University of Sydney Library Newsletter
Issue Nº 41 - November 2000
Expired URLs removed
- 2000 in review
- DIRECT - Unmediated Document Delivery
- Pollies, Poets and Plants: Creating Australian Digital Library Collections
- Thomas Edmund O'Mahony (1914 - 2000)
2000 in review
A mixed collection of gold, silver and bronze performances were achieved during the year. Some previous bests were surpassed and in many instances it was rewarding just being able to compete. Toward the end of the year, challenges emerged which promised interesting times ahead.
Strategies to improve access to published scholarly information were implemented. Considerable effort was devoted to increasing the range of publications available through the Library's web site and to upgrading the equipment available in the libraries.
A major project was undertaken to replace the workstations and terminals used to provide access to the catalogue and to databases. This involved more than 250 machines in twenty buildings on seven campuses.
Beginning in 2000, the electronic versions of journals were acquired in preference to the print editions. This enabled network access to be provided to over five thousand publications the majority of which were journals.
Although most electronic journals are in the science, technology and medical disciplines, titles in the humanities and social sciences are being acquired as they become available. The two most notable are Project MUSE and JSTOR. The first provides access to over 100 titles in the fields of literature and criticism, history, the visual and performing arts, cultural studies, education, political science, gender studies, and many others.
JSTOR will commence in 2001 and will provide access to about 125 journals in a wide range of disciplines with a high representation of humanities and social sciences publications.
To facilitate access to electronic information, the Library acquired SciFinder Scholar and Web of Science. More than 14 million titles and abstracts of journal articles and patents as well as information on more than 18 million chemical substances can be searched using SciFinder Scholar.
Web of Science provides access to article citations and abstracts for more than 8,600 journals in the sciences, arts and humanities as well as social sciences. The purchase was a joint initiative of the Library, the Pro-Vice-Chancellors (College) and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research).
The advent of the Internet and growth in the complexity of networked information resources have increased the importance of information literacy skills for all members of the University. During 2000, a group of Library staff worked to identify how a more dynamic information literacy role might be adopted. The findings of the working party will be considered for implementation in 2001.
Many researchers rely on interlibrary loan to supplement the Library collections. A trial project was conducted during the year which allowed authorised users to request items directly from a select group of commercial information providers without intervention by Library staff. Costs were met partly from Library resources and partly by a Vice-Chancellor's Strategic Development Fund grant.
The Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service continued to digitise print publications and make them accessible via the Internet. SETIS has digitised more than one hundred Australian literary, botanical and historical works. Notable work in 2000 included Forest Flora of NSW, Federation debates and some lecture notes of Professor John Anderson.
Restructuring of the Library's organisation and management continued. Progress was affected by the pressures of maintaining ongoing services and the need to ensure a high a level of staff participation. This was often difficult as the year started with a large number of vacancies due to forty staff leaving as part of a voluntary early retirement scheme in late 1999. Approximately thirty positions were dis-established as part of the Library's cost rationalisation.
From the beginning of the year, the 21 libraries which constitute the University Library were re-organised into two divisions - Health, Technology & Sciences, and Humanities & Social Sciences. The libraries within the Health, Technology and Sciences Division were arranged into six clusters in order to facilitate the provision of more client-focused services. This change was well received.
Staff in the Humanities & Social Sciences Division began evaluating a number of their activities. Initial emphasis was given to how services to faculties could be improved. Several working parties were formed to investigate issues including the future location of services within the Fisher Library and the development of a virtual reference desk. These activities will continue in 2001.
In the later part of the year, devaluation of the Australian dollar had a significant effect. More than 80% of the information resources acquired by the Library are produced overseas and any change in the value of the currency has an effect on purchasing power. The overall cost of journals rose almost 20% during the year as a consequence of devaluation.
How Australia supports research at an internationally competitive level and the contribution made by university libraries will be among the challenges for 2001. A recent report by the Chief Scientist as part of the Australian Science Capability Review contained a number of recommendations. These included support for a project to investigate the feasibility of providing all Australian science research institutions with access to a core of information resources.
Other challenges for 2001 will include participation in the Australian University Quality Assurance System. Universities will be required to undergo periodic audits of their performance relative to their stated objectives and other benchmarks. This will require re-assessment of the way in which some activities are undertaken and the development of quantifiable performance indicators. The Library has begun to consider the impact which the Quality Audit will have on its operations.
Throughout 2000, the Library was fortunate to receive support from within the University and from external supporters especially the Friends of the University Library and from graduates through the Annual Appeal. This support is greatly appreciated and enables the acquisition of items which are beyond the normal resources of the Library.
On behalf of all members of the Library staff, I thank you for your support and wish you the very best for the coming year.
DIRECT - Unmediated Document Delivery
In October 1999 the Library began a trial of unmediated document delivery to complement already existing Interlibrary Loans/Document Delivery services. Partially funded by the Vice-Chancellor, the trial assessed the feasibility of giving postgraduate students and academic staff direct access to commercial suppliers for research material not obtainable within the University Library collections. Delivery methods trialed included desktop, fax and mail without the library as an intermediary. The trial was also intended to assess different faculty needs in document delivery and possible future funding models.
While unmediated document delivery arose as a direct result of spiralling costs and serial subscription cancellations, the imperative to develop alternative methods of document delivery is now much broader. Studies have shown that the preferred method of document delivery to individuals is now electronic full-text either via unmediated document delivery or as part of the electronic library.
Trends in Interlibrary Loans and Document Delivery throughout the world are moving towards the unmediated environment where the library manages access to resources and the user initiates the requesting and ordering. In the drive towards electronic publishing, publishers and commercial vendors and suppliers are offering a wide-range of methods to access electronic material ranging from traditional document delivery, desktop delivery, electronic subscriptions through to pay-for-view.
The Library's first step in the unmediated document ordering direction was user-initiated ILL/DD requesting through the Innopac system. However requests are still assessed by library staff who check our collections and select suppliers if the item is not held within the library. DIRECT does not involve library staff in an assessment of users' requests but is unmediated to the extent that, after having set up the service, document ordering, follow-up, supply and receiving are not handled by the library. The trial has enabled the library to assess, amongst other issues, the ability of users to receive items directly on their desktops.
The latest generation of ILL/DD management systems provides a one-stop shop for end-users searching for material and then ordering from a range of suppliers (which can range from major Australian libraries to subject databases). Databases and suppliers can be chosen to suit particular faculty needs and a variety of delivery methods are available. Such systems usually search the library catalogue, and then follow the request through to the point where the required item can be ordered and supplied without the user or library staff having to initiate several different searches on different catalogues or databases.
After an initial low level of use, there are now over 1,000 registered users of DIRECT. The highest percentage of users are from the faculties of Medicine, Health Sciences and Science. The study found that these users prefer ordering from subject databases rather than requesting a known item from a commercial supplier.
DIRECT provides article ordering from a wide range of subject databases accessed through the Ovid software eg Index to legal periodicals, ERIC, Medline, PsycInfo etc. These databases provide timely indexing of research across all disciplines as well as many full-text documents. While the most common method of searching is via subject, it is also possible to search for and order a known citation. The ordering facility on the Ovid databases is only available to users who register for DIRECT. (See http://www.library.usyd.edu.au/borrowing/docdel/directscope.html).
Also provided is the ability to download full-text articles from journals which are not part of our Elsevier ScienceDirect subscription. Called transaction access, this pay-per-view feature of ScienceDirect provides a quick and convenient method of document delivery and helps us assess future directions in collection development.
In addition to subject searching and ordering, DIRECT offers access to suppliers such as the British Library and Uncover (ingenta). The expanding British Library inside database facilitates author, title and subject searching of articles from 20,000 of the world's most valued research journals in all subjects. inside also indexes over 70,000 conference proceedings and journal titles from the vast British Library collection going back to the 1700s .The British Library offers a 12 hour fax delivery service as well as some desktop delivery. inside is now also promoting access to a number of electronic full-text journals.
DIRECT will continue to operate in 2001 as another method of providing academic staff and postgraduate students with the journal material required for their research. The library is now investigating ways of improving DIRECT by placing better online filters on the ordering of material already held within the Library. In all evaluations of unmediated services, and the University of Sydney proves no exception, studies have shown that there is a proportion of material ordered which is available locally. In addition faculty liaison librarians are assessing which additional databases and suppliers specific to their disciplines could be added to unmediated document delivery.
The library would welcome comments on DIRECT, including the DIRECT web site, from current and future users. In 2001 we hope to investigate ways of providing better online help for users of DIRECT. Please email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact your faculty liaison librarian or Interlibrary Loans/Document Delivery unit.
Pollies, Poets and Plants: Creating Australian Digital Library Collections
The title of this paper refers to a series of digital text and image creation projects at the University of Sydney Library for which we have received varying degrees of external funding in the past year. The text of the paper is a summary of a talk given on Monday 20th November 2000 to a joint meeting of the Friends of the University of Sydney Library, and the University of Sydney Arts Association. The talk was given by Creagh Cole, the Coordinator of the Scholarly Electronic Text and Image Service (SETIS) at the University of Sydney Library.
The University of Sydney Library has received funding for a number of digital text and image creation projects.
The Australian Federation Full-Text Database has been funded by the New South Wales Centenary of Federation. The database will include in addition to the proceedings of the conventions and debates held through the 1890's leading up to Federation in 1901, a large number of participants' accounts and contemporary reflections upon the processes and controversies involved. The database will include many of the writings of the Founding Fathers of Australian Federation. These texts will be fully searchable, so that the seminal works of our political history will become available for interrogation in new and interesting ways. Just as important, these texts will be widely accessible and apparent to the Australian people in ways that they have never been before. The database will be of value to the constitutional and political historian, as well as to the general reader and student, as these texts previously only available in major research libraries become listed for use from personal computers around the country. This database is scheduled for completion by July 2001. Some of the works are already available and the site is at:
SETIS has been creating a full text database of Australian texts since 1997. In the Australian Literary and Historical Texts collection there are currently over 110 works by poets, novelists, story tellers, politicians and explorers. All of these texts are freely available by browsing or searching for keywords or phrases and the collection has proven to be an important and interesting resource for scholars, librarians, students and the general public. As partners in the Australian Literary Electronic Gateway, SETIS hopes to receive up funding over the next 3 years to add to this collection a number of works selected by a national poll conducted to ascertain the most valuable works to Australian literature scholars and students. The collection as it stands currently is available at:
In 1999 SETIS completed a project initiated by the Coordinator for Library Services (Life Sciences) which involved the digitisation of a popular work on botanical classification by Joseph Henry Maiden. Forest Flora of New South Wales appeared in serial form between 1902 and 1924, and eventually ceased publication at 8 volumes. Once again, this work is now fully searchable and includes a large number of lithographic plate reproductions and photographs of each plant species included in the text. The digital collection of these plates may be the only full set widely available since the printed works had been vandalised over many years. At least five sets of the printed work were needed to find every plate required for the electronic edition of this work. The database is at:
We hope to attract further funding for similar works, as there is a wealth of material available to begin the construction of an Australian Database of Natural History.
One project not represented in our title is the project we began in 1996 and for which we have recently received funding from the Arts Faculty to complete. The lecture notes of the influential and controversial Professor John Anderson held in the University Archives are regularly consulted by scholars and students. They are an essential source of information on Anderson's thought. His published writings often dealt with certain matters only in outline, and students find in his lecture notes further elaboration of such questions. In the first quarter of 2001 SETIS will launch the John Anderson site's completion, hopefully including introductions to the lectures by students of Anderson. A large number of these lectures are already available at:
The value of the electronic edition of these lecture notes is two-fold. First, handwritten notes by Anderson and his students may be extremely difficult to read in the printed form. We now have legible text files of a majority of lectures in Anderson's hand. Second, finding in Anderson's lecture notes where he referred to James Joyce, Hegel, Sorel, or Freud, or where he discussed censorship, is much more easily ascertained. (Each of these examples could occur in seemingly the most unlikely of places throughout Anderson's' lectures.)
These projects have largely been funded from external sources and represent encouraging signs for SETIS' future as a publisher of quality full text and image databases. External funding is important since the library cannot afford to fund these projects internally. Our modest success in the last year followed two years of failure to secure significant funding for the Australian literature database. Recent funding has given us some hope that the full value and significance of the work performed at SETIS may be now more widely appreciated.
Why should the library engage in text and image creation projects for the World Wide Web? There are a number of reasons that I can think of. In the first place, the digitisation of library collections make valuable materials more widely accessible than their printed equivalents. Second, rare and vulnerable materials can be rested from general access, consulted only as required by specialists while general access is granted to the electronic edition. Third, digitisation of library materials enhances the use that people may make of them. That is, attention can be given to building in to the electronic editions, a certain level of functionality. This is a very large issue as we come to grapple with the new information technology and consider how to make best use of this new medium. Issues here concern how the researcher may like to use the material and they include the design and creation of the search interface, hypertextuality, multimedia applications and so forth. Finally, an important reason for libraries to engage in these projects is that in doing so they learn more about the process and hence may deal with commercial suppliers of similar products not just as passive consumers but as active players. In joining the game in this way, librarians bring a range of skills that need to be brought to the attention of content developers.
What are the skills and values that librarians bring to the process? These include the proper use of metadata and attention to archival values. Proper and thorough description of digital works is an essential feature of any digital text and image collection. Further, we need to have confidence that the digital works we create will have a good chance of surviving further technological change, so we need to pay attention to archival file formats. In brief, we want to know the origin of our digital resources and we want them to have a future.
What of the future, and how can we be sure that what we produce now will survive further developments in information technology? Kierkegaard's famous comment that the philosophers agree that we can only understand our lives backwards but that they forget we must live them forwards is very poignant here. There are few certainties. The history of digitisation of library materials is extremely short, and the present is rapidly changing and leading to an uncertain future. Nonetheless, we are not in a situation entirely calling for a leap of faith. There are some guidelines that I think we can agree upon. For one thing, we want to avoid, if at all possible, adherence to proprietary standards, and seek to adhere to, wherever possible, open international standards. That is, we want software development to follow international standards rather than for software developers and companies to drive these standards. The danger otherwise will be that content creation and development will become tied to particular computer platforms and software which are notoriously short-lived, and notoriously designed to place barriers on the use of alternative platforms and software.
A second guideline is that our encoding of digital materials should be descriptive rather than prescriptive. This is almost an extension of the previous point, since prescriptive encoding assumes a software programme capable of adhering to those prescriptions. An example here is a word processing programme that understands what you mean when you prescribe that this portion of text should appear in bold and italics and use, say, Times Roman font point size 12. The alternative is to realise that such graphical indications in a text generally have a more substantial meaning, which should be made available to the computer, as much as to the human eye. In many cases such indications simply mean that the text involved is emphasised for some effect. In other cases, the indications mean that the text refers to an author, or title or some other bibliographic feature of a document. My point is that these descriptions will not change over time, whereas the means of prescribing how they are to be handled by software programmes inevitably will. Another way of making this point is to say that we must try wherever possible to keep our content separate from its means of expression. There will always be new ways of dealing with quality content, as long as it is not tied to a particular means of expression (software programme). There are important benefits to this way of approaching the problem besides the archival value. One is that in describing such textual features adequately, we vastly improve the ways in which a computer programme may be designed to use the text. Without such description the computer must try to guess what parts of a document are its author or its title, for example. Second, in paying attention to adequate description, librarians and scholarly editors are returned to what they know best, rather than trying to keep up with the latest form of software or product. That is, I think it is a way for us to overcome the mystification that has enveloped us with the emergence of the world wide web, to bring our professional skills and values to bear once again upon our work in this new medium. Too often we have become blinded to obvious problems by the promise of the new medium.
Perhaps, a final guideline is that we will want to choose file formats which have the maximum range of output formats. Essentially, we don't want to choose as our archival file format, a format that is more appropriately to be considered a mere output format. Some of the outputs we may want for our collections include print, portable document format (pdf) and other postscript print formats, rich text format (rtf), various wordprocessing formats, hyper-text markup language (html) for the world wide web, and now various kinds of e-book formats. I think it should be clear that we need a true archival format which may be used to generate any and all of these outputs, along with all of the new formats yet to be developed. At the moment, the candidate for this archival format looks likely to be Extensible Markup Language (XML) which has attracted in the last few years a great deal of interest from electronic commerce developers. It is an international World Wide Web Consortium standard and a lot of work is currently being done to further this development. The result should be a plethora of new software programmes available to xml-compliant digital collections.
What of the future for the SETIS collections? The good news for SETIS is that all of the digital collections created by here have been encoded using the precursor of XML (and parent of html), Standard Generalised Markup Language (sgml) and that a very short period of transition will be required to make our collections xml-compliant. This is evidence for me that SETIS has made the right decisions to date and that its collections will continue to have a future. The value of quality content of this kind is evident to software developers and to publishers alike. The future of the collections will depend now solely on our ability to attract appropriate funding for each project we undertake, rather than upon the software we have chosen to make our text collections available. Significant volumes of library materials which will contribute enormously to the development of the SETIS collections as the premier source of Australian electronic texts may cost between $1,000 and $3,000 to produce. Further sources of funding are avidly sought. For more information on the SETIS projects please contact:
Thomas Edmund O'Mahony (1914 - 2000)
Tom O'Mahony died on 3 October 2000 after a long illness. He had a distinguished career as an architect. Among his achievements was the current Fisher Library, a building he co-designed with Ken Woolley and Ted Farmer. The building was awarded both the Sulman Medal and the Bronze Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects in 1962.
The first major Australian university library to be built after the Second World War, Fisher Library provided a model for many libraries elsewhere. The design was based on a four foot module which dictated the layout of shelving and study carrel's. There was a careful attention to detail, with interior finishes selected for durability, minimum maintenance and maximum aesthetic effect.
Even the best architects, however, could be defeated by fashion. When the first stage of the library was opened on 6 September 1963, many of the female guests had to be asked to remove their shoes before entering. This was necessary to prevent their stiletto heels damaging the soft rubber tile floor coverings.
At the medal ceremony, Tom O'Mahony and Ted Farmer recognised the courage of the University in allowing a modern building to be erected so close to the Main Quadrangle. They observed that the University could have insisted on a design which echoed the Blacket building. Instead the architects had been encouraged to develop a design that best suited the functional requirements of the library and best expressed a contemporary architectural philosophy.
Born at Bendigo, Tom O'Mahony studied architecture at the Gordon Institute of Technology. In 1936, he was awarded a silver medal by the Royal Victorian Institute of Architects and the Haddon Travelling Scholarship. He worked for the Sydney firm of Stephenson and Turner from 1940 until joining the RAAF Works and Building Branch in 1943.
Following the war, he worked in private practice and was senior partner at O'Mahony, Neville and Morgan from 1965 until his retirement in the 1980's. Tom O'Mahony was involved in the design of the National Library of Australia and the J B Chifley Library at the Australian National University.