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University of Sydney Library Newsletter

Issue Nº 35 - November 1998

ISSN 1326-2785
Newsletter archive

In this Issue

Library Report

The Council of Australian University Librarians met recently at the University of Sydney. Throughout the meeting, much of the discussion concerned the challenges confronting Australian universities and their libraries. Particular attention was given to the rising cost of providing access to scholarly information and the subsequent effects on research, teaching and learning.

Universities throughout the world are faced with limited funding, rising information resource costs, an ever increasing volume of publication and the expansion of academic disciplines. The situation is worsened by currency devaluations and the growing dominance of publishing by international corporations whose primary motivation is profit rather than the dissemination of knowledge.

Financial constraints in 1998 have required Australian university libraries to reduce further their acquisition of monographs and to cancel journal subscriptions worth more than $4 million. These actions were not the result of universities reducing support for libraries. Rather, they have been due to an inability to match the disproportionate increases in the cost of information resources, particularly journal subscriptions.

The average annual increase in academic journal subscription rates has been around 10% for a number of years. By comparison, the revenues of most Australian universities have grown at much lower rates. Devaluation of the Australian dollar added to the difficulties faced by some libraries in 1998 although the full effect is unlikely to be experienced until next year.

At the University of Sydney, the need to cancel journal subscriptions has not been due to the University reducing its commitment to the Library. Indeed, the Library has been exempted from levies imposed on most other budgetary units and the University has attempted to maintain the percentage of funding allocated from recurrent income. The University has also sought to put in place strategies which lessen the effect of currency changes. A strategic development grant of $600,000 was also made available to assist with the changes being undertaken in the collections and access areas of the Library.

The difficulties relate primarily to the accumulated rise in the cost of journals over time which were not countered by either increased funding or sufficient cancellations. While other universities made reductions over several years to maintain a balance between expenditure and income, we used reserves to maintain subscriptions. Without a funding increase of at least $1 million for information resources, there was no alternative but to reduce the commitment to journals.

The cancellation exercise had to be undertaken in a very limited time and was quite complicated. The initial task was to determine which academic units were interested in each title and this involved some quite sensitive negotiations. We now have a list which relates titles to academic disciplines and will permit a more rational approach to any future review of subscriptions.

A total of 1,536 subscriptions were cancelled with a combined value of approximately $1,096,000. While some of the cancelled titles may not have been used heavily, the majority supported core research and learning. The loss of these titles will have long-term implications for the Australian research community not just the University of Sydney.

The difficulty of maintaining library collections and access to scholarly information is an issue which cannot be solved by librarians alone. It requires the collaboration and involvement of the entire academic community nationally as well as internationally. It also involves a re-assessment of the role of libraries, publishers and universities as well as a reconsideration of the way in which research and learning are undertaken.

No library can expect to acquire all of the information resources which might be relevant to the activities of its university. Choices have to be made and priorities determined. This has always been the case but there is an increasing gap between funds, the quantity of material available and the demands of the university community.

A number of strategies are being employed to enable the Library to provide the services and facilities required by this University. These include:

  • investigating the allocation of book and serial funds to the academic colleges and allowing colleges to determine the balance between serial and monographic purchases;
  • participating in national purchasing consortia for electronic information;
  • reviewing all Library activities to gain operating efficiencies;
  • investigating alternate mechanisms for the better delivery of interlibrary loans;
  • extending undergraduate student access to the libraries of other universities;
  • improving network access to full-text information, particularly journals;
  • collaborating with other universities to develop better access to print and electronic information; and
  • interacting with academic societies, nationally and internationally, to lobby publishers and to influence changes in scholarly communication.

The University will maintain the level of funding allocated to the Library in 1999. Further erosion of the Library's purchasing power is almost inevitable, however, unless the Australian dollar soars in value against the US, British and Dutch currencies. Journal prices are again expected to increase by an average of 10% which could have a budget impost of up to $500,000. In a relatively static budgetary environment, further cutting of serial subscriptions will have to be considered. The Academic Board has endorsed the establishment of a Library Committee which will provide an additional forum for the discussion of the challenges facing the Library. Issues which are likely to arise during 1999 will include:

  • allocation of funds to academic colleges;
  • restructuring of Library services;
  • the Library's role as a national research collection;
  • investment in electronic publication;
  • the University's strategic plan and implications for the Library.

The issues confronting the Library are complex. Many are related to the strategic objectives of the University and their implementation. Variables, such as the diversity of research and teaching programmes and the use of flexible delivery for teaching, influence the nature of Library services provided and the use of resources. Other influences will be the way in which research results are communicated, the assessment of academic achievement as well as who controls scholarly publication.

While many may be beyond our capacity to solve, it is important that they be identified and discussed as they are fundamental to the well-being of the University. The publishing industry is undergoing enormous changes which will affect how information is accessed, who has access and the cost. Failure to confront the issues and make any necessary changes will leave the University of Sydney struggling to maintain the concept of an ideal library which was never achievable.

The future hallmarks of university libraries will be the range of information resources available, the efficiency of access, the capacity for meeting changing demands and the extent to which they are involved in the publication of scholarly information. We already have world standard print collections in many areas but cannot expect to maintain this level of collecting for all subject areas. Our database access facility is improving constantly but it is increasingly necessary to choose between products as funding is insufficient to support everything available.

The University of Sydney has traditionally emphasised the importance of having a large print collection. While this will remain important, many research areas in the future may be better served by access to information held elsewhere and delivered over the network on demand. Through the Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS), the Library has developed considerable expertise in the digitisation of print material and making it available over the Internet. SETIS also provides assistance to authors who wish to publish electronically. In this way, the Library is contributing to efforts which seek to provide the academic community with alternatives to commercial publishing.

The future role and nature of the Library will be shaped and reshaped over time as evolves to meet the needs of the University. It will be important that all members of the University participate in determining the type of library required and developing ways to achieve it. This will inevitably require compromises as it is unlikely that sufficient resources will ever be available to meet every demand. While present difficulties may eventually disappear or lessen, they will almost certainly be replaced by new sets of challenges.

John Shipp
University Librarian
October 1998

Australian Digital Theses (ADT) Project

The University of Sydney Library is part of a consortium of seven University libraries throughout Australia, aimed at producing a distributed national database of digital versions of theses produced by the postgraduate research students at the participating institutions. The project is funded by an RIEFP Grant from the Australian Research Council and modelled on the major US initiative of the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations, led by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Virginia Tech have provided a mirror of their site and versions of the submission software to the Australian project. This software has had to be modified and adapted for Australian conditions and has recently been tested in the mounting of two theses at the University of New South Wales.

The project has two major components: digitisation of a selected number of frequently requested existing theses, and the digitisation of new theses as part of the submission process. Trials on these two components are being conducted at the University of Melbourne and the University of New South Wales respectively. The University of Sydney will also attempt trial submissions of theses to the project in the very near future.

Each of the contributing Universities will be responsible for maintaining the archival copies of the theses of their own institution and will mount their own theses on a server based within their institution. The database, which will be generated from the submission form software, will initially be held at the University of New South Wales and will provide access by author, title, subject/keyword plus the abstract.

The initial stages of the project are now complete. A trial website has now been established at the University of New South Wales, and may be viewed at

The site contains information on the background to the project, links to useful sites, examples of trial submissions, and a version of the submission form. Anyone who may want to include their thesis as a trial in this database, or who would like further information, may contact Creagh Cole or Neil Boness on 9351 2992.

Exchange Librarians from the United States

During the second half of 1998, two librarians from Fisher Library are taking part in an exchange with librarians from the United States.

Steven Ryan, the Co-ordinator of Access to Networked Information Resources, left in June for a six months exchange at Duke University in North Carolina. His exchange partner is Margaret Brill. Margaret has worked as an Information Technician at the World Bank in Washington, as a reference intern and substitute librarian at the Durham County Public Library, and as Librarian at the Forest History Society in Durham. At Duke Library, she served as the Maps and State Documents Librarian in the Public Documents and Maps Department from 1989 to 1995. She has been an Information Access Librarian in the Reference Department since 1996.

Margaret is the resource specialist for Great Britain, Ireland, and British Commonwealth and Canadian Studies, and is the liaison to the History Department. An associate member of the Perkins Library International and Area Studies Department, she serves on the Faculty Advisory Board for North American Studies.

During her exchange at the University, Margaret is the subject librarian responsible for History and Psychology. The duties of the Co-ordinator of Access to Networked Information Resources have been shared by a number of staff, with Rena McGrogan currently responsible for the day to day support of access to networked databases.

Margaret has said:

"I want to learn as much about Australia as possible, especially the history, culture and politics. This will assist me back at Duke to do a better job collecting materials and answering reference questions about Australia, as well as enriching my time here. Just living and working in another country is an incredibly enriching experience, of course. I'm finding that working in Fisher is broadening my library experience. Psychology was a new field for me, and I've learned a lot, especially from training students and staff in using Ovid. Serving on committees, such as the Public Management Website Group, has been an opportunity for me to learn as well as bringing a fresh perspective to the group.

I'm also working on a couple of Web pages, specifically a Guide to Services for Students with Disabilities, and a History Subject Guide."

Linden Fairbairn, the Economics Subject Librarian, left for an exchange at Indiana University, Bloomington, in August. Her exchange partner is Mary Strow, the Librarian for Reference Services in the Undergraduate Library at Indiana University, Bloomington. Mary oversees all aspects of the Reference Desk operation, including the staff roster, training, and collection development for reference materials and technology. She is also the Bibliographer for Theatre, Dance and Drama, and participates in the Library Instruction programme. Prior to her current position, Mary was the Librarian for Instruction Services for six years in the IU Undergraduate Library, and has also worked as the Assistant to the Head of Cook Music Library at IU, and as Librarian for Reference and User Education at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

A former Assistant Professor of Modern Dance, Mary maintains her interest in the performing arts and is author of Research in Dance: a guide to resources, and many journal articles on dance, as well as library instruction. She manages the listserv DLDG-L (Dance Librarians Discussion Group), and is co-editing the forthcoming A Core Collection in Dance for the Association of College and Research Libraries. Her current project is an article/presentation on career collections in academic libraries.

Mary has said:

"I hope to learn about the operation of an Information Desk which is staffed by people from many library units, develop an Economics Resources Web site, and write about dance archives in Australia."

The Oxford English Dictionary Online

On Monday 19th October 1998, Dr. Christopher Manning demonstrated the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), 2nd Edition, now available online to all University of Sydney network users. Dr. Manning, in association with computer science and linguistics student Michael Roper, has been working on improving the web interface which provides access to the dictionary's data file. The aim of the session was to explain the thinking behind the design of the new interface and to examine some of the differences between using the dictionary in print and in electronic form. The session also highlighted some of the difficulties to be faced when such an important resource is made available at a local server for use at the University site.

The OED is available to University of Sydney network users at:

Enquiries should be directed to the Coordinator of the Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service at the library, Creagh Cole (9351 7408. Email:

The Task

In purchasing a site licence to network the OED the library received a number of data and indexing files. Having already purchased the Open Text 5.0 (Pat5) search engine to use with the other SETIS full text databases, we have been able to use this to search the OED. Some form of efficient indexing is necessary because the OED is huge: about 570 megabytes of text. To give some comparison, a 400 page novel is usually about 1 megabyte of text.

So we have the data files and we have the search engine. What is missing is the intermediary work involved in setting up the interface which regulates how the user will be able to use the text, and also how the results of searches will display. The latter is perhaps the more prominent issue, since we all have an understanding of how the printed dictionary appears and we tend to carry this over into an expectation for the electronic version. We also notice quite readily when something in the display is not quite right. However, the former issue, that is, how the user will be able to use the text and what portions of text are to be retrieved, is arguably the harder one to address, and here we often are not aware of the decisions made by software developers and content providers which regulate our use of their database. Generally, when we buy or lease access to database packages this kind of decision has been made for us. In the case of the OED and other such full-text databases in the SETIS collection, this is not the case.

Here is an example from the data file which contains the full A-Z content of the 2nd Edition OED:


<IPR><IPH>e&shti.</IPH></IPR>,</HG><S0><S2><S4><S6><DEF>the first letter of the Roman Alphabet, and of its various subsequent modifications (as were its proto types Alpha of the Greek, and Aleph of the Ph&oe.nician and old Hebrew); representing originally in English, as in Latin, the `low-back-wide' vowel, formed with the widest opening of jaws, pharynx, and lips. The plural has been written <CF>aes</CF>, A's, <CF>As</CF>. <IL><LF>from A to Z</LF><SF>from A to Z</SF><MF>from A to Z</MF></IL>: see <XR><XL>Z</XL> <SN>3</SN>.</XR></DEF><QP><EQ><Q><D>C. 1340</D><A>Hampole</A> <W>Pr. Consc.</W> 481 <T>And by & cry men knaw & Whether it be man or weman, For when it es born it cryes swa. If it be man it says a! a! That &th.e first letter is of &th.e nam Of our forme-fader Adam. </T></Q></EQ>

This example is the beginning of the dictionary entry "a". it is the beginning in the printed work of 21 volumes of the dictionary). This is what we need to work with to provide the kind of functionality we need and to display the kind of dictionary entry the user expects. The data file is in essence an ascii text file, with the <tags> embedded within the text to provide information about the text. These tags are invisible in display, but they determine that we can, say, search for a word or phrase within the definition of a term, i.e., words or phrases occurring in the file following the tag <DEF> and before the closing tag </DEF>. Also, because it is essentially an ascii text file, all non-ascii characters have been replaced by a text representative. In the example, you can see the string &oe; in the word Phœnician. (You can see the word in the example, displays as "Ph&oe.nician"). The non-ascii ligature character "&oe;" would not survive transfer between differing computer platforms. Similarly for all the phonetic symbols in the dictionary. These all need to be translated in some way using ascii characters. Subsequently, these character references have to be translated back in a form that one's application software can make sense of. Sometimes there is an appropriate ascii character that can be used. However, in many cases in the OED, these character references are rendered by a small digital image of the symbol required. Unfortunately, these images are of fixed size and may seem out of place depending upon the font size selected on the user's web browser for the surrounding text.

The Project

So these are the problems to be addressed by the web interface. The older version of the interface was the result of adapting scripts obtained from the University of Virginia site. These scripts were developed to search such databases as the English Poetry Database which have an entirely different structure from the OED. In the English Poetry Database, because of the varied texts incorporated into that database, the same level in the structure could retrieve an entire poem, or only a small section of a much larger work (for example, Paradise Lost). In other databases, we cannot even assume that the same structural division exists throughout the entire database, and so cannot rely on that division for search results. With the same scripts used to search these full text databases, the older version of the OED interface provided an intermediary step prior to retrieving the full dictionary entry of the term searched and this created much confusion amongst users. (This is because the scripts used aimed to retrieve a portion of textual context for the term searched before retrieving an established unit of text, an aim which makes more sense with full-text databases which are not structured like a dictionary.)

The design of the new web interface was directed by the assumption that the vast majority of users of the dictionary would expect the electronic version to behave in much the same way as the printed work. For example, one would expect to search for a word as a main head word and be taken directly to the full entry of that word. This was not how the previous web interface behaved. Further, one would expect to be able to move around within the dictionary following the search, perhaps exploring new words as they are found in the initial results of each search. As a result, a primary feature of the new interface is that whatever term or phrase the user searches, the immediate result is a main dictionary entry. From there the user is given the opportunity to move to the previous and/or subsequent word in the dictionary sequence. A further requirement would be some way of identifying in the results on the screen the occurrence of the term searched for. This requirement leads to another new feature of the web interface: the user's search term is highlighted in yellow for any search other than for a dictionary head word.

The design was also directed by the view that the electronic version of the dictionary allowed for more sophisticated uses of the data. In the first place, it allows the user to search not only for main head words, as in the printed dictionary, but for words throughout the dictionary, (the dictionary considered now, not as a list of head words with corresponding definitions, but as a fullœtext database containing a wealth of other textual matter.) The data file would also allow the user to search for terms within quotations in the dictionary, or for quotations used in the dictionary by certain authors, such as David Hume, or Shakespeare, or Chaucer. This possibility had to be retained in the new interface, and it has been, despite the fact that the result of any search is the first main entry. This problem is solved with an options box which allows the user to move to subsequent main entries which satisfy the requirements of the user's search. So if the user searches for occurrences of the term "Hume" within the quoted author field, the result is 1,355 dictionary entries, that is, 1,355 times in which Hume appears as the author of a dictionary quoted passage. The first entry display resulting from that search is the word "loose" and the word "Hume" is highlighted as the search term. To the right of the dictionary entry is the option to move to any one of 25 further terms in which Hume is quoted, and the user can slowly work through the remaining 1,330 or so terms.

We can imagine even more sophisticated searches than this and further work is being done on the interface to allow for compound searching. For example, searching for the association of multiple terms, or for limiting searches by date and so forth. Dr. Manning is also interested in creating a means of generating concordance and keyword indexing displays of the search results and believes this is a fairly easy extension, now that the basic architecture of the search interface has been worked out. For modern lexicographers, the computer file is the master version of their dictionary, and a printed edition is a derived product, which will commonly leave out considerable material from their online version. It is unclear to what extent an online interface should be attempting to merely emulate the printed edition or make possible other ways of examining the contents of the electronic dictionary.

The presentation also made clear that the project is not merely a technical exercise, but raises a number of crucial and interesting questions about the text itself and our relation to it. In some ways, we have privileged the printed version of the dictionary as our "authority text", that is, the one to be emulated and referred to as our authority for electronic display. Yet, the printed version is itself a product, even a "sub-set", of the electronic file.

The library would like to thank Chris Manning for his very interesting presentation and for his work with Michael Roper on our online version of this important research tool. We hope more such collaborative projects will be possible in the future.

Ready Reference Collection

The University of Sydney Library's Ready Reference Collection, located at: > brings together a selection of electronic reference sources available on the Internet. The majority of these sources provide brief factual information in various subject areas. The Guide includes many academic sources, directories for locating the Web sites of Universities and Colleges throughout the world, of academics within various disciplines, and of archival and manuscript collections in Australia.

The Guide collates and organises the increasing number of reference sources available only in electronic form. There are over twenty five categories of information; new categories are frequently added, the latest being a collection of reference sources for history compiled by Margaret Brill.

The guide is currently maintained by Philippa Crosbie.

Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Document Delivery of Articles by Ariel Software at the University of Sydney Libraries

At the beginning of the year, in a move that will revolutionise document delivery, the University of Sydney Library made the decision to purchase and install ARIEL in the ILL / Document Delivery sections of a small number of University of Sydney libraries.

Already a core feature of document delivery in many of Australia's academic libraries, ARIEL is a system for the fast and efficient transfer of documents via email or ftp (file transfer protocol). Requiring a PC, laser printer and a scanner, the library purchased all necessary equipment for both Fisher and Medical Libraries to transmit and receive ARIEL scanned documents via ftp. Badham and Engineering Libraries have been equipped with software that allows the use of existing equipment to receive documents via ARIEL.

ARIEL documents are scanned and then transmitted. Document delivery via the Internet bypasses the postal service, saving money and reducing delivery-time to our clients.

The qualities of documents sent and received via ARIEL is very good, pictures are clear and resolutions, contrast and brightness of the picture can be amended. This gives a superior quality of documents in comparison with the article sent by fax.

Fisher Library and the Medical Library already use ARIEL in full, and cannot imagine living without it. The Interlibrary Loans Group is soon to recommend extension of the use of ARIEL software to more libraries.

So, if you would like to see ARIEL in operation, please drop into Interlibrary Loans at the Medical or Fisher Library, where staff will be very pleased to give you a demonstration.

The ability to use ARIEL will add a new dimension to our services and operation. Eventually we would like to introduce the delivery of documents directly to requestors' workstations but for this we will need to use email, not ftp delivery.