In this 'Wire' interview Ariadne staff ask Traugott Koch for his views on how libraries can develop in response to the World Wide Web.
1) What do you do in the world of networking / libraries / WWW?
Projects developing the use of networked information at NetLab, the Development department of Lund University Library, Sweden. 80 % of the projects are externally funded, by local, national, Nordic and European partners. (http://www.ub2.lu.se/UB2proj/egnapubl/netlab_present.html)
Administrating and developing "Lund University Electronic Library" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/), our electronic library service, since four years. I specially maintain pages like "Browsing and Searching Internet Resources" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/nav_menu.html) and "Library online catalogues" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/opacs/opacs-top.html). Develop database services for campus access, providing information from commercial services and integrating it into the electronic library (Web SPIRS to Silverplatter ERL databases, Cambridge Scientific Abstracts, Elsevier CAPCAS etc.)
EU-Project DESIRE (http://www.ub2.lu.se/desire/ Development of a European Service for Information on Research and Education), part of the Telematics For Research program. We work, together with people from UKOLN, SOSIG, Loughborough and others, on the "Resource discovery and retrieval" part of DESIRE, and develop amongst other features, an European WWW Index. This will be based on our experiences with the "Nordic WWW Index" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/wwwindex.html). My main activity this Spring will be to write a state-of-the-art report on Internet indexing and search services and to contribute to the specification of the European WWW Index.
Teaching, examination etc. at the Institute of Library and Information Science, Lund University. Largest course: "The electronic library: Knowledge structuring and information retrieval", fully documented and run using the Web (in Swedish only: http://www.ub2.lu.se/biblutb/koch/elbibladv.html).
"Engineering Electronic Library, Sweden" (EELS http://www.ub2.lu.se/eel/eelhome.html): Responsible for the methodological development, the technical maintenance, the adaptation of the classification scheme and thesaurus, and the construction of WWW-pages.
Work for "Nordic Net Center for Libraries" (http://www.nnc.dk/nnc/), a Nordic Centre of Excellence for Networked Information Services and the coordination of all three NORDINFO centers. Coordinator of Electronic Library and Conference. The conference "NordElib-conf" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/NNC/email-conf/) is available as Hypermail- archive as well. This Spring, I am preparing a trial issue of an electronic journal "NordElib Journal", which is supposed to publish Nordic contributions to our subject area.
Publishing pages on library issues and projects on the Web, i.e. "Electronic library projects" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/tk/ellib-projects.html), "Nordic libraries: information servers" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/resbyloc/Nordic_lib.html) "Finding Internet resources in the subject area of Library and Information Science/Librarianship" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/lisres.html).
Editor of "Libraries and Internet: Electronic text collection" (http://www.ub2.lu.se/UB2proj/LIS_collection/collection_top.html), which publishes original articles in hypertext structure with external links and papers from LIS Schools. Talks, papers, courses, workshops etc., mainly in the Nordic countries and Germany (http://munin.ub2.lu.se/person_tk.html).
2) ... and how did you get into this area?
Into libraries: by chance, after a period of unemployment as a foreign social scientist (regional and urban planning) in Sweden. Into networking: Worked for some years with CD-ROM networking and LAN's; read about WAIS in April 1992 and had to develop this interest in my spare time the first couple of month', before it became "accepted" late Fall that year.
3) What was your reaction to the Web when you encountered it for the first time (and when was this)?
I discovered CERN's line-mode browser in Fall 1992, did demonstrations to others but did'nt use it myself. CERN's High Energy Physics stuff didn't interest me. We provided WAIS databases and a gopher server at that time and I found them superior. But I liked the hyperlinks, displayed as numbers. In July 1993 we established our own WWW server.
4) How significant an impact do you think that mobile code, such as java applets, will have on the development of the Web as an information resource?
Not imediately the kind of huge impact the licensing by all big software companies would indicate. In principle, turning Web pages into tools which allow to handle dynamic documents and processes is very important for our information intermediary branch as well. The first applications, I would like to see for us, are user support and educational programs, simulations and demonstrations of search processes, experimental modules inside scientific articles etc. We will probably have to wait another year for this type of applications, I am afraid.
5) A friend buys a PC, relatively fast modem and an internet connection. (S)he asks you what browser they should either buy or obtain. What do you advise?
Get the free Netscape browser for MS Windows and the PPP-software, if necessary. If no Internet-provider offering PPP is available, I would advise to use the free, character-based lynx-browser.
6) Many people have recently commented on the relationship between SGML and HTML. Some speculate that they will one day merge into a "unified" language; some others see HTML diverging into various esoteric directions. What do you think?
HTML is one of many different DTD's (Document Type Definitions) of SGML, to put it simple: a SGML application. I expect many more DTD's to be used on the Internet and especially more advanced ones (TEI for texts in Arts and Humanities is one example). I hope for more advanced hypermedia linking possibilities. Now, since style sheets (using the DSSSL standard) can be linked into HTML, I hope, proprietary software will not continue to put layout-control into HTML which should remain simple. I welcome embedding tags, though and hope that major browsers will embrace SGML/DTD display very soon (cf. SoftQuad's PANORAMA PRO).
7) Is there any hope for Gopher, or will the Web and other resources make it (eventually) obsolete?
No hope for Gopher anymore, according to my opinion. Gopher menu structures and facilities can be provided by HTTP. The latest development ideas by the Gopher inventors, 3D objects and similar things, can easier be implemented using VRML or Java on the Web.
8) Electronic Commerce; significant numbers of Web users, especially in the US, buy goods and services through the Web. With the current state of data protection/encryption, would you feel comfortable in sending your credit card number to a company or service through your Web browser?
I wouldn't send my credit card number at the moment. The payment routines in VISA's and their competitors approaches, which will make the breakthrough during 1996, avoid the necessity to send real credit card numbers over the net. They seem to have developed pretty safe electronic transactions and they will take the risks on behalf of their customers.
The proposal of the Millicent protocol seems promising to me, in order to recover some of our costs as public sector information providers.
9) The frames feature, introduced by Netscape within their browser, allows the interface to be split into several quasi-independent windows. Some people have started to use this feature as a basis for presentations [someone at Boston did and it was surprisingly effective]. Newer versions of Netscape use it to good effect as the basis of the inbuilt Usenet reader. What are your feelings on this feature?
Very good feature, offering several "windows" inside one. Usable for comparing things, showing table of contents or help information together with other data in the same document window.
10) Web pages can be generally created by either (a) using software to convert from some other format e.g. RTF, to HTML (b) using a package such as HoTMetaL to automate/validate the construction or (c) hand, in a text editor and then validated by e.g. the Halsoft validation mechanism (mirrored at Hensa). Which method do you use, and why?
I use all the methods mentioned, depending on the original document, I am working with. When writing a completely new document, I prefer still a HTML add-on to emacs, my normal editor. HotMetal and similar editors for UNIX seemed to slow and not individually configuerable enough. When i work with existing files, I use conversion software like RTFtoHTML. When working under MS Windows I prefer to use a special editor like HTML Writer.
I try to avoid validation software, its to finicky and not "flexible" enough.
11) What would you like to see happen in the field of the World Wide Web in 1996?
- Advances in scalable, distributed indexing.
- Agreement on index data exchange format standard, at least in Europe and a closer cooperation in this area.
- Adoption of an URN standard and establishment of URN-URL distributed resolver services, alternatively agreement on the PURL model (OCLC proposition).
- Advances in cooperative software for usage on the Web.
- HTML 3.0 should be adopted, and an embedding tag introduced in HTML.
- Realtime video applications on the Web (cf. VOSAIC).
- Comprehensive freeware authoring environment, easier SGML and PDF editing tools.
- Dramatic increased involvement from Nordic and European libraries and cooperation on innovative applications and services.
I hope, not to be drowned in business, marketing and selling when the big electronic payment systems are released.
Electronic information services librarian
LUND UNIVERSITY LIBRARY,
Development Department NetLab,
P.O. Box 3. S-221 00 Lund, Sweden