Since going live last Autumn we have sought and received a great deal of feedback on the BIOME health and life sciences Internet service. The BIOME launch event I reported on in the last issue of Ariadne was particularly important in providing the opportunity to gain users' comments and suggestions about the Service. We are delighted that people view the service - and indeed the entire Resource Discovery Network  - as providing a valuable internet tool. However we are conscious that BIOME needs to develop further and we are keen to respond to the needs of our user community. Over the last few weeks we have collated all the feedback and used it as the basis of our service plans for the coming year. The following paragraphs summarise some of the requests and suggestions received and how we intend to develop the service in response to them.
Browsing for relevant resources using MeSH (Medical Subject) headings has traditionally been more popular with OMNI gateway users than the search box facility. We are very aware that this is a vital part of the service. Feedback indicates that the current browse facility is not prominent enough on any of the BIOME and gateway pages. In response to this, we will include a browse button next to the search box. Some subject headings from the browse structures will also be displayed on the main BIOME home page and on each of the five gateway home pages, providing a directory function.
Requests for enhancements to the search functions included the ability to search for more than one resource type (eg. mailing list) within the advanced search page and to allow searching of specific fields of the database. Relevance ranking of search results was also a requested feature. It is our intention to implement all of these over the coming year. We will also be reviewing our current list of resource types to improve the range and display of the listing and include new resource types such as 'images'.
The inclusion of descriptions of the key features of each resource was considered useful. However, the length of descriptions was sometimes considered too long, necessitating lots of scrolling to view large numbers of resources in search results. Suggestions were to display the first line only with a clickable button to view the full description or just a display of the URL title and keywords with a button to view the description. We will therefore investigate putting one of these solutions in place.
4. Service structure
The concept behind the organisation of BIOME was to offer searching across the entire life sciences subject field, but also offer focused searching in specific subject areas within the life sciences. The structure of the web service reflects this concept. The BIOME home page provides a search box for the entire life sciences collection. The five gateways offer searching of a specific subject area. For example, Vetgate offers searching for only veterinary medicine and animal health resources. Unfortunately this structure is not helping some users to search in the appropriate place to find relevant resources. A brief investigation of the search logs also illustrated this issue. We will therefore be providing more navigational guides within the Service to emphasise the collection scope of BIOME and its five gateways. As mentioned above, this will include the display of some subject headings on the home pages.
The feedback we requested was not just confined to the public aspects of the Service. BIOME is provided by a consortium of partners whom all provide content using the database management system. We found that the separation of Internet resources by gateways is also proving an issue behind the scenes. Although a collection scope document exists for each of the gateways, there is an inevitable overlap in the subject fields. Currently Internet resources of relevance to more than one gateway community are entered twice, albeit with different thesauri and classification codes. Duplicates are then suppressed from the BIOME wide searches. To improve this, we are planning to re-design the structure of the system to integrate all records into one area. One record only will be created for a resource. This will then be assigned thesauri terms and classification marks from the relevant subject schemes so that it can be retrieved from different gateways.
5. Cross searching other collections
Requests for cross searching with other collections will soon begin to be realised through our Portal Development Project. As I reported in the last issue of Ariadne, we are taking part in the Resource Discovery Network Subject Portals Development Project, involving the development of proto-type portal services. Following the prototype and testing stage, cross-searching will then be integrated into the main BIOME service. One of the developements which has already taken place as part of this project is that the BIOME collection is now searchable using Z39.50. If you would like to access our Z39.50 service, please contact Bob Parkinson, Technical Manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are always keen to hear views and suggestions on the service. If you have any comments, please send them to Paula Manning, BIOME Service Manager at the email address below.
1. The Resource Discovery Network Home page is at: http://www.rdn.ac.uk
BIOME Service Manager
University of Nottingham