Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Intelligence Reference Information System Project: A Merger of CD-ROM LAN and Expert System Technologies

Academic journal article Information Technology and Libraries

The Intelligence Reference Information System Project: A Merger of CD-ROM LAN and Expert System Technologies

Article excerpt

The University Libraries of the University of Houston created an experimental Intelligent Reference Information System (IRIS) over a two-year period. A ten-workstation CD-ROM LAN was implemented that provided access to nineteen citation, full-text, graphic, and numeric databases. An expert system, Reference Expert, was developed to assist users in selecting appropriate printed and electronic reference sources. This expert system was made available on both network and stand-alone workstations. Three research studies were conducted.


From October 1989 to September 1991, the University Libraries of the University of Houston developed a prototype Intelligent Reference Information System (IRIS) that integrated CD-ROM LAN and expert system technologies. The IRIS Project was partially funded by a $99,852 Research and Demonstration Grant from the U.S. Department of Education's College Library Technology and Cooperation Grants Program.

The principal goals of the IRIS Project were to: (1) implement a CD-ROM LAN that would provide access to citation, full-text, graphic, and numeric databases; and (2) develop an expert system that would recommend appropriate CD-ROM and print reference sources.

Three research studies were conducted: (1) a CD-ROM LAN performance benchmark; (2) a survey of user perceptions of the CD-ROM LAN; and (3) a survey of user perceptions of the expert system.

The IRIS project was intended to assist all members of the university community, plus the numerous Houston citizens who use the services of the University of Houston Libraries. This user population is ethnically diverse and multilingual.

The IRIS Project evolved from two earlier projects: (1) the Intelligent Reference Systems project, which developed an expert system for indexes and abstracts (Index Expert) (1,2); and (2) the Electronic Publications Center project, which established a CD-ROM service that employed stand-alone. Workstations. (3)

EDUCOM's Educational Uses of Information Technology (EUIT) Program acknowledged the accomplishments of the IRIS Project when it named the project one of its Joe Wyatt Challenge Success Stories. The Joe Wyatt Challenge was intended to identify 100 successful applications of information technology in U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities; 101 projects were actually chosen.


The IRIS Project involved staff from many parts of the library. The staff identified in the original grant proposal were mainly involved in expert system development and CD-ROM LAN technical support. As the project evolved, it became clear that additional project staff were required to plan and implement major new electronic information services, provide end-user support services, and conduct project research.

The IRIS Project Director was Robin N. Downes, director of the University Libraries. Reporting to Dowries, the Project Management Group supervised the efforts of the Electronic Publications Instruction Group (bibliographic instruction and user documentation), the Knowledge Engineering Group (expert system development), and the Research and Evaluation Group (CD-ROM LAN performance benchmark and user studies). The final project structure was as follows:

Project Director

Robin N. Downes, Director of the University Libraries

Project Management Group

Charles W. Bailey, Jr., Project Manager and Assistant Director for Systems (Chair)

Cherie Colbert, Coordinator of Library Instruction and Information Literacy

Kathleen Gunning, Assistant Director for Public Services and Collection Development

Donna Hitchings, Head of Information Services

Judy Myers, Assistant to the Director

Thomas Wilson, Head of Systems

Electronic Publications Instruction Group

Cherie Colbert, Chair

Ivan Calimano, Information Services Librarian

Carolyn Meanley, Coordinator of Government Documents

Derral Parkin, Head of Branch Libraries

Knowledge Engineering Group

Judy Myers, Chair

Charles Bailey

Jeff Fadell, Information Services Librarian

Jill Hackenherg, Coordinator of Electronic Services

Thomas Wilson

Research and Evaluation Group

Kathleen Gunning, Chair

Donna Hitchings

Kimberly Spyers-Duran, Information Services Librarian


There were four major activities of the IRIS Project: (1) selection of CD-ROM databases and negotiation of network licenses for these databases; (2) selection of the hardware and software components of the CD-ROM network, installation of these components, and network implementation; (3) development of the expert system; and (4) evaluation of the performance of the CD-ROM LAN and assessment of user reactions to the CD-ROM LAN and expert system. …

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