This was the third MODELS workshop. Its scope was described as follows:
Library catalogues represent an important resource discovery tool for printed scholarly material. However, a user who wishes to discover the existence or location of a particular item may have to individually visit, in an unguided way, a variety of catalogues. There are also significant bibliographic resources which may not be available for him or her to use. Catalogues include individual library catalogues, union catalogues and significant national services.
The aim of this workshop is to move towards a shared view of the technical requirements for unified national resource discovery systems in this area, acknowledging the organisational and business environments in which services now operate or are being developed. It will identify technical and organisational impediments to national resource discovery services and discuss ways in which they might be overcome. The primary focus will be on the higher education environment, with due reference to other sectors.
The focus of the workshop is on discovery. Other issues, such as requesting, are being dealt with in other parts of the MODELS project.
There was general agreement that the current bibliographic resource was fragmented and poorly articulated and that services built on some more organised combination of existing resources were desirable. At this stage of development, it was recognised that a national union catalogue was infeasible for technical, organisational and service reasons. A distributed approach which provided unified access to existing catalogues was desirable, although a fully distributed option providing parallel access to all catalogues was undesirable for reasons of scale.
To clarify discussion, the notion of 'clump' was introduced. A clump is an aggregation of catalogues. A clump may be 'physical' where it has a continuous physically aggregated existence. Example of physical clumps are COPAC (the CURL OPAC), the BL OPAC (made up of BL catalogues), the SLS and BLCMP union catalogues, and Viscount. A clump may also be 'virtual', where the records from the participating catalogues are not physically brought together. How closely coupled the members of a virtual clump might be was seen as a discretionary matter, depending on the particular service scenario involved. The relationship might be entirely dynamic or user-defined, or it might be determined by long-standing service agreements among a group of service providers.
In breakout sessions and subsequent discussion some desiderata for an organised approach were outlined. These cluster into User issues and Catalogue issues and are presented below.
There was a recognition that a controlled environment was necessary if desiderata were to be addressed.
What standards would be necessary to allow the construction of distributed national resource discovery systems? Areas where standards were identified are listed below.
A three-tier architecture was presented. A 'thin client' (typically a web browser or windows interface) was likely to be the preferred user instrument. A 'broker' service gives access to various services. The broker might be more or less rich. Minimally, for example, it might offer Z39.50 client functionality. It might open multiple Z39.50 sessions and consolidate the results. It might offer other services (request, etc). The future importance of object technologies, Java in particular, was noted as a way of delivering applications to the desktop.
It was anticipated that 'broker' services would be provided at various
points in a service chain and would provide different levels of service. The
broker might be a desktop application, a local campus service, put in place by
an information provider or some third party.
Several approaches to collection description were mentioned, including ISO
2146, Conspectus, and the Z39.50 profile for access to digital collection. A
complementary approach was also briefly discussed, involving the generation of
'centroids', inverted index style representations of database content, which
could be shared and searched in various ways.
'Virtual clumps' could be created by searching several resources and
consolidating the results.
To be effective, it was important that developments proceeded within a well-understood and ordered framework which imposed no unnecessary overhead.
To participate in a 'national discovery system' it was decided that individual catalogues should meet some minimum criteria. These should be formally described in a Catalogue Profile, and providers would register the Profile with a National Agency. Initial components of such a profile, as developed at the workshop were:
A national agency would perform several functions:
It was recognised that such an agency might have a broader remit in relation to other collections of scholarly materials (archives, electronic texts, museum objects, etc) and that it should be inclusive so long as this did not dissipate its focus. The Agency should have a truly national role and not be a creature of Higher Education alone.