Web Services Pre-Conference

The more than 40 people who attended the LITA preconference, “Introduction to Web Services,” at the Hotel Inter-Continental Chicago on June 24th received both an overview of web services and demonstrations of ongoing projects. But most importantly, they received congratulations on developing an interest in a topic that will drastically change the online library.

The four speakers introduced the subject and gave examples of the way that web services are contributing to the dis-integration of integrated library services. In fact, the final speaker cited an article in the June 15th issue of Library Journal (The Dis-Integrating World of Library Automation) as testament.

The plainspoken Eric Lease Morgan opened the half-day session with a simple explanation of web services and some of the key concepts. Because XML is the defining feature of web services, Morgan sometimes used the term, “XML Services.” He emphasized that attendees need to know XML to create and work with web services.

Some of the more familiar examples of existing web services are RSS and OAI-PMH, which take XML from a remote site and retrieve it to be displayed, manipulated or forwarded by libraries. Like his presentation, Morgan’s handout was clear and contained terms, definitions, examples and sample XML output for each. He defined web services techniques such as SOAP, REST and distinguished between services using the web, URL and other modes of data search and retrieval. Finally he demonstrated a few simple examples of web services both in libraries and other sites including Google maps, “My Library” portals, weather-bugs and other popular web add-ins.

He urged that librarians need to use web services to get into the line of sight of web users since they will not always come to the library website, a recurring theme of the afternoon.

Next, Jeremy Frumpkin described the Ockham Project, a collaboration between four institutions to, among other things, create a digital library services registry (DLSR). The project came out of a $425K grant from the National Science Digital Library and includes participants from Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Oregon State and Emory University.

The DLSR is a catalog of services that can be searched as easily as a catalog or search engine that Frumkin described as a sort of domain name server for library web services. Users of this registry, which will go live in an alpha release soon and full release by year-end, will be able to access it via the web or harvest/download the data and use it locally. The registry uses peer-to-peer technology and has as one of its goals the automation of the creation of digital libraries based on services discovered in the registry.

Diane Vizine-Goetz from OCLC Research was the third speaker and she described web service projects in the area of controlled vocabulary and name authority records. Their LC Name Authority Service is a freely available web service that checks names against the Library of Congress database.

A second OCLC Research project, Terminology Services, deals with a controlled vocabulary and is unique in that Vizine-Goetz demonstrated that some web services do not need to rely on traditional web browsers to function. Microsoft Office 2003 has integrated several web services in its Research Pane, which could be useful to authors and writers as this thesaurus project demonstrated.

The final speaker, Carl Grant, is the coordinator for the Vendor Initiative for Enabling Web Services (VIEWS) and to say he is enthusiastic about web services is putting it very mildly. VIEWS has several major ILS vendors participating in this project to create web service standards. Participants include Ex Libris and Sirsi/Dynix and Grant detailed some of the web services currently provided by some of these vendors. He believes that within the next 2-5 years, web services will allow library resources to be opened up to web searches. As he puts it, “You just don’t want to bring users to your OPAC and dump them there.” With web services, he continued, “We can put our libraries where our users are, which isn’t necessarily in our libraries.”

The flexibility and use of XML and related standards will no doubt quickly change library online services and this session brought the attendees up to speed on this rapidly changing area of the profession.