

JISC is in a position to encourage publishers to adopt standards, and the carrot and stick approaches were mentioned during the seminar. JISC Collections uses a "stick" by requiring publishers to comply with relevant standards as part of the JISC model licences. Programmes like PALS are carrots, as they offer incentives to work collaboratively on standards. Overall, members felt that the carrot approach could be more productive and new carrots could be considered, e.g. providing tools to make using standards easier, or giving a financial break to publishers who comply with standards. JISC Collections may need more input from publishers on the approach to take, and perhaps different approaches for large and small publishers.


Catherine noted that JISC is considering funding further work on standards. Overall the group felt that the bottom-up approach worked best, where publishers and libraries work together to develop solutions, and COUNTER is a useful model. Members also noted that even large publishers rarely fund R&D these days, and felt it was a shame that organisations like the BNB Research Fund no longer fund "think projects". The group thought it would be useful for JISC to do an open call for good ideas for a new "PALS 3" programme. Publishers/libraries could request seed funding to write up a good idea for collaborative work. This could be the basis for scoping out the programme and deciding how to roll it out.

Key Standards

Each of the stakeholder panellists nominated the standard they felt would be most important for the future from their perspective. The five standards nominated were author identifiers, online journal activation, SUSHI, ONIX for Licensing Terms, and SRW/U. JISC should consider practical projects related to these standards, perhaps as part of PALS 3.

Discussion Forum

A dialogue on standards is important, between publishers, and between publishers and libraries. In his presentation, Ed Pentz mentioned CrossTech, the new CrossRef blog on technical and standards issues. Catherine welcomed the fact that it would be open to librarians as well as publishers. JISC should also consider other forums for stimulating communication and debate.

Introduction | Programme
Summary of the Seminar

Content by: Shirley Keane of UKOLN.
Page last revised: 03-Jan-2007
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Seminar arranged by UKOLN UKOLN