UKOLN Interoperability Focus: Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes

Wednesday 14 July 1999


Ray Lester (Chair), Kerry Blinco [KB] (for Neil McLean), David Bradbury, David Dawson, Paul Miller, Mary Rowlatt, Chris Rusbridge, Rosemary Russell, Louise Smith, Peter Smith, Richard Wellings.
Tracy Gardner, Andy Powell [AP], Godfrey Rust (in attendance)


Mary Auckland, John Brown, Alice Colban, Lorcan Dempsey, Sonya Finnigan, Richard Heseltine, Sue Howley, Nicholas Kingsley, Carrol Lunau, Neil McLean, Pat Manson, Bill Moen, Judith Pearce, John Perkins, Bruce Royan, Jane Ryder, Dick Sargent, Ben Toth, Alicia Wise.

1. Welcome and Introductions

David Bradbury and Barbara Sullivan of the British Library were thanked for making their facilities available for this meeting.

Two new organizations are now represented on the Advisory Committee, addressing gaps in membership identified at the first meeting. John Brown from BECTa will represent the National Grid for Learning (NGfL), and Ben Toth from the National Health Service Executive will represent the National Electronic Library for Health (NELH), two important government-backed initiatives in the UK.

Kerry Blinco, visiting Europe for a meeting of the PRIDE project, was introduced, standing in for Neil McLean from Australia's Macquarie University. Godfrey Rust from the European <indecs> project, and Andy Powell and Tracy Gardner from UKOLN, in attendance for specific agenda items, were also welcomed.

Ray Lester led a short discussion on the purpose of Interoperability Focus and the Advisory Committee. It was AGREED as an objective that Interoperability Focus and the Committee existed to ensure that there was greater awareness and deployment of interoperable solutions than would have been the case if they had not existed.

2. Minutes of Last Meeting

The minutes of the meeting of 17 March 1999 were accepted.

3. Information Landscapes

A very rough draft of the information landscapes document outlined at the first meeting was presented and discussed. It was AGREED that the original scope had, perhaps, been a bit ambitious and that the target of a document such as this might usefully be more tightly defined.

It was suggested that the document could usefully be presented from a user perspective, allowing the reader to see clearly how various enabling technologies related to one another, and to the resources and users that they were involved in connecting.

It became clear that the principal role of the document should be seen as providing a 'map' of developments for members of the committee, in order that they might set future targets in a more informed manner. Effort could also be usefully expended in preparing a short and readable document suitable for decision makers, in which the main issues were outlined.

Elements of the mapping work have already been completed, in documents from Australia and the PRIDE project, as well as elsewhere. Kerry Blinco and Andy Powell agreed to supply copies of these documents [ACTION: KB & AP].

4. Models Information Architecture (MIA) Study

Rosemary Russell and Tracy Gardner outlined the background to the ongoing MODELS programme, and explained the way in which the MODELS Information Architecture (MIA) has evolved through several of the workshops.

The MIA has been developed over a number of years as a means of describing the key functions of hybrid information environments such as libraries, but is now being refined in order to play a part in the process of defining requirements for new systems. The vision for MIA includes, for example, its use by those intending to procure a new system in order to define what functionality they will actually require, and to communicate this to suppliers.

Work is currently underway on a requirements analysis document, and a consultation day is to be held during July at which representatives of established and developing services will be asked for their input.

The finished document will form a key input into a MODELS workshop to be held later this year.

In a wide-ranging discussion on this item, members of the committee explored the role which models such as this and that for <indecs> play, and their value in the real world. During this discussion, Godfrey Rust introduced elements of the <indecs> model, illustrating some of the differences and similarities between it and MIA, both in function and in solutions proposed. Tracy Gardner suggested that MIA and other models were not intended as direct reflections of practice in real world applications, but rather were useful in allowing system procurers, implementors and engineers to consider desired and actual functionality in a manner free from the constraints of particular real systems.

5. Collection Level Description

Andy Powell presented the work of a small working group looking at issues of Collection Level Descriptions, concentrating upon a recent draft document from the group.

This document, which effectively defines a 'Dublin Core for collection description', is being finalised at present, and comments are welcomed [ACTION: ALL]. The recommendations in the document form the basis of work being done on describing collections by two eLib projects, RIDING and AGORA. The PRIDE project is also likely to adopt the recommendations. An experimental service is currently offered via the ROADS software, in which the JISC Current Content Collection is described using recommendations from this document. The collection descriptions themselves need more work, but the principle is clearly demonstrated.

Related to this document, an eLib-funded supporting study into related practice is also currently available in draft, and is likely to be released soon. It and other resources are available from the UKOLN Collection Description pages at

UKOLN have also submitted a bid to the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) for a six month study into collection level description. The plan is to model collections at a higher level than done in current documents, and to devise a wholly new attribute set in the process; an attribute set which is hopefully similar to that laid down in the current draft. This new attribute set will be used to describe collections across a number of RSLP projects.

In discussion, Louise Smith and David Dawson both stressed the importance of this work outside the library sector, and highlighted the need for developments such as these to encompass as many interests as feasible.

Godfrey Rust remarked on the UK focus of the work, and reminded members of the importance of such standards evolving internationally. In this context, Kerry Blinco mentioned an ISO committee which will be exploring the 'Library Directory' standard, and which will be led from Australia. She offered to build bridges between the two bodies of work [ACTION: KB].

Chris Rusbridge asked why the collection description documents had not been widely circulated. Andy responded to say that notice of the drafts had been sent to mailing lists such as lis-elib, but that he was waiting for the document to move beyond draft status before marketing it more widely.

6. Towards a Distributed National Electronic Resource

Chris Rusbridge introduced JISC's vision of a Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER), noting that there was currently "extensive buy-in to the idea" within the higher education sector... largely because everyone seems to understand the concept in their own fashion.

The DNER model is intended to empower integrated access to JISC resources, wherever they or the user may be. The intention is to mitigate the problems currently presented to the user through the geographic distribution of resources; the user should neither need to know nor care that one data set they wish to search is in Edinburgh, whilst a second is in Colchester. Both resources should be equally visible, and available through a variety of interfaces such as those provided for the whole DNER, a particular subject or data type, or the user's home institution, as well as via the current data centre- and data set-specific interfaces.

The DNER has been discussed within JISC for some years, but there is now a clear desire to build something visible in the near future. To this end, a Request for Proposals is likely to be released this month in which established services can bid for key elements of infrastructural development which will enable them to participate. Further calls over the next six months will flesh out aspects of the DNER and its impact upon learning and teaching across the sector.

Interoperability Focus work with a group developing an International Interoperability Profile is to be funded sufficiently to enable the key group members to meet during August. This meeting will be held in Bath, and the results will be widely circulated. It is intended that the resulting Profile should form an important part of the infrastructure for the DNER.

7. News from Committee Members

7.1. SEAMLESS workshop

Mary Rowlatt invited committee members to register for a workshop of the SEAMLESS Project, to be held in London on 17 September. The workshop will look at issues related to the provision of community information to the citizen, and will explore some of the standards-based solutions being suggested for the delivery of community information from diverse distributed sources such as local and national government agencies [ACTION: ALL].

7.2. European Museums Information Institute

Louise Smith announced that a bid to establish a European Museums Information Institute, with which mda had been closely involved, had been successful. The Institute involves examining existing standards across Europe, and identifying areas of overlap and omission. The project will be managed by mda.

8. Any Other Business

8.1. Priorities for Interoperability Focus

There was some discussion of ways in which the large field within which Interoperability Focus operates might be prioritised in order to make best use of available resources. Further input on the setting of priorities, as well as thoughts on how they might best be realised, is welcomed [ACTION: ALL].

Mary Rowlatt stressed the importance of internationalisation, and of building bridges with projects and initiatives outside the UK. David Dawson identified the value of Interoperability Focus as a contact point between related sectors such as libraries and museums. Godfrey Rust, too, highlighted the international nature of many problems, as well as suggesting that the remit of Interoperability Focus and its Advisory Committee might usefully be more tightly defined in order to make it easier for external bodies to know whether or not to open dialogue. There was widespread AGREEMENT with this statement. David Bradbury highlighted the importance of raising awareness and delivering accessible information to a wider community. Ray Lester talked about the need for distilled information, and suggested that Interoperability Focus might usefully provide synopses of important events and initiatives of relevance to the community.

9. Date and Location of Next Meeting

Note change of start time

The next meeting will be on Thursday 18 November 1999, beginning at 12pm. A buffet lunch will be served during the meeting.

The venue is the Museums & Galleries Commission in London. Many thanks to David Dawson at the MGC for making these facilities available to us.

Items are invited for this meeting's agenda [ACTION: ALL].