Opportunities for technical services staff


This presentation, made to the New York Technical Services Librarians Fall Dinner Meeting (Friday, November 4, 1994), first describes Mr. Serials, a process for systematically collecting, organizing, archiving, indexing, and disseminating electronic journals. Second, the presentation describes uses of World Wide Web (WWW) servers in libraries. Finally, the presentation describes how these two technologies can be assimilated into traditional library services and how technical services staff have an integral part in this assimilation process.

Mr. Serials

Mr. Serials is the code name for an electronic serials acquisitions process being applied at the North Carolina State University Libraries. By employing various technologies (LISTSERV, FTP, gopher, WAIS, WWW, and a bit of programming), Mr. Serials has been able to systematically subscribe, collect, organize, archive, index, and disseminate electronic serials quickly and easily.

(Since Mr. Serials has an account on one of the NCSU Libraries computers, I tend to refer to the process as if it represented a real person.)

As I see it, Mr. Serials has to address the following five issues before any actual collecting can take place:

  1. selection,
  2. storage,
  3. organization,
  4. access, and
  5. acquisitions.


His first task is to select and subscribe to the ejournals. He took it upon himself to collect only a small segment of the population, specifically the titles dealing with library and information science. These titles presently include:

This part of the process was easy. Mr. Serials just used Charles Bailey's list of ejournals ( ftp://ftp.lib.ncsu.edu/pub/stacks/guides/bailey-library.txt ) as a guide and followed the instructions listed there.

FTP For Storage and Rudimentary Access

He decided to solve his storage problems using anonymous FTP. This way anybody can get the articles if they have access to the Internet. FTP also provides a mechanism for archiving the materials.

It is important to note he created a single directory for each title. Within that directory are all the issues and articles from that title, each with a unique but identifying name. For example, every file from Citations for Serial Literature (CSL) is designated to begin with "csl". Since CSL is issued in volume and number, each designation is followed with something like "-v1n22". Therefore a complete designation is "csl-v1n22". Issues from Public Access Computer Systems News looks like "pacsn-v1n03". IR List Digest, which comes out sequentially, is saved as "irld-001". Take note of the leading zeros in the preceding examples. They make it possible to accurately sort the files by volume and number, and consequently date. Also, keep in mind, the serial codes he has created are arbitrary. As long as he is consistent and there is a method to his madness, then it doesn't matter what he calls them.

Gopher or WWW for Enhanced Access and Organization

FTP is strong on storage, but weak on access. This is where a gopher or World Wide Web (WWW) server come in. The gopher and WWW protocols excel at maintaining pointers to Internet resources. Since anonymous FTP sites are Internet resources, and since Mr. Serials has both a Gopher and WWW server in place, he first maintained a list of gopher link files to the collection and later abandoned that approach in favor of WWW hypertext links. This solved a number of problems. First, the gopher link files (or WWW hypertext links) provide the capability to list files in a more readable fashion. Second, the user no longer has to use FTP commands to access the collection.

Below is a fictitious, but correctly formatted gopher link file:

Name=ALAWON v1n35 (May 5, 1992)
Type=0 Port=70

When the patron uses the gopher they see "ALAWON v1n35 (May 5, 1992)." By selecting the item the gopher server transparently opens up an anonymous FTP connection to ftp.lib.ncsu.edu, changes to the /pub/stacks/alawon directory, retrieves the file "alawon-v1n35" as a text (ASCII) file, closes the connection, and displays the file to the user. From there the patron can read, save, or print the file.

Access via the WWW works in a similar manner. WWW-compatible text files (HTML documents) are created listing each of the titles. These documents are organized according to volume, number and date. These files are then put in the WWW server. When the user uses the WWW server, the issues are displayed. By selecting one of the issues, your WWW browser FTP's the selected file from ftp.lib.ncsu.edu and displays it on the user's screen.

Here is piece of HTML describing the same item:

<title>ALAWON Volume 1 (1992)</title>

<H2>ALAWON Volume 1 (1992)</H2>

<LI><A HREF=ftp://ftp.lib.ncsu.edu/pub/stacks/alawon/alawon-v1n35>
ALAWON v1n19 (May 5, 1992)</A>


WAIS For Keyword Access

Mr. Serials is now using FTP primarily for storage and rudimentary access. With gopher and WWW he enhanced access and organized the information. Unfortunately FTP, gopher and WWW are only useful if the patron knows exactly which issue or article they want or if they want to browse the collection. WAIS now enters the picture allowing the patron to search the collection via keywords. (See WAIS , Inc., CNIDR's freeWAIS , and Ulrich Pfeifer's freeWAIS-sf )

Since Mr. Serials owns all the articles associated with any particular ejournal, and since he has a WAIS server in place, then it is a simple matter of creating a WAIS index for each of his titles and putting these indexes in the appropriate directory of the gopher or WWW server. To accomplish this, everyday at 2:30 AM, the entire collection of electronic serials owned by the North Carolina State University Libraries gets reindexed. Thus the index is never more than one day old.

Automated Acquisitions With AC

Manually collecting electronic serials and creating pointer files (gopher links or HTML) can be extraordinarily tedious. Consequently, Mr. Serials had written a program called "ac", short for acquisitions.

This program (written in perl ) automates much of the Mr. Serials Process. ac:

  1. reads an email message,
  2. removes the header,
  3. prepends the name of the file to the message,
  4. saves the file in an FTP directory,
  5. creates and saves a Gopher link file or WWW HTML document,
  6. deletes the original email message, and
  7. "cooks until done" (repeat)

Now, all Mr. Serials has to do is wait for mail to arrive, save the message as a file, and use ac to make it available to the world.

For more information about ac use your World Wide Web browser to point to http://infomotions.com/musings/ac/ .

MARC 856 Fields

Recently, Mr. Serials became more aware of the proposed MARC 856 field. This field is intended to describe the locations and holdings of electronic documents. It has provisions for things like the name of remote files, the operating system of the remote computer, the protocol used to communicate with the remote computer (FTP, telnet, or other), the directory where the remote file resides, et cetera. I learned about the 856 field by reading "Proposal No: 93-4", USMARC Format: Proposed Changes 1993, No. 2. prepared by the Network Development and MARC Standard Office.

I thought it would be a good idea to catalog Mr. Serial's collection of electronic journals and newsletters, as well as include a Universal Resource Locator (URL) in an 856 field. This way users could search our OPAC, select the URL from the screen, and paste it into their favorite WWW browser.

Searching OPACs with WWW Browsers

At the same time I had been working with Tim Kambitch of Butler University on scripts to search our OPACs with WWW browsers. These scripts, both form-based and non-form-based, allow the user to specify Boolean queries to be applied to user-selected databases (book and journal catalogs, catalogs of government documents, and potentially bibliographic indexes like Academic, Business, or Newspaper Index). Tim has really done all the work in this area; I only contributed incessant needling and cosmetic changes.

Thus you can search our catalogs through your WWW browser by using either one of the following URLs:

Bringing It All Together

Since I could now search my OPAC with a WWW browser, and since I could now list an access points to electronic items in my catalog, the next logical conclusion was to provide a hypertext link from my catalog to the electronic item itself. This is just what I did.

I proceeded to download two MARC records from OCLC (OCLC record numbers 26226155 and 20987125). These records describe ALAWON and Public Access Computer Systems Review (PACSR), respectively.

I then imported these records into our OPAC's database.

I then edited the records to include 856 fields. (ALAWON and Public Access Computer Systems Review shown below, respectively):

Type: a Bib l: s Enc l:   Desc: a Ctry: dcu Lang: eng Mod:   Srce: d Freq:
 Reg: x ISDS: 1 Ser t:   Orig f:   Form:   Entire C:   Cont:     Gvt:
 Cnf: 0 Titl:  aInd:  0Cum Ind:c  Alpha:1992 9999 Pub s:   Dates:

003;   ;  a OCoLC $ 
005;   ;  a 19940616115148.0 $ 
010;   ;  a sn 93004037  $ o 26226155 $ 
040;   ;  a VPI $ c VPI $ d NSD $ 
012;   ;  l a $ 
022; 0 ;  a 1069-7799 $ 
042;   ;  a nsdp $ a lcd $ 
082; 10;  a 025 $ 2 12 $ 
090;   ;  a Z673.A5 $ b A42 $ 
049;   ;  a NRCC $ 
210; 0 ;  a ALA Wash. Office newsline $ 
212; 1 ;  a American Library Association Washington Office newsline $ 
222;  0;  a ALA Washington Office newsline $ 
245; 00;  a ALA Washington Office newsline $ h [computer file] : $ b ALAWON : 
         an electronic publication of the American Library Association 
         Washington Office. $ 
246; 10;  a ALAWON $ 
260;   ;  a Washington, DC : $ b The Office, $ c [1992- $ 
265;   ;  a American Library Association Washington Office, 110 Maryland Ave., 
         NE, Washington, DC 20002-5675 $ 
310;   ;  a Irregular $ 
362; 0 ;  a Vol. 1, no. 1 (July 9, 1992)- $ 
500;   ;  a Mode of access: Electronic mail on BITNET; listserv@uicvm; 
         SUBSCRIBE ALA-WO First Name Last Name $ 
500;   ;  a Title from title screen. $ 
650;  0;  a Libraries $ z United States $ x Periodicals. $ 
650;  0;  a Information services $ z United States $ x Periodicals. $ 
610; 20;  a American Library Association. $ b Washington Office $ x Periodicals.
710; 20;  a American Library Association. $ b Washington Office. $ 
936;   ;  a Vol. 2, no. 18 (May 10, 1993) LIC $ 
856;   ;  a <a href='http://dewey.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/alawon-index.html>http://dewey.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/alawon-index.html</a> $

Type: a Bib l: s Enc l: 7 Desc: a Ctry: txu Lang: eng Mod:   Srce: d Freq: t
 Reg: r ISDS: 1 Ser t: p Orig f:   Form:   Entire C:   Cont:     Gvt:
 Cnf: 0 Titl:  aInd:  0Cum Ind:c  Alpha:1990 9999 Pub s:   Dates:

003;   ;  a OCoLC $ 
005;   ;  a 19940616115330.0 $ 
010;   ;  a sn 90000811  $ o 20987125 $ 
040;   ;  a NSD $ c NSD $ d CAS $ d NSD $ 
012;   ;  j 1 $ l a $ 
022; 0 ;  a 1048-6542 $ 
030;   ;  a PACRES $ 
042;   ;  a nsdp $ a lcd $ 
082; 10;  a 025 $ 2 11 $ 
049;   ;  a NRCC $ 
210; 0 ;  a Public-access comput. syst. rev. $ b (Electron. ed.) $ 
222;  4;  a The Public-access computer systems review $ b (Electronic ed.) $ 
245; 04;  a The Public-access computer systems review $ h [computer file]. $ 
246; 10;  a Public access computer systems review $ 
246; 13;  a PACS review $ 
250;   ;  a [Electronic ed.]. $ 
260;   ;  a Houston, TX : $ b University Libraries, University of Houston, $ c 
         1990- $ 
265;   ;  a PACS Review, c/o University Libraries, University of Houston, 
         Houston, TX 77204-2091 $ 
310;   ;  a Three times a year $ 
362; 0 ;  a Vol. 1, no. 1- $ 
500;   ;  a Mode of access: Electronic mail on BITNET and Internet; Send an 
         e-mail message to: (BITNET) LISTSERV@UHUPVM1 or (Internet) 
         LISTSERV@UHUPVM1.UH.EDU that says: Subscribe PACS-P First Name Last 
         Name; also available through a subscription to the Public-access 
         Computer Systems Forum, PACS-L@UHUPVM1.BITNET $ 
500;   ;  a Description based on printout of online display; title from title 
         screen. $ 
580;   ;  a Also available in an annual print ed. under the same title. $ 
710; 20;  a University of Houston. $ b Libraries. $ 
775; 1 ;  t Public-access computer systems review (Print ed.) $ x 1063-164X $ w 
         (DLC)sn 92004809 $ w (OCoLC)25907292 $ 
856;   ;  a <a href='http://dewey.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/pacsr-index.html'>http://dewey.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/pacsr-index.html</a> $

Notice how I not only included the URL's in the 856 field, but I also made those URL's hypertext links by surround them with href's (<a href='http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/alawon-index.html'></a> and <a href='http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/stacks/pacsr-index.html'></a).

By adding these URL's and HREF's to my MARC records, and by searching my OPAC for these records, the user then has the opportunity to navigate directly to the electronic resource after located items of interest.

(Disclaimer: Mr. Serials knows he has not edited these 856 field correctly. Nor has he, by including HREF's, conformed to the proposed standard for the 856 field. His rationale, "This is for demonstration purposes only!")

"Show me."

To see the fruits of Mr. Serial's labors, point your World Wide Web browser to http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/disciplines/library.html .

To see the results of these labors in action:

  1. Use your WWW browser to access http://library.ncsu.edu/.
  2. Choose either the forms-based or non-forms-based searching methods.
  3. Search for:
    1. " alawon ", or
    2. " public access computer systems review ", or
    3. " ncsu self study ".
  4. Display the results in "full" or "MARC" format.
  5. Look for the links in the resulting texts and give them a try.
  6. Think (and thinque) of the implications of this process.

Future Considerations

A problem with Mr. Serials and ac is the inconsistent manner in which electronic serials are formatted. As long as any single title is consistently formatted, then ac works just fine, but as soon as the formatting changes, even by one word or blank line, then ac must be reconfigured for that title. This reconfiguration process is not difficult, just tedious. The problem could be eliminated if each of the titles supported a standardized header such as the one described in chapter 5, "The TEI Header" ( ftp://ftp.ifi.uio.no/pub/SGML/TEI/P3HD.DOC ) of TEI P3: Guidelines for Electronic Text Encoding and Interchange ( http://www.lysator.liu.se/runeberg/teip3files.html ).

Throughout this process an unexpected benefit became apparent. Since Mr. Serials has a (almost) complete set of the library and information science titles he can (and has) created an WAIS index version of Library Literature. He calls it Electronic Library Literature Index (ELLI). With ELLI you can search the entire body of electronic library literature and retrieve articles from a number of titles. For example, you can search for "NREN" can come up with articles from Public Access Computer Systems News, ALAWON, and IR List Digest. There is no reason why this idea can't be used for other ejournals and subjects. This index is available at gopher://gopher.lib.ncsu.edu/11/library/disciplines/library/ell or use your WAIS client to connect to dewey.lib.ncsu.edu on port 210. Request database ell.

World Wide Web Servers

World Wide Web servers represent one of the latest means for electronically disseminating information as well as another opportunity for technical services staff.

We all know of the Internet and the mass of information available on it. One of the biggest complaints about the Internet is its lack of organization. The organization of information is one of skills in which us librarians excel.

Our online catalog programs (OPACs) are specialized database applications. We feed our OPACS MARC records. These records include fields like: author, title, subject, holdings, edition, physical description, et cetera. We then apply querying functions to our OPACs to produce lists of records. In essence, what we are doing is organizing our collection of books, serials, and multimedia items.

While I do not suggest we catalog the Internet, we can organize selected parts of it into coherent wholes with the use of database programs. If we analyze an Internet resource, then we discover it can be described with one or more of the following attributes: name, author, date, URL, subject(s), or abstract. These fields can make up the records of a database. As collection managers "listen" to the Internet, they can "select" Internet resources to be added to our database (collection). The location information of such Internet resources can then be passed on to technical services. Once in technical services, the Internet resources in analyzed in terms of the attributes listed above. Furthermore, some sort of subject classification is applied to the Internet resources. This subject classification can be a familiar one like Dewey, Library of Congress, a specialized subject thesaurus, or, if these schemes prove to be inadequate, then we can create new schemes better satisfying our needs.

There are then at least two ways to provide access to the records in this database via WWW servers. The first is to have your database program produce reports in the form of HTML documents and provide access to these reports via our servers. For example, you could query your database program for all records containing the subject "Astronomy". Your database program could then search each record for "astronomy". If a record did contain the search term, then the database program would append the name, author, date, URL, abstract, and subject fields to a text file. After all the records have been examined, the exported text file is uploaded or copied into our WWW server's data directory. The advantage of this access method is it allows end-users to browse your collection of resources.

Alternatively, users could search your database program interactively directly from the WWW server. This would be done via a specialized program called a CGI (common gateway interface) script. End-users could enter terms to be applied against the database. The terms would be searched. Based on the results, a reports would be generated in HTML format. This report would then be passed on to the end-user. This particular scenario will become more necessary as our collections of Internet resources grow too large to browse.

Opportunities for Technical Services Staff

Since all of the labor used to collect, organize, and archive the information of a library is done by technical services staff, then technical services staff have the opportunity to influence how these processes get accomplished.

In my opinion, libraries are about collecting, organizing, archiving, disseminating information. Libraries are not about books, magazines and media centers; books, magazines, and media centers are simply manifestations of information.

Similarly, computers are excellent tools for collecting information. In fact, they can often time collect more information than we an possibly absorb. To organize and archive information, computers user directory structures and electromagnetic media like hard disks. The archiving of information is usually with tape backups. Computers disseminate information via networks like the Internet.

Therefore, if the processes of librarianship are very similar to some of the strengths of computers, then wouldn't it make sense to use computers to provide library service? My answer is, "Of course." Next to a librarian's mind and their peers, the most useful tool of librarianship is, in my opinion, a computer. Would you trust a carpenter who didn't know how to use a hammer? Would you feel confident about a surgeon who didn't know how to use a scalpel? Why should you feel confident about library (information) services if they don't know how to use a computer?

In today's age of down-sizing and the necessity for doing more with less, it is necessary to think of new ways to solve old problems. The Mr. Serials Process and the organization of Internet resources with WWW servers represent just two examples of how this can be done.

This day and age provides enormous opportunities for librarians of all type, no matter what their specialty. Information is being seen as a more and more important "thing" to have. Since librarians are about information, then librarians can be seen as people who are more important to "have." Let's show the world what we can do.

Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <eric_morgan@infomotions.com>
Source: Originally entitled, "Mr. Serials and World Wide Web Servers: Opportunities for Technical Services Staff", and presented to the New York Technical Services Librarians, Friday, November 4, 1994.
Date created: 1994-11-04
Date updated: 2004-12-19
Subject(s): New York Technical Services Librarians; presentations; cataloging;
URL: http://infomotions.com/musings/mrserials-visits-nyc/