Web Magazine for Information Professionals

The JISC 5/99 Programme: What's in a Number?

Rachel Bruce and Balviar Notay give an overview of the outputs and influences of the JISC 5/99 Learning and Teaching and Infrastructure Programme.

The 5/99 Programme, as it became known, was funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) [1] in the year 2000. Quite simply the name, 5/99, refers to the number of a JISC circular letter. It was the fifth circular issued by the JISC in 1999. So the name is pretty meaningless to those outside the JISC or not involved in one of 54 projects that were funded via the circular. The majority of the projects have now completed, the programme end date was July 2003. Some, however, are on-going and many of these digital content and digital library infrastructure developments have evolved beyond the lifetime of the programme. These are now delivered as services, or have become part of other initiatives now contributing to the JISC Information Environment (IE) [2].

So what was it all about? The full name of this extensive programme was 'Developing the DNER for Learning and Teaching'. So it was about the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER), which was defined as:

The Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) is a managed environment for accessing quality assured information resources on the Internet which are available from many sources. These resources include scholarly journals, monographs, textbooks, abstracts, manuscripts, maps, music scores, still images, geospatial images and other kinds of vector and numeric data, as well as moving picture and sound collections. [3]

And it was about learning and teaching. The UK Higher Education Funding Councils allocated just over £10 million to the JISC to enhance its DNER development for learning and teaching. The idea was to make the more traditional digital library- and research-orientated resources more applicable for learning and teaching. The funding councils recognised that JISC had been successful in developing datasets for research, for example the 1991 Census data, image collections, e-journals and geospatial data. These types of collections were beginning to find use in learning and teaching but to help develop this use it was proposed that some targeted resource be allocated.

One of the major thrusts behind the programme was to improve the interaction between those involved in the development of learning environments and the national information systems and services being developed by the JISC. To address these needs the call for projects included three strands:

  1. Implementation and development of the DNER - later known as Infrastructure
  2. JISC enhancements for learning and teaching
  3. Evaluation studies relating to both strands A and B

Strand A was concerned with projects that would enhance the developing DNER infrastructure and enable seamless access to quality-assured resources. Strand B aimed to develop existing JISC services for learning and teaching, focusing on content issues and digital libraries in learning and teaching. It was quite wide-ranging and it is little wonder the programme has not had a clear identity! This was further compounded when, a year or so after the projects began, the concept of the DNER evolved to what we now call the 'Information Environment' and the DNER label was no longer used. Despite the identity crisis an enormously rich set of projects has been taken forward; and in the vast majority of cases with high levels of success.

At the start of the programme the projects were grouped into themed clusters. These were: Images, Moving Pictures and Sound, Data, Museum, Access to Learning and Teaching, and for those without a clear home, Miscellaneous. In addition, for the first time within JISC, a large-scale formative evaluation, known as EDNER [4] was funded; this was undertaken by a team from the Centre for Research in Library and Information Management (CERLIM) and the Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technology (CSALT).

With this ambitious and diverse set of objectives, it is sometimes difficult to identify clearly what inroads the programme has made towards the establishment of a richer digital environment.

The former Head of JISC Development, Dr Alicia Wise, was, as JISC Collections Manager at the time, one of the main authors of the 5/99 circular. She believed that the programme would:

' - help engagement of the JISC and the UK higher education community with a fresh spectrum of content specialists, for example museums and moving pictures and sound providers - helping to fuse this expertise with that from the e-learning community to help invigorate - [more well established] digital library activities.'

Chris Rusbridge, another of the circular's authors, says in Ariadne Issue 26:

'To me, the idea of the DNER is simple: consistent access to the widest range of stuff. [5]

If we take these as points against which to judge the programme activity, then it appears to have contributed substantially. Without a doubt the considerable dedication of the project staff in exploring and answering these issues has resulted in new insights, products and greater understanding of how to deliver content and address users' needs.

For example the Implementing the Technical Architecture at MIMAS (ITAM) [6] Project has helped to establish a deeper and more practical understanding of the architecture [7] that supports the Information Environment (formerly the DNER). ITAM used the MIMAS [8] range of JISC-supported services to build an example of the architecture, focusing on accessibility to heterogenous resources and based on machine-to-machine (M2M) interchange. The project created collection descriptions of resources and exposed them for harvesting via the Open Archives Initiative (OAI). It also implemented OpenURLs and trialled the SFX OpenURL resolver. This work has helped to evaluate and demonstrate the value of OpenURL technology, implementing this into Zetoc [9] and JSTOR [10] and trialling SFX across a small number of universities. In addition the project's work on the Research Support Library Programme (RSLP) collection level description has provided invaluable input to the Information Environment Service Registry (IESR) [11] which is now being developed by MIMAS, University of Liverpool and UKOLN as a core shared infrastructure service to support discovery within the Information Environment.

A project that has seen promising take-up is Java Access For Electronic Resources (JAFER) [12]. This project was led by a well established team of programmers at Oxford University Computing Centre and also involved Crossnet. It set out to create a lightweight useable Z39.50 toolkit. At the time of funding Z39.50 was the main search protocol promoted as part of the architecture. However its take-up has always been hindered by the complexity of the configuration required to implement it. JAFER offers a way around this, the toolkit is Java-based and offers software for both client and server application. It is available at SourceForge.net with an Open Source licence and has not only been taken up at Oxford University for cross-searching online catalogues but is being used more widely. Recently it has been a major part of the supporting architecture for some developments looking at the linking of virtual learning environments (VLEs) and digital libraries (DiVLE) [13]. In this way JAFER is helping to ensure consistent access to a wide range of 'stuff'.

Other 5/99 developments that are clearly important in terms of the Information Environment include the Subject Portals Project (SPP) [14]. This project was undertaken initially as a development purely associated with the Resource Discovery Network (RDN) [15]. It aimed to raise users' awareness of the resources within the JISC Information Environment by developing portal services for use at five of the RDN hubs: BIOME, EEVL, HUMBUL, PSIGate and SOSIG. The services included an authentication/authorisation service; a cross-search of specially selected resources and a user profiling and alerting service. The project has now gone on to develop 'portlet' services that can be embedded into other portal framework software. The application of these 'portlets' can be beyond subject portals, for instance an institution might use them within a library portal or otherwise. Portals continue to be a major aspect of the Information Environment's presentation layer (the layer from which users interact with the environment). There are other portals, such the GeoData portal, (now GoGeo!) [16] that began life within the 5/99 programme. As a result of these developments there are practical examples of portals across subjects and data type; these form the basis of the Information Environment Portals Programme that is continuing to develop a wider range of portals with further user testing. One of the strengths of these projects has been the responsiveness of the teams involved; they have had to be flexible, assess appropriate technology and address user requirements. The JISC is now undertaking work to examine these aspects more thoroughly in order to inform the future direction of JISC-supported portals.

Before moving on to the content-orientated projects, it is worth mentioning Xgrain [17] as it is a nice example of a broker within the IE. X-grain, developed at EDINA [18], facilitates cross- searching and like JAFER is based on Z39.50. The main objective of the Xgrain Project was to enhance the usability of specialist abstracting and indexing, and of electronic tables of contents services across the JISC Information Environment in learning and teaching. The broker has been promoted as a tool for the novice user to help interrogate specialist databases. It has achieved a level of success which has helped prove that, with the right tools, types of content more traditionally used by researchers and only rarely by undergraduates will be used more widely and by the novice. Xgrain is continuing work and looking at further integration within SPP and institutional portals. As with other outputs from the 5/99 programme, the transfer to service model is complicated and there is still work to be done to ascertain how to test and take outputs forward so that a robust service model supports tools like Xgrain.

Within strand B a number of content projects were funded; these covered areas as indicated by the cluster names outlined earlier. Previously JISC had hosted various census data at a number of institutions. While these datasets were valuable for research, they were not easy to translate for learning and teaching purposes. The Collection of Historical and Contemporary Census Data and Materials (CHCC) Project [19] has provided a one-stop point of access for these census datasets with accompanying learning and teaching resources and built-in interactive visualisation software. For example a user can select unemployment from the database and this will be translated into a map showing regional variations of unemployment. The resources are now being used in a joint US and UK venture where the Universities of Leeds, Southampton and California Santa Barbara are embedding technology firmly into undergraduate Geography courses [20].

Still image resources have been created via the programme and various projects have created new learning and teaching material involving digitised images. The Crafts Study Centre Project [21], led by the Surrey Institute of Art and Design, has developed a digital resource of images of 20th Century crafts. A high proportion of the artefacts in the Crafts Study Centre's collections of 20th Century crafts and textual items which form part of the archive has been digitised, producing a total resource of 4000 images. A set of learning and teaching materials to exploit the resource has been developed; these provide content in the area of modern craft, an area which has little material to support it at present.

Museum content was new to the JISC at the time of the 5/99 circular and is a medium that lends itself particularly well to learning and teaching. The Digital Egypt [22] Project based at The Petrie Museum and University College London's Centre for Advanced Spatial Studies has developed a resource that allows users to explore the Egyptology content online. The project has developed a timeline, spatial, audio and 3D virtual reality approach with accompanying learning and teaching materials. The project promotes new visual media as agents for progress, to support learning in all disciplines from a single online platform. Similarly rich content has been produced from archival collections as in the Publications and Archives in Teaching Online Information Sources (PATOIS) Project [23] based at the Archaeology Data Service (ADS). This project has developed four tutorial packs to introduce students to the electronic analysis and use of primary archaeological data resources: monument inventories, excavation archives, research reports and multi-disciplinary datasets. One of the learning and teaching packages, for example, examines the excavation of the burial vault in the crypt of Christ Church, Spitalfields, allowing users to explore life and death in 18th and 19th Century London. It introduces the user to the records from those excavations, to the subsequent research by historians and medical scientists and looks at the issues surrounding the excavation of human remains. Institutions are actively using this resource and a model to support expansion is being developed involving the ADS and the institutions.

A few projects in the area of Moving Pictures and Sound were taken forward. One example is the Television and Radio Index for Learning and Teaching (TRILT) [24] Project which set out to enhance the British Universities Film and Video Council (BUFVC) [25] Television Index service. TRILT is the most comprehensive online database of its kind ingesting approximately 1.1 million records per year describing UK television and radio programmes, including terrestrial, cable, and satellite television (with regional variations), all national and many local radio stations. Data is made available at least 10 days before transmission, and is retained, building a unique archive of programme information and schedules. Selected programmes of likely value to higher and further education are evaluated and enhanced with information including improved descriptions, additional keywords, bibliographies, Web links and indications of sources of post-transmission copies, including the BUFVC Off-Air Recording Back-Up Service. During the project period TRILT was hosted by EDINA on a database engine that the national data centre developed. It is now being hosted by the BUFVC and has (since mid-January 2003) been released to the Athens authenticated FE/HE community. Like PATOIS and CHCC, TRILT is one of the 5/99 projects that has helped to make existing services and data more relevant to learning.

Virtual learning environments (VLEs) were quite immature at the conception of the programme and there was little activity involving the linking of digital libraries to VLEs. To begin to address this issue, the programme funded the INSPIRAL [26] study, led by the University of Strathclyde. The purpose of the study was to identify and analyse critically the issues that surround linking VLEs and digital libraries, focusing on institutional and end-user perspectives. As a result of the INSPIRAL recommendations, the JISC funded a set of projects known as Linking Digital Libraries and Virtual Learning Environments (DiVLE), as mentioned earlier. These were ten projects of ten months' duration; they mainly focused on pilots that implemented linking between VLEs and digital library systems. These projects have shown that there are significant changes in the roles and workloads of academics and librarians if such developments are to be fully realised, that more effort is needed in the design of VLEs to support student needs and that making the environment more attractive is required to embed VLEs and digital libraries completely in learning and teaching. There are also technical issues to be resolved, for example the mapping of library metadata with learning metadata schemas. These projects have helped identify the next steps as well as helping to share experience widely within the education sector.

The Interactive Content Exchange (ICONEX) [27] Project based at Lincolnshire College and Hull University was an early innovator in the area of repurposeable, shareable and interactive learning objects. It addressed the issue of the provision, location, exchange and use of interactive learning objects within the JISC Information Environment and how they might connect to VLEs. The team has established a Web-based repository of interactive content which is browsable by standard metadata and populated this with exemplar interactive content. The key findings from this project have fed into the Exchange for Learning (X4L) [28] Programme and the ICONEX team and its lessons continue to influence the X4L Programme. For example the project team has helped develop Xtensis [29], one of the development software platforms being used for the JORUM (X4L Learning Materials Repository). In addition the project has been involved in the testing of the National Learning Network (NLN) materials [30] using the Xtensis software prior to their hosting at MIMAS.

A number of tools for building interoperable digital architectures are available as a result of the 5/99 programme and many developments have sown the seeds of national infrastructure that help form the Information Environment, for example portals. Materials developed through 5/99 are available to UK higher and further education either via services or from institutions. There are hard questions that surround the sustainability of the digital environment to be answered and through these projects probably more questions than answers have arisen in this area. However there are useful lessons for the projects, the JISC and the community. For example looking at service models from the start will help. Moreover the EDNER study found that before embarking on such developments we need to be better at thinking of the intended impacts and uses of the products. As with all developments these might change along the way but to be clearer at the start can help make something more relevant and therefore more likely to have a significant impact. Sometimes stating what seems obvious is required.


So what was 5/99? It wasn't just a number. It was an extensive programme of activity that has laid the foundation for a number of important developments that are being taken further within the JISC or elsewhere in the digital library and learning arena. Unfortunately this article has only been able to mention a handful of the many projects that have helped to contribute towards the vision of a digital environment that fully supports the needs of learners and teachers. The enthusiasm and hard work of all the 5/99 project staff have been invaluable in helping to deliver this and the project outputs will undoubtedly continue to have influence and use. Through the programme we now have more consistent access to 'stuff' and there have been some bridges built between the digital library and learning community with a number of traditional research collections now being more orientated towards learning. As EDNER reported, there is still a considerable way to go! The JISC is now looking in more detail at the architectures and frameworks that support e-learning activity. It is looking at where the Information Environment architecture intersects with these and how they support and require different or the same activities across Further and Higher Education [31].


  1. The Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) http://www.jisc.ac.uk
  2. JISC Information Environment http://www.jisc.ac.uk/ie
  3. Description of the DNER http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=dner_adding_value
  4. EDNER http://www.cerlim.ac.uk/edner/welcome.html
  5. After eLib, Chris Rusbridge, January 2001, Ariadne Issue 26 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue26/chris/
  6. Implementing the Technical Architecture at MIMAS (ITAM) http://epub.mimas.ac.uk/itam.html
  7. JISC Information Environment Architecture http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/distributed-systems/jisc-ie/arch/
  8. Manchester Information & Associated Services http://www.mimas.ac.uk/
  9. Electronic Tables of Contents from the British Library http://zetoc.mimas.ac.uk/
  10. The UK JSTOR Mirror Service at MIMAS http://www.mimas.ac.uk/jstor/
  11. The Information Environment Service Registry http://www.mimas.ac.uk/iesr/
  12. Java Access For Electronic Resources http://www.jafer.org/
  13. Linking Digital Libraries with Virtual Learning Environments Programme http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_divle
  14. The Subject Portals Project http://www.portal.ac.uk/spp/
  15. Resource Discovery Network http://www.rdn.ac.uk/
  16. Go-Geo Data Portal http://hds.essex.ac.uk/Go-Geo/Background.htm
  17. The Xgrain Project http://edina.ac.uk/projects/joinup/xgrain/
  18. EDINA http://edina.ac.uk/
  19. The Collection of Historical and Contemporary Census Data project http://www.chcc.ac.uk/
  20. Digital Libraries in the Classroom Programme http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_dlitc
  21. The Crafts Study Centre Project http://www.craftscentre.surrart.ac.uk/
  22. Digital Egypt Project http://www.digitalegypt.ucl.ac.uk/
  23. Publications and Archives in Teaching Online Information Sources Project (PATOIS) http://ads.ahds.ac.uk/project/patois/
  24. Television and Radio Indexing for Learning and Teaching Project http://www.bufvc.ac.uk/TRILT/
  25. British Universities Film and Video Council http://www.bufvc.ac.uk/
  26. Investigating Portals for Information Resources and Learning (INSPIRAL) http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=project_inspiral
  27. Interactive Content Exchange Project http://www.iconex.hull.ac.uk/
  28. Exchange for learning Programme http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_x4l
  29. Xtensis software platform http://www.xor.ltd.uk/xtensis/
  30. National Learning Network Materials http://www.nln.ac.uk/materials/
  31. JISC Frameworks Programme http://www.jisc.ac.uk/index.cfm?name=programme_frameworks

Author Details

Rachel Bruce
Acting Team Leader for the Information Environment
Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

Email: r.bruce@jisc.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.jisc.ac.uk

Balviar Notay
5/99 Learning and Teaching Programme Manager
Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC)

Email: b.notay@jisc.ac.uk
Web site: http://www.jisc.ac.uk

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