How many others are dreading the next massive intake/return of Internet curious student in the autumn, and the subsequent effects on networking speed?
In this issue of Ariadne, Jon Knight and Martin Hamilton describe the benefits of caching. Caching is essentially a way of bringing resources closer to the people who use them; less network used, less congestion, greater download speed, less frustration. In these times, where the increase in network users (be they students, users in the prolifically spawning cybercafe market, or the secret army of at-home modem users) easily outpaces the increase in bandwidth, such initiatives are not so much useful, but essential.
Caching in the UK is gaining momentum, in terms of take-up and profile; the benefits are obvious both to Web users accessing overseas Web sites and to system administrators sweating over potential local network meltdown/gridlock. Thankfully, caching has become quite established; this has by no small measure been helped by the JISC funded UK Academic National Web Cache. Unfortunately, still not everyone who can, uses it; to quote: "If everyone used the cache we would have the equivalent of at least double the throughput on our international network connections". Perhaps more draconian measures are required to encourage those sites that can use national caches, to do so? One approach which has been suggested is preventing outgoing Web requests from passing through JANET's international routers unless they come from cache servers. This would have the effect of enforcing the use of caching.
People have been heard to mutter that "sites shouldn't have JANET access unless they have a sensible caching strategy". Maybe they are right. Certainly, an unabated increase in traffic and congestion only makes the possibility of essential restrictions on the use of the networks by e.g. quota limits, or more formal/obvious charging mechanisms, more likely :-(
In the rest of the issue, the Humanities features strongly. Ian Budden describes a good set of on-line resources for this subject field. The Shakespeare Web Site especially was impressive in terms of content, and undeniably useful to Shakespeare scholars (the search form indicates that William even managed to slip in a plug for Ariadne, though in two of his comedies; hmmm... :-). Dan Greenstein describes the Arts and Humanities Data Service, and how it will collect, describe and preserve data. The issues of preservation and data description are currently areas of violently furious work, with the Access to Networked Resources eLib projects, NISS, BUBL and many others in the UK, as well as more global efforts, such as the Dublin Core Metadata movement, exploring means of formally describing digitally preserved material of all kinds.
Maybe you thought eLib was huge? Further on, in the research elsewhere section, we take a peek at two other programmes. eLib may in itself be big, with around 60 projects; in terms of the kind of end-deliverable driven programme that it is (i.e. projects generally have to produce some viable system, resource or service as opposed to the findings of a body of research work), it is possibly one of the biggest in Europe. However, there is a *lot* of other ongoing research and system/resource development in the field of digital libraries, in the US, Europe, the Pacific rim and elsewhere in the UK. Two programmes featured in this issue are TLTP, the UK Teaching and Learning Technology Programme, and ACTS, a European Communications Technology programme. Both of these, in terms of composite project size and funding, dwarf eLib in comparison.
Also in this issue is a list of those presentations to be given by eLib projects at Libtech '96 in early September. As can be see, many projects are involved, in addition to all of the other presentations and workshops, and the exhibition itself, making it a bit of a must-go-to for anyone involved, affected by or merely interested in the UK electronic library movement. See you there (and if you do anything embarassing at the wrong moment, you might find yourself on a page like this....
Richard Lucier believes that Library users will value services more when they have to pay for them. Roddy MacLeod and Gordon Andrew at Heriot-Watt provide an approach to Internet resources based around physical demarcation and virtual coalescence. Dinty Moor laments the presence of networked PCs in public libraries.
The art of predicting what it is our users really want has perhaps never been so difficult. And wants and needs surely remain different things, even in the current climate of empowerment and choice. Lynne Brindley, in our main feature, throws down the gauntlet to academic librarians and information specialists. We must study our users, their patterns of working, their preferences for information delivery and their use of what we give them, in order to create genuine services from the range of formats and transmission media available.
Lucier's lecture considered "the University as Library". Peter Nathan, providing a Stateside view in Interface, touches upon the idea of the Library as Publisher. Does the Net offer us a DIY publishing kit? Perhaps, but in View from the Hill, Ian Kingston's perspective as a publishing professional gives us some idea of the editorial skill and production effort which lie behind the materials we take for granted.