UKOLN Interoperability Focus: Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes

Wednesday 17 March 1999


Ray Lester (Chair), David Bradbury, David Dawson, Lorcan Dempsey, Sue Howley, Paul Miller [PM], Mary Rowlatt, Chris Rusbridge, Rosemary Russell, Jane Ryder, Dick Sargent, Alicia Wise. Tracy Gardner (in attendance)


Richard Heseltine, Mary Auckland, Sonya Finnigan, Nicholas Kingsley, Carrol Lunau, Neil McLean, Pat Manson, Bill Moen, Judith Pearce, John Perkins, Bruce Royan, Louise Smith, Peter Smith, Richard Wellings

1. Welcome and Introductions

This first meeting of the Interoperability Focus Advisory Committee began with members introducing themselves and the broad range of communities from which they come; including libraries, archives and museums, and local, national, and international interests.

Ray Lester, Head of Library & Information Services at the Natural History Museum in London, was introduced as Chair of the Advisory Committee.

1.1 Introducing Interoperability Focus

Interoperability Focus itself was briefly introduced, drawing mainly upon information available on the web site. It was explained that the post is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) and the British Library Research & Innovation Centre (BLRIC — whose funding role is now fulfilled by the Library & Information Commission) for three years initially, beginning 1 January 1999.

The post arose from ongoing discussions at the MODELS 3 workshop and elsewhere, with a growing recognition that some form of support centre was needed to offer advice on the issues emerging as (primarily library) services became increasingly distributed and inter-linked. A study proposed a National Agency for Resource Discovery (NARD) to meet this need, with funding ultimately made available to set up the single Interoperability Focus post.

Interoperability Focus is based within UKOLN and is able to capitalise upon a wealth of existing experience and work within the organisation, including the MODELS workshop series and work on metadata, public libraries and distributed library issues. Interoperability Focus will, increasingly, work closely with other UKOLN staff to move a number of these issues forward.

Paul is physically housed within Academic Services at the University of Hull, and thanks are due to Richard Heseltine and the university for their continuing hospitality.

1.2 Preparation for meetings

There was some discussion as to the manner in which documents were disseminated in advance of the meeting (by means of an e-mail alert pointing to pages on the web). It was AGREED that this method should continue, so long as the e-mail messages were sent out in a timely fashion [ACTION: PM].

Members AGREED to visit the web site for meeting papers [ACTION: ALL], but asked that some spare copies on paper be available at meetings [ACTION: PM].

Members who find this method of information dissemination especially inconvenient should contact Paul and ask him to send them paper copies in advance of meetings [ACTION].

2 Advisory Committee Terms of Reference

The terms of reference were reviewed and broadly endorsed. It was recognised that they are broad in nature, and it was suggested that they — and Interoperability Focus — perhaps needed a more clearly expressed context or over-arching goal [ACTION: PM].

The Chair stressed the interactive and participatory nature of the Committee, both within and between meetings. He asked that members raise relevant issues, and make use of Interoperability Focus and the mailing list both to disseminate their own findings and to seek information [ACTION: ALL].

3 Interoperability Focus Work Plan

The draft Interoperability Focus work plan was discussed.

3.1 Scope of 'interoperability'

There was some discussion as to what 'interoperability' actually meant in the context of Interoperability Focus and the Advisory Committee. Paul pointed to the introductory flier on Interoperability Focus (tabled, and available on line) with its notion of technical, semantic, political/human, inter-community and international interoperability, all of which are recognised as important. It was suggested that a 'strap line' on the Interoperability Focus web site might help to explain the function of this post, and proposals for this strap line are welcomed [ACTION: ALL]

It was stressed that, although the draft work plan appeared technical, and focused to some extent upon work with Z39.50, this was not the sole area of work for the Focus, and was due to the need to devote time and effort to a number of significant international Z39.50 initiatives of importance to the UK community. With time, the work of the Focus would become more balanced, including development and promotion of a range of standards as well as demonstrating the benefits of interoperable working in a wide variety of ways.

It was pointed out that resources of value exist outside the Higher Education Community, and that efforts should be made in working towards linking Higher Education's Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) with initiatives such as the New Library, National Grid for Learning, National Electronic Library for Health and University for Industry. Interoperability Focus should also aim for a 'user-centred' rather than 'resource' or 'service' centred view of the resulting network, stressing the need to facilitate meaningful access and re-use.

3.2 Make-up of committee

Following on from discussion of Z39.50 in the work plan, concerns were aired as to the membership of the committee, with some members expressing concern that discussions might be too technical. It was stressed that committee meetings were not intended as a discussion forum for the minutiae of individual technical standards, but rather that they would attempt to take a broad view of issues related to building interoperable services and moving Interoperability Focus forward in ways of value to the community.

With discussion of important services outside the Higher Education community, there was talk of extending the membership of this committee accordingly. The Library & Information Commission were felt to adequately represent the needs of the New Library, but invitations were subsequently extended to the Department for Education and Employment (DfEE — representing the National Grid for Learning) and the Public Record Office. Responses are pending.

3.3 Mapping the Information Landscape

Work on providing a map to the Information Landscape outlined in the Work Plan was widely endorsed, with members stressing the importance of this effort.

The scope of this document was defined as identifying the major content resources and the infrastructure currently or potentially used to supply them to user communities.

A timetable for production was agreed, with a list of projects/services/areas to review available for comment by the end of April [ACTION: PM], and a finished document available for member comments as early as 1 June [ACTION: PM].

3.4 Towards a core attribute set

The difficulties currently faced by a number of eLib Phase III projects in connecting Z39.50-enabled catalogues from different vendors were introduced. The problems these projects face are widely applicable, and likely to occur elsewhere within the Higher Education sector as the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) emerges, as well as outwith HE where the will exists to begin linking resources in a similar fashion.

A possible solution was presented in the form of ongoing work towards an international 'Z39.50 Interoperability Profile', building upon MODELS work in the UK and related initiatives world-wide. Several committee members are involved in this effort, which hopes to build directly upon the Texas Libraries Profile currently being finalised by Bill Moen.

It is hoped that a finished document might be available soon, and that the profile might be tested on several UK services relatively quickly.

3.5 Models Information Architecture and User Requirements

A proposal to capitalise on existing UKOLN effort in defining the MODELS Information Architecture (MIA) was discussed. This work would attempt to relate the MIA to existing services in order to identify generalisable components of apparently very different interfaces and resources. It was suggested that the work could provide a basis for the MODELS 10 workshop later in 1999. [ACTION: UKOLN]

4 Communication

The Chair asked that regular bulletins be sent to committee members, keeping them in touch with Focus activities.

A message will be sent to the mailing list each month [ACTION: PM], and committee members are asked to provide feedback on the usefulness of the information provided in this form [ACTION: ALL].

A version of this posting will also be made available to all via the web site.

5 Date and Location of Next Meeting

The next meeting will be on Wednesday 14 July 1999, beginning at 2pm. The venue is the Panizzi Room at the British Library's St. Pancras site in London. Many thanks to David Bradbury at the British Library for making this room available to us.

Items are invited for this meeting's agenda.