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Down Your Way

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Alison Kilgour checks out the networking facilities in the Library of York University.

The University of York has a very long history in terms of networked service. In 1989 the Computing Service section wrote and set up the Campus Wide Information Server. The original service was then converted to gopher, but little subsequent development was made with this service as it was soon apparent that the Web would take over. York proceeded to set up a group whose remit was to organise the structure of the new service. This group included representatives from the Computing Service, academic staff and the Library, as well as the University's PR Officer.

Even in those early CWIS days the Library used the network as a resource, inputting data that included bibliographies, guides and information about Internet access, resources and navigational tools.

The current Library Web pages have been live since 1994 and are the work mainly of Christine Ellwood, Subject Librarian for Sciences. The pages are the focus for resource links. The group considered this the best approach, and links are made from the departmental pages to the relevant parts of the library pages.

The Library building is on four storeys. Built in the 1960s, the accommodation was to include a shop and bindery as well as the Library. Typically the Library grew, and the ‘shop’ now houses the main issue desk .

Access to different resources is split physically throughout the library. Dedicated CD-ROM access is provided on 13 workstations at the main enquiry point, as is dedicated access to BIDS. Access to other electronic resources is provided through the Dynix OPAC Gateway service. From a further 11 PCs in the Library, students have access to the University' s main Web service – York Web – and other PC applications such as word-processing. The bulk of access is provided outwith the library, though, from PC laboratories throughout the university. This was a conscious decision, leaving access to CD-ROM services as free as possible. The original plan was to network CD-ROMs throughout the university, but this objective has been plagued with difficulties from the outset. The Library chose Novell as the networking solution for the CD-ROM service, established before the University changed to its present PC-NFS network. The resulting incompatibility has meant that the CD-ROM service cannot be made available within all departments.

These constraints have meant that the Library has had to take a serious look at its electronic resource provision. In general, the policy has changed now from CD-ROM to looking at alternative online access to services. The Library now uses EDINA and other hosts wherever possible. As Christine Ellwood explained, these types of services are much easier to manage and can be available from any networked PC on campus. Each title currently taken on CD-ROM will be dealt with individually, keeping in mind the need for access anywhere on campus, probably leading to various electronic services running in parallel. The need to network out to departments is seen very much as a necessity and a real improvement to current services. The plan then is to provide access to these services using a single interface.

Internet resources on LibWeb are organised via a ‘subject tree’. The pages are designed to provide a central resource to staff and students for electronic information. Liaison with departments varies throughout the University, but staff are encouraged to pass useful resources to the Library for inclusion. With the CWIS already a mature product by the time LibWeb came along, there was already in existence a store of subject-based material which could be lifted directly. The immediate points of entry are to general subject areas and to general resources and resource information. Branching out presents the user with links to the various sub-disciplines. The further one climb s up the tree, the more specific the resource type becomes.

Generally the pages are constructed as one long document, with a contents list at the top and links to the relevant passages below. This is a little untidy with extraneous material present on screen during searches. Christine Ellwood recognises that the tree has grown so vast that she is now looking at reviewing the structure of the pages, and in an attempt to alleviate the problem, an alternative alphabetical search method has been provided.

As far as publicity goes, the Library has not looked upon LibWeb as being a ‘marketing tool’ as such. All of the printed guides currently available in the Library are mounted on the Web, and staff believe that there are some possibilities there that they have not yet grasped.

The Library has always had an excellent relationship with the Computing Service department. Together, the two services have been running an information literacy course called ILIAD, as a pilot scheme over the last year. The project's aim is to provide generic course materials for all departments and levels, extending and improving a programme of information skills classes previously conducted by the Library. A truly epic undertaking.

Date published: 
19 May 1996

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article | by Dr. Radut