25 Q&As: Searching and waiting for answers

As part of Computerworld's silver anniversary celebrations 25 IT managers recall the ups and downs of their careers. Here, Simon Huggard, systems manager, Library, Monash University, Clayton Victoria, shares his experiences with Lauren Thomen-Moore.

Q: What are the key IT&T technologies used by your organisation?

Our key IT includes the Library Online Catalogue running on Oracle and three Sun Enterprise servers, Voyager library search software from Endeavour Information Systems, and an Apache Web server which is integrated with a full text PDF image server running on Sun Fire 280R hardware. We serve up 52Gb of library catalogue records, linking to more than 60,000 online and 1.5 million print resources. We also provide links to more than 25,000 online PDF articles and exam papers.

The AARLin portal system is a key system we share with 21 other Australian universities. It is a multi-database search system running ExLibris Metalib software, a leader in the library world for cross-domain search and OpenURL linking. By the end of the year, we will have a mega search engine — which will search some 100 databases and library catalogues simultaneously and provide links to full text versions of journal articles and papers.

The Monash Lectures Online system allows recorded lectures to be delivered from an IBM xServer250 Real Audio streaming server. We stream some 250 hours of audio each week from 39 lecture theatres across five Monash campuses. Also key are the my.monash portal system and the Monash Web servers, run by the university (not the library) which link to a huge number of services, including online course material and library databases. Both of these very large-scale systems will be upgraded in 2003-4.

The library is moving into electronic publishing in a big way very soon, and will be delivering pre-print and unpublished documents authored by Monash staff and students via an e-prints server. There will also be commercial publishing of journals and other content via an electronic publishing Web site. An e-prints trial is under way using a system which delivers XML-encoded bibliographic data and full text documents, and is compliant with the Open Archives standard. The system runs on two very small Solaris boxes loaded with various Perl modules, eprints.org software, a MySQL database and Apache Web server software.

A much larger and robust system, probably using commercial software with e-commerce facilities, will be built in 2003-4 to cope with the commercial e-publishing content.

Q: How would you like to see key IT technologies develop?

Library system software is undergoing major redevelopment in the areas of portal and distributed search software as well as in traditional catalogue systems and the provision of digital objects on the Web.

In the next few years there will be big changes to the format of data (from MARC to XML) and application owners, meta data creators and data analysts will have to take the changes into account. There will also be pressure for vendors to allow easier porting of their data for access via other technologies, not just the Web, so that users can access library services from PDAs, mobile phones and other devices.

Library systems suppliers have long been touting interoperability with enterprise-wide systems such as HR and financial systems. However, their track record on this is poor and I would like to see improvements. The university’s student records system is called Callista.

The areas of linking to full text articles, books and other information on the Web, via the Open URL standard, will be an area of big changes with implications for systems which need to link to stable URLs and appropriate copies of online resources.

E-commerce is another area with big implications for library and information systems. Payment systems for online services are needed and vendors haven’t even begun writing systems with library users in mind. Security and encryption in library systems are also promised but not as yet delivered.

Fast facts: Annual operating budget: About $20 million. Employees: 500. IT users: 50,000 students, 5000 staff. IT budget: $500,000 to $999,000. Key applications: Voyager Library System (Sun/Oracle/Apache), Imageserver system (Sun/Apache), Monash Lectures Online (IBMxserver/Real Audio server/Windows 2000). Key infrastructure — Gigabit Ethernet backbone, core ATM/Ethernet network across five campuses, VRN/AARNet/Internet gateway; hardware: Sun V880, Sun E2400, Sun Fire 280 R enterprise servers, SAN and direct attached disks, Windows 2000 servers; networking: Mostly 10Mb/s shared UTP to desktop, 100 Mb/s or Gb Ethernet connections to servers. Novell IPX and TCP/IP; operating systems: Sun Solaris 8, Windows 2000 for servers. PCs mostly running Windows 2000, with some running Windows 98 and XP.

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