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What is ROADS

What is ROADS?

What does ROADS stand for?

ROADS stands for Resource Organisation And Discovery in Subject-based services

Who funds ROADS?

ROADS is funded by JISC:

via the eLib (Electronic Libraries) Programme:

What is the purpose of the ROADS project?

The ROADS project has several purposes:
  1. to produce a software package which can be used to set up subject-specific gateways
  2. to investigate methods of cross-searching and interoperability within and between gateways
  3. to participate in the development of standards for the indexing, cataloguing and searching of subject-specific resources

What does the software do?

The software allows you to set up a subject gateway. This is a Web-accessed database of records of resources, all of which are relevant to one particular subject area, such as medicine, chemistry, football etc. Each resource record consists of a number of fields e.g. the resource URL, title, a description, keywords. The gateway can be either searched or browsed by end-users. Resources can be located through the gateway at various levels of sub-topic, and/or sub-geography e.g. UK or World-based resources. The software looks after all the indexing of resources and other technical matters. In order to appreciate what such ROADS-based subject gateways can do and look like, take a look at the index of gateways that use the ROADS software:

What is the point? We have big search engines like Alta Vista and Lycos?

Yes, we do. But some of the problems with these are:
  1. You search them, and even with very specific terms, retrieve huge numbers of irrelevant results. Many of the resources are only tangentially associated with the search terms; most are of poor quality e.g. people's home pages that contain the terms you searched for.
  2. Related to the last comment - you are usually presented with a list of resources, with no meaningful, or independent description. How can you tell which resources are appropriate, even after reading whatever descriptions are available to you?
  3. Sites move, or go down; many links do not work. A good gateway should have automatic, frequent, link checking, so the end-user has confidence that when a resource is selected, he or she can access it.
  4. Slow. Lots of people, with a massive diversity of interests, searching one particular service at the same time.
Subject gateways seek to overcome these problems. All resources are checked and described by an independent cataloguer. Descriptions are meaningful. Keywords are appropriate for the end-users who want to locate such resources. Links are checked automatically by the gateway software.

How does the software work?

The software consists of a package of PERL modules, which you download (as a bundle) and install on your Web server. The software was developed via a "toolkit" philosophy, with the emphasis being on the gateway maintainers being able to easily configure their gateway. This "toolkit" includes such items as an automatic link checker, statistical counters and record validators.

When you have installed the ROADS software, you can set about constructing your gateway. This can be done in one of two ways:

  1. Entering records in via a "cataloguers interface", supplied with the software. This allows you to enter records in one by one, and carries out certain validation and indexing tasks
  2. Concerting your records into a ROADS-format. This was an approach taken by the ALEX gateway of electronic texts at:, which consisted of one person setting up a ROADS-gateway from scratch, and converting some 2,000 records automtically into a ROADS format, all in the space of a few hours.
There are several other interfaces, such as an Administration Centre, which allow the gateway maintainers control over the day-to-day running of the gateway, as well as entering new records or configuring the system.

What does the finished gateway look like?

Whatever you want it to look like :-) We have made the end-user look of the gateway as configurable as possible. The ALEX gateway at is basically what an uncustomised ROADS gateway looks like; this is the raw result. However, compare that to SOSIG (Social Sciences), OMNI (health/medicine) and ADAM (arts, architecture, media and design), and note the differences between the three.

ROADS-based subject gateways allow you to bolt on other resources and services with some ease. For example, SOSIG, the Social Science Gateway, has added a Social Science thesauri via which, a user has a much better chance of finding the right keyword for an effective search.

Will there be more ROADS-based gateways in the future?

Yes. Currently (mid-October 1997), three are under construction, with negotiations taking place with several other organisations about their take-up of the software.

Is the software being developed further?

Yes. Version one of the software was released some time ago, and is freely available. Currently, version two is being produced. All the gateways running ROADS software are heavily participating in all aspects of the software development. The software is funded to be developed well into 1998; the project has been invited to bid for further funding for a development extension.

Okay - where do I get the software from, and what do I need?

You get the software from the ROADS software centre at What you need is a Web server on which to run the software, enough spare space on the server for the software and the records and indexes, and a reasonable enough connection to the Internet or whichever network your users will be using.

In addition to this, you will need people. If you wish to make the subject gateway keep up with the resources appearing in the subject area, then you will need people to enter new records into the database system, as well as deal with resources whose links fail (due to the resource moving, or being down). Luckily, the former task is assisted by the "cataloguers interface", which is an interface being regularily improved, and via which records can be entered or altered. With the task of dealing with links that fail, the link checker automatically checks links and alerts the database maintainer when links fail (the frequency of checks and failure times allowed before notification, are, as with most things in a ROADS-based gateway, configurable).

You will also require a technical person to set up the software and make the occasional update to it. Someone with a knowledge of setting up a Web server, and how to deal with PERL modules (though not necessarily a PERL programmer) is adequate.

What kind of support is there?

Loads. There are several mailing lists for people using ROADS, some (but not all) of which are listed on the main mailing list page: There is also a ROADS problem centre: for effective dealing of bugs or quirks in your gateway.

In addition, there are regular (optional) meetings and workshops, where ROADS users can come and make suggestions towards improvements or alterations in some aspect of the software:

The second strand of the project - cross-searching and interoperability - what's that all about?

Okay; some resources do not fit snugly into one, and only one, subject area. Suppose someone built a Web site, the content being "A historical account of how alcoholism and drug dependency has affected the work of artists and painters". The resource clearly has some relevance to the fields of health/medicine, and art. Arguably, it also has relevance to the fields of history and social science.

But - what happens if, say, the resource can be found from a history, but not an art, social science or health/medicine gateway, because these latter gateways are just simply not aware of the resource. Well, cross searching allows you to search across a number of subject gateways in one go. A (working) demonstration of such searching is available from This allows you to cross-search over a number of subject gateways. However, the search form does it in a particulary network-friendly way, by consulting locally-held and periodically updated centroids, which are very compressed indexes of each of the gateways. These give clues as to which gateways contain records that match the cross-search query. Only these gateways are then referred to; the results of the search are then consolidated and presented to the end-user. Have a go!

Future development of cross-searching will allow people to search across a number of related or "subject area overlapping" ROADS-based subject gateways. In the future, it is also hoped to be able to cross-search combinations of ROADS and non-ROADS based gateways.

The third strand of the project - the development of standards?

Yes - this is very important. The ROADS software is built around a rigorous framework of standards. Various people in the project are heavily involved in the creation of standards in the fields of Metadata (especially Dublin Core), cataloguing, indexing and searching. One of the aims of this is to make the software "future-proof" as much as possible, and to ensure that interoperability with other standards and protocols is feasible.

Who works on the ROADS project

There are three main partners on the ROADS project:
  1. UKOLN: The UK Office for Library and Information Networking, University of Bath
  2. ILRT: The Institute of Learning and Research Technology, University of Bristol
  3. The Department of Computer Studies, Loughborough University

I want further details on ROADS: What shall I do?

You can look at the ROADS Web pages for one of the three partner sites:

Alternatively, if you have specific questions about ROADS that need answering you could e-mail ROADS-liaison, who will be able to either provide the information that you require, or will re-direct you to those people who can:

This page written by John Kirriemuir of ILRT and maintained by the Metadata Group of UKOLN, University of Bath

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