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What's Good and Bad about BUBL

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Traugott Koch reviews the Bulletin Board for Libraries (BUBL).

There is no doubt that BUBL retains its place as the Number One Internet resource for librarians. BUBL was one of the first of the major cooperative sites in our common subject area of the Internet, and is an impressive example of what can be accomplished by well organized, broad cooperation between colleagues.

The support which it receives from its many sponsors, enabling it to employ dedicated staff, is well deserved, as is the high level of usage, both nationally and internationally. I still remember the delays we foreigners faced using the London gateway which allowed us to come into the old JANET network. BUBL was always worth waiting for. Access, fortunately, is now much easier, and BUBL can be reached by all major access paths Update information is widely distributed and allows, in its HTML versions, direct connection to the listed contents (although I suggest that the archive of update files should be somewhat extended beyond two weeks). The introduction of BUBL BITS, the best BUBL feature stories, has certainly raised the level of usage.

Content, Form, Structure and Usability

Even the best services can and must be improved from time to time in order to maintain their position. I would like in this article to make some suggestions as to how BUBL could be improved.

Content

Firstly, BUBL's service is directed towards two different target groups. It originated Picture of Traugottas the 'BUlletin Board for Libraries', but it now provides an information service to the academic and research community more generally. The prime components of the library service are the LIS material and the BUBL Subject Tree. The 'wider' service is provided by the menus offering connections to other Internet resources (Internet Resources, Services by type, Major Network Services) as well as support on using the Internet and the World-Wide-Web.

Form

The BUBL pages show a rather homogeneous form and layout. The main pages of the Web server use the BUBL logo at their head, HTML headers consisting largely of lists of resources (almost exclusively links to remote resources) and very short extended titles. The footer carries the communication links to the BUBL contacts. Thus, the Web pages differ little from the layout of the Gopher pages, which still carry almost all extended and locally archived information. Fortunately, the use of graphics is strictly limited, which helps to maintain fast connection times for most users.

Structure

The content and structure of BUBL have neither the beauty nor the volatility of the bubbles in the logo. My main criticism of BUBL is of its structure. Such a huge information system requires a clear and logical structure. After more than two years of the Web service, it should have been possible to integrate the material stored on the Gopher server in a much better way. The advantages of the WWW protocol and the HTML markup language are not fully exploited for structuring, presenting and embedding information, for detailed comments and help, for providing different views of the material, nor for the potential to provide rich interactivity with the users of different parts of the service.

The main page arranges its topics in an unhelpful way. The pages about BUBL and its services should be grouped together (Send Mail to BUBL, All About BUBL, ***Please Read***, Warning on Copyright!), together with BUBL Updates and the local searching facility. Entry points to the Internet, by subject, by type and by keyword search should form another group. The major services - LIS and the BUBL Subject Tree should be in the most prominent position on the home page. As it stands, they do not receive enough emphasis, nor is there enough detail about their content.

The lack of structural clarity is reinforced by the fact that some resources are linked into several different main sections. General WWW project information is to be found under both World-Wide- Web (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/WWWInfo.html and Services Arranged by Type (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/ServType.html). The latter should include lists of Web servers, but not information about the Web. The alternative would be to combine both sections.

Internet Resources (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/GALLERY.html) seems to list selected bits and pieces from the home page down to various Gopher sub-menus, without any obvious structure. Indeed, it looks like an alternative presentation of the whole service. Its elements would fit much better into a strict facet structure: 'Resources by type' and 'Resources by subject'. Both parts are in place already.

Most of the other Web pages are not further sub-divided and often the only structure given is a list in alphabetical order.

Usability

There is plenty of help and orientation support available. However, navigational buttons and links (to the home page for example) are often lacking. This does not matter a great deal at present because of the relatively shallow hierarchy on the Web server, with normally only two levels to negotiate. Something I do miss in the Web pages, however, is the lack of contact information for the individual responsible for the content of each page, and details of the date of the last update. This is excellently done in all Gopher documents. However, the extended titles in all Web menus improve the information about the content of the links, and BUBL does this better than many Web services.

The Keyword Searching facility (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/Key.html) is important but not very satisfying. A searchable database over the whole content of BUBL is needed. At the moment, what we have is a full-text WAIS database covering the content and filenames of files on the Gopher server (gopher://bubl.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/Index). Furthermore, it is hidden among all the other Internet search services. The headings of the Gopher server and the complete WWW server are not searchable. Some individual sections offer a separate searchable database, (for example, the BUBL's Journals TOCs (gopher://ukoln.bath.ac.uk:7070/77/BUBL_Main_Menu/E/.waisindex/index).

A good list of keyword searching tools for the Internet needs to comment much more on the content, possibilities and limitations of the selected tools and to provide them in a logical order. This alphabetical collection of tools unfortunately does not meet the expectations of information professionals.

BUBL's Two Main Strengths

LIS

The 'Library and Information Science' section is BUBL's greatest asset, and has no serious international competition. BUBL should concentrate on making further improvements to this already strong service.

I regularly use many of the links, particularly the collection of information files from other services, electronic conferences and institutions. The BUBL's Journals Tables of Contents is an outstanding resource, as are New Book Publications in LIS (a selection from BookData), the electronic journals archive, the conference announcements, the News section; directories, glossaries and the information networking section. All represent excellent resources in their own right.

Organising all the material using Web pages would allow a further improvement of the quality of Picture of Dennis Nicholson presentation, descriptions of resources and the links between different sections. At present, the huge Gopher hierarchy is kept separate and completely hidden behind the label LIS Resources via the BUBL Gopher, which is just one among several links under LIS resources located on BUBL.

The collection of Web links contained in LIS resources available via BUBL is arranged alphabetically, which is not the most helpful order. In addition, it is very difficult for the user to find the principles behind keyword formation for filing purposes. For example, Denmark's Technological Library in Copenhagen is placed under the keyword 'Denmark', but the filing keyword for Sweden's most important national medical library, the Karolinska Institute Library, is 'Karolinska'. A uniform principle must apply in keyword choice - country, place, name or subject keyword.

It would be useful to know what standards BUBL applies in various areas: selection criteria and quality assessment, the choice of a subject structure or a classification scheme, and the level of detail of annotation.

There is still some material left on the BUBL Gopher server which is not strongly or exclusively related to LIS. Network tools are still available, for example, although a much more comprehensive list is found within the Web service. A consequence of the non-completion of the transition to WWW is section 15 - BUBL Subject Tree: Library and Information Science Area, which has Gopher and telnet links in alphabetical order (gopher://ukoln.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/Link/Tree/Library). In the WWW menu (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/Library.html), covering the same subject, there also appear gopher links, besides http and ftp.

Information about resources should be kept apart from the resources themselves, and so should archival material from current information. Clearer audience guidance would also be an advantage. It is not always obvious which resources are mostly of UK interest, and which are directed towards an international audience.

Section 17, OPACs, Library Catalogues via NISS (UK) and Hytelnet (gopher://ukoln.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/BUBL_Main_Menu/OPACS) is unsatisfactory for such an important LIS resource. Only a Hytelnet link and a telnet link to the NISS UK OPAC list is provided. Services Arranged by Type from the Web home page points to a couple of other links in BUBL's Gopher (gopher://bubl.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/Type) and the Web version of the UK OPAC list at NISS. These pointers to OPACs should be improved. There are a lot of usable lists of international OPACs, reachable by telnet, via Gopher or WWW

I hope that it will prove possible to keep most of the services up-to-date. Some of the journal TOCs (gopher://ukoln.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/BUBL_Main_Menu/E/E2) seem not to be current (for example, at the time of writing, recent issues of Internet World are missing). Library and IT journals dominate this section, and clarity would be better served by non-LIS journals being placed in a separate collection.

A transition to WWW would allow improvements to the excellent conference section (gopher://ukoln.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/BUBL_Main_Menu/H/H1/H1F) with links to follow-up material, publications and authors. A useful feature in section: 06 - Electronic Mail Discussion Lists (gopher://ukoln.bath.ac.uk:7070/11/BUBL_Main_Menu/F) would be the addition of links to the Hypermail archives of library conferences at Mailbase.

BUBL Subject Tree

There is a lot of competition in the area of general subject trees, but the largest services don't display very convincing structures or resource descriptions. BUBL made a good choice by selecting an established library classification system (UDC) in preference to a home-made system.

However, many of the subject areas are not very comprehensively covered. No indication is given as to whether it is a quality-assessed selection, or just a small collection. There are a couple of huge subject-structured collections offered on the Internet, and the user should know the selection criteria and strength of every collection in order to be able to choose which to rely upon. BUBL's Subject Tree is maintained by LIS professionals, whereas that of Yahoo (http://www.yahoo.com/) and the WWW Virtual Library (http://www.w3.org/hypertext/DataSources/bySubject/Overview2.html) are maintained largely by authors and Internet users. The difference in comprehensiveness, clear selection, construction and description principles should be made obvious to the user.

BUBL gives the choice between UDC or alphabetical arrangement. The UDC hierarchy is not very well displayed (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/Tree.html), with selected subsections only shown in a linear list. Subject substructures or facets (e.g. by type) would have been possible on most pages. The solution in the Computing section (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/Computing.html) is commendable up to a point, with the lack of a decent UDC substructure compensated for by a homemade subject structure (although unfortunately this is in an alphabetical arrangement with 'General Computing' in the middle of a long page).

On every page, the links are listed simply in alphabetical order (not always correctly - have a look at Arts at http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/Art.html!). The resources from BUBL's Gopher menu are only presented as one link above the individual WWW resource links in every subject page. The titles and annotations for the resources are often too brief, and an indication of the original language of resources (such as, for example, 'Art Library Oslo: all information in Norwegian') is missing.

I believe that it would be worth investigating whether cooperation with the NISS (http://www.niss.ac.uk/subject/index.html) and other UK Subject Tree projects would accomplish better coverage, quality control, resource description and subject structure. An alternative would be a looser coordination of different subject collections, managed in a decentralised way, applying different selection and quality criteria, different levels of resource description and varying structures. Some UK institutions (SOSIG, UKOLN and the University of Loughborough) are part of the EU project DESIRE (http://www.ub2.lu.se/desire/), which has as one of its goals the development of an architecture which allows for a comprehensive usage of the material from subject-based information gateways (distributed resource discovery based on rich descriptions and quality-controlled resource catalogues for specific subject areas).

Incidentally, is the connection with the material from the CATRIONA project (http://www.bubl.bath.ac.uk/BUBL/maincatriona.html) in the home page an indication of coming efforts towards 'real Internet cataloguing'? There is not much bibliographic control of this material at the moment. The other current initiatives in this area (OCLC MARC cataloguing, Metadata discussions, Dublin Core Set etc.) are encountering significant problems.

Conclusion

My prime concern for BUBL is its structure. The structure of the whole service needs to be improved considerably in order to allow the user easily to browse the wealth of important information and the spread of valuable resources. The Gopher-based material should be integrated into an improved WWW structure, and duplication should be eliminated. Nevertheless, BUBL is a first-class resource and one well worth building upon. Here in Sweden, we hope for increased national and international cooperation, especially over LIS resources.

Traugott Koch
Electronic Information Services Librarian
Lund University Library
Development Department
NetLab
P.O. Box 3
S-221 00
LUND
Sweden

Tel: int+46 46 2229233
Fax: int+46 46 2223682 or 2224422
E-mail: traugott.koch@ub2.lu.se
26.11.95

Traugott Koch is also featured in the "Wire" section of this issue.

Response

Dennis Nicholson BUBL Co-ordinator responds to the above article, which was also sent to lis-link.

Hello,

As many of you will know, the first issue of the ELib electronic journal ARIADNE contained an article on BUBL. This is a short(ish) general response to that article.

The article contains many positive comments about BUBL but also contains many criticisms, particularly of its structure. Some of these criticisms are valid. However, as anyone who has looked at our experimental new service will know, we have already begun to tackle them and are currently inviting the user community to help us design the new BUBL.

Information about the existence of our new server was included in the ARIADNE article as a very short 'stop press' note. The note, however, did not give any details of our efforts, nor did it give the URL, which is:

http://catriona.lib.strath.ac.uk/

If you have not already done so, I hope you will visit our new server and see for yourself how we are trying to improve the service. Our plans seek to address all of the issues in the article as well as some others.

The business of bringing a new and better BUBL service into being has been in hand now for the best part of a year. We have not been keeping note of exact dates, but it is roughly accurate to say that between January and November of 1995, the following essential stages took place:

Planning a forward strategy
Identifying and obtaining software
Installing an experimental networked server
Installing the WWW/Z39.50/Gopher software
Teaching ourselves to use the software
Formulating a basic design and structure for the new service
Implementing that design on the experimental server

In mid-december we finally 'went live' with the experimental service and structure, and began to consult our user community on the shape of the new service.

In early January 1996, we began implementing the next stage of our plan, which was to begin the process of bringing the look, feel and general structure of the current service into line with the proposed new service. This first step was to change the logo(the one in ARIADNE is our old one)

The next step, scheduled for mid-January, will be to make the structure of the current service resemble as far as is practical the new service structure. This should help our users adjust to the new approach more readily and assist us in the planning and implementation of converting the current service into the new service. The length of time this latter process will take is currently unknown, but it is likely to be significant

This comment on the ARIADNE article is only a minor 'carp' sent out to correct what we feel is a misleading and unbalanced impression. We wish ARIADNE every success. We also plan to ask the author of the article for his views on the design of LINK and would also be more than happy to hear from anyone else on the ARIADNE team on this topic.

And, no, that DOESN'T let the rest of you off the hook! We still want your feedback and will be coming out with a new topic for feedback any day now....
Cheers,
Dennis

Editor's Response: The timing of the article was a tad unfortunate, as it was commissioned before CLINK went live, but became available afterwards. We extended the stop press message at the top of this article to include a link to the new Strathclyde-based service, which we urge people to have a look at. This resource also contains a fair amount of background information on the BUBL/LINK service. As with all resources in the UK LIS field, user feedback is paramount, so BUBL/LINK would greatly appreciate your comments.

Date published: 
19 January 1996

This article has been published under copyright; please see our access terms and copyright guidance regarding use of content from this article. See also our explanations of how to cite Ariadne articles for examples of bibliographic format.

How to cite this article

Traugott Koch. "What's Good and Bad about BUBL". January 1996, Ariadne Issue 1 http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue1/bubl/intro.html


article | by Dr. Radut