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Magazines > Computers in Libraries > February 2004
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Vol. 24 No. 2 — February 2004
FEATURE
A Dozen Primers on Standards


ARK

Acronym:

ARK

What it stands for:

Archival Resource Key

What is its purpose?

The ARK naming scheme is designed to facilitate the high-quality and persistent identification of information objects. A founding principle of the ARK is that persistence is purely a matter of service and is neither inherent in an object nor conferred on it by a particular naming syntax. The best that an identifier can do is to lead users to the services that support persistence. The term ARK itself refers both to the scheme and to any single identifier that conforms to it.

An ARK is a special kind of URL that connects users to three things: the named object, its metadata, and the provider's promise about its persistence. When entered into the location field of a Web browser, the ARK leads the user to the named object. That same ARK, followed by a single question mark ('?'), returns a brief metadata record that is both human- and machine-readable. When the ARK is followed by dual question marks ('??'), the returned metadata contains a commitment statement from the current provider.

Unlike the URN, DOI, and PURL schemes, the ARK scheme recognizes that two important classes of name authority affect persistence: original assigners of names and current providers of mapping services (which map names to objects, to metadata, and to promises). Over time, the original assigner (the Name Assigning Authority) and its policies increasingly have less to do with the current providers (the Name Mapping Authorities) and their policies. There may be many mapping authorities at once, and many in succession.

Here is an example illustrating the structure of an ARK:

 

The part of the ARK before the NAAN plays no part in identifying the object or in comparing ARKs for equivalence; it only serves to make the ARK actionable. The NMAH part is temporary, disposable, and replaceable. It is thus a kind of identity-inert, disposable booster rocket that launches the ARK into cyberspace while allowing for limited branding. When the Web no longer exists, the core identity of the ARK is easily recovered by isolating the part of the ARK that begins with "ark:/".

The following ARKs are synonyms for the same object:

http://foobar.zaf.org/ark:/12025/654xz321
http://sneezy.dopey.com/ark:/12025/654xz321
ark:/12025/654xz321

A carefully chosen hostname in the NMAH could last for decades. If the NMAH ever fails, the ARK specification describes a look-up algorithm for finding a new NMAH for the object. The algorithm is essentially a simplification of the original URN resolver discovery algorithm that uses Domain Name System (DNS) Naming Authority Pointer records. A simpler alternative look-up algorithm is based on string-matching against a small, mirrored text file that functions as a registry of NAANs; this is directly analogous to how old Internet host tables were used for hostname lookup before DNS. The registry file is small since it contains one entry per NAA. The Names assigned by those NAAs are tracked in databases residing with the NAAs and NMAs.

Also, unlike the URN, DOI, and PURL schemes, the ARK scheme recognizes that persistence is multidimensional, not just on or off. As found in the permanence rating system (http://www.arl.org/newsltr/212/nlm.html) devised at the National Library of Medicine and implemented at the National Agriculture Library, a persistence promise is a faceted commitment statement. Since the future can never be guaranteed, a promise made by a current provider with a good reputation is the best you can do. To be credible, that promise should address such things as how long an identifier will remain assigned to a given object, how long that object will be accessible, and to what extent its content may be subject to change.

Groups behind it:

Work on ARK started at the U.S. National Library of Medicine, Lister Hill Center, Computer Science Branch (http://ark.nlm.nih.gov). Now the primary implementation activity is at the California Digital Library (http://ark.cdlib.org). Some experimentation is taking place at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and at the University of California­San Diego.

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

No

What stage of development is it at?

The ARK specification is stable, but subject to ongoing refinement and extension.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: ARKs work with unmodified Web browsers. The buy-in cost is low; you can use them for some of your objects or all of them. ARKs connect you not only to objects, but also to their providers' metadata and commitment statements. The existence of these three services can be quickly probed and interpreted with very simple automated tools. ARKs fail gracefully, because the core identity can be recovered by stripping off the hostname.

Cons: Tool support is immature.

—John A. Kunze
Preservation Technologies Architect
University of California, Office of the President
Oakland, Calif.
ARK Co-Developer

 

DOI

Acronym:

DOI

What it stands for:

Digital Object Identifier

What is its purpose?

The spec links customers with publishers/content suppliers, facilitating digital rights management, supply chain management, and electronic commerce.

Most commonly, publishers employ the system to sell digital content—journal articles, books, chapters of books, etc. Publishers can also use it to facilitate linking to excerpts, as for promotional purposes.

The International DOI Foundation defines DOI as an entire system for "persistent identification and interoperable exchange of intellectual property (IP) on digital networks." In other words, DOI is used to identify ownership and track the use of IP in cyberspace. DOI has been called "the bar code for intellectual property." The system has three components: identifier, directory, and database.

The identifier has two parts—a prefix, which identifies the entity that is registering the DOI, and a suffix, which identifies an individual item. A pre-existing identifier (like an ISBN) can be part of the suffix.

The directory, which functions as an intermediary between the user and the publisher, links DOI numbers with the servers on which the actual content is held. A publisher may change servers or transfer ownership of the copyright to another entity, but the DOI number will always remain linked to the content itself.

The database, maintained by the publisher, contains information about the materials and copyright holders. When a user clicks on a DOI link, he or she is taken to the publisher's repository and either views the content directly (if a subscription is in place) or perhaps sees a screen offering different ways to purchase the content.

The "plumbing" underneath DOI is called Handle System technology (http://www.handle.net). This is "a comprehensive system for assigning, managing, and resolving persistent identifiers" ("handles") for Internet resources, which can also be used as Uniform Resources Names (URNs). The Handle System, written in Java, can be freely downloaded for research and educational purposes (http://www.handle.net/java_version.html). For those who want to test drive the system, or those who prefer not to run these services on their own, the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (http://www.cnri.reston.va.us) operates a Public Local Handle Service (http://hs9.cnri.reston.va.us/CNRIHS/index.html). CNRI operates the DOI system and provides technical support as a contractor to the IDF.

Groups behind it:

International DOI Foundation (IDF) (http://www.doi.org)

The Association of American Publishers
(http://www.publishers.org), in conjunction with the Corporation for National Research Initiatives (http://www.cnri.reston.va.us), originally developed the system.

Registration of DOIs is accomplished via Registration Agencies (http://www.doi.org/registration_agencies.html), which may specialize in certain types of IP. Registration fees are set by the individual agencies. Once registered, a DOI can be used freely. The IDF itself grants DOI prefixes freely to organizations wishing to use them for limited research/education/experimentation projects (as opposed to commercial purposes).

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

DOI works with another standard. An OpenURL—a method for sending metadata associated with a digital object—can contain a DOI as an attribute. Embedding a DOI in an OpenURL can convey the correct copyright/licensing information that allows a user to access the desired content.

What stage of development is it at?

In August 2003, the 10-millionth DOI was assigned via CrossRef (http://www.crossref.org), which IDF identifies as "the first and still largest assigner of DOIs." This is what the DOI for that article looks like:

DOI:10.1007/s00348-003-0647-4. Here is the Web link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00348-003-0647-4.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: DOI links look and work like standard hyperlinks, and they can easily be cut and pasted. Also, DOI links are persistent. A DOI functions as a standard machine-readable number, allowing for cross-system communication. Once registered, DOIs can be used freely by anyone and are easily modified without requiring re-registration. DOIs can incorporate existing ID information, such as ISBNs, SKUs, etc. A publisher can add unique DOIs to different parts of a resource—e.g., chapters in a book—so that a customer can easily purchase only what is wanted or needed. An extensive list of benefits can be found in the DOI Handbook (http://www.doi.org/handbook_2000/intro.html).

Cons: It costs money to affiliate with a registration agency and register items. In addition, the spec is oriented toward publishers rather than the library community. Furthermore, DOIs are not yet common in Web URLs; the standard is obscure to most outside of the information professions. Some feel the system is overly complex and wonder if publishers are capable of maintaining DOI databases.

Additional comments:

The IDF offers a page of links (http://www.doi.org/demos.html) to some demos of DOI in action. Content Directions, Inc., a DOI registration agency, also offers some examples from its customers (http://doi.contentdirections.com/doi_examples.cgi). Other references:

Automating the Digital Supply Chain: Just DOI It (2001)
http://www.contentdirections.com/
materials/SIIA-AutomatingSupplyChain.htm

Digital Object Identifiers: Not Just for Publishers (2002)
http://www.cmswatch.com/Features/
TopicWatch/FeaturedTopic/?feature_id=66

"DOI: A 2003 Progress Report" (D-Lib Magazine/June 2003)
http://www.dlib.org/dlib/june03/paskin/06paskin.html

What Is the Digital Object Identifier? (2003)
http://www.contentdirections.com/
materials/WhatistheDOI_files/frame.html

—Shirl Kennedy, Reference Librarian
MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Fla.

 

 

METS

Acronym:

METS

What it stands for:

Metadata Encoding & Transmission Standard

What is its purpose?

METS is intended to provide an XML-based language for encapsulating all descriptive, administrative, and structural metadata needed for the retrieval, display, management, and preservation of digital library objects. The Reference Model for an Open Archival Information System (ISO 14721:2002) defines the sum of metadata and data constituting a digital object as an "information package." It also delineates three major forms of an information package:

1. A Submission Information Package (SIP), used to submit a digital object to a repository system

2. An Archival Information Package (AIP), used to store a digital object within a repository

3. A Dissemination Information Package (DIP), used to deliver a digital object to an end user.

METS was designed to fulfill the role of SIP, AIP, and DIP for digital library repository systems.

By trying to standardize the format that digital libraries might use to exchange and store digital library objects, the METS initiative is trying to reduce the overall cost to libraries of developing tools and systems to work with digital library materials. If a single standard exists for the way a digital library object should be composed, then software that's developed by one institution to work with its local digital materials should be fairly easy to adopt at another institution. The METS format is thus intended to form a stable base for digital library development, which a variety of institutions can then collaboratively build upon.

Groups behind it:

Digital Library Federation (METS Initiative Sponsor)
(http://www.diglib.org)

Library of Congress (METS Maintenance Agency)
(http://www.loc.gov/standards/mets)

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

No

What stage of development is it at?

Version 1.3 of the METS XML schema has been publicly released and endorsed by the Digital Library Federation. It is already in production use at a variety of institutions both within the United States and overseas. The METS Editorial Board, which manages its further development, is preparing to submit METS to NISO (National Information Standards Organization) as a NISO registration document.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: Given its flexibility and power, METS is a relatively simple and straightforward tool for encoding digital library objects. It supports a wide range of materials, including still images, text, audio, and video, as well as mixtures of such formats.

Cons: Its flexibility in adapting to local practices can serve as a mild barrier to interoperability between institutions. As an example, METS will allow you to encode descriptive metadata however you want, but if other institutions don't share your practices with regard to descriptive metadata, it will be difficult for them to take advantage of your METS-based materials. While the METS community is trying to facilitate the development of software tools that can be freely shared among libraries, as well as trying to encourage commercial software providers to support the standard, METS-based software tools are still immature and require some XML expertise to employ.

—Jerome McDonough
Digital Library Development Team Leader
Elmer Bobst Library
New York University
New York, N.Y.
Chair of the METS Editorial Board

 

MODS

Acronym:

MODS

What it stands for:

Metadata Object Description Schema

What is its purpose?

MODS can carry the major data elements from a MARC record but does not use the MARC tagging that one finds in the MARC XML schema. Instead, MODS represents key bibliographic data with easily understood element names such as "title," "name," and "subject." This makes it more friendly to communities that are not accustomed to the MARC numeric tagging. MODS can be used to translate MARC records into XML, but it is also suitable for creating original metadata records.

IT SERVES WELL AS A BRIDGE BETWEEN TRADITIONAL LIBRARY APPLICATIONS AND BIBLIOGRAPHIC APPLICATIONS THAT DO NOT MAKE USE OF LIBRARY CATALOGING OR METADATA FORMATS.

MODS was, in part, a response to the need to have a metadata format that was not specific to the library community and the MARC standard, but that would have a richer data element set than Dublin Core. MODS can function as a crossover metadata format for XML applications that may make use of traditional library cataloging data together with metadata with nontraditional origins. It retains some key elements of the MARC record (such as the Leader values for Type of Resource and Bibliographic level) that would allow someone to re-create a MARC record from MODS, albeit with some loss of detail. It does not attempt to define every data element that is found in the MARC record, but rather it has distilled that record down to a selection of key elements that can serve a fairly wide variety of metadata needs.

MODS will be modified as the MARC standard changes to maintain parallelism with the MARC record so that translation from MARC to MODS will be possible. It can also be modified in response to requests from the community that uses MODS, at the discretion of the Library of Congress office that is shepherding the MODS standard.

Group behind it:

Library of Congress, Network Development
and MARC Standards Office (http://www.loc.gov/standards/mods)

Discussion and Developers' listserv: mods@loc.gov

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

No, MODS exists in relation to, but does not replace, MARC XML. And it supports, but is not identical to, MARC-encoded metadata.

What stage of development is it at?

MODS is now at version 3.0. The Library of Congress' intention is for version 3 to be a stable version that will encourage more use in production systems. MODS is being used already in some digital library applications.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: If you can tolerate some uncertainty in your life, and are developing a database or system that will contain metadata from a variety of sources, including some library cataloging in MARC format, MODS is your best choice of metadata formats. It serves well as a bridge between traditional library applications and bibliographic applications that do not make use of library cataloging or metadata formats.

Cons: If you are looking for a stable, widely used metadata standard with time-tested implementation guidelines, then MODS is not for you. MODS has the potential to develop in a number of different directions, depending on the feedback of early adopters. You should consider it experimental in nature, although maturing quickly.

—Karen Coyle
Digital Library Specialist
Berkeley, Calif.

 

NCIP

Acronym:

NCIP

What it stands for:

NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol

What is its purpose?

NCIP supports the open exchange of circulation information among the variety of systems that libraries use today to support resource sharing. These systems must exchange information about library users, items they wish to use, the owners of the items, and the relationships among these three entities. For example, in a consortial environment, a patron may place a hold on an item that's in another library. The second library could check the item out to the patron and ship it to him. The patron may return the item to his own library, where it would be checked in and returned to the original library. NCIP could support all of these interactions among disparate systems.

NCIP addresses the growing need for interoperability among disparate applications: between self-service applications and circulation applications, between and among various circulation applications, between circulation and interlibrary loan applications, and between other related applications. NCIP allows for three forms of activity between applications:

1. Look-up. Look-up services allow the initiating system to ask the responding service for information about an agency (library or other service provider), a user, or an item.

2. Update. Update services allow the initiating system to ask the responding service to take actions: These include both asking the responding system to create or change an object (record) and asking the responding system to do a circulation transaction such as placing a hold or performing a checkout.

3. Notification. Notification services allow the initiating system to inform the responding system that it has taken an action. Notification services parallel the update services.

The protocol is implemented through profiles. Implementation profiles define how the messages are exchanged and application profiles define the business rules for implementing the protocol for a particular application.

The first implementation profile was developed at the same time as the protocol itself. It encodes messages in XML UTF-8 for character encoding. Messages may be exchanged using either HTTP/(S) or direct TCP/IP.

NISO Committee AT, the committee that drafted NCIP, also developed three application profiles: one for self-service, one for Circulation-to-ILL Interchange, and one for Direct Consortial Borrowing.

Groups behind it:

NCIP was approved by the NISO (http://www.niso.org) membership in 2002. The Colorado State Library is the official maintenance agency for NCIP.

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

While NCIP doesn't actually replace a previous standard, it builds on experience that people developed while using 3M SIP (Standard Interchange Protocol) and SIP2 in self-service applications.

What stage of development is it at?

There is an active implementers group that meets regularly. NCIP is being implemented by most major system providers and by organizations like OCLC.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: NCIP uses current technology that is relatively easy to implement for system providers. It provides a rich set of messages, and is supported by an active implementation support group.

Cons: Business rules for implementation are still evolving.

Additional comments:

Here are some references that will give you more information:

NCIP Implementation Group page, University of Chicago Library Staff Web: http://www.lib.uchicago.edu/staffweb/groups/ncip

"The NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol: An overview and status report"
by Mark Needleman. (2000)
Serials Review 26(4): 42­45.

"The NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol (NCIP)—An XML Based
Standard," by Mark Needleman, John Bodfish, Tony O'Brien, James E. Rush, and Pat Stevens.

Library Hi Tech (2001), Volume 19, Number 3: 223­230. (DOI: 10.1108/0
7378830110405526) An abstract and a vehicle to purchase the full text are at http://fernando.emeraldinsight.com/vl=6397120/cl=16/
fm=html/nw=1/rpsv/cw/mcb/07378831/v19n3/s3/p223
.

"NISO Circulation Interchange Protocol (NISO Z39.83): a standard in trial"
by Pat Stevens. (2001),
New Library World, 102(1162): 93­99.

—Pat Stevens
Director, Cooperative Initiatives
OCLC Online Computer Library Center
Dublin, Ohio
Chair, NISO Standards Development Committee
Former Chair, NISO Committee AT

 

OAI-PMH

Acronym:

OAI-PMH

What it stands for:

Open Archives Initiative Protocol for Metadata Harvesting

What is its purpose?

Narrowly, the OAI-PMH is a mechanism for harvesting XML-formatted metadata from distributed collections of metadata. In a broader sense, it is a framework for increasing interoperability that includes an architectural model, implementation guidelines, a registry of implementers, and a common descriptive metadata format, in addition to the harvesting protocol itself. An effort to include the expression of rights information within the protocol is ongoing.

In the Open Archives Initiative (OAI) model, there are data providers and service providers. Data providers (also called "repositories") make metadata available for harvesting. Service providers harvest metadata from data providers, and build value-added services on top of it, usually in the form of search-and-retrieval services. Data providers and service providers communicate with each other via the Protocol for Metadata Harvesting, a simple set of requests and responses carried over HTTP.

For example, the request GetRecord is issued by the service provider to retrieve a single metadata record from the data provider. GetRecord has parameters for the key of the requested record and the metadata format desired by the harvester. The appropriate response is to send the requested metadata record in the requested format.

The OAI-PMH requires all repositories to support one metadata schema, oai_dc, an XML representation of unqualified Dublin Core. That means that regardless of the native metadata scheme or format used by the repository, it must be able to convert its native metadata to oai_dc for harvesting. Other metadata schemas can be used by agreement between data provider and service provider, as long as the metadata is represented in XML. Libraries commonly use MODS and MARCXML, two schemata for representing MARC21 semantics in XML.

Group behind it:

Open Archives Initiative (http://www.openarchives.org)

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

The current version of the protocol is 2.0, which supersedes versions 1.0 and 1.1. The OAI-PMH itself does not update or replace any previous standard. However, the OAI-PMH spec is based on a protocol called "Dienst," developed at Cornell University (http://www.cornell.edu).

What stage of development is it at?

OAI-PMH version 2.0 is stable and in production. Lists of registered data providers and service providers are available on the OAI Web site.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: The OAI architecture somewhat resembles that of Internet Search Engines, in that (meta)data from distributed sites is aggregated centrally for search and retrieval. As such, it can be contrasted with protocols like Z39.50, where searching is distributed, and only search results are aggregated and processed centrally.

A major advantage of the OAI model over distributed search models is scalability. Z39.50 tends to break down with more than a dozen targets, while hundreds of sites can easily be aggregated under OAI. Separating the functions of data provider and service provider lends simplicity and flexibility that encourages innovation.

Cons: A disadvantage is that, at least when used with oai_dc, all metadata is converted to a least-common-denominator format that may not be optimal for certain purposes. Also, the aggregation of metadata from disparate sites presents challenges in vocabulary control, presentation, and other areas. Attribution of source presents an interesting challenge when metadata is harvested into aggregations that are subsequently harvested by other service providers.

Additional comments:

People in the library community often find the OAI terminology confusing. The initiative arose in the e-prints community, where the term "archive" is used to mean an e-print server or repository of scholarly papers. "Open Archives" does not refer to archives curated by archivists, and the OAI-PMH is available for use by any institution with a store of metadata—whether it's an e-print server, a library catalog, or a course management system.

A good tutorial on the OAI-PMH is available from the European Open Archives Forum (http://www.oaforum.org/index.php).

—Priscilla Caplan
Assistant Director for Digital Library Services
Florida Center for Library Automation
Gainesville, Fla.

 

ONIX

Acronym:

ONIX

What it stands for:

ONline Information eXchange

What is its purpose?

ONIX is a standard format that publishers use to distribute product information to their trading partners, including wholesalers, retail and online booksellers, book information services for booksellers and libraries, and other publishing-process intermediaries.

As online bookselling became popular and all retailers wanted to provide more information about books to their customers, publishers were beset by requests to provide product information in many formats. Publishers were providing the same information in 10 or more different formats, and they continually received new requests for different formats. Requestors sometimes wanted slightly different versions of the information, e.g., one wanted subtitles, another didn't; one wanted the author's full name, another wanted just initials; etc.

There were also issues for the recipients of the information—the booksellers, wholesalers, and reference services. They received data in wrong formats and they were concerned about its accuracy.

In 1999, the American Association of Publishers (AAP) called a meeting of publishers and their major trading partners to address these issues. The meeting was extremely well-attended and all agreed that the publishing and bookselling communities needed to work together to develop a standard for information exchange. Thus, ONIX was born.

ONIX defines a list of fields that allows publishers to provide very rich information about a book. In addition to basic data like ISBN, title, and author, publishers can provide author biographies, book blurbs, reviews, pictures of the book cover, etc. ONIX also defines the format for an "ONIX message," that is, the exact format in which data are to be transmitted. An ONIX message is a set of data elements defined by tags that is written in XML and that conforms to a specific XML DTD (Document Type Definition). The DTD defines how to order the data elements within the message and how to show relationships among the elements. Because XML is easy to use, this makes ONIX a standard that both large and small publishers can use.

Groups behind it:

ONIX was originally created by the American Association of Publishers (http://www.publishers.org).

Much of ONIX is based on the EPICS standard that was developed by EDItEUR (http://www.editeur.org). EPICS, the EDItEUR Product Information Communication Standard, is a much broader standard that was developed with the experience of the U.S. Book Industry Study Group (http://www.bisg.org) and the U.K. Book Industry Communication group (http://www.bic.org.uk). Very soon after beginning the ONIX project, the AAP invited EDItEUR and BISG to join in the effort.

EDItEUR is now responsible for maintaining and promulgating the standard, under the direction of the International ONIX Steering Committee, and in association with BISG in the U.S. and BIC in the U.K.

The Book Industry Study Group represents U.S. publishers and their trading partners to the International ONIX Committee. BISG is very active in ONIX's maintenance. Home of the U.S. ONIX Committee, which recommends changes and enhancements to the standard, BISG runs educational seminars on ONIX for publishers, and is responsible for publicizing the standard in the U.S.

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

ONIX replaces the many formats that were in use between publishers and trading partners before 2000. The most prominent of these were the formats requested by Amazon, Bowker, and Ingram.

What stage of development is it at?

The AAP released ONIX 1.0 in January 2000. EDItEUR released ONIX 2.0, which provided for a full XML implementation of the standard, in August 2001. The latest release, Version 2.1, is available on the EDItEUR Web site, and was unveiled in 2003.

Major online booksellers, wholesalers, and catalog publishers—such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Bowker—are working with publishers to make ONIX the standard for providing information about books.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: ONIX is important for the publishing community and for consumers. Through ONIX, publishers and booksellers can provide complete and accurate information about products to help people make informed purchasing decisions.

Before ONIX's introduction, it was time-consuming and expensive for publishers to exchange book information with their partners. ONIX increases efficiency and decreases cost for all parties.

Cons: Using ONIX does require development and integration with other systems for large publishers, book information providers, and booksellers. Thus, while many feel that ONIX is important, and it is being used by many companies, both publishers and information recipients have had to expend resources on its implementation, and it will take some time for its use to become de rigueur throughout the publishing community.

Additional comments:

Those of us who worked on creating the ONIX standard felt strongly that it would benefit all of the publishing community and its customers. And the difference between the quality and depth of information that consumers can find in online bookselling services now compared to what it was 5 years ago surely shows that to be true.

—Evelyn Sasmor
Sasmor Consulting, LLC
Princeton, N.J.
Former Chair, U.S. ONIX Committee

 

OpenURL

Acronym:

OpenURL

What it stands for:

Open Uniform Resource Locator

What is its purpose?

An OpenURL is a URL that links a citation to extended services that are independent of the information provider where the citation originates. These extended services may include an article's full text, biographical information about the author of an article, a search in a library catalog for a journal or book represented by the citation, a Web search, etc.

By far, the most popular use of OpenURLs is to link article citations in an abstracting-and-indexing database to the full text of the articles at a publisher or full-text aggregator Web site.

The structure of an OpenURL is composed of two parts: First, the base URL is the service component or "resolver." This is typically the hostname of a library-controlled server (or resolver) that processes the data in the rest of the OpenURL. OpenURL resolvers depend on a knowledgebase of sources that is used to find appropriate links for citations sent to the resolver. In most cases, the knowledgebase contains electronic journals that a library subscribes to and the URL syntaxes needed to directly link to articles within them.

Several library software vendors, including Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, Endeavor Information Systems, and Serials Solutions, sell OpenURL resolvers. Some libraries have designed and built OpenURL resolvers in-house.

The rest of the OpenURL is called the "descriptor," and consists of a defined set of variables tacked on to the URL in HTTP GET method fashion. The descriptor can contain the source of the OpenURL (e.g., the database that created the OpenURL—OCLC FirstSearch, EBSCOhost, etc.), and metadata about the article (or other information object) that the OpenURL describes. In the case of a journal article, this would include the journal name, its ISSN, the volume and issue numbers, the author's name, the title of the article, etc.

An example of an OpenURL follows:

Group behind it:

NISO Committee AX (http://library.caltech.edu/openurl)

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

No, it is a new standard.

What stage of development is it at?

It is currently a draft NISO standard and is in use by many information providers and library software vendors. NISO Committee AX is currently pursuing its adoption as a NISO standard.

Additional comments:

Most abstracting-and-indexing database providers are offering outbound OpenURL links from their Web interfaces. These links are intended to point to a library's local OpenURL resolver. Only a few such vendors (EBSCO, to name one) offer the ability to link to a full-text article via an inbound OpenURL.

Many electronic journal providers require a Digital Object Identifier (DOI) in order to link directly to the full text of a specific article. A nonprofit organization called CrossRef (http://www.crossref.org) provides free DOI look-up services. To link directly to the full text of an article at a publisher's Web site, an OpenURL resolver might need to send the citation data out to CrossRef via an OpenURL, receive a DOI back, and then link to the article at the publisher's Web site with the DOI.

OpenURLs could eventually have applications outside the scholarly publishing world. At some point, online book retailers might allow you to point OpenURLs at their Web sites to check on the price and availability of a book, CD, or DVD.

It's also easy to conceptualize OpenURL-like standards for entities other than citations for articles or books. People, places, and consumer products come to mind. For example, consumer products could have an "OpenURL" definition that might include product name, vendor, year released, model number, etc. If you were looking for a specific shoe by brand and size, your personal resolver could check prices and availability at a number of online stores that were compliant with the standard. Here are sites you might want to check:

OpenURL Committee's Web site: http://library.caltech.edu/openurl

The OpenURL Framework for Context-Sensitive Services: Standards Committee AX; National Information Standards Organization (2003) http://www.niso.org/committees/committee_ax.html

OpenURL format specification: http://www.sfxit.com/OpenURL/openurl.html

SFX OpenURL Overview; Ex Libris (2003) http://www.sfxit.com/OpenURLStandards and Patents and the OpenURL; National Information Standards Organization (2003) http://www.niso.org/committees/OpenURL/OpenURL-patent.html

—Mark Dahl
Library Technology Coordinator
Watzek Library
Lewis & Clark College
Portland, Ore.

 

RDF

Acronym:

RDF

What it stands for:

Resource Description Framework

What is its purpose?

RDF is most commonly explained as a "framework" for describing resources on the World Wide Web and, as such, can be characterized as metadata. An RDF description may contain such information as a particular resource's authors, creation date, organization, content, subject category or keywords, intended audience, copyright and licensing information, and pretty much anything else deemed significant. At its most basic level, it facilitates the interchange of metadata.

We often hear RDF mentioned in conjunction with the so-called Semantic Web, which Tim Berners-Lee described as "an extension of the current web in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation." (See http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?
articleID=00048144-10D2-1C70-84A9809EC588EF21
.) The Semantic Web has been defined as third-generation WWW. First-generation Web content is basically hand-written HTML pages. Second-generation Web content involves dynamically generated HTML pages, with content retrieved from a database and inserted into a template or style sheet. Third-generation Web content will be written in a rich mark-up language (such as XML), and it will employ metadata schemes (such as RDF) to make that content both machine-readable and machine-processable.

According to the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), "The Resource Description Framework (RDF) integrates a variety of applications from library catalogs and world-wide directories to syndication and aggregation of news, software, and content to personal collections of music, photos, and events using XML as an interchange syntax. The RDF specifications provide a lightweight ontology system to support the exchange of knowledge on the Web." (See http://www.w3.org/RDF.)

In the W3C's Metadata Activity Statement (http://www.w3.org/Metadata/Activity), a number of practical applications are suggested, among them: thesauri and library classification schemes; Web sitemaps; describing the contents of Web pages (e.g., Dublin Core—http://dublincore.org); describing the formal structure of privacy practice descriptions (e.g., Platform for Privacy Preferences—http://www.w3.org/P3P); describing device capabilities (e.g., Mobile Access Activity—http://www.w3.org/Mobile/Activity); rating systems (e.g., PICS—http://www.w3.org/PICS); expressing metadata about metadata; and digital signatures (http://www.w3.org/Signature/Activity).

Group behind it:

World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) (http://www.w3.org/RDF)

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

There is a sort of incestuous relationship among XML, RDF, and RSS. RSS 1.0 is actually RDF Site Summary 1.0; this version of the RSS standard "is a document describing a 'channel' consisting of URL-retrievable items. Each item consists of a title, link, and brief description. While items have traditionally been news headlines (feeds), RSS has seen much repurposing in its short existence." (See http://web.resource.org/rss/1.0/spec.) RDF/RSS documents are written in XML. You will sometimes see an RSS 1.0 feed identified as RDF.

RDF has also been described as a sort of follow-on to PICS (http://www.w3.org/PICS), an earlier specification facilitating the attachment of metadata to Internet content.

What stage of development is it at?

According to Tim Bray—often called the father of XML—"RDF is well into middle age as standards go, and it hasn't exactly turned the world inside out. This despite fierce backing from Tim Berners-Lee, who sees RDF as a key foundation component for the Semantic Web." (http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00048144-10D2-1C70-84A9809EC588EF21) (See The RDF.net Challenge, below.)

Although some feel that it still shows promise, RDF has yet to attract widespread adoption in the metadata community. On the other hand, the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative (http://dublincore.org) has more or less picked up the RDF ball and run with it. And the Open Directory, used by Google and other Web entities, offers RDF "dumps" of its database (http://rdf.dmoz.org).

Pros & Cons:

Pros: Anything that facilitates the interchange of metadata is a good thing. RDF is a flexible and extensible framework that could potentially be used in a wide variety of applications. It facilitates interoperability between Web-based applications involving the exchange of machine-readable information.

Cons: Some have described the syntax as clunky, and physically ugly to look at. There is relatively limited tool support at this time, compared to what is available for, say, plain vanilla XML. At least one XML guru feels that the level of abstraction is so high that RDF is all but unusable by the vast majority of developers. (See "RDF and other monkey wrenches" by Sean McGrath, http://www.itworld.com/nl/ebiz_ent/03182003.)

Additional comments:

Dave Beckett's Resource Description Framework (RDF) Resource Guide http://www.ilrt.bris.ac.uk/discovery/rdf/resources

The RDF.net Challenge (2003) http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/05/21/RDFNet

The semantic web: How RDF will change learning technology standards http://www.cetis.ac.uk/content/20010927172953

The Semantic Web—on the respective Roles of XML and RDF (2000) http://www.ontoknowledge.org/oil/downl/IEEE00.pdf

What is RDF? (1998) http://www.xml.com/pub/a/2001/01/24/rdf.html

XML and the Resource Description Framework: The Great Web Hope http://www.infotoday.com/online/OL2000/medeiros9.html

—Shirl Kennedy
Reference Librarian
MacDill Air Force Base
Tampa, Fla.

 

RSS

Acronym:

RSS

What it stands for:

While there isn't much debate in the RSS community as to what RSS stands for, it has come to stand for two phrases: "Really Simple Syndication" and "Rich Site Summary." It all depends on whom you talk to. I am partial to Really Simple Syndication, in that it best describes RSS.

What is its purpose?

RSS has numerous purposes. First and foremost, it is the force behind allowing content from possibly thousands of sites to be delivered in one place. Through an aggregator—a piece of software that can be downloaded, like Newzcrawler (http://www.newzcrawler.com), or used online, like Bloglines (http://www.bloglines.com)—users can "subscribe" to the RSS feeds of many Web-based sources. The aggregator will scan all of the subscribed RSS feeds (usually every hour) and the new content will be delivered to the user. This eliminates the users' need to retrieve content from those sites, instead automating the content delivery, and thereby saving valuable time. It is essential to understand that RSS is pure content and not other aspects of a Web page, such as a links list, an about page, or even the banner.

Another use for RSS is the ability to place these feeds onto a Web page to display current information. The concept is the same as above, but the method of display differs. While it is more difficult to set up this type of display, it can be a powerful addition to any site. An academic library specializing in psychology, for example, can display the latest headlines from Moreover (http://www.moreover.com) with the keyword "psychology." Tools now exist to simplify this task for any novice. Examples include 2RSS (http://www.2rss.com) and Feedroll (http://www.feedroll.com).

While many have come to believe that RSS is only for content coming out of the Weblog community, this is untrue. Many popular Web pages and news sources provide RSS feeds for their content. For example, The New York Times (http://backend.userland.com/
directory/167/feeds/newYorkTimes)
, Wired Magazine (http://www.wired.com/news/rss), CNET
(http://news.com.com/2009-1090-980549.html?tag=alias), and many other online news sources provide this type of content.

RSS feeds have also bred their own search engines, such as Feedster (http://www.feedster.com), which indexes the RSS feeds of thousands of resources and is more up-to-date than most news engines. It accomplishes this by indexing the pure content of the pages and not the other portions that sometimes clutter search engines.

Groups behind it:

For RSS creation, there is not one single claim, but many: Netscape (http://www.netscape.com) used it with the advent of "push" technology and its My Netscape system. Although he has never claimed ownership of the spec, Dave Winer (http://www.scripting.com) claims to have co-invented RSS with Netscape before he started the popular Weblog publishing/news aggregator software Userland (http://radio.userland.com). The RSS 2.0 spec is now under development at the Berkman Center at Harvard University (http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/home), where Winer is a fellow.

Following the transfer to Berkman, RSS 2.0 was licensed under Creative Commons (http://creativecommons.org), where an advisory group has been formed to continue its development.

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

RSS 2.0, the current version of the standard, replaced RSS 0.92 in June of 2003.

What stage of development is it at?

There has not been much further development since the 2.0 standard was transferred to Berkman.

Pros & Cons:

Pros:

1. There are neither advertisements nor spam in RSS feeds.

2. RSS saves time. (For example, I have been able to cut down my reading time from 4 hours to 30 minutes per day, while reading three times as much content.)

3. RSS can be used to deliver content to your patrons and customers.

4. If you provide an RSS feed for your Web site, it is likely to boost the number of people reading your content, enabling a higher return on investment.

5. Aggregators are inexpensive, and setup should require less than 10 minutes.

Cons:

1. Not every site has an RSS feed.

2. With ease of use comes the potential for information overload. Aggregators can become unruly, quickly.

3. If you download one aggregator at work and one at home, it is difficult to synchronize content between the two.
(This is why I believe that Web-based aggregators will be more popular in the future.)

4. RSS content is not being used to its potential. While some feeds can be customized now, more need to be available in the future.

—Steven M. Cohen
M.L.S./Webmaster/Librarian
Library Stuff (http://www.librarystuff.net)
Smithtown, N.Y.

 

SHIBBOLETH

Acronym:

Shibboleth

What it stands for:

As defined by Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), "Shibboleth" is "the criterion, test, or watchword of a party; a party cry or pet phrase." Visit http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/why-shibboleth.html to learn more.

What is its purpose?

Shibboleth facilitates the sharing of Web-based, protected resources between institutions. When a user at one institution tries to access a resource at another, Shibboleth sends attributes about the user to the remote destination, rather than making the user log in to that destination. Using the attributes, the remote destination decides whether or not to grant access to the user. Shibboleth preserves the user's privacy in three ways:

1. It releases only necessary information, which may not include the user's identity.

2. It reduces or removes the requirement for content providers to maintain accounts for users.

3. It allows access to controlled resources from anywhere in the world as a trusted member of your home institution.

Groups behind it:

Internet2 (http://www.internet2.edu)

The Middleware Architecture Committee for Education (http://middleware.internet2.edu/MACE)

National Science Foundation and the NSF Middleware Initiative
(http://www.nsf-middleware.org)

IBM/Tivoli (http://www-3.ibm.com/software/tivoli)

Sun Microsystems (http://www.sun.com/index.xml)

RedIRIS (http://www.rediris.es/index.es.html)

Carnegie-Mellon University (http://www.cmu.edu)

Ohio State University (http://www.osu.edu/index.php)

Brown University (http://www.brown.edu)

Columbia University (http://www.columbia.edu)

Individual contributors

Internet2 member institutions
(http://www.internet2.edu/resources/Internet2MembersList.PDF).

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

Shibboleth implements the standards-based Shibboleth architecture, built on top of OASIS' (http://www.oasis-open.org) Security Assertion Markup Language (SAML) and a number of other directory and security standards.

What stage of development is it at?

Shibboleth version 1.1 was released in August 2003 and has been implemented by more than 30 universities, content providers, and many international partners. Shibboleth 2.0 is in design, and will include a large number of extensions and new features.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: Shibboleth is extremely easy to deploy, in many instances taking less than half a day's work.

Shibboleth provides a powerful, flexible attribute transport system that easily integrates with a wide variety of legacy systems.

Also, Shibboleth protects the privacy of its users while simultaneously protecting the business logic of the content provider.

Based on lightweight, extensible federations, Shibboleth can provide trusted interoperability to heterogeneous communities.

In addition, Shibboleth is open-source and has a large support community around it.

Cons: Shibboleth currently only works with Web applications, and only supports SAML's POST profile.

Furthermore, no authentication system is bundled with Shibboleth, although it requires one to function as an origin.

Existing campus infrastructure must be fairly well-developed—preferably including an enterprise directory and a single sign-on solution—to get the most from Shibboleth.

Additional comments:

For more information on Shibboleth or the Internet2 Middleware Initiative, visit http://shibboleth.internet2.edu and http://middleware.internet2.edu. There are other helpful documents as well:

Example Shibboleth Uses—Internet2 Middleware; Internet2 (2003) http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/shib-uses.html

Internet2 Document Library—Shibboleth Architecture; Internet2 (2002) http://docs.internet2.edu/doclib/draft-internet2-mace-shibboleth-architecture-05.html

Internet2 Shibboleth Developers E-Mail List: http://mail.internet2.edu/wws/info/shibboleth-dev

Internet2 Shibboleth Web Authentication Project; Instructional Media and Magic, Inc. (2001) http://www.immagic.com/TOC/
elibrary/TOC/meteor/downloads/shibblth.pdf

Shibboleth v1.1 Software; Internet2 (2003) http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/release/shib-v1.1.html

Shibboleth Frequently Asked Questions—Internet2 Middleware; Internet2 (2003); http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/shib-faq.html

Shibboleth Overview and Requirements; Internet2 (2001) http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/
docs/draft-internet2-shibboleth-requirements-01.html

Shibboleth—Specification, Draft v1.0; Internet2 (2001) http://shibboleth.internet2.edu/
docs/draft-internet2-shibboleth-specification-00.html

—Nate Klingenstein
Technical Analyst
Internet2
Boulder, Colo.

 

SRW and SRU

Acronym:

SRW and SRU

What it stands for:

SRW stands for "Search and Retrieve via the Web" and features both SOAP- and URL-based access mechanisms. The URL-based version is called SRU, which stands for "Search and Retrieve via URLs."

What is its purpose?

The main idea behind SRW (which encompasses both SRU and SRW) is the same as in Z39.50. It aims to be a standard search-and-retrieve protocol, allowing a single client to access many servers, and allowing a server to be accessed by many clients in a machine-readable and automated way. One of the major benefits it has over Z39.50 is that it lowers the implementation barrier by using XML instead of the much more complex encoding used by Z39.50 (BER/ANS.1). Using XML and CQL (Common Query Language) increases the human readability of the exchanged messages, which contributes to this low barrier.

SRU is the simpler of the two mechanisms. A search request takes the form of a URL with a base-URL and some parameters. The parameters are the query itself and some additional parameters such as the start record and the maximum number of records to be returned. The base-URL identifies the service that will process the query.

Here's an example of a request URL:

http://www.host/cgi-bin/sru?query=shakespeare&maximumRecords=10&recordSchema=dc

The complete URL can be created dynamically by taking a user's search terms and putting them together with a base-URL. In this way, the same request can be sent to different targets by varying the base-URL.

The response is in XML, conforming to a simple schema (http://www.loc.gov/z3950/agency/zing/srw/srw-types.xsd), and is therefore machine-readable. A very simple example looks like this:

<searchRetrieveResponsexmlns="http://www.loc.gov/zing/srw/v1.0/">

<numberOfRecords>1</numberOfRecords>

<resultSetId>20030311.179</resultSetId>

<records>

<record>

<recordPosition>1</recordPosition>

<recordSchema>dc</recordSchema>

<recordData>

<dc xmlns:dc="http://purl.org/dc/elements/1.1/">

<dc:title>Hamlet</dc:title>

<dc:creator>Shakespeare, William</dc:creator>

<dc:type>book</dc:type>

</dc>

</recordData>

</record>

</records>

</searchRetrieveResponse>

This approach makes it easy to have the same query broadcast to different servers and to have the returned data processed or presented in the same way. All Web-based search-and-retrieve applications do something similar; a distinctive feature of this protocol is that it standardizes the requesting URL and the response by returning pure XML data without complicated HTML layout. Thus, SRU is a simplification of what we already do in HTML.

SRW does basically the same thing, with two main differences: 1) SRW uses SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol) as an extra protocol layer. 2) In SRW, a request is sent as XML via an HTTP POST instead of a URL using an HTTP GET. SRW can therefore take more complex requests as input.

Group behind it:

SRW is being developed and maintained by the Z39.50 Implementers Group (http://www.loc.gov/z3950/agency/zing).

Does it replace or update a previous standard?

No

What stage of development is it at?

The specifications of version 1.0 have been evaluated during a 9-month testing period by approximately 10 implementers. Version 1.0 defined search and retrieve, sorting, result sets, and explain. Currently, the specifications for version 1.1 are being defined; they will also define the scan operation. The number of implementations is growing steadily, but it is not easy to foresee when SRU and SRW will exceed Z39.50. Due to existing investments in Z39.50, the use of SRU/SRW-Z39.50 gateways will facilitate acceptance of SRU and SRW.

It is expected that SRW will mainly be used for central services that access SRW services on one side and give the user access via HTTP/
HTML with minimal browser requirements on the other. SRU, however, offers the possibility for quite a different approach. As more and more browsers support XSL transformations in the browser, SRU can be implemented quite easily by anyone with some basic knowledge of XSL, without the need for an organization offering a central server or service.

Pros & Cons:

Pros: In many cases, sometimes with additional JavaScript, full portal functionality can be created as a simple XSL/HTML page running in the browser and giving simultaneous access to different sources.

Cons: This additional JavaScript might cause people to refrain from adopting this approach, since using JavaScript might increase the security risk.

—Theo van Veen
Project Leader
National Library of the Netherlands,
Department of Research & Development
The Hague
Netherlands
Participant in the SRU/SRW Developers Group


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