Draft Minutes of the first meeting for the Cheshire Steering Group held on Wednesday 18 April at The British Library at 2pm.


Frances Thomson (Chair)

Sheila Anderson

Amanda Bourne

Lynne Brindley

Julia Chruszcz

David Dawson

Catherine Grout

Ray Larson

Paul Miller

John Perkins

Andy Powell

Paul Watry

1. Introductions and Apologies

Apologies were received from Reg Carr and Derek Law, hence Frances Thomson volunteered to act as chair at this meeting in place of Derek Law. She welcomed members of the group and invited members to introduce themselves.

2. Terms of Reference

A brief overview of the Terms of Reference was given by Paul Watry. Wider service implementation needed to look at broad strategic areas and how project fits in within the US/UK digitisation arena.

Questions and comments were requested from the group. Andy Powell questioned if this group were considered a formal JISC committee? In response Paul Watry explained that it was a required condition of the grant awarded by JISC. Lynne Brindley asked if the group must formally report to JISC? Catherine Grout explained that the project reports to the DNER office, which will in turn take recommendations and suggestions to JCEI.

The group questioned the involvement of those outside of HE, are they part of the group to actively participate? Paul Watry stated that objectives of the group include provision of tools for community outside HE, and that the group must seek and encourage involvement from community wider than just HE. Objectives in Terms of Reference must reflect true intentions of group, so may need adjustment to include wider community.

Sheila Anderson questioned if the emphasis of the group was more advisory than steering? The group agreed that they will act as an advisory committee, rather than steering committee.

Action: Review Terms of Reference item 7 to include more strategic direction.

3. Summary Overview

Paul Watry introduced the papers, and explained that the purpose of these documents was to provide an overview of the entire project to those not so familiar with the work being done. Process of the project could be described briefly in terms of:

i) facilitating discovery, where development of strategies assist in the process of discovery for end user. Improvements can been seen to be generated from feedback and comments made by those implementing the software. Group seeking to develop strategies that are transparent to the wider community.

ii) fostering interoperability, it is felt that this area has not been sufficiently exploited in existing commercial Z39.50 applications.

Ray Larson explained that the current software development path will ensure support for common SGML/XML applications and enhanced retrieval in a large-scale distributed searching environment.


It was questioned at what point does the development project begin to offer infrastructure support and sustainability, if to become widely adopted? Ray Larson agreed that this was an important issue and must be considered.

4. Progress Report

Paul Watry explained that it would be simpler to approach summary as two separate issues:

i) Client issues (primarily dealt with at University of Liverpool)

ii) Server issues (primarily dealt with at Berkley University, California)

Ray Larson mentioned requested server developments and a new features list, which included debugging feedback from implementation. This required some serious re-design work and redevelopment, which took longer than anticipated. Version is to be distributed on CD-ROM, currently 2 months away from this point. Andy Powell questioned if this would be a binary release including the source code? Ray Larson confirmed that it would.

Paul Watry explained decision had been made not to develop the client as a Java2 application, but as a browser using the Mozilla framework.

Group broached the subject of Z39.50 support issues, and who should take responsibility on an organisational level for this support. Andy Powell suggested that Z39.50 systems should all support EXPLAIN. May want to adopt approach where ask providers for a minimal amount of data regarding their targets/objectives and analyse responses given to ascertain exactly what they support. Another issue raised was that of testing and validating Z39.50 support services. Often software is said to be 'compliant' but what exactly does this mean? Commonly it may be found that this term is misinterpreted/misunderstood by those purchasing the software. In response it was agreed that this could be an issue requiring further research and support at a national level, though it was noted that this is a broader issue for all those engaged in developing Zed related services. It was thought appropriate for the Interoperability Focus to take a lead in considering appropriate Zed procurement support issues in conjunction with the DNER team.

Paul Miller expressed concern that Cheshire would press the need for the use of a specific web browser. Paul Watry explained that the proposed Cheshire browser would offer benefits over the original plan to develop a Java application, including improved capabilities of cross-platform development, improved code efficiency, and total standards compliance, all not available through use of Java. Various members emphasised that numerous universities often won't allow students to download any more than one pre-selected browser for their use. Andy Powell voiced that he held no strong objections to the application being used in this way, if it was primarily a research tool where users would be prepared to invest the time to use a non-standard system. Sheila Anderson wanted to stress that a core of "serious" users must be considered and their needs addressed as well as a more general audience.

In general members felt it would help if more diagrammatic/visual aids were available to them and others to illustrate the complex descriptions included in documentation.

Ray Larson mentioned the 'Scan Service', and briefly explained how it functions on the basis of searching indexes derived from each database in order to filter queries before they were sent to all targets. Andy Powell questioned if metadata records will be shared in an OAI-type way? Ray Larson explained that further testing is needed to test the performance of this aspect of the system architecture.

5. Current Strategic Relationships

Due to time constraints this agenda item was discussed in unison with next agenda item.

6. Strategic Developments

Paul Watry explained that this project has generated a healthy amount of interest and is subsequently participating in the development of national services, although essentially is a research-based project. On this premise, the work done on providing a service must move forward without deflecting from main research work.

Members discussed funding issues. Suggestion was made to charge a fee for use of the service, to ensure those using the software have made an investment in the development and sustainability of the service.

Lynne Brindley stressed that the research and development framework may not be the most appropriate for exploitation in these circumstances. It would be anticipated that difficulties would arise if the group waited until the end of the project, before a support framework was established. Group members agreed that interested parties outside of the HE sector would want to see a valid business model, and this must be considered in respect to strategic plans.

Julia Chruszcz emphasised that there is a definite difference between a research project and production of software. JISC supported technology transfer mentioned, to ensure sustainability over 3-year period. Need a clear model of how to sustain over time, if this is overlooked may have impact on project now and models/projects implemented in the future.

Group members agreed that must consider an exit strategy and business plan for supporting strategy. Catherine Grout emphasised that the issue of sustainability and support for research projects and their outcomes are under active consideration by JISC/DNER across the board. She also emphasised that the function of the group is to advise and steer the Cheshire research aims rather than to develop an exit strategy or business model for the Cheshire software. However it is important to note that the issues of sustainability of Cheshire and what this may entail in a longer context are clearly a valuable aspect of the research process.

Action: Paul Watry to contact DNER via Catherine Grout off-line in order to clarify any issues he believes are of importance regarding sustainability and exit strategies for Cheshire.

7. AOB

Group discussed frequency of future meetings, it was suggested that they are held annually, (which co-incides with that specified in the terms of grant to Cheshire). It was felt that any further interim meetings/discussion could take place via e-mail, or videoconference as needed.

Group agreed that next meeting should be held at the end of 2001, date to be confirmed.