BL RIC logo Towards a National Agency for Resource Discovery 'Redefining the Scholar's Workstation': A Review of Current Projects in the United States

David Cairns, University of Stirling






Further Information

Scholar's Workstation Workshop, London 1997


The 'Scholar's Workstation' environment provided by the University of Stirling is intended to provide consistent, cross-platform access to a set of both local and external information resources using the Web as the key interface. An application launch pad, the local OPAC, networked CD-ROMs and electronic ILL facilities are provided together with national and inter-national links to external university libraries and databases. The URL for the Stirling Scholar's Workstation Project is:

This review contains observations and conclusions made whilst presenting the Scholar's Workstation Project at the American Library Association's Annual General Meeting this July in New York. My attendance at the ALA Workstations Workshop was supported by the British Library Research and Innovation Centre. A summary of conclusions drawn from discussing the topic of the 'Scholar's Workstation' with conference demonstrators and attendees is followed by a list of demonstrators presented at the poster session on 'Leaders on the Web Trail: Redefining the Scholar's Workstation'.


A number of valuable observations were made whilst attending the conference. These were drawn from examining the other demonstrations at the poster session but also from discussion with conference attendees - a number of whom had already approached the idea of a Scholar's Workstation but had been unable to progress it further. Discussion with these groups about the types of problems they had encountered proved to be of great value in understanding the scope of a Scholar's Workstation within an academic environment.

The principle of the Scholar's Workstation is now being explored on an international basis. From discussion and observation at the conference, this is partly attributable to the growth of Web technology. The Web has facilitated an idea which has been lying dormant, waiting on technological advance for a number of years. The fact that all the demonstrations used the Web as their interface and that they began their projects at around the time the Web was taking off, would further appear to confirm this.

As can be seen from the list of demonstrators below, the most common approach taken to implementing the concept of the Scholar's Workstation was to enhance and collate local library resources into a single interface using the Web. The Scholar's Workstation environment implemented at the University of Stirling has attempted to extend this principle further by providing links to a wider variety of resources than those traditionally held within the University Library. This was in an attempt to encompass a wider variety of facilities which had become available due to the increased popularity of the Web. This probably depended on two factors. Stirling had been working on the Scholar's Workstation project for nearly two years (at a time when the Web was an emerging but not widely used technology) with a full-time member of staff dedicated to developing the environment. This had enabled it to provide time and resources to conduct a broad search for information both internally and externally. It had also found itself in the fortunate position of having an integrated computing and library service, making the task of integrating the resources within the Scholar's Workstation easier to implement.

One of the surprising aspects of examining the contending systems demonstrated at the conference was the similarity of approach taken to solving the problem of implementing a Scholar's Workstation. Practically all the demonstrators had used the Web either as the main interface to their system or as an assistant in providing access to resources. This in itself is not overly surprising and serves to confirm that the Web is the best available technology for implementing a consistent, cross platform information access resource like a Scholar's Workstation. Developing a Scholar's Workstation environment with in-house software tools and then porting it to other platforms is an efficient use of time and would be very unlikely to be of similar capability to the Web. The more surprising aspect was the structuring of the information resources. In a number of cases, the demonstrators had broken down the information areas into very similar groups. This was helpful in that it confirmed that the approach being taken by the group at the University of Stirling was on the right track.

As hinted at above, one of the key observations made at the conference was the importance of having an integrated information service in order to make a concept like the Scholar's Workstation effective. A substantial proportion of the attendees indicated that they had considered implementing a Scholar's Workstation system within their University but that they lacked the infrastructure to make it work. The Scholar's Workstation is effectively the combination of a powerful computing environment combined with information resources usually associated with a Library.

In order to create the Scholar's Workstation environment, computing support must be combined with library resources to generate a composite and effective system. The University of Stirling has been fortunate in this respect in that this was already in place before the project began. That it was an important contribution to the success of the project was only truly highlighted at the conference when the attendee was regularly questioned about how the two services had been brought together and what the perceived benefits and difficulties were in achieving this process.

In the cases where conference demonstrators had approached the task from a library resource viewpoint, the result was a much more limited information access system - the Scholar's Workstation formed a link to what were essentially an expanded set of information resources typically accessed from the local site. When a system was built with the combined background of a computing and library service, the environment tended to be on a larger scale with more technical innovation as well as information sources. The rationale behind this observation would appear to be that the two groups complement each other. The computing service benefits by being shown the best information resources to use and the library service benefits by being able to concentrate on information resources without having to concern itself about how access to the resource is implemented.


There follows a list of the demonstrators at the poster session on 'Leaders on the Web Trail: Redefining the Scholar's Workstation'. For each demonstration, contact details, a summary of the approach and an URL is provided.

Gateway: Mann Library's Electronic Library

Oya Y. Reiger, Greg McClellan

Albert R. Mann Library, Cornell

University, Ithaca, NY 14850

The Mann Library system is primarily a Web interface to the library resources of Mann Library. This system is effectively an extension of the standard set of resources that are available to the library users at Cornell but provided via a Web interface. The scope of the project appears to be constrained to the viewpoint of a library user and did not seem to tackle the less traditional requirements of current Web users.

Knowledge Development Through the Use of a World Wide Web Collaboratory

Michael D. Hamlin, Sharon A. Lezzote, J L. Forrest

Thomas Jefferson University

Philadelphia, PA

The system presented by Thomas Jefferson Library is specifically aimed at providing a Web interface to a set of dental hygiene resources under the acronym of DHNet (Dental Hygiene Network). This is an example of a tailored interface aimed at a very specific audience. Facilities will be tailored to this audience and will include concepts such as the virtual laboratory and access to dental hygiene databases.

Georgia Tech Electronic Library (GTEL)

Mary Axford, Jana Lonberger

Library and Information Center

Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, GA 30332-0900

The Georgia Institute of Technology system is similar in scope to the Mann Library proposal in that it provides an integrated interface to a set of local library resources at the Institute. It provides a Web interface to a wide range of local databases including the Institute's Union Catalog and CD-ROM databases.

Bringing the Library to the Scholar's Personal Workstation

Robin M. Dixon, Librarian

NASA Goddard Space Flight

Center Library

Greenbelt, MD 20771

The Goddard Library system provides access to local databases at the Center and is a further example of a Web based interface to a local set of information resources. The key features of this system (and the other groups demonstrated their work at the conference) is that they have used the Web to integrate a disparate set of services into a single front end. This cuts down the learning and search time required of users wishing to use the system.

Expert Systems: HTML, the WWW, and the Librarian

David E. Stern

Yale University

The Yale environment provides a Web based interface to local library resources. This system differs from the other environments in that it uses an expert system at the front end in order to guide users through the system. This cuts down on searching by providing links to different tools depending upon the type of search a user is trying to execute. This approach is quite novel and could potentially make an impact on the way library systems are traditionally organised.


The main conclusions drawn from attendance at the conference were as follows:

Further Information

Dr David Cairns
Information Services
University of Stirling
Stirling FK9 4LA

British Library papers and reports