UKOLN Interoperability Focus: Advisory Committee Meeting Minutes

Tuesday 14 March 2000


Ray Lester (Chair), Mary Auckland, David Dawson, Lorcan Dempsey, Nicholas Kingsley, Paul Miller, Mary Rowlatt, Bruce Royan, Dick Sargent, Geoff Smith (for David Bradbury), Matthew Stiff (for Louise Smith), David Thomas.

Simon Jennings (in attendance)

1. Welcome and Introductions

Mary Auckland of The London Institute was thanked for making facilities available for this meeting.

Matthew Evans, the new Chair of Resource who had been invited to attend this meeting, sent apologies.

2. Minutes of Last Meeting

The minutes of the meeting of 18 November 1999 were accepted.

3. Cross-sector concerns

It had been intended to devote this agenda item to some of the sector-spanning concerns of this committee, with a view to informing Matthew Evans in formulating Resource's agenda for action. Despite Lord Evans' unavailability, the Committee felt it useful to discuss some of the issues. Committee members Mary Auckland (for Higher Education), David Dawson (for Museums), Mary Rowlatt (for Public Libraries), and David Thomas (for Archives) had previously agreed to speak briefly from their perspectives.

Higher Education

Speaking for JISC, with its new remit across both Further and Higher Education in the UK, Mary Auckland outlined efforts currently underway to build the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER). The DNER concept encompasses a vision to create a managed environment for accessing quality-assured resources on the Internet. It seems unlikely, though, that the DNER will ever be a thing that is actually launched; rather, it is a vision encompassing many interlocking components including the JANET network, the Data Centres, a range of purchased, created, and brokered content, resource delivery and discovery services, and an element of research and development.

Mary flagged a number of issues for the DNER that relate directly to current and future work for the Interoperability Focus. These include the DNER's need to facilitate integrated, seamless and flexible user-focussed searches across a wide range of resources; the subsequent need to find effective means (metadata?) of describing content; a need to remember that in developing solutions for the DNER, JISC should not seek to isolate FE and HE; the need for internationalisation of content and technical solutions; and a requirement that any solution developed today should be future-proofed as much as possible.


Speaking for the outgoing Museums and Galleries Commission (MGC), David Dawson discussed some of the steps currently underway in museums. Within this sector, the 24 Hour Museum ( is increasingly being seen as the 'public face of museums'. Behind the scenes, the MGC Cornucopia ( database is being expanded beyond its pilot phase, with a view to becoming an extremely rich professional source. The initial pilot saw 50 collections of national significance recorded, and this is being supplemented at present with data from the South West region. Over the next 12 months, the content within Cornucopia is expected to be extended nationally.

Ongoing MGC funding is facilitating the conversion of FENSCORE ( into a web-enabled Z39.50 database. Here, and with similar work possible for Cornucopia, there is the possibility of linking to other national Z39.50-enabled resources, such as English Heritage's database of excavations, held by the Archaeology Data Service (

Two significant funds are being managed by MGC in this area at present; the £500,000 IT Challenge Fund allocated grants to 11 projects in the latest round, and there is a significant IT component to the £15,000,000 made available to 50 designated museums over the next three years.

David identified practical digital preservation as an ongoing challenge for the sector, and also pointed to the need for sound, widely applied, standards for the creation of digital content.

Public Libraries

Mary Rowlatt discussed a number of issues facing the public library sector. She suggested that for this sector, at least, the current big issues were less advanced than the 'join up' discussions around interoperability. Rather, she explained that public libraries are still grappling with putting the basic building blocks in place. Without these, there will be nothing to interoperate with/from. Nevertheless, Mary stressed the need to plan for an interoperable future, even at this early stage. She pointed, particularly, to the lack of tools such as thesauri to aid the public library user, and to the lack of awareness of issues such as good metadata practice.

Whilst there is a strong drive, at a political level, towards a Joined Up approach (as evidenced by the formation of Resource, for example), Mary suggested that it remains unclear how to do this for real at a local level or, indeed, where this is actually happening.


Speaking from the perspective of the PRO, David Thomas outlined the four major online archival projects currently underway within the UK.

These comprise the Scottish Archive Network ( ?), the Welsh Archive Network bid currently before HLF, the JISC Archive Hub (, and the Treasury-funded A2A network ( which will provide access to those English archives outside the Higher Education community.

All of the projects utilise ISAD(G) (, and most mark their text up using EAD ( The Archives Hub utilises Z39.50.

4. Discussion

A question was raised as to whether or not a cross-sectoral forum existed for discussion of technical issues. Whilst there were a number of places in which such issues could be discussed, it did not appear that a single forum existed. Nor was it clear how useful such a forum might be, were it formed, due to the size and complexity of both the problem and the audience.

Given the number of large-scale initiatives underway, there was some discussion as to whom we should be trying to influence; Resource? IAGC? the general user? NOF?... ? There was no clear answer to this question, but it also raised issues as to the extent to which such initiatives should be 'allowed' to reinvent wheels and remake mistakes from the past. There is clearly a need to encourage such bodies to look around, to seek advice, and to learn from what has gone before.

There is also, possibly, a place for initiative-spanning infrastructural developments. NOF, for example, may not be able to justify an authentication system for its projects. However, it, the People's Network, and others arguably have a need for such a service. Where should such services be constructed, and who should pay?

5. News

The PRO has received money from the Treasury to facilitate the A2A archival network.

Lorcan Dempsey, Director of UKOLN, has been appointed Programme Director for JISC's new DNER Programme Office. He will be based at King's College in London.

JISC is about to initiate a review to aid development of its next 5 year strategy.

The Scottish Executive has launched the Digital Scotland initiative.

The British Library is tendering for a new Digital Library system. They are keen to explore the potential of Collection Level Description.

The Natural History Museum is appointing 2 new staff to create online Collection Level Descriptions for their collections of library, museum and archival material.

The Wolfson-funded Co-East project is now running, with the aim to explore issues similar to those addressed by the HE Clumps, but in a Public Library context.

mda are currently exploring the requirements for a third version of their SPECTRUM standard. As an initial phase, mda are working with CIMI to produce a DTD for the current version. This has some real applications, but also serves to clarify thinking within the current data model.

The 24 Hour Museum is to launch its Curriculum Navigator in May.

6. Date and Location of Next Meeting

The next meeting will be on Thursday 28 November 2000, beginning at 3pm. We will go out for dinner after the meeting.

The venue is the Church House Conference Centre in Westminster, London. We are using the same venue the following day for the Interoperability at the Coalface event.

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