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Discussion Sessions

Supporting Information Providers

Need for a support infrastructure

Sharing and collaboration are vital, self-help initiatives crucial, but we need a national infrastructure to support those at the local level supporting their local information providers.

There was a recurring emphasis on the need for human resources - both at this national level and at the local level. Somehow the message must be got across to universities that using WWW is going to be an essential medium for accessing, delivering and exchanging information and of delivering teaching and learning, but that this cannot be done without new or diverted personnel and should not be regarded as free or a way of making savings.

National coordinator

The group focused on the need for at the very least a national coordinator - someone whose job it was to keep an eye on the futures, set up initiatives to solve technical problems, collect in findings and pass on information in a coordinated way.

There was talk also of the need for a server (below), ad hoc task groups, and the value of meetings as a way to exchange information and reduce isolation.

An Information Providers Web Server

This was seen as the most appropriate tool for a national coordinator to use for delivering information (which did not need to be generated centrally, of course, it could come from one site or be the product of a task group, etc).

The sorts of topics to be covered on the server reflected the subsequent discussion on what needed to be done to support providers:


The group agreed that there needed to be a mechanism (a small group?) for identifying what tools were available, making recommendations, ensuring the tools were available in a number of UK sites, if appropriate passing information to CHEST for an agreement to be negotiated, and, in the case of tools on the 'wishlist', taking steps to ensure their development.

The tools (and guidelines) fell broadly into the following categories:

a) to edit or convert documents to HTML

The need for guidance and software to assist in the planning and structure of data was also discussed.(The group spent some time swapping information about tools members used and found a considerable degree of unanimity. It was felt this was typical of the sort of information that needed a structured route to the rest of the community.)

b) specialist/more advanced tools

The tools needed are more than simple HTML: there should be libraries of scripts to help run standard services, automated for generating local versions. In ~7articular there needed to be more collaborative work in the areas of graphics and gateways to databases.

c) quality tools

eg validation software in a UK location, links verifiers, usage monitoring tools and procedures, etc. The quality tools issue was tied up with the need for more guidance on, for example, the use of meta information for indexing and for maintaining the quality of information.

d) collaborative tools

It was felt that the original purpose of the Web should not be lost sight of and there needed to be some exploration of its use as a collaborative platform.

e) clients, helpers, servers

And of course there needed to be ongoing review of, guidance on and availability of the key Web tools. Incidentally it was felt that the UK could contribute by offering to develop a better lynx interface.


A lot of the discussion on tools threw up needs for guidelines and guidance. There were many other instances when the experience of sites could beneficially be passed on to others. For example, early in the session the group discussed the problem of computing service involvement in getting web servers up and running and how then to smoothly migrate to distributed management and ownership of them by others, such as academic departments, PR offices, etc. (We got sidetracked, for example, on how far computing services should write the first generation of information or home page in order to stimulate the department to take this on - with the accompanying danger of dated information. But we all agreed that finding a departmental 'champion' was crucial.)


Various members of the group were already running regular courses or workshops for information providers, which cover both the technical and organisational (rules, procedures, regulations etc) aspects. There should be links to these on the proposed Information Providers Web Server (see above).

In addition there should be a nationally funded set of course materials designed in such a way that they could be modified to fit local circumstances.

Educating the decision makers (senior academics and administrators) was seen as a vital activity. The group did not think it possible to produce a national presentation to be used locally, because of the wide range of local conditions, but suggested that good case studies would be helpful and should be included in the Information Providers Web Server

A National Information Strategy

A comment on the need of external organisations to obtain information across the UK on particular topics or from particular groups led to a discussion around the idea of a national data model: at both a local institutional and a national level we need to start planning an information strategy which identifies who 'owns' data, how it fits together, how to share our meta information presentation so that we can provide integrated searching.
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