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61st IFLA General Conference - Conference Proceedings - August 20-25, 1995


The Advanced Information Workstation as a tool for art research in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

M. Wishaupt & M.C. de Niet

A few years from now, in 1998, the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague will be celebrating its bicentenary. A memorable occasion, calling for extensive festivities and, of course, for reflections on the history of this illustrious institution. This is bound to evoke comment from those who extol the past, with many a reminiscence about the good old days when the eminent, select and companionable `old KB' still occupied its stately mansion in the most distinguished and elegant avenue of The Hague. This is how F. Springer, one-time law student, now a famous author, remembers the atmosphere in the old building:

During my law studies, when my oil stove provided inadequate heat for my Leiden cubby-hole, I spent many wintry afternoons in that venerable reading room. And my heart is filled with affection when I think of the soft, soothing glow shed by its green lampshades, and the unspoken, but all the more tangible bond between the patrons. We were friends, a fraternity, even though we did not actually kn ow each other. Quick shoppers, who merely dropped in for a brief check, were considered rude intruders into our sanctuary. A deep sigh from a fellow student was all it took to divert attention from R oman law, and to set my imagination flying. Was this sigh caused by a truly poignant piece of writing, or by problems on the home front: Concern and alarm arose when some member of the fraternity did not show up on two consecutive days. Two whole days! Something terrible must have happened! Imagine the feeling of relief throughout the room when after three days he returned, fit as a fiddle, by t he look of him. Thank God, we were all together again.

Since 1982 the KB has been accommodated in snow-white, streamlined, purpose-built premises close to The Hague Central Station. As Springer observed, `The KB, too, has not escaped democratisation, whi ch struck hard and early.' And he goes on to bemoan the fact that `to have to survive in the computer age with two left hands is not exactly what I would call fun.' Poor Springer, how lost he will fe el in the KB of the future. But perhaps he won't. For what will unsuspecting visitors find there in a few years' time? Impressive consoles everywhere, with celestial blue screens, which will enable t hem to reach the world as easily as if they were reaching for the breakfast things in their own kitchens. And by that time we, librarians of the future, will have shed our dusty image once and for al l. The blue screens have sealed our fate. Thanks to the electronic highway we now enjoy full media interest. Our status has even been appreciably boosted: which of us has not felt the glance of uncon cealed admiration of less fortunate friends and acquaintances when we have casually offered to look up something for them at the other end of the world? But such is the super-fast pace of current tec hnological change that the day may be fast approaching when foreheads will be tapped if you can't instantaneously hop to Honolulu or browse in Bratislava.

`The Electronic Age represents the greatest challenge ever faced by librarians', according to the caption of a recent article. For, to quote the heading of another article, `As publishing goes electr onic, will Gutenberg survive?' Speculating about the libraries of the future seems to be a never-ending pastime. But one thing is clear: if we want to ride the information highway of the future, we s hall have to grant our patrons fast, efficient and cheap access to all manner of information, be it printed or electronic. It is the task of the KB as national library to develop initiatives for impr oving service and information supply in the Netherlands. One of the most ambitious projects resulting from this task is the development of the Advanced Information Workstation for the Humanities (AIW ). AIW is an integrated workstation, designed to help researchers to locate, read, and process electronic information. This information can be accessed through the Local Area Network of the KB (with its Online Public Access Catalogue, CD-ROMs, and information server Alexicon), but the data can also be obtained from Wide Area Networks, such as document delivery services, online retrieval s ystems, FTP-archives, and Gopher/World Wide Web documents. AIW will allow researchers to perform complex searches for electronic or printed information, even if they have no experience in navigating the networks. Sitting in the same chair a researcher can search for - and copy - references to publications in any available Online Public Access Catalogue or CD-ROM, order books on loan from another library, order xerox copies of articles from a document delivery service, check citations, copy illustrations from image databases, etc. As considerable growth of electronic publishing is expected w ithin a couple of years, facilities for researchers becoming desk top publishers will be developed as well.

October 1994 saw the completion of a pilot project to design and build a prototype of the multimedia workstation. This prototype has given the first impulse to realising the following goals:

In order to make it possible to study in detail the problems encountered in cataloguing electronic information and making it accessible, the pilot project focused on a single field of enquiry: modern art history. Several art historians (university lecturers, researchers, librarians) were invited to test the AIW prototype, thus providing essential feedback on the special information-system needs of scholars in the humanities.
And so, for the past year, we in the KB have regularly scoured the Internet for a year, trawling for nuggets of art history information worthy of being incorporated into AIW. Initially this involved a lot of toing and froing: from one gopher to another, from one institution to another, and back again. Sometimes we felt worn out, giddy and disorientated, as if we'd been riding on a merry-go-round . At other times we were on the point of falling asleep, while waiting endlessly for a promising picture. The end result of all our searching was a curious medley of the most heterogeneous unstructur ed items: pictures of paintings by Kandinsky, a bibliography of architects in the Bay area, a safety-at-work manual for artists, digitalized exhibition catalogues, university study programmes. One al most gets the impression that any self-respecting institution is obliged to come up with its own gopher or WWW page. Even though the finds were at times somewhat disappointing, the miraculous new tec hnology with its absolutely fabulous possibilities nevertheless drew shouts of joy, and we proudly showed brilliant pictures and exciting library catalogues to passing colleagues. But nowadays we are experienced networkers: quick and competent, we cycle from one web to another, from Virtual Tourist to Fine Art Forum, from festivals to body art, from electronic cafe to imperial palace, from Singa pore to Split. All this can be done through services that try to create order out of chaos: Yahoo Guide to WWW in Stanford, for instance, and Fine Art Forum at Mississippi State University. In a few words: they lump together everything connected with art, establish connections, and make a rough classification based on the different kinds of art, on which the user can subsequently log in. But how ever helpful such services may be, a more sophisticated classification will soon be needed, for resources on the Internet are multiplying like white mice. Consequently, during the AIW pilot project a catalogue of Internet files was drawn up, which included full bibliographic descriptions of selected electronic art-related resources. These references, which contain codes of our national classific ation system, together with selected keywords, are made according to the Dutch standard cataloguing rules. With these references it will be much easier for researchers to find relevant information (b ibliographic or full-text) on the Internet.

Providing access to electronic files outside the KB itself is only one aspect of AIW. AIW has a number of search menus, which allow for many more options to be activated (see Appendix). In its presen t form AIW works roughly as follows. The Home Page provides access to the Search Screen and to programs which can be used to process the data retrieved (references to literature, full-text files, pic tures, etc.). This processing may be executed, for instance, in WordPerfect (text) and Paintshop Pro (images). The most important AIW screen is the search screen, which allows all kinds of search pro cedures. You can consult the OPC in the KB, but also other libraries in the Netherlands and abroad. And by clicking on to bio-bibliographical works of reference, for instance, you gain access to spec ialised databases maintained in the KB and other Dutch libraries, as well as access to databases and hosts all over the world. For art history this means that you can consult not only important on-li ne bibliographies in the field of the history of the book, that are maintained in the KB, but also the Art Index via Dialog, the Avery Index to Architectural Periodicals, Art Bibliographies Modern, a nd Scipio via RLIN. The search screen also enables you to click on document delivery services such as the Dutch Union Catalogue and Uncover, from which you can order articles from journals. Via Inter net Navigators, the last button on the search screen, you may use Alexicon, the online information service for Gopher and the World Wide Web, or FTP, Telnet or E-mail.

One of the main tasks since the completion of the prototype has been the design of a catalogue of online catalogues and databases, that can be anywhere in Cyberspace. Resources offered by organizatio ns like Dialog, RLIN, OCLC and Pica need special treatment, as it will not suffice to provide information about the contents only. There are various procedures for accessing their online databases. S ome of the problems a library has to tackle are: how to provide accounts for these services to our patrons? How to control the use of these databases? How will a researcher find the relevant database for his enquiries, quickly and cheaply?

Besides building this catalogue, attention has been paid as well to the navigation from the references in those databases to the corresponding full text documents or images, in electronic or printed format. A patron using the AIW will be advised how to download the full text information or how to order it.

In a few years time, we will have established a workstation that integrates the complete flow of information for art historians and other scholars. By that time it will be 1998, the bicentenary of th e KB. The IFLA conference in Amsterdam in that same year may open up possibilities for organising a pre-conference meeting of the IFLA Art Libraries Section. On that occasion we hope to be able to sh ow you the final result of our AIW-project.

Let us end by returning to Springer and his reminiscences about the old KB, which he concludes with a story that might occur in any library, anywhere, at any time.

On that dull and dreary afternoon, after a familiar KB-lady and an equally familiar, ever cheery dust-coated gentleman had disappeared behind the mysterious, sound-proofing door, this very door got s tuck. Instead of closing quickly and silently as it should have done, it remained half open. Unprecedented! And suddenly, from the semi-dark opening a scream resounded through the reading room. A scr eam, not of fear, but of pleasant surprise - as if someone was unexpectedly caught and tickled. A scream immediately followed by the sensual laugh of a man and a triumphant "At last", before - agoniz ingly slowly - the door closed. And this raised the question that has haunted me ever since: had he at last found that one untraceable book, or had he at last found her?

Whatever the answer to that question may be, in the libraries of the future the chances of finding an untraceable book as well as of finding one another will have been considerably enhanced thanks to the electronic highway.