What Have the CLUMPs Ever Done for Us?
Terminology appears to have played a large part in the work associated with virtual union catalogues. We have had three years of dealing with new and slightly odd terms and only time will tell whether or not the curious word ‘clump’ becomes established in the library lexicon or whether it is simply a minor blip in cataloguing, networking and service history. Rather like the term UKLDS.
Many readers will be too young to remember the UKLDS – United Kingdom Library Database System – an initiative begun in 1981 under the auspices of the CAG (Co-operative Automation Group) to consider the possibility of creating a centralised bibliographic database – a National Union Catalogue – for the UK. This considered technical and operational factors from a completely centralised model at one end of the spectrum to a fully distributed model at the other, together with combinations of the two approaches. The project foundered for two main reasons: lack of central funding – at the time from the Office of Arts and Libraries – and a conflict between the commercial interests of some key players – related to the value associated with bibliographic records – and the non-commercial interests of the wider library community. In July 1984 a press release was issued  signalling the end of the UKLDS while including the interesting – in the present clumps context – statement:
… what is envisaged is a loose series of networking arrangements, resulting in the exchange of data between different parties on mutually agreed terms and conditions. In this way the co-operatives and the British Library will be free to make arrangements at their own pace with priorities that match their organisational objectives. CAG will thus formally cease to have as its objective the structured development of UKLDS, although it is expected that the networking arrangements will go a long way towards fulfilling one of the major aims of UKLDS, that of improving the sharing and accessibility of bibliographic records.
Library networking through bilateral arrangement is best facilitated by the development and use of common standards. CAG has already achieved a great deal in this area, and sees for itself a continuing role in providing a forum for the discussion of issues of common interest and concern and the progression of shared standards, for example, in telecommunications.
While discussing the transience of terminology it is interesting to note that the once common EMMA – Extra MARC Material – that crops up from time to time in UKLDS documents has now almost dropped from use, presumably due to the high coverage of published material in bibliographic databases.
With such a closing statement from UKLDS, it is unsurprising that, twelve years later, in 1996, the possibilities for resource sharing and discovery through the implementation of Z39.50 should be seized on so greedily by the library community. Four years down the line – though two working years for most projects – it is useful to look at the pros and cons of the clumps which can be conveniently considered under four headings:
- what have the clumps achieved?
- what do clumps do well?
- what do clumps do less well?
- what remains to be done?
What have the clumps achieved?
There is no doubt that, particularly in the UK, clumps have been responsible for sparking off awareness of Z39.50 and its potential for creating union catalogues in a way that would not have happened through the building up of the physical catalogue model. The very word ‘clump’, childish and embarrassing in its simplicity, has attracted attention and captured the imagination in a way that a more technical term would have induced boredom, and it is partly for this reason that the UK library community is showing interest in the outcomes of the projects. While a physical clump such as COPAC is an exceptional bibliographic resource, it is seen in some eyes as wedded to the old ways of doing and therefore viewed as being less imaginative.
Renewed interest in union catalogues has also arisen from the fact that the clumps (and COPAC) have looked towards the idea of union catalogues as tools for end users rather than as a further esoteric manifestation of the black art of the librarian: the catalogue as finding tool to satisfy interlibrary loans. The need for, and acceptance of, a greater openness is a growing feature of our current society and it is right that end users should have the opportunity to search the holdings of a wide range of publicity-funded libraries for themselves, no longer relying just on librarians’ recommendations. All developments in union catalogues in the future, whether physical or virtual, must provide improved facilities for end-user access and linked to this has been the introduction and implementation by the clumps of collection descriptions acting as pre-search filters. By indicating the collection strengths of clump members it should be possible to reduce the overall resource discovery network load and direct searches to just those targets of primary interest. Different models have been proposed for achieving this and in the CAIRNS clump the technique relies heavily on Conspectus and is referred to as ‘dynamic clumping’. Additionally, the clumps are interested in the geographic spread of collections, realising that students, researchers and other users will be willing to travel to those cities or regions where there is a particular concentration of resources. Music Libraries Online, as a subject clump, offers to some extent a special case of the fine tuning of targets, though the use of collection descriptions in this context requires a different perspective, focusing as it must on the particularity of the subject rather than the broad brush approach of the regional clumps. A real achievement of the UK clumps has been the bringing of the subject approach to union catalogues to centre stage.
None of the clump projects could have reached its present position without strong partnership and co-operation, both within and between projects. Working together to create a common gateway to their catalogues has strengthened the already substantial bonds between libraries and the pervasiveness of clumping issues has brought together a wide range of staff with different skills and interests. In his introductory address to the workshop, Chris Batt spoke of the need for co-operation, partnership, common goals, a shared vision, and a focusing on customer need: the clumps projects have exhibited all of these, individually through the building of the common gateways to their joined-up catalogues and jointly through quarterly inter-clumping meetings and the organisation of two annual workshops to spread the clumps gospel.
What do the clumps do well?
Technical, organisational and service issues have always been central to the development of the clumps and it is not surprising that these substantially make up the success list. Z39.50 has been an almost continuously moving target during the clumps lifetime, whether due to the development of the standard itself, the changing interpretation amongst different library suppliers, or the library community’s move to push things forward. But the elucidation of technical issues, for example, the spreading of information concerning attributes, profiles, semantics, and indexing methodologies, has led to a successful approach to many of the problems and a greater understanding of the issues involved. Again, the clumps have successfully worked together – and with their software developers – to resolve these issues.
A related technical success has been the creation of new, well-designed interfaces to catalogues. RIDING, in particular but not exclusively, has put considerable effort into customising the gateway interface so that not only is the search screen easy to follow but help is readily accessible on the ‘simple search’ and ‘super search’ options, providing hints and tips to guide the user through the intricacies of Z39.50 in a friendly, non-threatening, non-technical way and even including details of the recommended search fields to use for individual targets. The interface also provides links to collection descriptions, individual library sites, and explains the RIDING Access Policy.
Library services linked to the technical implementation have played a major role in some clumps and are set to become more important in others. As an example, the RIDING Access Policy (RAP) has arisen directly out of RIDING but is not, of itself, linked technically with the gateway. Superseding the many and various reciprocal borrowing and access policies that existed in the region, the RAP provides free access and borrowing for all accredited researchers at all RIDING member libraries. RIDING is also experimenting with interloans integrated into the resource discovery mechanism – mediated by library staff and not providing free end user access – and the other clumps are also moving into this arena.
In terms of the actual resource discovery, all clumps are good at performing ‘quick and dirty’ simultaneous searching across a large number of catalogues, bearing in mind the caveats that are issued on the various help screens. In fact, the clumps might be said to virtually work as one expects! However, there are drawbacks with the mechanisms and these are best considered as:
What do clumps do less well?
It must be said that the systematic return of specific and predictable results to the end user does not feature highly on the list of clump attributes. While it is possible to explain the reasons for the retrieval of particular items (and the lack of retrieval of others), this will bring little consolation to end users (or librarians) who may miss relevant monographs as a result. The drawbacks of Z39.50 in this area have been described previously in Ariadne  and are not dwelt on here.
An associated difficulty is the display of retrieved records, particularly in large result sets, and the difficulty of consolidation. It would appear likely that the consolidation of the same bibliographic item into a single record with associated holdings across multiple libraries is almost impossible in a clumped environment; at least it has not been achieved easily in the current projects, in spite of efforts at ‘de-duplication’. This should be much easier to achieve in a physical clump, though some manifestations here are not always as good as one would hope to see.
One criticism of the clumps (that, ironically, does not often appear to be expressed) is that they focus on resource discovery for monographs, whereas certain sectors of the research community in particular have primary interests in serials. The particular issues surrounding the treatment of serials in Z39.50 systems have been reviewed and documented by the M25 Link clump , but the outlook is not optimistic. Whereas the long-term objective in M25 Link was to provide full details of serials holdings such as volumes and issues held, location information, missing parts, and current availability, it was finally accepted that this would be difficult to deliver via the existing Z39.50 profile. This was further aggravated by the poor quality of serials holdings information in existing catalogues. In spite of this, work continues to find a solution to the serials problem.
What remains to be done?
On the technical side, developments such as the Bath Profile  and the ZIG Holdings Schema  need to be followed and, where possible, adopted in due course with a view to improving interoperability and providing more information for the end user. Ways of working with clumps of clumps also need investigating, and breaking down clumps to create new groups of targets that can be searched as a single, virtual, whole. However, these are medium term objectives and there are more pressing needs facing the immediate future of the projects.
The clumps are now, or will be in the very short term, creating their exit strategies to work out how to continue, on the assumption that no further external funding will be forthcoming. Three major calls for proposals offering some scope for extensions of clump work – from the British Library Co-operation and Partnership Programme, JISC Learning and Teaching Developments for the DNER, and the Research Support Libraries Programme (RSLP) 2 – closed in early 2000, but at the time of the workshop it is too early to know the outcomes. All the clumps have identified further development work that would benefit wider take-up within the UK and provide additional advantages to their internal operations and, while some of these may prove successful, it would appear that there is no guaranteed long-term funding from outside the originating consortia. This is fair, and fits in with the strategy adopted for earlier eLib projects who had to work out their own means of survival but it could result in, if not stillborn projects, clumps with a high infant mortality rate. But the fate of each clump will presumably rest with their own consortium through a consideration of the technical pros and cons, added value services and, particularly, the level of recurrent funding needed for maintenance, development and associated factors; new, special, funding models may have to be agreed between consortium members to permit the continuation of this type of common working. [The day following the workshop, M25 Link found that they had been successful in their free-standing bid for additional funds to JISC. This means that together with 25% funding from the M25 Consortium itself, the clump will be able to continue its work until July 2001.]
Even if the four clumps continue, one has to ask what the future might hold for these types of initiative? Is there value in having just four clumps in the UK or does the idea of a virtual union catalogue require that the clump concept is grown until the whole country is covered? If the existing clumps continue – in their present or an advanced form – they will still represent a major resource and one that is not completely covered by any other means. RIDING, for example, provides access to around 5.5 million bibliographic records, less than half of which are available via COPAC. But while these substantial resources have been created, the original incentive behind the clump initiative will appear to have been lost if other regions or subject areas are not encouraged to come forward to create clump consortia. The question is, what factors will encourage the creation of new clump consortia if the external funding incentive is missing? A greater emphasis on regional co-operation arising out of the work of the Regional Development Agencies may have some effect but any potential new clump will be looking critically at the reports on costings, performance, evaluation and value-added services coming from the existing work before taking the plunge into quite new waters. And if these reports are negative, future progress will inevitably be stalled.
It is appropriate to conclude this overview of the current state of clumping with a look forward to the Feasibility Study for a UK National Union Catalogue. The call for proposals was issued with the RSLP2 papers in late 1999 and it is jointly supported by RSLP, the British Library and JISC. The call was an extensive document and suggested the methodology for undertaking the study, in addition to indicating a number of possible models that could be considered: a physical COPAC-style system; an extension of the clumps; joining other ‘supranational’ initiatives such as RLG or OCLC; and various combinations of these. An investigation into the possibilities of creating (separately or integrated with a monographs catalogue) a National Union Serials Catalogue will form a major part of the Study. It is expected that the Feasibility Study will be awarded in late March/early April with the final report to be delivered by 30 November 2000. By that time, we might really be able to agree on what the clumps have done for us, and maybe the saga will be even longer running, ensuring that this insignificant five-letter word continues well into the new millennium, finding its own, enduring, niche in library vocabulary.
. The UKLDS report appeared in Vine 57, December 1984, pp. 34–47.
. See, for example, Stubley, Peter, Clumps as catalogues: virtual success or failure: <http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue22/distributed/distukcat2.html> and the references therein.
. The M25 Link Serils report can be found at: <http://www.M25lib.ac.uk/M25link/documentation/serials_report/serials_report6_issue1.html>.
. The Bath Profile: an international Z39.50 specification for library applications and resource discovery. <http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/interop-focus/activities/z3950/int_profile/bath/draft/>
. Z39.50 Holdings Schema: <http://lcweb.loc.gov/z3950/agency/holdings.doc>
University of Sheffield Library
University of Sheffield.
(Also Project Director of the RIDING clump)