National Library of Australia Staff Papers, 1995

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Defining the National Library of Australia's Role in the Acquisition, Control and Preservation of Australian Electronic Publications

Written and presented by Lesley Bezear at the National Cataloguers' Conference. Sydney, 19 October 1995.

The National Library of Australia is currently considering its role in the acquisition, control and preservation of Australian electronic publications. Some issues being confronted are common to libraries in general while others are linked closely to the Library's mandate under the National Library Act, 1960 to maintain and develop a national collection of library materials, including a comprehensive collection relating to Australia and Australians. The Library will be campaigning to have electronic publications covered by Legal Deposit in the forthcoming revision of the Copyright Act, 1968.

What then? This paper outlines what is currently being done at the National Library in the acquisition, control and provision of access to Australian electronic publications in both physical and on-line formats, including experiments with the cataloguing of Australian e-journals and other Internet resources. It also discusses the issues surrounding the Library's national bibliographic and preservation roles - how to identify Australian publications on the Internet, indeed what is a publication on the Internet?; how to determine what to catalogue for the national bibliography, and is traditional cataloguing appropriate?; what is the role of the Library's Information Server versus the OPAC?; what is the Library's role in preservation of electronic publications; is there a role for co-operative acquistion and control of Australian electronic publications; digitisation; how to give staff the skills they need in an environment where the roles of acquisitions, cataloguing and information services are merging.

The Library is dealing with these issues at a number of levels, including contributing to government policy, the development of standards, the NDIS Project and joint projects with other library sectors. However, this paper concentrates on those involving the handling of the materials themselves.

For the National Library, one of the key issues is that electronic publications (including CD ROMs, interactive multimedia, floppy disks and online electronic publications) are not covered by legal deposit, and while the Library is seeking to have this addressed in a revised Copyright Act, it was necessary to develop strategies to ensure that this part of Australia's cultural heritage is included in the national collection.

In early 1993 as electronic publishing was starting to emerge as a significant trend in Australia, the Technical Services Branch conducted a survey which looked at a range of issues surrounding electronic publishing.

The survey sought to "define electronic publication by describing the range and types of products available, including multi-media and online ..." A list of directories, selection aids and sources providing information about Australian electronic publications was compiled and the issue of online electronic serials was raised. In the report, electronic publications were defined as "those works intended for public distribution, ie. those works intended to be available to the public in general in the manner that printed published works are intended to be available"

The survey identified a number of areas needing further investigation.

Acquiring and Handling Electronic Material in Physical Formats

From the beginning of 1993 the Library had been keeping aside a small number of CD ROM and floppy disk titles from publishers wishing to lodge their publications under Legal Deposit. After the survey staff began to contact other publishers informally to identify whether they would be willing to supply copies of their publications gratis in lieu of Legal Deposit. The Library has now finalized its policy and will seek voluntary deposit of electronic publications from the publishers. In return and recognizing the concerns of publishers about the impact on the commercial viability of their publishing activity, the Library has prepared a Deed for the use of CD-ROMs and other electronic materials received by Voluntary Deposit, and undertakes to restrict use of the publication, under specified conditions included in the deed, to within the Library building.

So far a small number of publishers have responded positively and one publisher has signed a Deed with the Library, but as yet only a handful of titles have been received under voluntary deposit.

The Library also prepared its own internal cataloguing guide for handling CD ROMs, floppy disks and interactive multimedia to supplement the existing tools used for the Australian Bibliographic Network. Catalogue entries are added to ABN and are included in the Australian National Bibliography ( , based on the same criteria that would have been applied had the items been in printed form.

One of the more challenging categories of electronic material is that of interactive multimedia and in 1993 the ABN Standards Committee looked at this issue and recommended the adoption of the ALA draft Guidelines for Bibliographic Description of Interactive Multimedia as an interim standard.

These ALA guidelines have recently been finalized and published. There are some changes in the final version and the Library's monograph cataloguers are currently preparing new guidelines specifically for cataloguing interactive multimedia. One of the key difficulties is that of identifying whether an item is in fact interactive multimedia according to accepted definitions, and the ALA guidelines include a set of criteria for assessing whether a publication should be catalogued as interactive multimedia.

Cataloguing of all physical electronic formats presents a number of difficulties. It is generally prescribed that the item itself should be the chief source of information and this presents practical difficulties in the National Library as cataloguers do not have ready access to appropriate technology for the majority of items. There is also the additional workload of having to load or install the product and any accompanying software, and then of unloading both again after cataloguing. In the Library most of these products will not be permanently installed on a stand-alone computer or CD ROM network and access will be provided "on demand" via the Information Services staff. The Library has therefore taken the pragmatic decision to catalogue these products, where possible, from the physical carrier and any eye-readable accompanying material.

Online Electronic Journals

Another issue that arose from the Survey was that of online electronic serials and the Library also began investigating Australian online serial publishing during 1993. Apart from the survey which identified a number of titles and the Library began receiving ISSNs requests for online electronic journals. Staff began exploring Australian sites on the Internet for additional titles; and serials cataloguers looked at the possibilities and options for cataloguing electronic journals.

The Library looked at OCLC's draft guidelines and there were a small number of MARC records on ABN from US sources, but these were not always consistent in their approach and the Library developed its own internal guidelines. The ABN Standards Committee Committee based its initial recommendation on the Library's paper, but has subsequently adopted the OCLC guidelines as the standard for cataloguing internet resources. The OCLC draft guidelines have now been replaced by Cataloging Internet resources : a manual and practical guide / Nancy B. Olsen, editor which is available electronically via ftp and the World Wide Web.

The Library has been cataloguing electronic journals since early in 1994 and the titles catalogued have been included in the Australian National Bibliography ( . However, the cataloguing of electronic journals has remained to some extent experimental and a number of significant issues have been identified.

  • Disappearing links where the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) no longer provides access to the journal. This is relatively common and there can be a variety of reasons including the journal having moved to another directory or server.
  • The apparent cessation of a significant proportion of titles. This is especially common for electronic serials that have a print version equivalent.
  • Where there is a printed version and an equivalent electronic version, should a catalogue record be created for both or is it sufficient to simply include the information about the electronic version in the record for the print version?
  • The issue of multiple versions becomes much cloudier in the electronic environment. Which was produced first, the electronic or printed version? What should be done about electronic journals available in different electronic versions such as ASCI or Postscript? Or for different Web browsers such as Netscape, Mosaic or Lynx? Are the two versions in fact equivalent. For example, the online version of geekgirl is in full colour while the printed version is in black and white.

The Library is likely to adopt different approaches for different situations. For instance, if the electronic serial is a direct "copy" of a print publication (for example the online version of Gateways), a note in the record indicating availability of the electronic version would be sufficient. However, for the two versions of geekgirl, separate records would be created.

The issues associated with monographic or one-off publications are more complex. Early this year, the Library began looking more broadly at the issue of online publishing in Australia, particularly at those publications that could be considered significant and monographic (or not serial?) in nature. The distinction between monographs and serials, already blurred to some extent in the print world with looseleaf material is even more hazy in the online environment as updating is very easy.

A handful of experimental records were created which confirmed that cataloguing of these resources is certainly possible and does not present insurmountable difficulties, but there are many issues to resolve. For monographic resources there is not necessarily an ongoing commitment to continue producing or maintaining an item as is at least implied for serials. There may therefore be a far greater tendency for these items to disappear (for instance, if they were no longer being accessed regularly; or to make way for other resources). There is also the question of what to select for cataloguing. Should a library catalogue home pages where a site contains significant informational content? Or should it catalogue the specific resources that are accessed through such home pages?

There are also diverging views about how to approach the control of electronic resources, from that of providing a one-stop-shop with access to all types of information resources through one entry point; to the provision of quite different means of access for online publications.

The Intercat Project is a co-operative project being managed by OCLC and involves mainly US institutions. The Project is an example of providing the one-stop-shop approach and is based around the participants cataloguing Internet resources that have relevance to a particular institution. Records created for this project so far have covered a diverse range of resources including discussion lists (AUTOCAT); databases, (OCLC's FirstSearch database); ftp sites; home pages and electronic journals. There are also a number of other projects such as WebDOC where resources are being catalogued or indexed in specially created databases, not necessarily using MARC; and many of the Internet search engines such as Web Crawler also provide alternative (although not as yet very sophisticated) means of access.

In Australia CAUL in partnership with the National Library has received funding from the DEET Evaluations and Investigations Program (EIP) to undertake the IDA Project (Integrated Document Access), a research study into resource discovery and retrieval tools for research libraries in a developing networked environment. The overall aim is to look at how we might be able to provide an integrated approach to access and delivery of print and electronic publications and provide one or more models that could be tested in phase two of the project.

Recent Developments

During 1994 and 1995, and in a variety of committees and informal meetings involving staff from many areas, progress has been made on clarifying the Library's role for the acquisition, control and preservation of electronic material.

The Library has recently defined three categories of material that may form the basis of its activities in relation to Australian electronic documents.

  1. Material in electronic form where the Library would want to establish and maintain access in the long term. The principles of the Australian Collection Development Policy could be applied and some material may be collected comprehensively and some by sampling only. For this category, the Library would want to accept responsibility for a high level of control; to integrate control with the Library's print resources; and to provide a direct link to the document.
  2. Material in electronic form where the Library may wish to provide short-term access only while the informational value of the material is current. Control through the server may be appropriate using a subject approach. However, it may be necessary to apply traditional library control until other forms of access have become available.
  3. Material that the Library would not be interested in collecting or providing access to, in terms of fulfilling its national role.

As well as looking at traditional cataloguing options for electronic material, the Library has been exploring alternative approaches in association with the development of its Information Server which was launched earlier this year. In addition to providing information relating to its own activities, the Server is being utilized to provide access to online information resources, both Australian and overseas. It does this by providing hypertext links to other sites through its home page.

For instance, the Library maintains an alphabetical listing of Australian electronic serials on the Server. This list now includes more than 300 titles and contains hypertext links to the journals. There is currently no subject access to the journals on the Server but the Library has received some funding from the Australian Vice Chancellor's Commitee and is currently investigating possible options. The advantage of access through the list on the server, for known items, is the direct link to the journal. This option is not yet available from the Library's OPAC but is currently being investigated and appears feasible. The advantages of providing catalogue entries in the OPAC include the integration of access to electronic and print material; provision of multiple access points including subject access; and availability of controlled vocabulary terms.

The Library has also implemented a software tool called MoMSpider which automatically checks that the hypertext links still exist and are operational. This will assist with resolving the problem of disappearing URLs mentioned earlier. However records in the OPAC will still have to be corrected manually.

Through the Server, the Library is also providing extensive access to Australian Commonwealth and state government information that is currently available on the Internet. In some instances, documents have been mounted on the Library's own server (eg Creative Nation; and the Federal budget papers); in others, the Library provides a link to the document mounted elsewhere (eg. The Networked Nation on the Australian Science and Technology Council server; and the Victorian Government Arts Policy Statement ( on VICNET)

The project to provide access to Australian government information has been partially automated by the use of the Harvest software tool. Harvest enables the automatic "harvesting" or gathering of pointers to information in a particular domain or domains, in this case the government domain in Australia: With Harvest, subject indexes to the data can be created from keywords in directories and documents although there can be a lot of "noise" and there is a still a role for professional expertise in refining and interpreting the results. Harvest also provides a search interface and it is now possible to search the government information indexed by Harvest on the NLA Server.

In addition the Library, in cooperation with three other institutions (Australian Defence Force Academy; Australian National University and Charles Sturt University) has received a grant from the Australian Vice-Chancellor's Committee Priority Reserve Fund to build a cooperative index using Harvest and which would be a pilot for a larger cooperative index of Australian information. During the pilot, guidelines and policy will be developed and each institution will index its own site, and will also select and index a specific subject area.

The efficiency and effectiveness of such tools would be greatly enhanced by the development of standard means of providing the relevant "data about data" or metadata within electronic documents. In the print world, such information has, over time, become standardized in its presentation as title pages, versos, colophons and so on and is provided by the publisher.

Pricilla Caplan in her article "You call it corn, we call it syntax-dependant metadata") makes the following observations on metadata ...

"What is Metadata, Anyway?

Metadata is really nothing more than data about data; a catalog record is metadata; so is a TEI header, or any other form of description. We could call it cataloging, but for some people that term carries excess baggage, like Anglo-American Cataloging Rules and US MARC. So to some extent this is a "you call it corn, we call it maize" situation, but metadata is a good neutral term that covers all the bases"

The article goes on to describe the Dublin Core metadata elements that were defined in the OCLC/NCSA Metadata Workshop earlier this year and is a step towards standardization in a form that could be provided by the publisher.

Another recent development that the Library is endeavouring to grapple with is that of electronic journals requiring a subscription or password access. A number of titles in this category have been identified (for example, the Australian Observer - and the Library is investigating options for acquiring such material and providing appropriate access. Unlike freely available journals, it is not possible to add the title to the list on the server and provide a direct link to the journal. As a trial project the Library will identify 12 subscription/password titles and mount them in house, with access restricted to use within the building. This project will provide staff with hands-on experience in a number of areas, including "checking-in" of electronic serials; downline loading of journal issues to a computer in the Library; negotiating with producers and so on. In a limited sense, this will also provide the Library with some experience in archiving online journal articles as the issues will be retained in the Library.

The potential of World 1 as an archiving mechanism is also being explored. In another project 20 electronic journals and conference proceedings have been identified and the Library is currently negotiating terms with producers and copyright holders to enable these titles to be mounted as full text on World 1 when it becomes operational in Phase I next year. To date there have been several positive responses although it is proving more difficult to obtain copyright clearance and consent for conferences than for journals.

Finally, one of the most recent projects currently underway in the Library involves a group of three staff members who will be spending a significant proportion of their worktime (25%) looking at OCLC's NetFirst TM database of Internet resources as a means for improving end-user access to Internet resources from the National Library. As yet, they have not been able to advance their activities a great deal as NetFirst TM is at present only available as a test database of 250 records. However, the project will look, among other things, at the coverage of Australian information in NetFirst TM; how resources should be selected; and whether the NetFirst TM approach to describing resources is suitable for our purposes.