The scientific practice of an astronomer involves literature and archive research, writing proposals, making observations, data reduction and analysis, building models, developing theories, writing papers and publishing them, collaborations and education. Due to revolutionary developments in Information Technology (hardware, software, user interfaces, and networking) during the last few years, computer applications are now available to assist the astronomer in each of these activities.
In fact, the applications are so many and so versatile, that we may speak of an electronic Astronomical Information Infrastructure, along side the traditional information infrastructure of printed journals, letters, preprints, proceedings, transactions, (IAU) telegrams and circulars, archives of printed catalogues, glass plates, etcetera.
As a science software engineer at the Astronomical Institute of Utrecht University, I am, together with a colleague, supporting about 25 astronomers (permanent staff, post-docs, PhD students) in their use of computer facilities. At our institute, we are true End-Users of astronomical computer and network facilities, as we only use them to the benefit of our astronomical research. We do not actively participate in the development of astronomical software, other than for local purposes.
We have made an inventory of the problems we encounter in the use of the facilities as they are provided by software developers (astronomical organizations, and commercial vendors), providers of network information systems, publishers, etc. We feel that our inventory touches on some of the more general aspects involved in the development of an integrated electronic Astronomical Information Infrastructure.
In this paper, we have grouped our findings into three sections, addressing the aspects of, respectively, network information systems, software packages, and electronic publishing. Section 4 discusses the concepts of a modular client-server system, that could help alleviate the problems reported in the earlier sections.