Creating Electronic Research Libraries

Albert Hybl Dept of Biophysics SM hybl at mbph.UUCP
Tue Dec 19 10:36:37 EST 1989

Dear Santa,

The Internet has been providing useful services to the academic
community.  It provides a vehicle for exchange of electronic mail;
the usenet is an international bulletin board for communication
with a wide audience; it disseminates and archives public domain
software; bionet.journal.contents is the fledgling equivalent of
an electronic current contents; the bionet.sci-resources announces
funding opportunities and changes in NIH regulations.

Contributors to the bionet.molbio.genbank news group are advocating
that the Internet be used for the electronic transfer of current and
archived gene sequences.  I agree!  However, the Internet could also
be used for the dissemination of protein sequences, crystallographic
data from small molecules and macromolecules, bibliographic abstracts
such as Med-Line or Chem Abstracts and a host of other information

There appears to be a need to establish electronic research libraries.
Slip into any bricked academic library and you can find shelf after
shelf devoted to various publications such as Chem Abstracts
and Index Medicus, a few terminals used for accessing Med-Line, and
several PCs each dedicated to a single minded task.  Faculty and
students use these facilities to keep current on certain subjects
or to locate reference to information for a research project.

Surely it would be much more efficient to receive electronic mail
or to login and read from the current postings to info.groups based
the user's interest profile.  The electronic research libraries
could use the gigabyte or multiple terabyte optical storage devices;
these devices are considerably less expensive than building more
brick libraries.  What are the advantages?

o  Rapid posting of new entries

The public domain software already developed for the usenet can
be used to transfer compressed batches of information between
the libraries.  The generators of the information can post
directly to the network eliminating publication delays or
tape/disk production and distribution problems.

o  User profile subject selection (.medrc or .chemrc)

The National Library of Medicine publishes a tree structure
for its Medical Subject Headings; hence, just as a user defines the
news group he wishes to read in a .newsrc file, he could define
his interest profile in a .medrc or .chemrc file.  Again the
public domain software of the usenet could be used.

o  Archiving the entries

Archiving is essential.  Once it becomes obvious that the PCs
located in brick libraries can not provide the breath of
service that is technically possible, then perhaps enlightened
administrators will begin to equip and staff the facilities
needed to accomplish the job.  Software like the M. Lesk Refer
programs can be used to maintain links to the archived information.

o  User retrieval of archived entries

An UNIX shell program like lookbib or seekbib can be used to extract
relevant reference from an M. Lesk archive.  Because it is unlikely
that all users will be able to ftp directly to the computer system
that contains the archive, they should be able to issue a control
command that would cause the remote execution of a seekbib shell
with the results of the search returned via e-mail.  Although
there is plenty of room for improvements, software for all the
proposed services exist.

Technically both hardware and software exists to create electronic
research libraries.  So, Santa, please give our administrators
the wisdom to speedily provide the services.

Thank you,
Albert Hybl, PhD.             UUCP  Office: uunet!mimsy!mbph!hybl
Department of Biophysics              Home: uunet!mimsy!mbph!hybl!ah
University of Maryland        Bitnet: hybl at umbc1         CoSy: ahybl
School of Medicine            Phone Office: (301) 328-7940
Baltimore, MD  21201                  Home: (301) 243-1710
Responders--DO NOT USE:  hybl at  or  ah at 

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