Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant
Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
The Internet offers a wide range of materials to help teachers and students with science education. The problem is finding them. Anyone seeking science information must either search an index such as Google or browse a large number of individual web sites. Both strategies are problematic, as Google can return false drops or links to nonauthoritative sites, while browsing is extremely inefficient. Luckily, two science portals, both released in December 2002, are likely to change how people find scientific data. One is a central search service constructed through harvesting metadata, while the other offers a handcrafted subject directory and cross-database searching. The National Science Digital Library The National Science Digital Library (NSDL), supported by the National Science Foundation, consists of two programs--one supports a portal to science information and the other funds online science collections, services, and targeted research. The NSDL was first funded in FY00 and has supported 119 projects since then. For most of us it is the portal that will be the most useful. The database of science materials currently holds about 250,000 records. To build the portal database, NSDL has brought in content from other sites, such as records for video clips from the Informedia project at Carnegie Mellon, web site records from the Internet Scout Project, and bibliographic records for scientific papers from the arxiv.org physics repository. Whenever possible, it uses the Open Archives Initiative Protocol for metadata harvesting. It is no surprise that the Dublin Core with extensions is employed as the metadata standard. "We're in the roads and sewers phase," said Carol Terrizzi, communications director for the project, "which means we're still building our infrastructure." The portal is powered by uPortal, open-source portal software developed by and for universities. The underlying technologies include Java, XML, and XSLT. The plan is to create specialized portals that will help bring to the surface information for K-12 teachers and other communities. Watch for another release of the site later this year, which Terrizzi says will incorporate experience and feedback. Cornell University, where Terrizzi and other portal staff are located, is providing core integration support, along with Columbia University's Electronic Publishing Initiative (EPIC) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO. For librarians who wish to see the roads and sewers in construction, visit the NSDL Communication Portal. Here you can see more about the technical underpinnings of the NSDL, as well as work to help build it yourself, such as entering metadata for digital science collections. Science.gov Similar to the useful FirstGov portal to government information, Science.gov is a portal that provides one-stop shopping for scientific material from government agencies. Launched by an alliance of 14 scientific and technical information organizations from ten major government science sections, Science.gov receives key administrative support and coordination from CENDI, an interagency working group of senior scientific and technical information managers. Science.gov is both a subject directory to key science web sites as well as a cross-database search engine. The subject directory is maintained by the National Technical Information Service and identifies approximately 1700 government-based or -supported scientific web sites. Users can both search and browse its records. In addition, users can simultaneously search dozens of scientific databases with one query. The application providing this capability is Explorit from Deep Web Technologies. In contrast to the NSDL, which has received a great deal of funding, Science.gov has been created with little monetary support. What it has received has been in the form of "in kind" donations: staff time and infrastructure from the participating government units. As Eleanor Frierson, the cochair says, "Science.gov is a prime example of the power of cooperation. By working together we have accomplished something none of us would have been able to do alone." Fierson invites input from librarians on what they would like to see at Science.gov and says that given the far-flung nature of the project, representatives should be able to speak at library conferences, wherever they might be held. Sustainability What does the future hold for these portals? The NSDL is well funded, and if that funding holds (funds for the next four years are believed to be secure), it should be around for a long time. Ironically, the very shoestring nature of Science.gov may also support longevity. With costs low and public benefits likely to be great, there is no reason why it would go away. But even if these portals do not become long-term services, they will serve our public while we will learn more about large-scale record harvesting and cross-database searching. __________________________________________________________________ Link List NSDL nsdl.org NSDL Communication Portal comm.nsdlib.org Science.gov science.gov Uportal mis105.mis.udel.edu/ja-sig/uportal