The new BIOME Internet site will go live this summer and we are looking forward to seeing the months of background work become an operational service. Since Lisa Gray, the BIOME Team Manager reported the outline for the Service in the December issue of Ariadne, we have been busy building content in our databases as well as designing a new website, developing new catalogue software and establishing links with other health & life sciences Internet services.
This issue of BIOME news reports on 2 inter-related developments, which BIOME has been participating in. Both aim to increase access to quality information via the Internet through international collaborations.
The International Union of Forestry Research Organisations (IUFRO) established the Task Force on Global Forest Information Service (GFIS) in 1998. The mission of GFIS is to enhance access to and provision of quality forest-related information, especially that available through electronic media . The basic architecture of the planned GFIS Service will be a central website, linked to a network of nodes. A prototype of the central website will be demonstrated at the IUFRO world Congress to be held in Kuala Lumpur in August. The goal of the Service is to lead users to the relevant data repositories rather than create large data warehouses and so GFIS will be a metadata service using Dublin Core as the standard data description protocol.
The first phase of BIOME’s alliance with the GFIS Task Force is now in the final stages of negotiation. It is planned that the co-ordinators of the Virtual Library for Forestry http://www.metla.fi/info/vlib/foresty/ based at Metla, the Finnish Forestry Research Institute, who are members of the Task Force, will directly input resources into the AgriFor gateway within BIOME. If this proves to be a successful model, it is hoped that AgriFor will then formally become a ‘GFIS Affiliated node’ within the Global Forest Information Service.
The Australian agriculture subject gateway AgriGate http://agrigate.edu.au/ have recently appointed an independent consultant, Jan Whitaker to investigate the issues involved in developing an international co-operative of agricultural gateways. Services taking part in the feasibility study are US based AgNIC http://www.agnic.nal.usda.gov/, the National Agricultural Library of Canada, the Scandinavian based gateway NOVAGate http://novagate.nova-university.org/ and BIOME http://biome.ac.uk/.
The investigations will draw on the IMesh recommendations for gateway interoperability  as well as other interoperable gateway projects including ISAAC  and CIMI (Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information) . This work also follows on from the post IMESH Workshop test bed development ‘GardenGate’, a sample search facility set up to cross-search BIOME with NOVAGate. It is anticipated that the results of the feasibility study will be reported in September with a proposal for a way forward to develop an agricultural ‘supergate’.
There are many similarities in the goals of the 2 developments and there is obviously an overlap in the subject content. In recognition of this, the two initiatives will cross-pollinate knowledge and experience with each other for the benefit of both.
The prospect of offering cross searching beyond our own core data is very appealing. Likewise it will be worthwhile agreeing collections policies to ensure good subject coverage. Reaching the goal of seamless interoperability will require some level of ‘global standardisation’. What this level will mean to each of the gateways/nodes and how much technical and information management negotiation and perhaps compromise will be required are issues to be explored over the coming months. Just as crucial an issue will be the identification of long term funding to maintain international networks. However, the support given so far is an encouraging indicator for the future.