World-Wide Web and Mosaic: An overview for librarians


The WorldWideWeb (W3) is the universe of network-accessible information, an embodiment of human knowledge. It is an initiative started at CERN, now with many participants. It has a body of software, and a set of protocols and conventions. W3 uses hypertext and multimedia techniques to make the web easy for anyone to roam, browse, and contribute to. [1]

This paper overviews the World-Wide Web (frequently abbreviated as "W3," "WWW," or the "Web") and related systems and standards. [2] First, it introduces Web concepts and tools and describes how they fit together to form a coherent whole, including the client/server model of computing, the Uniform Resource Locator (URL), selected Web client and server programs, the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP), the HyperText Markup Language (HTML), selected HTML converters and editors, and Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts. Second, it discusses strategies for organizing Web information. Finally, it advocates the direct involvement of librarians in the development of Web information resources.


In 1989, Tim Berners-Lee of CERN (a particle physics laboratory in Geneva, Switzerland) began work on the World-Wide Web. The Web was initially intended as a way to share information between members of the high-energy physics community. [3] By 1991, the Web had become operational. The Web is a hypertext system. The hypertext concept was originally described by Vannevar Bush , [4] and the term "hypertext" was coined by Theodor H. Nelson. [5] In a hypertext system, a document is presented to a reader that has "links" to other documents that relate to the original document and provide further information about it.

Scholarly journal articles represent an excellent application of this technology. For example, scholarly articles usually include multiple footnotes. With an article in hypertext form, the reader could select a footnote number in the body of the article and be "transported" to the appropriate citation in the notes section. The citation, in turn, could be linked to the cited article, and the process could go on indefinitely. The reader could also backtrack and follow links back to where he or she started. The HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) that allows Web servers and clients to communicate is older than the Gopher protocol . The original CERN Web server ran under the NeXTStep operating system, and, since few people owned NeXT computers, HTTP did not become very popular. Similarly, the client side of the HTTP equation included a terminal-based system few people thought was aesthetically appealing. [6] All this was happening just as the Gopher protocol was becoming more popular. Since Gopher server and client software was available for many different computing platforms, the Gopher protocol's popularity grew while HTTP's languished. It wasn't until early 1993 that the Web really started to become popular. At that time, Bob McCool and Marc Andreessen, who worked for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) , wrote both Web client and server applications. Since the server application ( httpd ) was available for many flavors of UNIX, not just NeXTStep, the server could be easily used by many sites. Since the client application ( NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System ) supported graphics, WAIS (see WAIS, Inc. , CNIDR's freeWAIS , and Ulrich Pfeifer's freeWAIS-sf ), Gopher , and FTP access, it was head and shoulders above the original CERN client in terms of aesthetic appeal as well as functionality. Later, a more functional terminal-based client ( Lynx ) was developed by Lou Montulli, who was then at the University of Kansas . Lynx made the Web accessible to the lowest common denominator devices, VT100-based terminals. When NCSA later released Macintosh and Microsoft Windows versions of Mosaic, the Web became even more popular. Since then, other Web client and server applications have been developed, but the real momentum was created by the developers at NCSA . [7]

The Client/Server Model

To truly understand how much of the Internet operates, including the Web, it is important to understand the concept of client/server computing. The client/server model is a form of distributed computing where one program (the client) communicates with another program (the server) for the purpose of exchanging information. [8]

The client's responsibility is usually to:

  1. Handle the user interface.
  2. Translate the user's request into the desired protocol.
  3. Send the request to the server.
  4. Wait for the server's response.
  5. Translate the response into "human-readable" results.
  6. Present the results to the user.

The server's functions include:

  1. Listen for a client's query.
  2. Process that query.
  3. Return the results back to the client.

A typical client/server interaction goes like this:

  1. The user runs client software to create a query.
  2. The client connects to the server.
  3. The client sends the query to the server.
  4. The server analyzes the query.
  5. The server computes the results of the query.
  6. The server sends the results to the client.
  7. The client presents the results to the user.
  8. Repeat as necessary.


Figure 1, a typical client/server interaction This client/server interaction is a lot like going to a French restaurant. At the restaurant, you (the user) are presented with a menu of choices by the waiter (the client). After making your selections, the waiter takes note of your choices, translates them into French, and presents them to the French chef (the server) in the kitchen. After the chef prepares your meal, the waiter returns with your diner (the results). Hopefully, the waiter returns with the items you selected, but not always; sometimes things get "lost in the translation."

Flexible user interface development is the most obvious advantage of client/server computing. It is possible to create an interface that is independent of the server hosting the data. Therefore, the user interface of a client/server application can be written on a Macintosh and the server can be written on a mainframe. Clients could be also written for DOS- or UNIX-based computers. This allows information to be stored in a central server and disseminated to different types of remote computers. Since the user interface is the responsibility of the client, the server has more computing resources to spend on analyzing queries and disseminating information. This is another major advantage of client/server computing; it tends to use the strengths of divergent computing platforms to create more powerful applications. Although its computing and storage capabilities are dwarfed by those of the mainframe, there is no reason why a Macintosh could not be used as a server for less demanding applications. In short, client/server computing provides a mechanism for disparate computers to cooperate on a single computing task.

Uniform Resource Locator

The Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is a fundamental part of the Web. It is utilized to concisely describe and identify both the protocol used by and the location of Internet resources. [9] In general, a URL has the following form: protocol://host/path/file. "Protocol" denotes the type of Internet resource. The most common are: "gopher," "wais," "ftp," "telnet," "http", "file," and "mailto" (electronic mail). "Host" denotes the name or IP (Internet Protocol) address of the remote computer (e.g., or "Path" is a directory or subdirectory on a remote computer. "File" is the name of the file you want to access. Using variations of this general form, you can use URLs and Web browsers to access just about any Internet resource. Here is an example of a URL for an FTP session:

This URL results in the following actions:

  1. FTP to,
  2. log on as anonymous,
  3. change the directory to /pub/stacks/alawon/, and
  4. get the file alawon-v1n04.

Since Web browsers understand and implement the File Transfer Protocol (FTP), you do not have to remember all the commands necessary to do FTP. All you have to remember is how to create a URL for an FTP session.

Here is an example of a URL for an HTML document: This URL opens up a HTTP connection to, changes the directory to stacks, and retrieves the file alawon-index.html. URLs are more complicated than the general form illustrated above; URLs can also provide the means to present the logon name for Telnet connections, a communications port, an index/search query, and/or an HTML anchor. Here is an example of a URL for a Telnet session: telnet:// . In this example, "library" denotes the logon name and "23" denotes the communications port. (Port 23 is the standard Telnet communications port.) Thus, a Web browser can initiate a Telnet session. This example opens up a Telnet connection to "," and, depending on the user's browser, the user may be reminded to log on as "library." This URL does not use the "path" or "file" parameters because they are meaningless for Telnet sessions. On the other hand, to manually query the Geographic Name Server, the URL would be: telnet:// . Since the Geographic Name Server requires no password, no password is specified; however, since the Geographic Name Server "listens" on port 3000, a nonstandard port number must be specified. WAIS searches can be specified using URLs. Unfortunately, at the present time, only NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System directly implements the WAIS protocol. WAIS URLs have the following form: wais://host:port/database?query "Port" is assumed to be 210 (the standard WAIS/Z39.50 port), "database" is the source file to search, "?" delimits the database from the query, and "query" is the your search strategy. Here is an example of a URL for a WAIS search: wais:// . Gopher servers and files can be specified with URLs as well. Since Gopher resource specifications require "Type" identifiers and paths to Gopher resources often include spaces, Gopher URLs usually deviate from the norm. Here is an example of a URL for a Gopher subdirectory: gopher:// . Notice the pair of 1's after the Internet name of the computer. These 1's specify the resource as a directory. On the other hand, the following URL specifies a specific text file within that directory: gopher:// . The "00" denotes a text file. Constructing URLs is more difficult when the path and/or file names of the Internet resources contain special characters like spaces or colons. In these cases, escape codes must be used to denote the special characters. For example: gopher:// . This long URL first asks a Gopher server ( to FTP a file (aesop11.txt) from an anonymous FTP server ( Notice the "%3a" and "%40" in the URL. They are used to denote a colon (":") and at sign ("@"), respectfully. Furthermore, notice the zero proceeding the "ftp." This is used to identify the remote file as a text file. As you can see, Gopher URLs are particularly difficult to decipher. The easiest way to construct a URL for a Gopher item it to access the Gopher server via a Web client, traverse the Gopher menus until you locate the resource, and then copy the displayed URL from the appropriate part of your client's screen. In summary, URLs unambiguously describe the location of Internet resources. Using URLs as a standard, Internet client programs like Web browsers can interpret URLs and retrieve the desired information. URLs describe the protocols and locations of Internet resources without regard to the particular Internet client software the user is employing to access them.

Example Web Client Software

Four examples of Web client software are described here: MacWeb, NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows, Lynx, and NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System. These particular pieces of software are described because I think they presently represent the best clients for the most common computing environments (i.e., Macintosh, Microsoft Windows, character-terminal-based VMS or UNIX, and X Window System). The real power of these Web clients (usually referred to as "browsers") is their ability to understand multiple Internet protocols. Each of the browsers described understands how to FTP files, act as Gopher clients, and read and interpret the output of Web servers. Additionally, each of these pieces of software understand "forms," an HTML extension allowing the user to complete electronic forms similar to Gopher+ ASK blocks. While none of these clients can directly understand the Telnet protocol, each can be configured to load and run Telnet software.


As the name implies, MacWeb is a Web browser for the Macintosh. Written at the Microelectronics and Computer Technology Corporation (MCC) , MacWeb is distributed via the Enterprise Integration Network (EINet) . [10] MacWeb requires System 7 and at least MacTCP version 2.0.2. MacTCP is an operating system extension available from Apple Computer that allows Macintosh computers to understand the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP) necessary for Internet communications. A very important piece of software called "StuffIt Expander," is strongly recommended when using MacWeb or NCSA Mosaic for the Macintosh (MacMosaic) . [11] StuffIt Expander is a utility program used to translate and uncompress files; compressed files are usually retrieved via FTP archives. The advantages of MacWeb are that it is fast, has an elegant and easily customizable interface, supports the automatic creation of HTML documents from its hotlists, and indirectly supports the WAIS protocol by launching MCC's WAIS client, MacWAIS . Its disadvantages are that you cannot select and copy text directly from the screen and, when the displayed text is saved as a text file, the displayed text looses all of its formatting.

NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows

NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows is bound to be one of the more popular Web browsers since most people have or will have Microsoft Windows-based computers. [12] NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows requires a WINSOCK.DLL . Like MacTCP, the WINSOCK.DLL software allows your computer to understand TCP/IP. Common WinSock packages include LAN WorkPlace for DOS and Trumpet WinSock. Additionally, NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows requires the 32-bit Windows extensions (Win32s). Win32s runs on 80386, 80486, or Pentium computers. The Win32s software is available via anonymous FTP from NCSA. One of the nicest features of NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows is the ability to customize its menu bar. By editing the MOSAIC.INI file, you can delete or add menu items to the menu bar. Consequently, you can configure the client and have it display commonly used Internet resources. At the present time, you cannot select nor copy text from the screen. Therefore, if you want to save displayed text, you must use the application's "Load to Disk" option.


Lynx is a basic Web browser that is intended to be used on DOS computers or "dumb" terminals running under the UNIX or VMS operating systems. [13] Lynx clients are wonderful when your only Internet connection is located on a remote computer (i.e., most dial-in access) or when you need to provide a lowest common denominator interface (e.g., VT100 terminals). Lynx clients don't support image or audio data, but they do support the "mailto" URL. Mailto URLs are used for the Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP), the Internet mail standard. When a Lynx client user selects a mailto URL, the user will be presented with a "form" to complete and the resulting text from the form will be delivered via Internet mail to the person or computer specified in the URL.

NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System

NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System , coupled with NCSA's Web server (httpd), really gave the Web the momentum and visibility it has today. [14] This full-featured browser supports copy and paste from the display. Direct WAIS support is also provided, and URLs such as wais:// are valid. At the present time, just about the only thing it doesn't support is the mailto URL. The disadvantage of NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System is that it requires a relatively powerful computer. While a Macintosh equipped with MacX or a Microsoft Windows computer with HummingBird Communications' eXceed/W can run X Window terminal sessions, NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System really requires direct access to a UNIX or VMS machine running the X Window System software.

Example Web Server Software

If you want to become a Web information provider, you need to utilize Web server software. This section describes the most popular Web server software for the most common computing platforms (i.e., Macintosh, UNIX, VMS, and Microsoft Windows).


MacHTTP is an Web server for Macintosh computers. [15] Written by Chuck Shotton , MacHTTP is one of the easiest servers to set up and configure. In fact, it is so easy it works "straight out of the box." MacHTTP requires System 7 to support advanced features like AppleScript. MacHTTP runs on Macintosh II-type computers (e.g., Macintosh IIci, SE/30, LC, Centris, and Quadra computers). It does not run on low-end Macintoshes based on the Motorola 68000 microprocessor (e.g., Macintosh Plus, SE, and PowerBook 100 computers). MacHTTP requires MacTCP.

Because of its simple installation, I recommend the use of MacHTTP to learn the basics of Web servers. Since it is so small, just about anyone can create a server on their desktop computer and effectively experiment with serving HTML documents. A Macintosh is not recommended as an institution's primary server, since the potential user population may be very large. On the other hand, a group of Macintosh servers that were linked together via the HTTP protocol to form a single virtual server could easily distribute the load, with each server supporting a subset of an institution's HTML documents.

NCSA httpd

Based on the number of postings to comp.infosystems.www newsgroups, NCSA's httpd seems to be the most popular Web server. Running under the UNIX operating system, httpd is distributed both as source code and in binary form for the many "flavors" of UNIX. [16] This server is robust and only slightly difficult to configure. If you have a UNIX computer at your disposal and your server's intended audience is large, then I recommend the use of NCSA httpd. I recommend this for several reasons. First, this server is widely supported by the Internet community; you can always find an expert, and it is easier to get help for this server than for the CERN server. Second, since it runs under UNIX, it is intended to coincide with other applications running on the same computer, like Gopher, WAIS, or a list server. Finally, many Common Gateway Interface (CGI) scripts are written in Perl , a programming language most at home on a UNIX computer. (CGI scripts are described in more detail later.)

CERN httpd

If you have a VMS computer, you cannot use the NCSA http server; however, there is an appropriate Web server available. It is a port of the CERN httpd server by Foteos Macrides of the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology . Like the servers described previously, the CERN httpd server for VMS comes in binary form as well as in source code form. [17] Configuration is not as easy as MacHTTP or NCSA httpd for Windows, but it is not any more difficult than NCSA's httpd server for UNIX. Presently, the server does not support the POST method, the preferred method of transmitting information from forms to CGI scripts, but it works just the same. One advantage of VMS is its strong scripting language, DCL. DCL is works well for CGI scripts.

If you plan to maintain a server, your intended audience is large, and you have a VMS computer at your disposal, then I recommend using this server software. If you have a UNIX computer, use the NCSA http server instead.

NCSA httpd for Windows

Robert B. Denny has ported the NCSA httpd server to Microsoft Windows . [18] Like MacHTTP, it worked for me "right out of the box," and it supports all the standard features, such as forms, CGI scripts, graphics, and access control. Its disadvantages are that it is considered slow and it requires a lot of system resources (memory and CPU power) as well as a WinSock-compatible TCP/IP driver (just like NCSA Mosaic for Microsoft Windows). This server would make a good platform for PC users to learn the basics of HTTP and server maintenance. Like MacHTTP, I would not recommend this application as the main server of an institution, such as an academic library.

Web Servers Versus Gopher Servers

There are several reasons why Web servers should be used instead of Gopher servers. First, in terms of computing resources, Web servers are more efficient since most of the information processing is distributed to the client software. A Gopher client can effectively have access to FTP and WAIS services, but the Gopher server is doing all the work. On the other hand, Web clients (for the most part) understand these protocols and take the load off the server. Second, because Web clients understand HTML, Web servers are not limited to making their information available via menus. Thus, more descriptive texts and abstracts can be added to hypertext links making it easier for the user to evaluate possible choices. Third, Web servers are significantly easier to maintain. For example, every "study carrel" of the North Carolina State University Libraries' Web server consists of a single HTML file created either with a public domain editor or via a report from a database program. This is so much easier to maintain and manage than all the link files and directories of the study carrels in the Libraries' Gopher server .

HyperText Markup Language

The HyperText Markup Language (HTML) is used to format documents delivered by Web servers. The formal HTML standard can be read from the CERN server, [19] and a few style guides are available from the WWW Developer's JumpStation . [20] A subset of the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SMGL) , HTML's strengths and weaknesses are well documented by Price-Wilkin [21] and Barry . [22] Therefore, only a brief overview of HTML will be provided here. HTML files are simple ASCII files containing rudimentary "tags" describing the format of a document. Creating an HTML document is a lot like using the old word processing program WordStar. (Remember WordStar?) For example, to print a word in boldface type using WordStar, the user would first select text from the screen. Then the user would enter a code like "^b." This code would be inserted before and after the selected text. When the document was printed, WordStar would interpret the "^b" and print boldface letters until another "^b" was encountered. HTML works in a similar fashion. The author goes through his or her document surrounding text with special codes denoting format. Since the Web employs the client/server model, there is little control over the fonts and styles of formatted text at the client end. Therefore, HTML provides logical rather than stylistic formatting capabilities. The basic structure of an HTML document looks like this:

<TITLE>My First HTML Document </TITLE>
Hello, World!

The <HTML> and </HTML> tags define the document as an HTML document; the and tags denote the leading matter of a document; the <TITLE> and </TITLE> tags specify the document's title; and the <BODY> and </BODY> tags specify the location of the formatted text. Notice how the second tag of each tag pair is identical to the first tag except the second tag includes a backward slash ("/"); the backward slash denotes the completion of a logical formatting option.

Within the body of an HTML document there can be many other formatting constructs. Examples include the <P> tag for paragraph marks and the <BR> tag for simple line breaks. There are also the ordered list (<OL>) and unordered list (<UL>) tags that allow the user to create lists of numbered items and unnumbered items, respectively. An ordered list results in formatting something like this:

  1. apples
  2. pears
  3. bananas

An unordered list results in something like this:

The real utility of HTML is not its ability to format text. Rather, its real strength lies in its ability to transport a user from one section of text to another (or to a completely new document) by clicking on (or selecting) highlighted words. This hypertext capability is HTML's greatest asset. The hypertext features of HTML are implemented with tags called "links." Links are tags containing either an anchor, URL, or both. Section headings are usually used as anchors in HTML documents. Thus, anchors are used to navigate to another section of the presently viewed document or, when used in conjunction with a URL, to navigate to a section of a different document.

HTML Converters and Editors

Creating HTML documents by hand can be a laborious process; it is easy to forget all the various tags and formatting rules. Consequently, there are a growing number of software tools available to make the HTML document creation process easier.

Simple HTML Editor (SHE)

Simple HTML Editor (SHE) is an HTML editor in the form of a HyperCard stack. [23] It requires a Macintosh and HyperCard version 2.1 (or HyperCard Player). Optional editor features require MacWeb and the AppleScript extensions. The creation of a document is a four-step process. First you create a new document. Second, you enter text into the document. Third, to enhance your document, you select text from the screen and choose a markup option from the menu. Finally, you save the document. Specific knowledge of HTML is not necessary, but it helps. Unique features of S H E include Balloon Help, forms creation, and one-step preview if you have MacWeb. Like all HTML editors (with the possible exception of HoTMetaL ), S H E is not a WYSIWYG editor. In other words, the user is presented with raw HTML when editing. Another limitation of S H E is its inability to create documents longer than 30,000 characters.

HTML Assistant

HTML Assistant is a Windows-based HTML editor. [24] It works like other editors in that you enter text on the screen and make changes to the text's characteristics by selecting the text and choosing a markup option. Like S H E, HTML Assistant is not a WYSIWYG editor, but it to has the ability to test your work with a Web browser at the click of a button.

Other features include:


Another popular way to create HTML documents is to convert files from a wordprocessor file format (e.g., Microsoft Word, WordPerfect, and RTF) to HTML with the help of "converter" programs. A collection of these program can be seen at the WWW Developer's JumpStation . [25]

On one hand, converter programs are very convenient. On the other hand, they keep you in the dark about HTML, and, unless you know something about HTML, you are stuck with the tags the converter gives you as output. Although converter programs are useful, you still have to manually enter some hypertext links in order to take full advantage of HTML's capabilities.

CGI scripts

The real potential of Web servers lies in their ability to run programs behind the scenes and return the results of these programs to the user. This is known as the Common Gateway Interface (CGI) . Basic CGI scripts include the ability to display the current time or the number of users who have accessed a server. More advanced and useful CGI scripts include features like SFgate (a gateway to WAIS servers) and forms for interlibrary loan requests. CGI scripts are made available to a Web browser by either the ISINDEX HTML tag, a specialized URL containing a question mark (?), or forms. After the user completes an HTML document pointing to a script, the script's query is passed to the Web server, which passes the input to the designated script. CGI scripts can be written in almost any language. Common languages include C, Perl , AppleScript, Visual Basic, or DCL. The scripts then process the user's input and pass the results (usually in the form of an HTML document) back to the Web server, which subsequently sends the results to the Web client.

Tim Kambitsch's CGI Scripts

One of the best CGI scripts I have seen for libraries has been written by Tim Kambitsch of Butler University . Tim has written a number of scripts allowing the user to search DRA online catalogs (OPACs). These scripts allow the user to input a Boolean query, including qualifiers like "au" for author, "ti" for title, and "su" for subject. These queries are then applied to the OPAC and the results are returned. Thus, it is not necessary to Telnet to the OPAC to perform a search; a single program (a Web client) can be used to access both Internet resources and OPACs. Since the DRA searching program used by Kambitsch's scripts is a Z39.50 client, it is possible to use the client to provide access to Z39.50 servers. The North Carolina State University Libraries have used these scripts to provide Web browser access to its OPAC and its government documents database.

NCSU Libraries' Mr. Serials Project

Collecting serial literature is another application of Web servers and CGI scripts. For the past two years, the North Carolina State University Libraries (NCSU Libraries) have systematically collected electronic serials with a process called "Mr. Serials." The result of the Mr. Serials process is the creation of HTML documents available on the NCSU Libraries' Web server . While the collection is rather small and it is limited to library and information science titles, it effectively demonstrates how libraries can organize, archive, index, and disseminate electronic serials. It is hoped librarians can use something like Mr. Serials to convince the academic community of the feasibility of electronic publishing. With the advent of the 856 field, the MARC record will be able to effectively describe the locations and holdings of electronic documents. It is anticipated that URLs will be entered into a public note subfield of the 856 field. As an experiment, the NCSU Libraries have added two records to our OPAC. The first describes ALAWON and the other describes The Public Access Computer Systems Review. We then added 856 fields to the MARC records and added URLs describing the locations of these electronic serials. Last, we made these URLs hypertext links. Consequently, we can use a Web browser like Mosaic to search the NCSU OPAC for " alawon " or " public access computer systems review ." Once a record is retrieved and displayed, a hypertext link appears. The user can then choose the hypertext link and go directly to the electronic serial. (We have done something similar to an item in our catalog for the University's recent self study .) This project demonstrates how traditional cataloging mechanisms can be used to help organize the Internet.

Possible Expert System Uses

Another, as of yet unrealized, application of CGI scripts is an expert system for locating information on the Internet or in databases. Imagine a scenario where you are asked a number of questions via an HTML form. Based on the answers to these questions, other questions are asked. At the end of this question/answer process, the CGI script generates either a "game plan" for locating the information you seek or it generates queries that can then be applied to various databases across the Internet (e.g., OPACs, Web servers, and Veronica servers ).

Organizing Web Information

The introduction of technologies like the Web can have a profound effect on libraries. Keeping in mind libraries are about information and not about books and other printed materials, how can libraries use Web clients and servers to provide better library service? The Web can be used to distribute information about libraries. This information includes such things as hours of operation, reference guides, policies, descriptions of services, lists of subject specialists, and building maps. Like our earliest online catalogs, this particular use of the Web transfers old services to a new technology without truly taking advantage of the new technology's strengths. The organization of Internet resources is another use of this new technology. We are all aware of the tremendous, ever growing amount of data and information available on the Internet. Organizing this information into a coherent whole is a daunting task being attempted by many, many people. Who can do this better than librarians who have special training and experience in organizing information?

Once a Web server is in place, it is a simple matter of dividing it into sections where each section contains information on a common theme. There are no rules restricting the creation of thematic organizational schemes; however, based on my experience with the Gopher at the NCSU Libraries, I can suggest some guidelines. First and foremost, the organizational scheme must be comprehensible to your intended audience. Think about the people who will be using the Web server. What are their backgrounds? What do they want? What specialized terminology do they use? In general, how do they think? Incorporate the answers to these questions into the structure of your Web server. "Libraries are for use," and, in order for this to happen, your classification system must be understandable by most of your clientele. Second, create a structure striving to be both enumerative and synthetic.

Enumerative classification attempts to assign designations for (to enumerate) all the single and composite subject concepts required in the system. . . . Synthetic classifications are more likely to confine their explicit lists of designations to single, unsubdivided concepts, giving the local classifier generalized rules with which to construct headings of composite subject. [26]

Third, organize materials based on format as a last resort. People usually don't care what format the data is in just as long as the answer to their query can be found. Last, but not least, be consistent in the way things are classified. In short, practice good cataloging.

After deciding what you are going to collect and how you are going to organize the material, you need to decide how you are going to maintain your data. At first glance, the solution appears to be to use an HTML editor and begin the construction of subject-specific pages. An alternative approach is to take advantage of a database program, and use the database program's report generation capabilities to create HTML files automatically. With this method, each Internet resource corresponds to one record. The record is then divided into fields like title, author, date, URL, abstract, major subject(s), and minor subject(s). Records are added to the database and as many fields are completed as possible, especially the title, URL, and subject fields. Finally, a report is generated by creating a subset of records sharing a common theme (e.g., engineering resources) and then outputting the report in HTML form.

This database method has many advantages over creating HTML files by hand with an HTML editor. First, it reduces human error in the creation of HTML. Second, if a particular resource is to be classified with more than one subject heading, there is only one place where the information needs to be maintained. With the manual creation of HTML documents, there will be more than one file to edit. Third, a report can be generated containing one and only one occurrence of every item in your database. This report can then be indexed using a WAIS server, and it can provide your users with a way to effectively search your Web server. Finally, when the next "killer" Internet protocol becomes available, you will not have to reenter your collection of Internet resources. You will only have to modify your report's output.


Now is the time for your library to begin maintaining a Web server. Read the USENET newsgroups comp.infosystems.www. providers , comp.infosystems.www.users , and comp.infosystems.www.misc . Start with a 80386-based or Macintosh-based server to get acquainted with the principles of server maintenance and HTML. Identify your target audience and anticipate their needs. Gather information accordingly. If you anticipate a large demand, move your server to a more powerful UNIX- or VMS-based computer with at least one gigabyte of storage, more if you are collecting electronic texts. Keep reading the newsgroups.

The Web and the Internet as a whole are about accessing electronic information resources. Libraries are about collecting, organizing, archiving, disseminating, and sometimes evaluating information resources. Libraries are not just about books and journals; books and journals are only one manifestation of the information universe. Doesn't it make sense that librarians should be involved in providing Internet resources? Users often complain about the disorganization of the Internet. Librarians have been organizing information resources for centuries. Scholars worry about the long-term preservation of electronic information. Archiving information is a major aspect of librarianship. Some say the Internet has a high "noise to signal" ratio. This is true for the information universe in general, and librarians have special skills when it comes to extracting information from data.

In short, I advocate the creation and maintenance of Web servers and other Internet resources by librarians. Although this requires the development of new skills, librarians already possess the more critical skills necessary to make these Internet services truly useful, and, while there are some risks involved in this effort, these risks are well worth taking.


  1. Tim Berners-Lee, World Wide Web Initiative (Geneva: CERN, 1994). (URL: .)
  2. For readers with a Web client, the author has also made this paper available as an HTML file at the following URL: .
  3. Kris Herbst, "The Master Weaver," Internet World 5 (October 1994): 78.
  4. Vannevar Bush, " As We May Think ," Atlantic Monthly 176 (July 1945): 101-108. Alternatively, try .
  5. Theodor H. Nelson, " As We Will Think ," in From Memex to Hypertext: Vannevar Bush and the Mind's Machine, ed. James M. Nyce and Paul Kahn (Boston: Academic Press, 1991), 245-260.
  6. Richard W. Wiggins, "Examining Mosaic: A History and Review," Internet World 5 (October 1994): 48-51.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Eric Lease Morgan, WAIS and Gopher Servers: A Guide for Internet End-Users (Westport, CT: Mecklermedia, 1994), 1-2.
  9. See .
  10. See or .
  11. MacMosaic is a Macintosh Web browser from NCSA. Read more about MacMosaic at or Mosaic/Mac/ .
  12. See or .
  13. The DOS version (DOSLynx) can be found at . Similarly, the UNIX and VMS versions can be found at . When obtaining the UNIX or VMS version of Lynx, be sure to copy the version matching your specific hardware and TCP/IP configuration. If you don't know your hardware and TCP/IP configuration, then ask for the specification from your systems administrator.
  14. See or f tp:// .
  15. See .
  16. See .
  17. See .
  18. See or .
  19. See .
  20. See .
  21. John Price-Wilkin, " Using the World-Wide Web to Deliver Complex Electronic Documents: Implications for Libraries ," The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 5, no. 3 (1994): 5-21. (To retrieve this article, send the following e-mail message to GET PRICEWIL PRV5N3 F=MAIL.)
  22. Jeff Barry, " The HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and the World-Wide Web: Raising ASCII Text to a New Level of Usability ," The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 5, no. 5 (1994): 5-62. (To retrieve this article, send the following e-mail message to GET BARRY PRV5N5 F=MAIL.)
  23. See .
  24. See h ttp:// .
  25. See
  26. Bohdan S. Wynar, Introduction to Cataloging and Classification (Littleton, CO: Libraries Unlimited, 1980), 394.

About the Author

Eric Lease Morgan , Systems Librarian
NCSU Libraries
Box 7111, Room 2316-B, Raleigh, NC 27695-7111

The Public-Access Computer Systems Review

The Public-Access Computer Systems Review is an electronic journal that is distributed on the Internet and on other computer networks. There is no subscription fee. To subscribe, send an e-mail message to that says: SUBSCRIBE PACS-P First Name Last Name. This article is Copyright (C) 1994 by Eric Lease Morgan. All Rights Reserved. The Public-Access Computer Systems Review is Copyright (C) 1994 by the University Libraries, University of Houston. All Rights Reserved. Copying is permitted for noncommercial use by academic computer centers, computer conferences, individual scholars, and libraries. Libraries are authorized to add the journal to their collection, in electronic or printed form, at no charge. This message must appear on all copied material. All commercial use requires permission.

Creator: Eric Lease Morgan <>
Source: This article was originally published in The Public-Access Computer Systems Review 5, no. 6 (1994): 5-26.
Date created: 1994-09-27
Date updated: 2004-11-18
Subject(s): Web servers; HTML (Hypertext Markup Language); articles;