Libraries in the Information Age

David C. Martin, Cheong S. Ang, Marc E. Solomon, and Michael D. Doyle, Ph.D.
Library and Center for Knowledge Management
University of California, San Francisco


When the first digital computer network was developed approximately twenty years ago, its inventors had no idea that their creation would launch an information revolution with profound effect on everyday life. The development of the Internet in the last ten years has made the wide distribution of information technically and economically feasible. However, until very recently, there had been no means to provide ubiquitous and immediate access to complex multimedia data (e.g. text, image, audio, video, etc...) from the numerous emerging repositories. The development of the national information infrastructure (NII), in conjunction with both public domain (e.g. the World-Wide-Web) and commercial (e.g. RightPages) software has enabled not only effective access to such data for every user, but has also provided the foundation of a means for more efficient and timely information exchange among scientists and researchers. It is our firm belief that these emerging technologies hold the keys to the digital library, the library without walls.

As one of the nations leading medical libraries and a pioneer in digital information dissemination, the Library and Center for Knowledge Management (CKM) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), has both collaborated with industry partners and developed prototype systems, to begin the realization of a knowledge management environment (KME) an environment that exploits the power of distributed hypermedia documents and distributed computational processing, integrating access to the entire universe of digital information. Two specific research efforts are underway: the Red Sage Project and GALEN II prototyping.

The Red Sage Project

The published journal literature is an important method of conveying information, especially in the medical profession. However, the volume of information that is being produced exceeds the ability of an individual to separate the wheat from the chaff. Through the Red Sage Project, a collaborative effort founded by the UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management (CKM), AT&T Bell Laboratories and Springer-Verlag, we are exploring the electronic distribution of journals directly to individual physician and faculty computer desktops utilizing automated alerting based on user-interest profiles. This experimental digital library provides high-resolution bit-mapped page images, gray-scale figures, article header information and the full-text of each article.

In 1992, the three partners agreed to proceed forward with an electronic journal project at the Red Sage restaurant in Washington, D.C. (hence the project name); AT&T providing the software, Springer-Verlag the content, and CKM providing the test-bed. The primary goal of the Red Sage Project is to explore the technical, legal, economic, business, and social issues surrounding the delivery of scientific, technical, and medical information in a network environment. To achieve this goal, a critical mass of content is required to make the system as appealing as possible to the target user community: the faculty, staff and students of UCSF and its affiliated institutions. The content database has been expanded to include additional publishers including John Wiley and Sons, the Massachusettes Medical Society, and the American Medical Association, but is limited to three categories: radiology, molecular biology, and general, high-impact (including New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, and Lancet). These journals provide content of interest to the researcher, clinician and general reader. The database consists of over sixty titles, from more than twenty publishers and will generally be available one to eight weeks prior to the receipt of printed equivalents critical when key information may drastically influence experimental and clinical programs.

RightPages client application displaying top of stacks.

The Red Sage Project has been assembled from a variety of sources. The RightPages software from AT&T, developed at the Bell Laboratory, provided the initial technology: a client/server model with a central server repository. The client software is a graphical user-interface (GUI) application for UNIX, Macintosh and DOS computers under Motif(TM), the Macintosh Finder and Microsoft Windows GUI environments. The RightPages server provides access to journal page images at the request of the client and manages content receipt, maintains user-profiles to determine applicable content and alerts users via electronic mail. Journal content is accessed via a proprietary connection-based protocol that provides mechanisms to authenticate users, navigate the content hierarchy, query the text database, and select pages for viewing and printing.

A central super-minicomputer provides the data store for the journal content, computational support for the server processes that build, maintain and search content on behalf of client requests, and host processing for a number of directly supported access terminals. The current configuration is a four processor UNIX computer with forty-eight (48) G-bytes of magnetic disk and a 340x1.3G-byte magneto-optical (MO) jukebox. A hierarchical file system (HFS) maintains the most recently used content on the fastest media.

The main features of the system provide the user with a traditional library metaphor. Scanned cover icons guide the user from titles to volumes to issues and finally to articles. Articles are selected from the table of contents page via geographically defined active regions around each article listing. User page through each article, scrolling vertically and horizontally as necessary to view the entire page. Pages are available in 72, 100 and 300 dot-per-inch versions, allowing users to determine their reading comfort level, albeit with some increase in network transmission time. Users may also search for specific articles, specifying title and date restrictions in addition to general Boolean full-text queries. This same searching functionality may be used for alerting as well; allowing the system to identify articles of interest from newly arrived content. Finally, users may optionally specify a list of subscribed titles requesting notification of new issues. Users are alerted to new content, both subscriptions and alerts, via electronic mail.

The Library and Center for Knowledge Management is evaluating the RightPages system and the user communities reaction. Statistics are being accumulated on usage and use patterns: e.g. content alerts, search results, articles requested, subscription lists, pages viewed and pages printed. In addition, software engineers within the Center for Knowledge Management are developing prototype client applications for both the Red Sage content and the burgeoning data available on the Internet.

The GALEN II Prototypes

The General Access Library Electronic Network (GALEN) is the exiting on-line information system deployed at the UCSF Library and Center for Knowledge Management. This kiosk-style front-end provides access to a wide variety of electronic resources, including the Librarys on-line public access catalog (OPAC) and the University of Californias Division of Library Automation (DLA) MELVYL system. This system has served the campus community for approximately 2 years and during that time the information resources available outside the Librarys walls has increased in breadth, depth and complexity. To provide users access to these new and exciting inter-network services requires the development of a new GALEN system; one providing access to all the services that make up the Internet horde, (i.e. FTP, WAIS, WWW, Gopher, Archie, Veronica, etc...), as well as growth for the information services of tomorrow.

Integrated access to any inter-network service.

The Library and Center have worked in concert to develop alternatives to existing tools and design innovative new tools for network information discovery and retrieval. The Center has utilized wide-area information servers (WAIS), the World-Wide-Web (WWW), and other freely available software to develop several interfaces, including an alternative to the RightPages client used in the Red Sage Project. These prototype systems are being developed as demonstrations of the capabilities available to the campus faculty, staff and students and will be available during the planning phase of the GALEN II Project, involving representatives from through-out the campus.

The prototypes under active development at this time include an alternative RightPages client, a distributed visualization server (VIS), a Brookhaven Protein Data Bank (PDB) database with integrated three-dimensional imaging, and graphical interface to OPACs. The prototype systems make use of WAIS to search full-text, POSTGRES to maintain bibliographic information, and the World-Wide-Web and Mosaic to provide the integration and user-interface. The systems are searchable by title, author, abstract and medical subject headings (MeSH standard medical terminology defined by National Library of Medicine (NLM).

GALEN II Prototypes: volume rendering, proteins, published literature.

The Center is also exploring the technical feasibility of using Mosaic and WWW to integrate access between the published journal literature from the Red Sage Project with the developing monolithic datasets of biomedically-relevant structure information. Such datasets generally share the common characteristic of requiring sophisticated visualizations tools for browsing, searching and analysis. The Visible Human Project, the Visible Embryo Project, the Brain Mapping Project, the Human Genome Project and other massive research efforts are producing increasingly monolithic databases that defy routine data exploration and interpretation.

The task of integrating access to such massive information and computational resources is nontrivial. One embryo, of the more than 650 serially sectioned specimens in the Visible Embryo Project, yields as much as a terabyte of anatomical volume data (n.b. 20mm specimen, sectioned at 5 microns and digitized at 8000x8000 pixels/section and 36 RGB bits/pixel yields 1.073 T-bytes). Clearly no single workstation or supercomputer can manipulate, process and analyze such a dataset as a single unit, much less perform computational operations on a database of embryos. The Center has developed tools that allow integrated, ubiquitous access (through NCSAs Mosaic) to network visualization servers that can distribute the computational load across a loosely-coupled network of both general purpose and specialized graphic workstations and supercomputers. Therefore text, images, audio, video, and real-time interactive visualizations may be embedded within hyperdocuments located anywhere on the network. We are also exploring the use of this technology for delivering interactive virtual reality (VR) across the Internet. The success of these efforts will allow wide-spread access to highly accurate and complex simulations of human development, non-invasive surgery, and other VR applications via inexpensive workstations and personal computers.


As our work demonstrates, the library of tomorrow will bear little resemblance to the library of today. Collections will no longer be limited to print and other types of static information; most collections will include a combination of raw scientific data, electronic journals and books, interactive instructional textbooks, digitized video and audio, and other types of hypermedia. With the development of ubiquitous client applications, common frameworks for accessing the information stored across the Internet, and the national information infrastructure, the essential elements of the library without walls are already in place. Imagine a researcher viewing electronic journals from the UCSF Library, searching National Library of Medicine catalog, visualizing a stereographic image of a six-week embryo via supercomputers in Urbana, Illinois, and conversing with a colleague in the suburbs of Los Angeles all while at home in San Jose, California.