a grandiose but (hopefully) practical idea

Tom Moritz tmoritz at AMNH.ORG
Tue Mar 13 17:55:53 CST 2001

Just to show the flag for libraries --  the library community began embracing
Z39.50 in the 80's when the Web (much less XML) wasn't
even a gleam in the collective eye...   It works.
And (as Jim & Stan both note) other approaches now seem to work better...

At 08:24 AM 3/14/01 +1100, Jim Croft wrote:
>> > I don't like Zbig, not because the idea is flawed, but because it is based
>> > on Z39.50, and none of my applications can use it...  now, if they were to
>> > go down the XML route, we could upgrade browsers and start to party...
>> A few details about how databases might be implemented in XML  to do much
>> the same as Zbig would be real interesting, Jim. Could you give us a
>> reference or a hint?
>I was going to suggest roping Stan Blum into this discussion, but he
>could not contain himself and has jumped in already...  if you want
>technical details and explanation about how it might all work, Stan's the
>Stan and I have been squabbling about Z39.50 for years now, hurling
>abuse at each other on this topic each time we meet.  Stan likes it, I
>reckon it is a mildly interesting dead end going nowhere.  The library
>community seem to be only people to have embraced it with any gusto but
>I have yet to see an application that makes a person gasp in amazement
>and shout 'gotta get me one of them!'. I do not get excited about
>anything that does not run on a more or less standard internet client or
>browser and that isn't delivered by a more or less standard http server
>and database portal.
>The herbarium community, at least in Australia, has been spewing
>herbarium data at each other and suckng it in according to the HISPID
>data definitions and format.  NSW herbarium has a established a
>background process, a sort of haustorium, that routinely checks and
>raids the CANB database for records of duplicate specimens to save
>themselves the effort of typing and they are just waiting to be able
>to latch onto other databases.  The other herbaria are poised to
>retaliate in an act of mutual parasitism.
>As part of the Australia's Virtual Herbarium project, the HIPSID
>specification is being rewritten in XML and the integrated access to the
>nation's eight major herbarium collections (6 million specimens all up)
>will be done using this. The prototype returns and maps c. 2500 records
>of _Acacia aneura_ from 5 herbaria in less than a couple of minutes. The
>gateway is being redeveloped and we expect improvement in performance as
>well as functionality.  Should be ready by June.
>The good thing about the XML format is that you are no longer tied to
>any particular display or report format, or to a particular piece of
>software or other application.  With the application of style sheets you
>can make the data look however you want and with the reletively simple
>transformation functions you can change it into whatever you want.
>Doesn't quite work on the browser client side yet, but is supposed to
>accordin to the specs... real soon now...
>The XML specs are all on w3c.org - a good read for anyone interested
>managing biological data...  :)
>We have been experimenting with ABRS on marking up, managing and
>delivering the _Flora of Australia_ as an XML database and the results
>are really encouraging.  We are working on the server side at teh
>moment, just so the community can see the results while browser
>technology catches up. On a lower level I have been trialing the use of
>an XML template for field notes rather than a tailor-made collections
>database for PCs (which are invevitably too complex or not sophisticated
>enough); with no more than a browser and a text editor the results have
>been quite promising.
>This probably didn't answer your question...  will leave that to Stan...

Tom Moritz                                              212-769-5417
Boeschenstein Director, Library Services        212-769-5009 - FAX
American Museum of Natural History              tmoritz at amnh.org
79th St. @ Central Park West                    http://nimidi.amnh.org/library.html
New York, New York  10024                       (Time:  GMT -5)

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