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Portal for the people: a new access paradigm.

The National Library of Australia is working with five public libraries to better understand the information resource needs of Australians. Information Australia is a twelve month pilot providing a more integrated approach to information via a web portal. Outlined is the development of the portal, including policy and technical issues and possibilities for a service available to all Australian libraries. Edited version of a presentation at the 2004 Melbourne Vala conference

Australians are avid seekers and consumers of information in a great variety of forms. Their search for information now includes the internet for almost all regular discovery activities. September 2003 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics reveal a continuing increase in internet access. Australians subscribing to the internet through internet service providers exceeded five million at the end of March quarter 2003. For the six month period from September 2002 there was an increase of 521,000 subscribers, or 11 per cent. New subscribers were predominantly from homes rather than businesses. (1)

Libraries are increasing the provision of services which enable internet access to services and collections--whether they are catalogues, subscribed services and/or electronic journal collections and reference services--to meet the growing needs for convenient access by users. Many organisations have provided a technical infrastructure covering issues, such as authentication, to support access to digital library services to the desktop. For the general public the National, state and public libraries have increasingly provided access to digital content, collaborating on purchasing and moving to provide access to services. One of the National Library of Australia's (NLA) major undertakings for 2003-2005 is to
 cooperate with other libraries, cultural institutions and
 creators of information to ensure a wide and culturally
 diverse range of material is available to the Australian
 community. (2)

Over the past 18 months the National Library and a group of public libraries have been working on a project to better understand the needs of Australians for access to information resources. The challenge for the NLA and public libraries is to deliver access to their collections and services that is easy to use,

relevant and timely for all Australians. Collaborative projects such as PictureAustralia and the National Bibliographic Database (NBD), have provided access to defined sets of resources. The move to electronic service delivery in public libraries and the NLA has enabled a better understanding of user needs. This, combined with the maturity of technology, provides a framework for building a more integrated approach to information access.

The result of discussions with public libraries is the development of a pilot to test a service which offers a single google style approach to a range of Australian print and electronic resources. This paper outlines the development of the pilot portal, including policy and technical issues.

Why a partnership between the National Library and public libraries? The NLA's involvement with public libraries to deliver resources directly to Australians originates from its strategic directions
 Our major undertaking in 2003-2005 will be to
 provide rapid and easy access to the wealth of
 information resources that reside in libraries and other
 cultural institutions and to break down barriers that
 work against this. Services supporting access to library
 information will be simplified and made more user
 friendly, and will be widely promoted. (3)

To meet this broad goal, the NLA's focus includes the investigation of services to overcome barriers and create access to electronic and print resources across the nation. Overcoming barriers can only occur through working with Australian libraries to meet the needs of all Australians.

Australian public libraries are a key service throughout the nation, with over 93 million visits a year. (4) Australians are primarily served by their local public libraries, which have increasingly offered access to electronic resources, ranging from full text electronic services to homework help. Public libraries have also been key collaborators in the development of online service for their users, including collaboration with the National Library in PictureAustralia and state initiatives such as the Victorian Gulliver.

For public libraries the goals of providing relevant online services, including innovative delivery services and consortial purchasing to increase the range of resources, were particularly relevant to the project. Public libraries have developed many services to enable their users to access electronic resources. Kay Poustie, library consultant and chair of the Library Board of Western Australia, has commented on the transformation of public libraries in Australia and the strengthening of their community access role. (5) Public libraries have a strong history of collaboration. The portal enables the connections between these libraries to develop further.

The partnership between the NLA and participating public libraries resulted in an agreement to pilot InformationAustralia. The concept was developed at a workshop held with Yarra Melbourne, Yarra Plenty and NLA staff in mid 2002 to explore issues relating to supporting access to resources for Australians. The workshop identified a need for a user friendly interface that enabled simultaneous searching of several different databases. The portal aims to enhance access to quality information resources using federated searching of Kinetica's NBD, Australian public affairs full text and PictureAustralia. More databases may be added to the portal.

The InformationAustralia pilot commenced in October 2003 and will run as a trial for one year.


The public libraries involved in the pilot are Brisbane City Libraries (Queensland), Yarra Plenty Regional Library Service (Victoria), Northern Regional Library Service (Moree New South Wales), Thuringowa Library Service (Queensland) and Southern Tablelands Regional Library Service (Goulburn New South Wales).

The objectives are to

* develop better access to Australian print and online resources for community across the nation through an internet based portal

* develop a new business and funding model for access to these resources and the material from the National Library's collection to support public library needs

* enable document delivery through direct access to online resources or via the Australian interlibrary resource sharing network

* evaluate the service and the needs of Australians for access to online resources and collections in the nations' libraries

The three prime deliverables are

* a working portal supporting access to a range of Z39.50 compliant data sources and interlending workflows

* research into the information needs of Australians including interface and content issues

* the development of a business model applicable to a range of Australian public libraries

The InformationAustralia portal

The InformationAustralia website brings together a host of information services making them available from a single entry point. The portal uses the internet to extend access to Australian research resources, including

* the NBD, containing information on more than 36 million titles held in Australian libraries

* full text articles from the top 200 Australian journals and article references on Australian political, economic, legal, social and cultural affairs via Apais full text

* PictureAustralia, providing integrated access to more than 960,000 online images from 34 cultural institutions across Australia

* directories such as the Australian Libraries Gateway database, Maps Directory and Oral History Directory

* links to other online services and information resources such as Mura Gadi, AskNow!, and Australian government publications

Although there has been a focus on providing immediate access to electronic materials, InformationAustralia includes the ability to request materials through interlibrary loan. To gauge the extent of public demand for Australian resources, interlibrary loans and copies from the National Library's collection are being provided free during the pilot. The resources available through the portal for which there is a charge are purchased on the basis of consortial arrangements, building on the work done on cooperative purchasing with NLA, state and public libraries through the Casl consortium

The target audiences and beneficiaries of InformationAustralia will be people who are looking to find information about Australia and resources in Australian libraries. They may include

* public library users

* researchers

* students and teachers

* recreational information seekers

* local community researchers

* genealogists researching family history

* university students

* local politicians

* public library staff

The front page of InformationAustralia is designed to be a simple, user friendly google type interface. Users simply type a keyword into the search box and click search.

Technical information

InformationAustralia was developed using the NLA's standard inhouse application development framework, based on the Java programming language, the Apache web server, the Tomcat servlet container and the WebMacro scripting environment. InformationAustralia searches several different standard formats, Marc (NBD and Apais full text), Dublin Core (PictureAustralia) and index (Apais full text) format simultaneously.

The portal distributes the query to multiple Z39.50 targets in parallel, searching keyword searches on author, title and subject fields. It then waits for the results, which are formatted and sent back to the user as they arrive. Hence results from Z39.50 targets, which complete their search quickly, are visible to the user even though some targets have yet to return their results. The upside of parallel and asynchronous searching is that the user gets some results quicker. The downside is that results from the targets are returned in an unpredictable order.

Users can then click on the PictureAustralia thumbnail or the detailed button next to the NBD or Apais full text record and view the full bibliographic details including the names of the libraries which hold the item.

If the item is available as an electronic resource from the record in the NBD, the full bibliographic detail view will have a link to the digitised object and the user will be able to access the resource directly online. For example, if users click on the link of digitised music held in the NLA's collection, they will be taken directly to the digitised copy.

Users can retrieve full text articles from Apais full text by simply clicking on the URL next to the short view of the record

Interlibrary loans

Users can access resources in other library collections by creating online interlibrary loan requests for items held in the NBD and Apais full text. They simply enter their contact information and have a choice of whether to borrow or copy. They can also indicate if they only want the item if it is free. If they are willing to pay for the item they can specify how much they are willing to pay. Information from the form is then parsed through to their local library's Kinetica document delivery system using internet protocol (IP) authentication. Interlibrary loan staff at the local library check the request and sort the libraries on the rota according to whether or not the user wishes to pay for the item. If the user wishes to have the item free, they may add the NLA to the rota or other libraries with which they have reciprocal borrowing arrangements. The responding library uses Kinetica document delivery to ship the item to the requesting library. Materials from all three resources in the portal can be accessed electronically. If users request copies of items, they may also be provided electronically, for example by Ariel web delivery. So far, over 93 per cent of the interlibrary loan requests have been for books.


Critical issues identified through the pilot include

* supporting library staff in developing skills to provide the service by providing education and sharing documentation amongst the participants

* marketing the service to the general public through launches, media and marketing collateral

* understanding the needs of Australians and their expectations of access to resources online and through interlibrary lending including the development of a detailed evaluation plan analysing usage, usability and content of the service, use and demand of interlibrary loans and management of the InformationAustralia project

* authentication

* business issues including the complex challenge of expanding the service to other libraries because of authentication and funding issues

* bandwidth

Access to the Kinetica and Apais full text databases is restricted to subscribers. Authentication for the pilot is via web proxy and IP. The InformationAustralia system uses authenticated user ids of its users to select the appropriate Z39.50 user-id and password when querying the Kinetica and Apais full text services. InformationAustralia mediates access to the Kinetica and Apais full text systems by replacing their native web interfaces with a simple InformationAustralia interface when showing summary and detailed results. However, access to the full text function on Apais full text is not mediated, requiring the user to have valid Apais full text access credentials.

Libraries participating in the pilot are currently offering access through their reading rooms. Longterm solutions for authenticating users of InformationAustralia need to be investigated, particularly for those who wish to access the portal at home. Many public libraries throughout Australia may not have sufficient infrastructure to offer appropriate authentication. The NLA is working with state libraries to investigate alternative authentication systems, including Shibboleth and other emerging standards, which could be used by a larger group of Australian public libraries to access InformationAustralia.

During the pilot, interlibrary loans are to be provided free from the NLA's collection to determine the need by the general public for these resources. Whilst the pilot incorporates the potential for charging for the ILL service the extent of demand and nature of collections required will be evaluated throughout the pilot. The extent and nature of support for interlibrary lending that might be offered in an ongoing service requires further investigation.

Bandwidth for users in rural and regional Australia is limiting access to resources offered through the pilot. It is essential for all Australian libraries to have sufficient bandwidth in order to view larger images or sound files. This broader communications infrastructure was noted in recommendation 7 in the report to the Senate inquiry Libraries in the online environment. (6)

The Senate inquiry also recommended that the 'National Library of Australia receive additional funding to provide improved access to Kinetica for all Australian libraries and end users' [paragraphs 3.14 and 5.8] (recommendation 1) (8) as well as that the 'National Library of Australia identify a number of key databases for which national site licensing might he desirable; and that additional Australian government funding be extended to the National Library of Australia for this purpose' [paragraphs 4.56 and 5.10]. (recommendation 9). (8)

InformationAustralia provides a timely demonstrator model for offering access to these resources. The NLA, state and public libraries of Australia await a government response to the recommendations. (Kinetica and other funding is provided in the May 2004 federal government budget ed)

The business model for future development of InformationAustralia will require considerable investigation to determine how the service will fit with the needs of public libraries in various states. For public libraries, issues of access to resources are based upon capturing the best solution to meet the needs of Australians.

Possibilities and options

Libraries have committed significantly to developing online services to better meet the information needs of their users. The public libraries portal fits within a concept of getting best value for money in purchasing online resources through consortia and enabling easy access to both print and electronic collections. The InformationAustralia pilot project combines Australian information resources, building on collaborative purchasing and the growing electronic collections to support access for all Australians. Discussion in library literature has focused on find and get services based on resource discovery and copy access. This project now represents a major step towards full access, combining direct access to electronic resources and the ability to request material not in digital form.

Australians have had uneven access to online resources through their libraries. Many people in rural and regional Australia can only access online library catalogues through their local library. InformationAustralia provides a model for offering integrated access to print and electronic resources by supporting Australians, wherever they are, in their search for information. The publicly funded resources across the nation's thousands of libraries can be found and obtained via InformationAustralia, creating an information infrastructure which truly supports a knowledge based economy.


(1) Internet activity, Australia ABS no 8153.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics 1 September 2003 http://www.abs. @.nsf/lookupMF/6445F 12663006 B83CA256A150079564D accessed 8 December 2003

(2) National Library of Australia Strategic directions for 2003-2005 National Library of Australia 2003 accessed 8 December 2003

(3) ibid

(4) Public libraries, Australia, 1999-2000 ABS no 8561.0 Australian Bureau of Statistics 27 June 2001 B34301DFEB6FI5CA256A780002A098 accessed 8 December 2003

(5) Layland, P Public libraries: community gateways in the information age National Library news 13(8) 2003 article5 .html accessed 8 December 2003

(6) Commonwealth of Australia Libraries in the online environment 2003 committee/ecita_ctte/online_libraries/report/index.htm accessed 8 December 2003

(7) ibid

(8) ibid

Kylie Moloney Kinetica Customer Service National Library of Australia, Roxanne Missingham Assistant Director General Resource Sharing Division National Library of Australia and Christine MacKenzie CEO Yarra Plenty Regional Library Victoria
COPYRIGHT 2004 Auslib Press Party Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:MacKenzie, Christine
Publication:Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services
Geographic Code:8AUST
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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