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Programme Background

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The CAIRNS project - Co-operative Academic Information Retrieval Network for Scotland

Project web site:

Programme area

Contact details

Mark Denham, CAIRNS Project Co-Director
Head of IT Services
Glasgow University Library, Hillhead Street, Glasgow G12 8QE
Tel: 0141 330 6765 Fax: 0141 330 4952

Dennis Nicholson, CAIRNS Project Co-Director
Head of Library Systems
University of Strathclyde, 101 St James Road, Glasgow G4 0NS
Tel: 0141 548 4529 Fax: 0141 552 3304

Helena Gillis, Project Co-ordinator
Glasgow University Library, Hillhead Street, Glasgow G12 8QE
Tel: 0141 330 6290 Fax: 0141 330 4952

Project description

as of June 1998

The Scottish university libraries have worked together for some years under the auspices of the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL) and have successfully worked on a number of collaborative projects including SALSER, CATRIONA and SCOPE. The SCURL membership also includes the National Library and the large public libraries - it represents a significant national scholarly resource.

The CAIRNS project will be led by the University of Glasgow and will include 16 Scottish sites including East Dunbartonshire Public Library.

The overall objective is the establishment of a SCURL clump which will link library catalogues using Z39.50 (via the Web). However the project plans to allow the SCURL clump to be configurable as a number of "sub-clumps" which will be generated dynamically to allow searching across geographical, material type or subject based groupings. The project will take advantage of the Scottish work on Conspectus and SCURL's RCO (Research Collections Online) service as the basis for the subject-based dynamic clumping.


CAIRNS aims to integrate 25 Z39.50-compliant library catalogues or information services across Scotland into a functional and user-adaptive test-bed service. This will offer efficient and effective search and retrieval capabilities across a ‘clump’ of services comprising all of the individual CAIRNS bibliographic databases and also across various smaller sub-clumps, and will provide:

  • a comprehensive virtual union catalogue for Scottish HE without the cost and continuing effort of setting up and maintaining a central database;
  • a set of smaller specific sub-sets of this catalogue appropriate to particular purposes (e.g. particular subject interests);
  • a means of integrating access to different types of resources (e.g. simultaneous searches for hard copy and electronic resources);
  • a means of integrating access to these with access to other clumps elsewhere;
  • a means of supporting the ongoing commitment to improve cost-effectiveness through co-operation and resource-sharing, particularly between members of the Scottish Confederation of University and Research Libraries (SCURL) who make up the majority of the CAIRNS sites.

With these aims in mind, the project will also:

  • test and seek to extend the limits of inter-operability;
  • establish requirements for the future development of the initial service;
  • identify any implications for SCURL’s current organisational structure and associated inter-institutional agreements;
  • establish requirements and standards for continuing and future CAIRNS membership;
  • provide a model for other clumps elsewhere.

The existence within the clump of servers describing and delivering electronic resources (BUBL, SLAINTE) will also enable a limited amount of investigation of cross-domain implications, particularly in respect of CAL packages (cf. CATRIONA II).


User access to the test-bed service will be via Z39.50 or WWW clients or if required by telnet. Suppliers whose systems are included in the clump are III (INNOPAC), Geac (GEOPAC and GEOWEB), Ameritech (Dynix Classic, Horizon, NetPublisher, Webpac, RSAS servers all included), VTLS, MDIS, SIRSI, SilverPlatter, and OVID.

Three kinds of clumping service will be investigated:

  • local client-based (GEOPAC);
  • local server-based (GEOWEB, III WEBPAC, Ameritech WEBPAC);
  • central server-based (EUROPAGATE, GEOWEB);

and will offer access to the following:

  • a fixed general clump and sub-clumps (includes pre-selected and user-selected clumps and sub-clumps);
  • fixed local restricted sub-clumps (includes pre-selected and user-selected clumps and sub-clumps);
  • user search initiated, dynamically generated, sub-clumps.

Sub-clumps would include:

  • geographical groupings (e.g. servers in the Glasgow area);
  • material type groupings (electronic resources on BUBL, CATRIONA II, SLAINTE);
  • subject-based (result of a subject strengths search from the SCURL Research Collections Online catalogue);
  • a fully distributed version of the SCURL SALSER service.

Dynamic Clumping Service

The project will take advantage of SCURL’s WWW/Z39.50 conspectus-based Research Collections Online (RCO) service as the basis of a subject-based dynamic clumping service. This will provide users with dynamically generated subject-based sub-clumps of SCURL catalogues to search via Z39.50. An extension of this would enable users to be presented with subject-based sub-clumps dynamically generated via searches of catalogues of electronic resources: BUBL-LINK, SLAINTE, CATRIONA II demonstrator and Strathclyde University Library’s Z39.50 compliant WWW server.

Other issues

To the extent that time and resources permit, the project will also investigate a number of issues of subsidiary interest:

  • some Inter-Library Loans issues (at least one library is currently testing an ILL management system with a WWW/Z39.50 based user request interface);
  • some authorisation/authentication issues (one library is investigating borrower database based mechanisms for controlling access to the Internet);
  • access to serials holdings of individual sites via contents pages and other indexing services.


The University of Glasgow is the primary lead site and the University of Strathclyde the secondary lead site. The following institutions are also members of the project: University of Aberdeen, University of Abertay Dundee, University of Dundee, University of Edinburgh, Glasgow Caledonian University, Heriot-Watt University, Napier University, Paisley University, Queen Margaret College, The Robert Gordon University, University of St. Andrews, University of Stirling, National Library of Scotland, and East Dunbartonshire public library. The project operates under the auspices of SCURL

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