Using Microcosm to Access Digital Libraries

Hugh Davis

The Image and Multimedia Research Laboratory, Department of Electronics and Computer Science, The University of Southampton, Southampton SO9 5NH, UK, Tel: +44 703 593669, Fax: +44 703 592865, hcd@ecs.soton.ac.uk

The Image and Multimedia Research Group at the University of Southampton are the originators of the open hypermedia system known as Microcosm [1][3]. This system enables users to navigate through large bodies information, allowing links into and out of third party applications, as well as specialised data viewers. Document access may be achieved by accessing details through a folder hierarchy, by a range of link following mechanisms, or via information retrieval techniques: also the system maintains a catalogue of all the resources known to itself, and this catalogue may be used to search for documents based on attributes of the documents.

In the UK there has been a recent government initiative known as the TLTP, which has funded Universities, either as subject consortia, or else as single institutions, to move towards using technology for the delivery of learning materials. The University of Southampton was one of the sites funded for an institutional project, which aims to assist culture change within the University, and to arrive at the state where documents and teaching materials may be accessed over the campus network by a range of mechanisms, particularly Microcosm. Dr Wendy Hall, who is director of the Multimedia Research Group, is also a co-director of the institutional TLTP project. In a large part due to its ownership of Microcosm, the University also became involved in a number of subject consortia which are using Microcosm as a basis for collecting, classifying, indexing and delivering their resources.

An important feature of the Microcosm approach [2] is that rather than producing a single web of hypertext links over a body of materials, it is possible to have multiple sets of links presenting different views of the materials, depending on the purpose for which the resource base is being used.

The original batch of funded projects have now been working for about 18 months, and we are beginning to see the first materials becoming available. Up to now little thought has been given the problems of physical storage and dissemination of these materials. The Joint Funding councils, under the chairmanship of Professor Sir Brian Follett has recently produced a timely report [4] recommending a considerable investment in information technology within British university libraries, and it is to be hoped that the call for proposals for funding will have a similar impact within the UK as did the NSF Digital Library Initiative within the US.

The author of this position statement is the manager of the Microcosm project team. At present the team is involved in research into how the technology can be expanded to work over the Internet. Inevitably branches of this research involve interfacing with World Wide Web (WWW), which, in spite of a number of limitations in the current implementations of servers and clients, is certainly the most successful wide network hypertext/resource discovery system to date. We have incorporated some Microcosm technology in our own Web server, and are developing "shims" which allow Microcosm to act as a Web client.

However, there are a number of other aspects concerned with using Microcosm as a digital library or hyperbase client. There is more to this task than simply replicating library catalogues: we must find ways of describing to the user the cost (in terms of both money and time) of attempting to access any particular resource, and ways of matching multimedia resources with the hardware and software available to deliver them. Also there are low level issues of concurrency control and of unique document identification that need further research.

The author is also a director of MLS Technology, the company marketing the Microcosm: this company is currently involved in negotiations with a number of publishers to produce CD-ROM "resource bases", which can be re-purposed by selecting or creating new webs of links over the provided materials.

References

[1] Davis, H.C., Hall, W., Heath, I., Hill, G. & Wilkins, R. (1992). Towards an Integrated Information Environment with Open Hypermedia Systems. In: D. Lucarella, J. Nanard, M. Nanard, P. Paolini. eds. The Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Hypertext, ECHT '92 Milano, ACM.

[2] Davis, H.C., Hutchings, G.A. and Hall. W. (1993) A Framework for Delivering Large-Scale Hypermedia Learning Material. In: Hermann Maurer. ed. Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia Annual 1993, Proceedings of ED-MEDIA '93, Orlando, Florida, USA, AACE.
[3] Fountain, A.M., Hall, W., Heath, I. & Davis, H.C. (1990). MICROCOSM: An Open Model for Hypermedia With Dynamic Linking, in A. Rizk, N. Streitz and J. Andre eds. Hypertext: Concepts, Systems and Applications. The Proceedings of The European Conference on Hypertext, INRIA, France. Cambridge University Press.

[4] Joint Funding Councils (1993). JFC's Libraries Review Group: Report. HEFCE, Dec 1993

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