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Guidance for product suppliers on interoperating with the DNER

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This paper outlines issues to be considered by service and system suppliers wishing to integrate effectively with the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) of the United Kingdom's Further and Higher Education sectors. The DNER anticipates a managed network of co-operating services, meeting the requirements of users across UK Higher and Further Education. A vital aspect of this vision is the adoption and continued development of community-wide open standards for communication, description, access and use.

The Distributed National Electronic Resource, or DNER, is a strategic objective of JISC, which aims to enable integrated, seamless and flexible access to a wide range of resources for users in the Further and Higher Education systems across the United Kingdom.

Encompassing the range of resources and user requirements that it does, it is impractical for the DNER to require widespread adoption of specific - proprietary - products. Rather, the policies behind the DNER advocate utilisation of open standards wherever possible, enabling the integration of diverse products and services in a manner tailored to the realisation of user expectations and the maximisation of JISC's investment on behalf of the community.

This document serves to outline the main open standards that underpin the DNER, offering a degree of background information for those seeking to build or supply products and services capable of integration within the DNER framework.

Omission of specific standards or requirements from this document does not necessarily mean that adherence to them is undesirable to the JISC. Rather, this document should be seen as a position from which discussions between the JISC, or its negotiating agents, and individual content providers may commence.

Details of individuals to contact for further information are provided at the end of this paper, along with pointers to background material on a range of topics.

Open Standards

The DNER comprises a wide range of resource types, including abstracting and indexing services, full-text material, digital maps, multi-dimensional image data, sound and video, and more. The intention of the policy laid out in this document is to maximise the utility of individual resources, whilst ensuring their fit within the DNER as a whole.

Individual resources of value to the community often offer their own rich user environments, designed to maximise functionality, and to make best use of available data. For users routinely interacting with a specific resource, or for those already aware of it, such access mechanisms are useful.

Across tertiary education as a whole, however, a significant body of users will not make regular use of specific resources, despite their undeniable value. To reach this group, and to raise the value and use of the content JISC licenses, it is necessary to establish mechanisms by which the non-expert user can discover the existence of one or more resources, and interact with them to a certain degree, without the need to necessarily work directly with only one resource and its proprietary interface.

In addition to functionality already offered within a given resource, the JISC therefore requires any resource purchased on behalf of the community to be capable of integration within the DNER as a whole. This integration is realised through the managed deployment of a set of open, actively developing standards, as detailed in this document.

Communication and Network Standards

DNER resources are made available to staff and students associated with centres of tertiary education across the United Kingdom. These users may be physically located within the institutions themselves, or accessing the resources from elsewhere, both within the UK and abroad. Components of the DNER are therefore expected to utilise established standards for computer communication, enabling them to be accessed without undue hindrance by bona fide users, wherever they may be.

TCP/IP

Like the broader Internet, network traffic within the DNER utilises the Transmission Control Protocol, TCP/IP. Traffic will normally travel over JISC's SuperJANET network, thus benefiting from backbone speeds of up to 155 Megabits per second (increasing to 2 Gigabits per second by the end of 2000), and with even the most remote learning institutions assured connection speeds of at least 2 Megabits per second.

JISC will normally require that resources be made available on machines physically connected to a European network, and will certainly wish to ensure that resources are capable of delivery at speeds comparable to those with which users are accustomed from elsewhere on SuperJANET.

Specifically, trans-Atlantic network traffic should be avoided, as UK institutions are charged for use of bandwidth on this route.

If publishers are serving electronic information via certain Internet Service Providers (CERNET, HEANET, U-NET, AboveNet, Planet Online, or UUNET) then UKERNA can more effectively monitor traffic as there are pre-existing connections to SuperJANET in London. These are not the only ISPs that can be used, but we would appreciate advance notice if a different ISP is used so that we can assess inter-connection requirements.

TCP/IP is defined in RFC 791 and RFC 793

Further information on the superjanet network is available from ukerna

HTTP

Much of the DNER is Web-based, and interaction with Web-based services is handled by the Hypertext Transfer Protocol, HTTP. Although version 1.1 of this protocol is now available and should be utilised where possible, most of the academic sector's Web server population remains based upon the earlier version 1.0.

Resources to which access is by means other than a standard Web browser will normally be expected to offer some form of Web gateway through which the majority of functionality is available.

HTTP 1.0 is defined in RFC 1945

HTTP 1.1 is defined in RFC 2068

Z39.50

ANSI/NISO Z39.50, along with international counterpart ISO 23950, defines a communications protocol designed to support search and retrieval across distributed, heterogeneous database systems. Whilst Z39.50 does not necessarily offer the enhanced functionality evident in the user interfaces of individual resources within the DNER, it is required if we recognise that users will rarely wish to deal exclusively with a single resource at the start of a search, and will instead desire an ability to cross-search a number of potentially relevant, and possibly very differently structured, sources. Use of Z39.50 as a resource discovery tool in this way need not detract from the ability of product suppliers to offer richly functional interfaces to their resources for those instances in which a user is satisfied to interact with a single resource, or where the nature of the query relies complex additional functionality.

At present, version 3 of this standard forms the basis for multi-database search and retrieval across the DNER. To ensure the maximum degree of interoperability between DNER components, the requirement for adoption of Z39.50 is further qualified by also advocating adherence to the Bath Profile. This Z39.50 profile, developed by the JISC and a number of other international stakeholders, serves to clarify many aspects of the standard, and lays down a minimum set of requirements on systems in order to enable effective inter-working.

Access to Z39.50-enabled services, or 'Targets', is by means of a Z39.50 client, or 'Origin'. Traditionally, these Origins have taken the form of proprietary tools from individual system vendors. Increasingly, however, access to Z39.50 Targets is being offered by way of Web-enabled user interfaces which either sit in front of a single Z39.50 Target or manage the submission and return of broadcast searches to one or more remote Targets. Most end users of Z39.50 in the DNER will therefore interact seamlessly with it and other protocols from their Web browser.

The emphasis for resource providers should be the addition of Z39.50 Target functionality to their products, plus conformance with the requirements of the Bath Profile.

Z39.50 is defined in ANSI/NISO Z39.50-1995

Further information on the bath profile is available from the interoperability focus

Authentication Standards

In an environment such as the DNER, users are likely to routinely access a variety of resources for which authentication is required. In the interests of usability, it is important to ensure that the number of authentication challenges to which a user is forced to respond are kept to a minimum, as are the number of passwords that any one user needs to remember.

The technologies associated with authentication are constantly changing, and are kept under review by JISC's Committee on Authentication and Security (JCAS), which may issue additional guidance from time to time.

ATHENS Authentication

The ATHENS authentication system is widely used throughout the sector, and provides students and staff with a single username and password for a variety of digital content. JISC is committed to funding this service until 2003.

At the start of 2000 more than 700,000 users from over 300 institutions held accounts, and ATHENS controlled access to in excess of 70 information resources from nearly two dozen data suppliers.

For the end user, ATHENS provides a single username and password for access to the dozens of online resources used in the course of their work or study. For the institution, ATHENS provides a set of tools for managing the thousands of users for which they are responsible - allowing them to easily add and delete users, change access privileges, and set them to automatically expire on chosen dates. For the service provider who has invested some modest effort in installing the Agent software, ATHENS makes your service more attractive to users and removes the previous chore of providing usernames and passwords to users and administrators across the sector.

Further information on athens is available from the athens team

IP Authentication

Current JISC policy allows the use of transparent authentication based upon IP address for users who are either physically located on their institution's secure network or, by means of secure proxies, are able to appear so.

Under such a model, the user would not be required to authenticate for individual resources. Instead, their presence on a secure institutional network would be deemed sufficient authentication for accessing resources to which the institution is entitled. In this case, the onus of authentication is placed upon the institution at the start of any user session. In most circumstances, the authentication process is completed as the user logs on to the institutional network him/herself, thereby granting access to relevant resources within the institution, and to resources world-wide for which the institution has previously negotiated their right of access.

Identification Standards

In a distributed networked environment, it is important to ensure that valuable resources can be uniquely and unambiguously identified over long periods of time.

Given the importance of citation in an academic environment, individual items (such as a journal article in a full-text document repository) should ideally be uniquely addressable, without users needing to navigate through the document repository's interface structure.

Uniform Resource Identifier (URI)

The Uniform Resource Identifier, or URI, is recognisable to most users of the World Wide Web, who routinely enter and cite one form of URI known as the Uniform Resource Locator (URL). URLs, though, are notoriously poor for ensuring unambiguous long-term identification, and are inappropriate for the identification of individual resources without significant investment in infrastructure and guidance to ensure their permanence.

The uniform resource identifier is defined in RFC 2396

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

A more robust implementation of the URI is that found in the Digital Object Identifier, or DOI. The DOI makes use of a resolution system in order to map from the cited reference to the resource location at any given time.

DOIs are not necessarily suitable for all forms of resource made available through the DNER, but have special relevance to the outputs of the scholarly publication process.

The digital object identifier is defined in niso standard Z39.84-2000

Browser standards

Web browsing software continues to develop at a remarkable rate as software companies continue to add new features and functionality. Although many individuals within the tertiary education sector will continually upgrade to the latest versions of browsers such as Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, software installed across campuses in open-access PC clusters is likely to remain somewhat behind the cutting edge of development. For this reason, it is recommended that the core functionality of any resource contributed to the DNER should be accessible using browser software compliant with the main standards implemented in version 4 browsers.

Web-based resources within the DNER should also comply with the requirements of the World Wide Web Consortium's Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI).

Further information on recommended web standards is available from JISC's web focus

Further information on accessibility issues is available from JISC'S TechDis service

Metadata

Metadata, or 'data about data', is the name given to an increasingly important aspect of digital resource provision; namely, that aspect dealing with the effective description of those resources in order that they might be managed, discovered, used and re-used in the most productive manner.

Metadata standards and initiatives abound, from discipline-specific standards such as the geospatial community's Content Standards for Digital Geospatial Metadata, UK museums' SPECTRUM and archives' Encoded Archival Description (EAD), to more broadly applicable efforts such as the Instructional Management Scheme (IMS) used to describe a growing number of learning resources. Traditional cataloguing practices, such as the library community's creation of library catalogues using the MARC format might also be considered as a form of metadata in this manner.

As a rule, JISC requires that resources be accessible to a reasonable degree using one such named open standard. In most cases, the standard selected in each case will be that most applicable to the domain or resource type in question. A museum collection might therefore be expected to be described in a SPECTRUM-compatible form and an archive marked up in EAD.

In order that users may access resources from across domains and scholarly traditions, it is necessary that sufficient information to enable their effective discovery also be made available in some more generic form. At present, provision of records conforming to the Dublin Core appears to be the most effective means of realising this goal. It is normally feasible to generate Dublin Core records from other, richer, formats by means of simple automated transformation processes.

Further information on dublin core is available from the dublin core metadata initiative

Terminology standards

In order to effectively describe large bodies of material, it becomes important to find means of utilising consistent terminology, ensuring both that searches find the maximum number of correct results and that the return of false results is minimised wherever possible.

The library world shows examples of this through its use of Uniform Titles for works and Name Authority Files for authors, and there are similar examples from other communities. The variety of techniques adopted, including controlled vocabularies, alphanumeric classification schemes and thesauri, can be grouped under the generic label of terminology controls.

At present, no one terminology control can be identified as highly applicable to a significant cross-section of the DNER's user community. Work is, however, underway to consider means of addressing this shortfall.

Where appropriate to the resource, JISC recommends the use of one or more named terminology controls. In cases where terminology controls are developed internally, developers are asked to consider making a copy of their work available to JISC for integration within interfaces associated with the DNER.

Further information on terminology control is available from the models 11 workshop

Licensing principles

The JISC aims to provide electronic access to resources of value for learning, teaching and research in UK further and higher education. For that purpose it negotiates licence agreements with publishers either directly or through negotiating agents.

Following collaboration between the JISC and the Publishers Association, we have developed a model licence for use in the digital environment. This JISC/PA model licence has been adapted to work for full text journal material by the JISC's negotiating agent for journals - NESLI. JISC wishes to see these model licences used as the basis for future licence agreements negotiated on its behalf for the benefit of the higher and further education communities.

Key licensing principles for the DNER are:

  • Students, staff, and walk-in users should have access 24 hours per day, seven days per week.
  • Information will be made available according to "fair dealing" principles that enable unlimited viewing, downloading, printing, and  inclusion in course packs for non-commercial, educational, instructional, and research purposes by authorised users.
  • Institutions should have perpetual rights to information that has been paid for, including reimbursement if a subscription to material   that initially was included in the agreement is subsequently cancelled.
  • Licenses must enable institutions to integrate the resource into their local infrastructure and information services.
  • Pricing models for electronic information should result in a significant reduction in the per use (or "unit cost") of information. The   savings accrued through the production of electronic information should, over time, be passed from the provider to the customer.
  • Educational institutions need the right and opportunity to monitor the use of licensed materials and to gather the relevant   management information needed for collection development. In return, institutions benefiting from resources available in the DNER   should be prepared to share basic management information with publishers.
  • Colleges and universities should commit to taking reasonable steps to prevent misuse or abuse by their authorised users, and to   work with information providers as appropriate to stop abuse should it occur. In return they should not be asked to accept liability   for the misuse of material by an individual user as long as the licensing institution did not intentionally assist in or encourage such   breach to continue after having received notice of an actual breach having occurred.

Points of Contact

           ATHENS.
           Available online at http://www.athens.ac.uk/
           E-mail athens@niss.ac.uk
           Telephone ATHENS Support on 01225 826175.

           Disability and Information Systems in Higher Education (DISinHE).
           Available online at http://www.disinhe.ac.uk/
           E-mail enquiries@disinhe.ac.uk
           Telephone the DISinHE team on 01382 345050.

           Image Focus.
           E-mail Catherine.Grout@kcl.ac.uk
           Telephone Catherine Grout on 020 7848 2937.

           National Electronic Site Licence Initiative (NESLI).
           Available online at http://www.nesli.ac.uk/
           E-mail help@nesli.ac.uk
           Telephone Alison Murphy on 0161 2757919.

           JANET
           Telephone JANET Customer Service on 01235 822212.

           Web Focus
           Available online at http://www.ukoln.ac.uk/web-focus/
           E-mail B.Kelly@ukoln.ac.uk
           Telephone Brian Kelly on 01225 323943.

Technical references
  • ANSI/NISO Z39.84-2000 Syntax for the Digital Object Identifier
  • The Bath Profile: an international Z39.50 specification for library applications and resource discovery. Version 1.1.
  • RFC 791 Internet Protocol
  • RFC 1945 Hypertext Transfer Protocol - HTTP 1.0
  • RFC 2068 Hypertext Transfer Protocol - HTTP 1.1
Further reading

Acknowledgements

The authors (Paul Miller and Alicia Wise) wish to thank all those who contributed comments to this document.

UKOLN is funded by Resource: the Council for Museums Archives and Libraries, the Joint Information Systems Committee of the Further and Higher Education Funding Councils, as well as by project funding from the JISC and the European Union. UKOLN also receives support from the Universities of Bath and Hull where staff are based.

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