Offering a library on the Internet: the OAT experience

Laura Abrami, Andrea Balestra


The remarkable development of the Internet has made the sharing of bibliographic information possible worldwide. With this aim, OAT has developed a library access system based on a number of the more widely used network information retrieval tools (WWW, WAIS) integrating them with the automation system already in existence (CDS-ISIS).

A brief history of the OAT Library automation

The CDS-ISIS program for library cataloguing has been used at the Astronomical Observatory of Trieste since 1990. Initially the PC DOS version (single user) of ISIS was used to create the library catalogue. Subsequently, the multi user PC DOS version was made available by UNESCO so that access was possible from every PC connected to the PC LAN. Once about 50% of the catalogue was created, the necessity to make remote searches into the catalogue possible for all OAT users arose. This was at first accomplished using the VMS version of ISIS (still operative). Remote access of the catalogue was also allowed, by means of telnet connections, from unix workstations and PCs.

The development of new and more sophisticated tools for the information retrieval and the need to share bibliographic data with other institutions over the Internet led to the development of a library access system with a "window" on the Internet. The OAT WWW server was chosen as the final information provider, thus using as main access tools and user interfaces the WWW clients such as Mosaic.

Giuseppe Romano of CNUCE developed an extension of freeWAIS which allows a WAIS server to look up the ISIS database files and display the results using ISIS formats by means of an ISIS search engine triggered by the WAIS server. A gateway between the html (the protocol used by WWW) and z39.50 (the one used by WAIS) was developed at OAT. All these programs run on UNIX workstations. The scheme of the system is the following:

fig. 1

The ISIS catalogue is generated on a PC and the database files may be either copied to the UNIX workstation where the WAIS and the WWW server are located or shared, through nfs, with the workstation's file system. No indexing is required because the modified WAIS uses the original ISIS database files. The whole process is automatic.

Present situation and access instructions

When accessing the library, the users may choose between two form interfaces: the first is directed at "casual" ISIS users, i.e. users who don't know the ISIS query language, whilst the latter is reserved for "expert" ISIS users, i.e. users who know the ISIS query language. Online help and some guided searches for casual users are available.

The "casual users" form is menu driven and allows the use of logical, adjacency and truncament operators. At the moment, the query may be made by searching the author, title or subject field as well as by using all the fields. However, this scheme could be changed, if necessary, by means of a number of simple changes in the configuration of the gateway.

A proxy server has been installed at OAT for WWW clients who are unable to understand WAIS urls.

The system still mantains the telnet access to the ISIS database on VMS.

The OAT library home page also offers:

The circulars are automatically converted from mail to html format.