On 11-13 October 1996 I was fortunate to be invited to participate in the 10th annual Anglo-Nordic Seminar, held in Lund, Sweden. This annual event is co-organised by the British Library and their Nordic colleagues at NORDINFO. Each year the seminar is based on a particular theme and this year it was Networking.
The event was preceded by an all day session called a "Metadata Information Day". As a result, metadata was a thread woven through the rest of the two day seminar; however, in an international environment, standards issues inevitably rise to the top of the agenda. In an increasingly global academic community, the success of such an event serves to highlight the increasing importance of collaboration and sharing in an international context.
Lund is a lovely, quiet little town at the southern tip of Sweden - it is actually much closer to Copenhagen than it is to Stockholm. We flew from London City airport into Malmo. Having never been to Sweden I'm sure I am left with a somewhat distorted view because I'm sure the calm and tranquillity of Lund can't possibly apply to Stockholm! It's cobblestone streets and ivy covered brick buildings are an irresistible invitation to simply sit in a cafe and read a novel. As the home of the oldest university in Sweden, Lund is an intellectual focal point and as such provided a wonderful backdrop for.....a weekend of discussions on networking! Fortunately our Nordic hosts arranged our schedule to allow for time to visit the cathedral as well as attending a reception and tour of the Skissernas Museum (The Museum of Sketches). The weather in Sweden was lovely so, despite having an intense programme for the two days, the UK delegates were provided with opportunities to enjoy their Swedish surroundings… [ed - right, that's enough to make us jealous, now get on with the work!].
A METADATA INFORMATION DAY
The Metadata Information Day was an open day, intended to provide some background and explanation of metadata and specifically the implementation of the Dublin Core. Rachel Heery has provided a succinct survey of metadata issues; and some background on the Dublin Core can be found in a recent article by Paul Miller in the last edition of Ariadne. The day was open to delegates from all over the Nordic Countries and provided an effective forum for disseminating information about metadata. The plain fact is that people won't use the Dublin Core unless they KNOW about it.
Stuart Weibel from OCLC ran most of the Information Day and provided an excellent backdrop for introducing the Dublin Core. As developers and implementers of the electronic library some of us forget that there are a great many folk who have difficulty in conceptualising a librarian's role in cyberspace, never mind debating the relative merits of different metatdata formats. Even for those deeply involved in electronic libraries development, the day provided a refresher course in why we do what we do.
The Nordic Metadata Project
The Metadata Information Day finished off with a presentation by Juha Hakala from the Helsinki University Library on the Nordic Metadata Project. This relatively new project is funded by NORDINFO.
The main tasks of the project include:
- evaluation of existing metadata formats
- enhancement of the existing Dublin Core (DC) specification and making any necessary modifications to accommodate the Nordic Classification System
- creation of a DC-MARC conversion system (making use of an already existing prototype which converts DC into NORMARC), as well as a reciprocal system to convert MARC into DC
- development of a "metadata" aware search service
- development of user support and a metadata production environment
Day One of the Anglo-Nordic Seminar
ROADS is a project with is developing the underlying software infrastructure for subject based information gateways. The project is currently making use of the WHOis++ search and retrieve protocols and using IAFA templates (Internet Anonymous FTP Archive) to catalogue Internet resources.
The DESIRE project is a large multi-national European project of which UKOLN is one partner. Work at UKOLN for the DESIRE project include enhancing the ROADS software for a European context and incorporating Harvesting facilities into future versions of the software. UKOLN is involved in this aspect of the project as well as with colleague in Sweden to develop an automated indexing robot.
Work to improve bibliographic control of electronic publications is ongoing in the BIBLINK project which also involves colleagues at UKOLN. Work in the BIBLINK project is divided into two distinct areas. The first is National Libraries - assessing requirements etc., while the second is work with publishers to investigate the format of publisher's electronic documents, explore options for metadata and to nurture consensus building.
Following Rachel Heery, Sigfrid Lundberg of Lund University Library's NetLab, introduced the Nordic Web Index which has as one of its main objectives, the creation of a "metadata aware" robot based search service. Sigfrid described two different types of metadata that exist now: what he called "inherently unreliable" author or publisher supplied metadata which is currently easily recognised by a robot; and secondly, the hopefully more reliable third party metadata. For the first type of metadata, Sigfrid's statistics show the vast majority of records, for which metadata exists, use the IAFA template. Embedded metadata, like the Dublin Core, is rare and generally of very low quality. Of the more "reliable" third party metadata, the most common are ubiquitous link collections and the "annotated URLographies" (e.g. SBIG's).
After coffee the seminar moved away for the focus on searching and metadata to a more content-oriented focus. The title of the session was Electronic Journals and included a presentation by Steve Hitchcock of the eLib Open Journal Framework project (Southampton University), which was followed by a discussion panel.
Steve began the session with a presentation of OJF which encouraged us to think about journals in a different way - in a more interactive, non-linear, on-line way. Steve suggested that in the same way in which glue binds together the contexts of a print journal, so the hypertext link is the binding agent of an on- line journal; in order for us to move beyond the fixed notion of a journal we must think about it as a "live" journal.
Steve's presentation was followed by an hour discussion lead by a policy panel. The panel members were:
- Steve Hitchcock, OJF
- Anne Leer, Oxford University Press
- Lars Davies, Queen Mary and Westfield College, Information Technology Law Unit
- Leif Andersen, The National Library Authority, Denmark
- Kelly Russell, The Electronic Libraries Programme (eLib)
The afternoon session on Saturday moved into another important area of networked information - distributed systems and the OPAC. Mogens Sandfaer of DTV Denmark began the afternoon by describing the problems inherent in a distributed collection. In the Nordic countries libraries have used a union catalogue but even with the advantage of such a system, a user must still learn to use a different interface in order to search the catalogue. The Web offers the potential of a simple click to search different catalogues and, with the introduction of Z39.50, the ability to search remote catalogues through one's local OPAC interface.
Mogens briefly described the work done in the Europegate project which allows multi-thread searching, and project UNIVERSE which will tackle the challenges of language and character sets using UNICODE.
Next, Lorcan Dempsey, Director of UKOLN, described the eLib funded MODEL's project which is ongoing at UKOLN. Lorcan provided an overview of the 3 MODEL's workshops which have tackled areas of distributed library services. MODELS work has been designed around 5 workshops covering the following topics:
- Distributed article discovery and retrieval
- Network resource discovery and metadata
- National resource discovery for printed scholarly material
- Access to mixed media and multi-domain resources
- Managing access to distributed library resources
These workshops, 3 of which have now taken place, have highlighted the need for an integrated approach rather than separate isolated services or projects. Reports from the early MODELS workshops are available on the web.
Clare Davies of the Institute of Electronic Library Research at De Montfort University kicked off a session after tea which focused particularly on the users. She gave an overview of the different perspectives which converge in digital library research. While information scientists may focus on what users do when conducting an on-line search, psychologists may explore how a users information processing skills reflect a particularly unique "information schema", developed according to one's own personal experiences and background. These multifarious perspectives all beg different key questions which need consideration if we are to provide systems which reflect an understanding of user behaviour.
The second and final day of the seminar began bright and early on Sunday morning. It seemed especially early as most of the delegates were out late Saturday night in Malmo for the conference dinner, enjoying the generous hospitality of our NORDINFO colleagues!
Fortunately the morning was devoted to issues of "cultural change" in libraries in this new electronic environment. Catherine Edwards gave an overview of the IMPEL2 project - the Impact on People of the Electronic Library project. We were reminded of the very appropriate words of T.S. Eliot who suggested that "Culture is not merely the sum of several activities but a way of life".
As if to prove theory with practice, Terje Hoiseth spoke next about his experiences as the first head of a converged library and computer centre service in Scandinavia. The University Library at Lulea (I am told this is the northernmost city in Sweden) amalgamated the library and computer centre in the last two years and Terje maintains that the most important element in making a smooth convergence was simply having a shared coffee room. No kidding. He suggests that this shared space meant a great deal of discussion and sharing was possible and people from both departments could go through the growing pains together. One of the most interesting facts about this new converged service is its management structure which is almost totally flat. Terje is the director of the service but management is mainly through TQM (total quality management) techniques such as teamwork. There was much debate about the possibility of incorporating such a structure into our own organisations.
The seminar concluded with three presentations on "national strategy". Nigel McCartney, head of Research and Innovation Centre at the British Library, asked first if it were possible to have a national strategy. He thought it was, but suggested that a great deal of investment was necessary and this sort of strategy involved players from many different sectors including government, Higher Education, Public Libraries and increasingly the private sector. He emphasized the mutual benefit that could come of partnership with the private sector and encouraged us to investigate different and innovative models for supporting a national strategy.
Frans Lettenstrom from the National Library of Sweden, described in detail the main projects in which the national library is involved; these included increasing free access to public information, providing legal statutes and proceedings via the WWW, and material dealing with Swedish cultural heritage.
The final presentation of the seminar was given by Annikki Hyvarinen from the Helsinki University Library in Finland. Although there is no national network strategy as such in Finland, the number of hosts connected to the network in Finland is higher than in any other Nordic Country. Standards issues are important in Finland but, much to the envy of many colleagues in the audience, Finnish libraries all use the same software: VTLS have provided software for the entire country and this of course makes access to distributed collections much less difficult. Annikki has only been in post for a short time but she suggested to us that very soon Finland would have both a national collection and service policy.
Thus concluded the 10th annual Anglo-Nordic Seminar. The event was very successful , well organised and interesting. Both Graham Jefcoate of the BL and his colleagues at NORDINFO did a splendid job of organising both the formal and informal programmes. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly - the UK delegates enjoyed a wonderful dose of Nordic hospitality!