:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

Science Portals


   The Internet offers a wide range of materials to help teachers and
   students with science education. The problem is finding them. Anyone
   seeking science information must either search an index such as Google
   or browse a large number of individual web sites. Both strategies are
   problematic, as Google can return false drops or links to
   nonauthoritative sites, while browsing is extremely inefficient.

   Luckily, two science portals, both released in December 2002, are
   likely to change how people find scientific data. One is a central
   search service constructed through harvesting metadata, while the other
   offers a handcrafted subject directory and cross-database searching.
   The National Science Digital Library

   The National Science Digital Library (NSDL), supported by the National
   Science Foundation, consists of two programs--one supports a portal to
   science information and the other funds online science collections,
   services, and targeted research. The NSDL was first funded in FY00 and
   has supported 119 projects since then.

   For most of us it is the portal that will be the most useful. The
   database of science materials currently holds about 250,000 records. To
   build the portal database, NSDL has brought in content from other
   sites, such as records for video clips from the Informedia project at
   Carnegie Mellon, web site records from the Internet Scout Project, and
   bibliographic records for scientific papers from the physics
   repository. Whenever possible, it uses the Open Archives Initiative
   Protocol for metadata harvesting. It is no surprise that the Dublin
   Core with extensions is employed as the metadata standard.

   "We're in the roads and sewers phase," said Carol Terrizzi,
   communications director for the project, "which means we're still
   building our infrastructure." The portal is powered by uPortal,
   open-source portal software developed by and for universities. The
   underlying technologies include Java, XML, and XSLT. The plan is to
   create specialized portals that will help bring to the surface
   information for K-12 teachers and other communities. Watch for another
   release of the site later this year, which Terrizzi says will
   incorporate experience and feedback. Cornell University, where Terrizzi
   and other portal staff are located, is providing core integration
   support, along with Columbia University's Electronic Publishing
   Initiative (EPIC) and the University Corporation for Atmospheric
   Research, Boulder, CO.

   For librarians who wish to see the roads and sewers in construction,
   visit the NSDL Communication Portal. Here you can see more about the
   technical underpinnings of the NSDL, as well as work to help build it
   yourself, such as entering metadata for digital science collections.

   Similar to the useful FirstGov portal to government information,
   [123] is a portal that provides one-stop shopping for
   scientific material from government agencies. Launched by an alliance
   of 14 scientific and technical information organizations from ten major
   government science sections, receives key administrative
   support and coordination from CENDI, an interagency working group of
   senior scientific and technical information managers. is both a subject directory to key science web sites as
   well as a cross-database search engine. The subject directory is
   maintained by the National Technical Information Service and identifies
   approximately 1700 government-based or -supported scientific web sites.
   Users can both search and browse its records. In addition, users can
   simultaneously search dozens of scientific databases with one query.
   The application providing this capability is Explorit from Deep Web

   In contrast to the NSDL, which has received a great deal of funding, has been created with little monetary support. What it has
   received has been in the form of "in kind" donations: staff time and
   infrastructure from the participating government units. As Eleanor
   Frierson, the cochair says, " is a prime example of the
   power of cooperation. By working together we have accomplished
   something none of us would have been able to do alone."

   Fierson invites input from librarians on what they would like to see at and says that given the far-flung nature of the project,
   representatives should be able to speak at library conferences,
   wherever they might be held.

   What does the future hold for these portals? The NSDL is well funded,
   and if that funding holds (funds for the next four years are believed
   to be secure), it should be around for a long time. Ironically, the
   very shoestring nature of may also support longevity. With
   costs low and public benefits likely to be great, there is no reason
   why it would go away. But even if these portals do not become long-term
   services, they will serve our public while we will learn more about
   large-scale record harvesting and cross-database searching.
Link List


   NSDL Communication Portal