Web Magazine for Information Professionals

BUBL : How BUBL Benefits Academic Librarians

Alan Dawson and Jan Simpson take us through BUBL, an old service recently transformed from being Gopher-based to Web-based.

BUBL Basics

BUBL does more than offer a direct service to UK academics; it also offers a specialist support service to the librarians and information specialists who assist them with their information requirements.

During recent demonstrations to librarians of the new BUBL service, one comment has cropped up again and again:

“I had no idea there was so much in BUBL”

This indicates strong content, but suggests that in the past some material had been rather hidden away, or maybe just that more awareness is needed.

Another memorable quote came from a long-time contributor to the BUBL Information Service:

“I don’t use BUBL as much as I should”

This suggests a sense of duty. After all, BUBL was originally designed by librarians for librarians, so presumably librarians ought to use it.

This article aims to address these and other comments by showing how use of BUBL can benefit library staff, and at the same time give some details of the new BUBL service that are of wider interest. The benefits are classified under five main headings:

The focus is on use by academic librarians, though some areas of BUBL, notably BUBL LINK, BUBL Search, BUBL Journals and BUBL UK, offer a service to the wider academic community.

Saving time

For many professionals time is their most precious commodity. We hear a lot about information overload, pressure of work and time management. Yet the Internet, wonderful though it is, can eat away at this valuable time like a caterpillar munching through a leaf. There’s not much that can BUBL can do to overcome Internet congestion or increase network speed, but it does eliminate some other time-wasting features. The main aim of the new BUBL service is to provide clear, fast and reliable access to selected information sources, which means no adverts, no animations, and few graphics.

For those trying to find information on the Internet, there are two main areas of BUBL likely to be of most help: BUBL LINK and BUBL Search.

Firstly, BUBL LINK [1]. This is a searchable database of Internet resources of academic relevance, organised by DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification) and browsable by subject or class number. Where numerous items all have the same general class number, e.g. 540 Chemistry [2], they are organised according to type, e.g. societies, departments, companies, journals, rather than as a long alphabetical list.

When looking for a list or overview of resources in a specific subject area, the best choice is probably to browse BUBL LINK by subject. Currently the title, abstract, author and class number fields are displayed when browsing. Data held in other fields (e.g. subjects, location, resource type) is searchable but not displayed.

When looking for a more specific topic the search interface is likely to be more useful. The default search is conducted only on the item title, which is likely to give the quickest and most helpful results. However, other fields can be searched individually, collectively or in combination, via the same simple interface. The default search type is AND, so if more than one word is entered then only items matching all search terms will be retrieved.

BUBL LINK is of course only one of several catalogues of Internet resources, but it has a number of useful time-saving features:

Screenshot of a search on the term NISS in BUBL

A record located in the BUBL system

The limitation inherent in this approach is that the database of catalogued resources is small compared to the Internet resource base as a whole. To put it another way, if you are searching for information on a very specific topic you might not find it in BUBL LINK. In this case it is worth trying BUBL Search [3] before resorting to the unpredictable Net Search button on the browser. As well as options for searching different areas of BUBL, this contains numerous links to major Internet search services. The aim is to provide links to search options that are deliberately limited to certain topics or certain countries, as well as to the popular general search programs. The usefulness of these limited-area searches varies according to topic. The concept is powerful and potentially very useful, but at present the results offered are variable and some subjects are not yet covered by limited area searches.

Organising information

In order to provide effective access to information, libraries have to ensure that their holdings are well organised. However, many individual library staff have less optimal ways of organising documents, browser bookmarks and email messages. Use of BUBL can help librarians improve their own electronic filing systems. Instead of storing a large collection of URLs and messages, librarians can rely on BUBL to do much of this organisation of information for them and to keep it up to date. For example, the BUBL UK service [4] provides an extensive index to organisations and institutions in the UK, including central and local government, universities and colleges, libraries, companies and political parties. Some indexes are held on BUBL, some elsewhere, but this scarcely matters to users. As long as an institution can be found via this route, there is no need to keep a bookmark unless the site is frequently accessed. It is more useful and efficient to use a few good starting points and learn routes to information than to bookmark a large number of individual locations which then have to be organised in some way.

The same principle applies to use of the BUBL News service [5], which holds (amongst other things) details of forthcoming events, job vacancies and survey reports. Much of this information is circulated to library mailing lists, and subscribers to these lists can read and immediately delete messages on these topics (instead of cluttering up their email folders) safe in the knowledge that the information will be held in the relevant area of BUBL News (with live links to any URLs mentioned). The service also allows library staff to consider unsubscribing from some lists, with the reassurance that they can easily find any significant items via BUBL News.

The same advantages are available at an institutional level as well as a personal level. Most libraries with their own web pages will offer a collection of links to useful external Internet resources. This means that the person or group who maintains these pages has to decide which links to include and how to organise them. The task is much more important than for personal bookmarks, as the organisation and updating of departmental pages requires substantial time and care if they are to be used and respected. Library web editors can make their job easier by relying on BUBL LINK to provide organised subject-based access to Internet resources. Many libraries and other resource collections already do this by linking to specific areas of the BUBL LINK subject tree, which allows webmasters to customise their external links to reflect local interests without having to duplicate any of the content. If any important resources turn out to be missing from BUBL LINK there is a simple solution - send details to bubl@bubl.ac.uk and the item will be assessed and added within the week.

Keeping up-to-date

The BUBL Journals service provides a quick and easy method of staying in touch with recent developments in library and information science (LIS). It contains over 140 LIS journals, magazines or newsletters; in most cases the contents and abstracts are stored, though some have contents only. There are also twelve full-text LIS publications, including Associates, EJournal, Libres, MC Journal, PACS Review and the Newsletter on Serials Pricing Issues. Each title can be searched individually, or all LIS journals can be searched collectively. Titles are organised into twelve main LIS subject areas to assist browsing [6]. Coverage of most titles stretches back to the early days of BUBL, around 1991 or 1992, so the Journals service also provides an extensive and useful reference service. Where journals have their own home page then this is linked from the relevant journal page on BUBL.

Each week details of new additions to BUBL Journals are added to the BUBL Updates file, along with additions to other areas of BUBL, and this is posted to LIS mailing lists as well as appearing in the BUBL News service [7]. There are also two journal update lists, lis-bubl-e2 and lis-bubl-e2med, for those who wish to receive the full abstracts by email rather than just a list of new titles. A separate file for BUBL LINK Updates holds the title and abstract of recent additions to the BUBL LINK catalogue. This is also distributed via email, to lis-subjects and lis-link.

Helping other library staff

Ever since BUBL began it has aimed to foster links within the LIS community and to encourage cooperation, and this is still the case today. BUBL runs a number of mailing lists of interest to librarians, the best known of which is lis-link. The list acts both as a current awareness service where members can announce new services and a debating medium where there can be fierce discussions on the issues of the day. The membership of lis-link averages around 2500 members and the traffic on the list can be very informative. There is also a lighter side to lis-link, with discussions encompassing Railtrack timetables and music-hall lyrics.

One regular feature of lis-link is the posting of informal survey reports about academic libraries and related topics. The accepted convention is that anyone asking for help and feedback from others should summarise the results and post them to the list. Topics range from cataloguing of e-journals to names of recommended removals companies. These survey reports are extracted and stored in a searchable directory on BUBL News, along with survey reports from other lists [8]. Collecting these reports together on BUBL allows librarians to check whether a topic has been dealt with recently before sending a similar query to the same list. The service is also used and appreciated by LIS students researching projects and essay topics.

Another area of BUBL News offering a cooperative service is Offers and Requests. This is used to announce duplicate or surplus journal holdings for disposal or to request missing items. This is the area of BUBL that most closely resembles the original bulletin board idea.

The diverse needs of the LIS community are reflected in the development of specialist services within BUBL LINK. The most developed of these to date is AcqLink for acquisitions librarians [9]. Set up in partnership with Catherine Nicholson, Acquisitions Librarian at Glasgow Caledonian University, this area provides a self-contained collection for those involved in acquisitions. The service covers journals, discussion lists, organisations, online services and library suppliers, and has links to the ever increasing lists of publishers and booksellers contained elsewhere in the catalogue. Initial user feedback on the AcqLink service has been very positive. For example:

Acqlink is a welcome addition to the online resources available to all those involved in library acquisitions and collection development. It supplements the well-established Acqweb, which although excellent is naturally aimed primarily at American users. Now British and European acquisitions personnel have a comparable resource directly related to their needs.
Although only just established, there is already a wealth of information on Acqlink. It is particularly helpful to have data on library suppliers together in one place. Similarly, the journal contents pages are more accessible on Acqlink than on a more general list. Acquisitions is a multidisciplinary field, so the links to publishers, copyright, etc are a bonus. Of immediate practical use are such pages as currency converters and price studies. The ‘bulletin board’ function is well served by the News section.
On the evidence so far, I am sure the huge amount of work put in by Catherine Nicholson and others to create and maintain Acqlink will be fully justified by the resulting service. I hope all acquisitions librarians with access to the Internet make good use of it.

Jim Vickery
Head of English Language Selection and Serials
The British Library

Helping library users

For librarians involved in answering user enquiries or showing others how to find information on the Internet, BUBL LINK and BUBL Search may be particularly useful, as illustrated earlier. As well as the many search options, the BUBL Search service provides detailed help with searching and holds a selection of search guides.

BUBL as a whole also offers new users a fixed and reliable starting point for Internet exploration. For those who simply want an introduction to the Web rather than looking for anything specific, the random browse feature of BUBL LINK may well be of interest [10]. This contains a collection of links extracted at random from the BUBL LINK database yet organised within subject categories. This is the only area of BUBL that was set up more ‘because it was possible’ rather than ‘because it would be useful’, yet it has proved to be an extremely popular feature. The random links are updated every week, so many users make return visits.

BUBL also hosts pages for a number of user groups and other organisations involved in electronic library provision, including:

JISC Bibliographic Data Services User Group
JANET User Group for Libraries
eLib project investigating university management of electronic resources
Horizon User Group in the UK

The best way to locate these at present is to search BUBL LINK. BUBL is also managing a project funded by the National Library of Scotland to provide a service offering conspectus data from the Scottish Research Collections Online, on behalf of the Scottish Consortium of University and Research Libraries (SCURL).

Future developments

Now that the new BUBL service is well established there needs to be a period of consolidation, review and content enhancement while possible new developments are considered. At the same time as planning ahead, BUBL continues to hold almost all the information that has been part of the service for many years. The searchable BUBL Archive [11] is home to many thousands of files from the old BUBL service. Although much of this information seems out-of-date, usage figures show that it is still of value to those researching past Internet developments, or looking for references to older journal articles or email messages.

Two aspects of the BUBL service that are certainly set to develop are the use of metadata and the provision of Z39.50 access. The BUBL LINK database already includes extensive metadata, in the form of DDC numbers, LCSH keywords, item abstracts and resource type entries. There are already plans to make existing fields more consistent with the emerging Dublin Core standard for resource description, even though not all the elements of Dublin Core are likely to be used.

BUBL is one of the few national services already offering access via the Z39.50 protocol as well as via HTTP, but at present only BUBL LINK is available via this route. There are plans to further develop this and to investigate the extension of Z39.50 access to other areas of BUBL, in co-operation with other organisations such as UKOLN.

Other development plans are to some extent dependent on the overall JISC strategy, as BUBL is funded by JISC and is keen to cooperate with other national services and projects while maintaining and developing existing services to users.

Further details of BUBL itself and individual contact details are provided in the BUBL Admin pages [12]. BUBL staff are always pleased to receive comments and suggestions from service users, preferably by email to bubl@bubl.ac.uk


[1] BUBL Link Service,

[2] Internet resources in Chemistry,

[3] BUBL Search,

[4] BUBL UK,

[5] BUBL News,

[6] LIS journals held by BUBL,

[7] Current BUBL updates,

[8] LIS survey reports,

[9] AcqLink,

[10] BUBL LINK random browse feature,

[11] BUBL Archive,

[12] BUBL Admin,

Author Details

Alan Dawson, BUBL Manager, and
Jan Simpson, Information Officer
Email: bubl@bubl.ac.uk
Tel: 0141 548 4752