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In Brief


D-Lib Magazine
May 2001

Volume 7 Number 5

ISSN 1082-9873

In Brief

The Variable Media Initiative at the Guggenheim

Contributed by:
Jon Ippolito
Assistant Curator of Media
Guggenheim Museum
New York, New York, USA

Rembrandt's oils took a few centuries to yellow; Dan Flavin's fluorescent bulbs took a few decades to go out of production; Group Z's work for Netscape 1.1 lasted a few years before Netscape 2.0 made it obsolete. For those artists working in new media who want posterity to experience their work more directly than through second-hand documentation or anecdote, I have proposed an alternative called "variable media." Drawing on paradigms originally explored by Conceptual and Process artists in the 1960s and 70s, the idea behind variable media is to conceive of a work whose integrity is not compromised by its re-creation in different formats.

I am working at the Guggenheim on a Variable Media Initiative to confront the problem of how to preserve works from the museum's Panza collection of Minimal and Conceptual works as well as more recent acquisitions of new media art. To date we've put together an extensive Web site on the subject, including information on ten case studies of variable media works by artists such as Robert Morris, Mark Napier, Nam June Paik, and Meg Webster. At the core of the site will be an interactive questionnaire designed to help artists write guidelines for translating their works into new media once the original medium has expired.

This questionnaire is unlike any protocol hitherto proposed for cataloguing or preserving artworks. It requires artists to define their work according to behaviors like "performed" or "networked" rather than in medium-dependent terms like film or video. The variable media paradigm also asks artists to choose the most appropriate strategy for dealing with the inevitable slippage that results from translating to new mediums: storage (mothballing a PC), emulation (playing Pong on your laptop), migration (putting Super-8 on DVD), or reinterpretation (Hamlet in a chat room).

Apart from organizing public and private symposia on the subject, the Guggenheim plans to publish its findings to serve as guidelines for other collecting institutions. More information can be found at <>.

DISA: Digital Imaging South Africa

Contributed by:
Dr. Dale Peters
DISA Project Manager
Campbell Collections of the University of Natal
Durban, South Africa

The South African Digital Imaging Project (DISA - also an orchid indigenous to southern Africa) first came into bud in 1997 at a workshop on digital imaging at the University of the Witwatersrand led by Anne Kenney and Sandy Payette of Cornell University. The workshop brought together librarians, archivists, and respected scholars in the fields of history, political science and anthropology from a number of local research institutions to obtain an overview of digital imaging, and to consider the creation of a digital archive, not unlike the Making of America, highlighting the Apartheid era of South African history.

Few digital imaging initiatives were underway in South Africa at the time, and the challenges experienced individually gave rise to the concept of a co-operative approach. Equipment, for example, is comparatively expensive in South Africa, especially if it is state-of-the-art, and most institutions simply cannot afford to purchase the best. Standards too, had not been agreed upon, and varied widely from one project to another as an indication of the lack of the operational expertise and technical capacity.

Made possible by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the DISA project is managed by the Campbell Collections of the University of Natal, with the assistance of a digital technician, a digital indexer and a student assistant. Intended to conform with internationally accepted standards, the digital conversion of selected journals was conducted within the framework of the Cornell digital imaging workshop, using the JSTOR model, to ensure firstly, that the best advice was obtained, and secondly, that we did not work in isolation.

A primary purpose of the pilot digitisation project is that of capacity building and skills development in southern African cultural heritage institutions. The project encourages interested persons to visit the host institution, and has presented training workshops on the implementation of digital projects, teaching the technical processes involved in image and metadata capture. South Africa is after all geographically isolated from locations hosting an abundance of conferences and workshops announced in the United Kingdom, Europe and the United States, and even further distant from exciting Australian initiatives. The stated aim of the DISA project, to provide experience and develop knowledge and experience in digital technologies, has provided the means to train staff in partner institutions at Wits University Library, the National Library of South Africa, and the National Archives of South Africa, the University of Cape Town and the University of Durban-Westville Documentation Centre, each institution now contributing as remote capture sites. In addition, training programmes have enabled informed decision-making processes to be followed in the implementation of digital projects in other South African institutions as well as the National Libraries and National Archives of ten neighbouring southeast African countries.

A Contemporary Culture Virtual Archive in XML (COVAX)

Contributed by:
Robin Yeates
Assistant Director, Research and Development
London and South Eastern Library Region (LASER)
London, United Kingdom

COVAX (Contemporary Culture Virtual Archive in XML) is a two-year European Commission 5th Framework IST funded project that began in January 2000. Its objectives are:

  • To build a web service for search and retrieval of European contemporary culture descriptions and documents from memory institutions.
  • To make accessible over the Internet existing document descriptions in libraries, archives and museums.
  • To satisfy needs of memory institutions, regardless of their size or document types, to provide access to their collections.
  • To implement standards and achieve interoperability between systems.

The project corresponds to the European Commission 5th Framework Key Action 3 (Multimedia content and tools: cultural heritage and digital content) in the action line III.2.3 (Access to scientific and cultural heritage).

COVAX partners have large and small collections described by existing museum, library and archive records, including some full text records. The project is assessing the future provision of improved access to these collections by converting samples of existing data into a small number of common structured formats, each of which can be expressed as XML (eXtensible Markup Language).

COVAX is exploring the idea that future collection records in libraries, museums and archives will be stored in a variety of XML formats instead of proprietary formats. Since much material is described already in machine-readable form, we need to develop widely applicable methods and approaches for converting the material to XML and integrating it with native XML data for building user-friendly websites and data feeds.

Each COVAX partner must have or create a database in native XML. Data for this must be mapped from existing structures.

COVAX concluded that for bibliographic data we will use USMARC (MARC21) and use available tools, where necessary, to convert to this format before finally converting the data to XML.

Partner data will be converted to one of the appropriate XML formats using existing DTDs for archives (EAD), museums (AMICO) and electronic texts (TEILite). The DTDs have to be interpreted by the technical team to produce XML schemas and schemas for the particular local XML repository software used in each site, such as Tamino and TeXtML.

COVAX partners are currently implementing XML repositories using two software packages, Tamino from Software AG, a COVAX technical partner ( and TeXtML from IXIAsoft ( Sites are being established in London, Rome, Salzburg, Graz and Madrid.

A website containing the project newsletter, state of the art and market study documents has been established in Catalan, English, German, Italian, Spanish, and Swedish at <>. Carlos Wert, the project coordinator, and Francisca Hernández have published an introductory article on COVAX in Cultivate Interactive, Issue 3, January 2001 (

Griffith Artworks CD-ROM Archival Project

Contributed by:
Kenneth Lyons
Project Officer
Griffith Artworks
Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Griffith Artworks is a Centre within Griffith University, Australia, that is responsible for overseeing the acquisition, exhibition and management of the Griffith University Art Collection. Over the years the Collection has developed a focus area in video and multimedia/CD-ROM artworks and it is timely that archival strategies be developed for the current CD-ROM collection and for future acquisitions. To our knowledge, Griffith Artworks is the only Art Museum in Australia actively acquiring artworks in CD-ROM format. Archiving procedures initiated now will mean the preservation of unique and historically significant Australian works of art.

The focus of the project is to develop a solution or set of solutions for archiving CD-ROM artworks within digital media environments that will preserve and enable them to be viewed in years to come. As a pilot study of the CD-ROM as an artform medium within the museum collection environment, this project also presents a number of unique challenges for Griffith Artworks.

CD-ROM works consist of digital information and as 'virtual artworks' are free of the usual conservation problems associated with material objects. However, in order to be viewed they are reliant on certain software, hardware and computer system environments. As computers are upgraded and modified, will we still be able to view these works?

To date, we have found that each artwork requires the collection and identification of an elemental set of comprehensive metadata. This will not only provide a detailed record of information regarding the specific and varied hardware and software requirements of the CD-ROM artworks, but will also note vital provenance information.

For greater interoperability with other agencies, the element set we propose will fall within the Dublin Core Metadata standard. We are currently investigating other initiatives in this area on which to base our development. The collection of this metadata will also have an impact on the definition categories within the current catalogue collection structure. It is envisaged that to effectively serve both curatorial and research purposes, detailed information regarding each CD-ROM will need to be noted and made available. Other materials supplied with the CD-ROM artworks, such as custom packaging and graphic inserts, also require preservation consideration.

Not only recording and maintaining long term access to the metadata about the works, but also maintaining as much as possible the artistic and aesthetic integrity, the "look and feel" of each artwork is a another core endeavour in this project.

For viewing, research and curatorial purposes, it is our aim to establish a central server on which to physically store copies of the CD-ROM collection and associated metadata within Griffith Artworks. Due to the specific and varied operational requirements of each interactive, the greatest challenge presented will be to determine and develop a compatible system environment on which to successfully view the works.

Our initial review has indicated that some of the titles reveal specific challenges -- due to software obsolescence and custom designed plug-ins -- and will not function properly within the current system environment. In these cases, it may be necessary to implement an alternative strategy such as presenting key elements from the work that the artist regards as representative within the central server environment accompanied by associated metadata. In this situation it would be ideal to store an operational version of the artwork within a separate digital environment.

At this stage, it appears that a combination of preservation strategies, such as refreshment, migration and emulation, may prove to be the most effective action to take. It must also be accepted that whatever set of solutions we adopt will require periodic attention as technologies change to identify and implement timely action to maintain continued long term access to the CD-ROM archive and update associated metadata.

This project, which will continue until September 2001, has just passed through its initial information and research gathering phase. At its completion, Griffith Artworks will produce a report for the wider museum community detailing our findings and the actions conducted throughout this study.

For more information please contact:
Beth Jackson, Director
Griffith Artworks
Kenneth Lyons, Project Officer
Griffith Artworks

Griffith University Art Collection on-line

A database of this Collection of contemporary Australian Art, from 1975 including works on paper, paintings, CD ROMs, videos and posters, can be accessed from Artworks' site.

Proposal to Form ASIST Special Interest Group on Bioinformatics (SIG/BIO)

Contributed by:
Greg Paris
Novartis Pharmaceuticals
Summit, New Jersey, USA.

The field of bioinformatics is growing extremely rapidly with inevitable current and future global impact. ASIST has begun soliciting interest in forming a new special interest group around this topic. The following proposal was circulated in March, 2001:

"As a new group, SIG/BIO will explore the applications of information science to bioinformatics. Bioinformatics has been defined as "the generation, handling, storage, retrieval and analysis of biological sequence data [genes and proteins]." This is bioinformatics in the research sense used by Cole & Bawden -- J.Doc. v52 (1): 51-68, March 1996 -- as distinguished from the sense implied by the phrases medical informatics or literature search specialists. We plan to foster collaborations with ASIST SIG/MED when appropriate, albeit SIG/BIO will focus on a specialized subset of topics."

"This new SIG will provide a forum for interaction between three distinct scientific research and informatics communities: bioinformatics (e.g., scientists in computational molecular biology), information technology, and information science."

"SIG/BIO programs will center on such topics as: identification of areas where information science may impact current genomics and proteomics programs; existing and new methods for the organization, structuring and linking of biochemical, genetic, genomic and proteomic data collections (ontologies and thesauri, perhaps); information science and the emerging problems of systems biology; application of information measures to theoretical problems in genomics; design, implementation and use of effective gene annotation and retrieval methods; current awareness of the genomic sequencing and proteomics efforts; and discussion of the social and ethical issues involved with the acquisition and use of genomic data. SIG/BIO interests will span from the theoretical -- application of information science principles to the understanding of genomic sequences -- to the practical -- navigation and mediated use of genomics and proteomics databases in corporate, academic and public contexts."

Once SIG/BIO has been established, bridges to and collaborative partnerships with other organizations and SIGs will also be pursued. Such groups as the Molecular Biology and Genomics SIG <> for MLA <>, the Science and Technology Section <> of ACRL <>, and the International Society for Computational Biology <<> all appear to have overlapping interests with SIG/BIO. They represent not only a source of prospective members, but also a source of new ideas and intellectual cross-fertilization.

In the dialog that ensued after that initial announcement, nearly 50 people responded with interest. This is a great start, but we still need more "subscribers" (and ASIST members) to make SIG/BIO a reality -- in order to satisfy the organization's bylaws about chartering and supporting a SIG. If you are interested, please respond; if you know others who might be interested, pass the word. Contact the author <>, or Eugene Garfield <>, or Richard Hill <> to indicate interest or ask questions, and your name/e-mail will be added to our list.

Until we get off the ground, a "virtual SIG" has been set up. Its description may be found on the ASIST website at:
and information about subscribing to the virtual SIG/BIO listserv may be found at:

Defense Virtual Library Metadata Manuals for Still Images, Moving Images and Sound

Contributed by:
Marcia Hanna & Julie Gibson
Project Officers, Defense Virtual Library
Defense Technical Information Center
Fort Belvoir, Virginia, USA

The Defense Virtual Library (DVL), sponsored by the Defense Technical Information Center, is a pilot digital library implementation which serves as a testbed for DARPA-funded research, including CNRI’s Digital Object Architecture. Collections include still and moving images, and sound materials. Complex digital objects will be added within the next few months.

Metadata issues have received considerable attention from the beginning of the project. Early on, the decision was made to format the metadata according to US MARC standards. Silver Image Management <> was selected as the consultant to assist with development of guidelines for creating metadata for each of the media formats, and with creating the data and MARC-like databases.

Manuals for the three media formats (still images, moving images, and sound) are accessible in PDF format on DVL's Project Notes page at <>. A fourth metadata guidelines manual for complex digital objects is planned for Summer 2001.

While the need to develop solid practices for creating resource discovery metadata was apparent from project inception, it also quickly became clear that additional technical metadata would be required for adequate management and preservation of digital materials. The DVL project officers, again assisted by Silver Image Management, are currently working to determine what technical metadata is required in DVL and how it should be formulated. The Metadata Guidelines for Moving Images, [dated Oct 11, 2000, starting on page 117] shows a first cut at that determination. Our thinking in this area has been influenced by the OAIS model and we expect to continue to draw on the work underway at CEDARS, NLA, and NEDLIB. XML is under serious consideration as the tool to create and maintain the technical metadata.

Virtual Tutorials "Any Time, Any Where"

Contributed by:
Emma Place
Project Manager
RDN Virtual Training Suite
Institute for Learning and Research Technology (ILRT)
University of Bristol Bristol, United Kingdom

Students, lecturers and researchers who think they can find good Internet information on their subject area quickly and successfully may need to think again. A UK national Web initiative offering free online training in Internet skills was launched on Tuesday, 8 May, at <>.

The Resource Discovery Network (RDN) Virtual Training Suite is a collaboration between 30 universities providing 40 "teach yourself" tutorials on the Web from "Internet Physicist" to "Internet Philosopher".

Each tutorial takes the user on a tour of the best of the Web for their subject, with expert "tour guides" commissioned from universities, libraries, museums and research institutes across the UK.

The new Web site was launched by Michael Wills, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Technology, and Sir John Kingman, Vice-Chancellor of Bristol University, via a live link-up at simultaneous launch events hosted by six UK universities: Bristol, Edinburgh, Nottingham, Kings College London, Oxford (held at Leeds) and Manchester.

Michael Wills, commenting on the Web site, said: 'It is going to train learners to make the best use of the Internet to support their particular subject focus, and to help them harness technology effectively, efficiently and economically.'

Sir John Kingman added: 'The ability to locate, evaluate and use information on the Internet is becoming an essential skill. This new educational resource will help people in all subject disciplines to learn more about using the Internet as a source of scholarly information.'

Daniel Langlois Foundation Launches a Program of Grants for Researchers in Residence

Contributed by:
Angela Plohman
Program Officer
The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science, and Technology
Montréal, Québec, Canada

The Daniel Langlois Foundation for Art, Science and Technology is launching a program of grants for researchers in residence. With this new program, the Foundation hopes to foster critical thinking about how technologies affect people and their natural and cultural environments.

Following an international competition open to historians, curators, critics, independent researchers, artists and scientists in various fields, including computer science and related areas of social science, the Foundation will enable two researchers to work in the collections and archives of the Centre for Research and Documentation (CR+D). Each year, the Foundation will announce the research topics that researchers' proposals must address. For 2001-2002, the topics are: Technological, artistic and aesthetic history of computer animation, and Conceptual, scientific and artistic issues involved in preserving digital artworks or works with digital components. Twice a year, the CR+D will welcome a researcher for three to six months. The researchers will be given access to computer and audiovisual equipment, the Foundation's database, and its entire collection of documentation. The researchers in residence will be required to publish their research findings on the Foundation's Web site.

For more details on this new initiative, consult the program of Grants for Researchers in Residence in the Funding Programs section of the Foundation's Web site: <>. If you don't have Internet access, please contact us directly and we'll mail you the information you need. The deadline for applying is August 31, 2001. For questions about how to submit a project to the Foundation, contact the program officer, Angela Plohman, at <>.

Guidelines for Information about Preservation Products Published

Contributed by:
Marilyn Geller
National Information Standards Organization (NISO)

Bethesda, MD, USA – (April 19, 2001) NISO, the National Information Standards Organization, announces the release of Guidelines for Information About Preservation Products (Z39.77-2001). This new standard identifies the information vendors should feature in catalogs and promotional literature describing products used to store, bind, or repair a variety of library holdings including books, pamphlets, sound recordings, videos, films, CDs, manuscripts, maps, and photographs. Librarians and archivists who use these products will benefit from these guidelines as they compare and evaluate products.

The purpose of this standard is to encourage and promote the use of consistent language and to help vendors provide accurate information about preservation products used for storage, binding, and repair of library materials. The impetus to create this standard came in response to concerns expressed by librarians and archivists of the need for a qualitative means of evaluating preservation products. To help the librarians and vendors use the standard, there is a glossary that defines technical terms and a set of references to related standards.

NISO gratefully acknowledges the efforts of the following people who were members of this committee at the time this standard was approved: Mark Roosa (Chair), Library of Congress; Harry Campbell, Etherington Conservation Center, a division of Information Conservation Inc.; Jesse Munn, Library of Congress; Nancy Schrock, Harvard College Library; and Abby Shaw, Conservation Resources International.

This standard is available for free downloading or hardcopy purchase at <>.

About NISO:
NISO is the only U.S. group accredited by the American National Standards Institute to develop and promote technical standards for use in information delivery services providing voluntary standards for libraries, publishers and related information technology organizations. All NISO standards are developed by consensus under the guidance of experts and practitioners in the field to meet the needs of both the information user and the producer. For information about NISO’s current standardization interests and membership possibilities, please visit the NISO website at <>.

For additional information contact NISO Headquarters at (301) 654-2512. Email: <>.

The Berkeley Electronic Press:

Contributed by:
Greg Tananbaum
Vice President
Berkeley, California, USA

In December 2000,, the Berkeley Electronic Press, was launched. It was founded by three University of California, Berkeley, professors. As scholarly authors and editors themselves, they realized that the journal publication process was plagued by inefficiencies. Characterized by slow time to market, typesetting gaffes, an inequitable revenue split between contributor and publisher, and exorbitant subscription rates, the scholarly journal system was broken, and was born from these frustrations.

The bepress system aims to put the reader and scholarly author into direct contact at low cost without error or delay by producing quality, peer-reviewed scholarly journals over the Internet. Among the unique features of the bepress model:

  • Refereed publication within 10 weeks
  • Quality-rating by prominent reviewers and editors
  • Feedback and forums among authors and readers
  • Easy, anytime-anywhere access to content
  • Email notification of new publications, tailored to readers’ interests
  • Links between and among related articles
  • Simple electronic submission and revision for authors
  • Comprehensive tracking and publication system for editors, via EdiKit
To learn more about advantages, see <>.

Inaugural bepress titles -- The B.E. Journals in Macroeconomics, The B.E. Journals in Theoretical Economics, and The Global Jurist -- are available free of charge for a limited time at <>. When the journals transition to a subscription model, hopes to attract support within the library community by offering quality content backed by library-friendly policies:

  • is committed to providing quality peer-reviewed journals at an affordable price. To this end, the subscription cost of bepress economics journals will be at least 33% below the discipline average.
  • Licenses to journals will include a permanent archiving solution. Libraries will have perpetual access to the electronic content to which they subscribe.
  • Access to journals will be unrestricted within a subscribing community. No seat license or simultaneous user caps to administer and enforce.

For further information, please see <>.

In the News

Excerpts from Recent Press Releases


CLIR to Develop Web-Based Tutorials on Preservation for Southeast Asia

"WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Henry Luce Foundation has awarded a grant to CLIR to develop Web-based tutorials on preservation and conservation for use in Southeast Asia. The tutorials will enable librarians, archivists, preservation administrators, and other cultural information practitioners to acquire basic and reliable preservation information, and to develop strategies and responses to preservation challenges distinctive to their climate, culture, resources, and content."

For the full press release, see <>.

Sun Microsystems and Artesia Technologies Work Together to Deliver Digital Media Infrastructure for WGBH

"Las Vegas, NV (April 22, 2001) - Artesia Technologies and Sun Microsystems, Inc. announced today that they are working together to deliver a new digital media infrastructure for WGBH supporting the public broadcasting station's television, radio and Web programming efforts. After an extensive review of available digital asset management software solutions, WGBH selected Artesia's TEAMS for a pilot program that will develop a system-wide framework for the creation of enhanced digital broadcasting, including new forms of rich media-based, interactive programming. The TEAMS pilot also addresses another of the project's goals, which is to more efficiently produce multiple varieties of content from a single set of assets, including television and radio programming, IMAX films, rich media Web sites, books and promotional material, for multichannel distribution to a variety of devices."

"The software will be running on a combination of Sun™ servers, Sun's StorEdge™ T3 array, Sun StoreEdge network FC switches and the Solaris™ Operating Environment, which will provide WGBH with a high-performance storage area network (SAN) that is scalable and reliable to meet the station's evolving needs."

For the full press release, see <>.

CSA Adds Links to Fulltext on ERIC’s E*Subscribe and BioOne

BETHESDA, MD -- Researchers doing a search on Internet Database Service (IDS) bibliographic databases from Cambridge Scientific Abstracts (CSA) can now link their search results to fulltext documents offered through E*Subscribe from the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS) and BioOne.

"These partnerships expedite access to fulltext research information for our mutual subscribers," said Matt Dunie, president of CSA. "Researchers can pinpoint the references they need using our IDS with its powerful search engine, and then have seamless access to the fulltext articles from the many sources available via E*Subscribe and BioOne."

For the full press release, see <>.

SEC Launches Modernized Website

Washington, D.C., February 26, 2001 - Securities and Exchange Commission Acting Chairman Laura S. Unger today announced the launch of a newly modernized SEC website.

The enhanced website features streamlined graphics for quicker downloads, two new search engines, and an improved design layout that speeds navigation by arranging information for specific groups of users, including individual investors, brokers, accountants, attorneys, and corporate officers.

For the full press release, see <>.

CSA to Develop Biocomplexity Database

BETHESDA, MD -- CSA was recently awarded a government / private industry contract for the development over the next three years of an extensive, multifaceted database in the area of biocomplexity. This database will be referred to as the Biocomplexity Collection and will examine the countless interactions of all living entities, especially humans, with the Earth and its environment. The database also explores the impact of the earth and the environment upon living entities.

The partnership agreement is with the National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII), which is part of the Biological Resource Division (BRD), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), U.S. Department of the Interior. In general, the partnership will further the government's mission to work with non-government organizations to provide the scientific understanding and technologies needed to support the sound management and conservation of our nation's biological resources.

For the full press release, see <>.

Launch of New Online Educational Services

The JISC announced the launch of two UK online educational services: the AMICO LibraryTM and the SCRAN Resource BaseTM which were added to the JISC DNER Distributed Image Service. The launch signaled a dramatic increase in the number of quality images accessible by users from within UK Higher and Further Education Institutions. SCRAN contributes over 100,000 images of material culture and human history from mainly Scottish museums, galleries, archives and media organisations. The AMICO Library provides approximately 65,000 works from museum collections, with additional contributions made annually. On both accounts these figures will be incremental over the coming years.

For a press release about the launch, see <>.

Copyright (c) 2001 Corporation for National Research Initiatives

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DOI: 10.1045/may2001-inbrief