Note for CoOL readers: Much of the information in this article is outdated, and the email addresses and database names given are now longer valid. CoOL is currentlyWalter Henry, CoOL
Electronic mail and online library catalogs are fun and useful, but in the back of our minds we know that we will never be satisfied until we have document delivery--that is, until we can actually get the document we need, the sooner the better, and preferably on paper, so we can carry it home and annotate it if we want to. This is especially important in the small and specialized field of conservation, because the literature is rapidly outdated, not available in most larger libraries, and often takes the form of unpublished reports and other grey literature. Many items have to be consulted at the work site, and would lose their value if they had to be consulted in, or checked out from, the main library each time they were used. (In practice, this would not work for another reason: the main library usually does not have the items in the first place.) This all makes document delivery important for personal and lab libraries, because it is an easy way for these small collections to bring in new and relevant material.
Walter Henry, conservator at Stanford University Libraries and coordinator of the Conservation DistList, has been busy addressing this need. He has described in a 28-page document how full-text databases can be made available to anyone on the Internet. It is too long to reprint in its entirety, but parts will be excerpted below. This is the version revised February 4.
2. An overview of WAIS
3. The CoOL databases
4. Finding a client
Appendix 1. Frequently Asked Questions about WAlS
Appendix 2. SWAlS help
The Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries is pleased to announce the creation of Conservation. OnLine (CoOL), a Wide Area Information Server (WAlS) dedicated to providing Internet access to a group of full text databases of conservation information. The databases cover a wide spectrum of topics of interest to those involved with the conservation of library, archive and museum materials...
The content of the CoOL databases comes from a variety of sources, and we hope that all users will consider contributing some material to the project. As you use the server, please pay attention to lacunae that you might be able to help fill. As a start, I'd very much like to assemble a collection of disaster plans. Please send your institution's disaster plan, in machine readable form (preferably as an ascii file) either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or on a floppy to
Stanford University Libraries
Stanford, CA 94305-6004
The correct email address for contributions is
[Please include a note telling me what format the thing is (e.g., "Dos/Word Perfect" or "Mac/Microsoft Word," etc.). We can probably read anything you throw at us if you tell us what it is.]
Bruce Kahle, one of the key figures in the development of WAIS, describes it this way:
The Wide Area Information Servers system is a set of products supplied by different vendors to help end-users find and retrieve information over networks. Thinking Machines, Apple Computer, and Dow Jones initially implemented such a system for use by business executives. These products are becoming more widely available from various companies.
Users on different platforms can access personal, company, and published information from one interface. The information can be anything: text, pictures, voice, or formatted documents. Since a single computer-to-computer protocol is used, information can be stored anywhere on different types of machines. Anyone can use this system since it uses natural language questions to find relevant documents. Relevant documents can be fed back to a server to refine the search. This avoids complicated query languages and vendor specific systems. -Successful searches can be automatically run to alert the user when new information becomes available.
In the client-server model, an increasingly important concept for network applications, an application entails two completely separate components, which may be created independently of each other. The server sits on a remote machine somewhere on the network and processes requests for services (e.g., database queries).... A common example of a client-server system is found in some Campus Wide Information Systems (CWIS) that allow users to communicate with online library catalogs at other universities....
CoOL is a full-text database. This means that what you retrieve is a final product (e.g., an article) rather than a pointer to another product. At first CoOL will contain only text files, but eventually it will also contain non-text material, such as images, in standard formats. Right now, there aren't many clients widely available that can handle non-text files, but when these appear, CoOL will provide material to keep them busy.
Unlike conventional databases, WAIS does not use a specialized query language. That is, your question can be phrased in English, in whatever fashion you like. If the question doesn't produce the desired results, you will learn this immediately and can rephrase the question. By doing so, you will quickly learn, without any real effort, what sort of questions get satisfactory results in a given database. The texts that are retrieved are returned with weights indicating the extent to which the document matches the words in your question, a concept central to the WAIS protocol, called relevance ranking. Your client can then use this ranking to present the document list in order of relevance.... In place of boolean searching, WAIS offers natural language queries ("Tell me about glues and adhesives and sticky things", quick retrieval, casual browsing, and relevance feedback.
One of the genuinely spiffy ideas in WAIS is relevance feedback. The concept is simple: after you've asked a question, perhaps in a less-than-optimal form, you have a set of retrieved texts that you can browse through. The chances are good, if the database has anything at all in your subject, that at least one of the retrieved texts will be the sort of thing you had in mind. With relevance feedback, you can repeat your search and tell WAIS that you are interested in seeing more texts that are "like" that one, with "like" meaning "having a lot of text in common with"....
WAIS as it exists today is a wonderful tool, but much of the excitement that surrounds it has to do with its potential. Like other tools based on the client-server model, the value of the application depends upon the extent to which the server provides a rich set of services and the client provides an effective interface to those services. WAIS is still very young, and both the clients and servers are undergoing improvements, so you should expect the WAIS scene to look a lot more interesting as the work progresses. For now, it is very exciting and quite useful, but we have to be a little reasonable in our expectations....
...As of this writing there are 8 databases, and more will be added as we gather material....
cool contains the complete archives of the Conservation DistList. Every message that has appeared in the DistList since its inception has been reformatted and enhanced (e.g., full names added to From: fields, subjects regularized, spelling corrected) to increase the probability of your search retrieving a relevant item. Searches will return individual messages rather than complete DistList instances.
The largest of the CoOL database, cool-cfl is the information workhorse, containing files on a wide variety of conservation topics. Most of your searches will probably include this database....
cool-bib contains complete bibliographies on conservation topics. Cool-ref is similar but returns individual citations....
We will always be grateful to receive machine-readable text to be mounted in CoOL and hope that you will all dig through your files for material to share. There are only a few restrictions, and of course we reserve the prerogative of deciding what will be mounted.
The material must be either in the public domain or material for which we have permission to reproduce and present in machine readable form. If you are not the copyright holder of the material you submit, please verify with the copyright holder that s/he is willing to permit us to mount the material and tell us, at the time of your submission, how to get in touch with him/her.
If you submit material for which you hold the rights, please send a note with your submission making explicit the nature and extent of the permission being granted....
Client: A program or system used by a person (the end user) on a network
Platform: A hardware-and-operating-system configuration
Server: A computer system attached to a communication network that provides a particular service to other devices on the same network on demand
User: A human being