Magazine article American Libraries

Technically Speaking

Magazine article American Libraries

Technically Speaking

Article excerpt

Marking Progress, Part Three

Last month's installment of the "Marking Progress" series (AL, Sept., p. 94) summarized how a lack of a common computing environment led to the development of the MARC encoding and communications standard for bibliographic records. Just as the building of individual roads in North America eventually led to their almost universal connection and to standards in such areas as construction, surfacing, width, and signage, individual computer systems are evolving into networks with standard communication and encoding protocols. Beginning with ARPANET in the 1960s, the now-ubiquitous network of networks, the Internet, gradually began connecting more and more computers; by the early 1990s that gradual progress had exploded into the rapid expansion of the World Wide Web.

The early Internet protocols, telnet, e-mail, and ftp, were essentially communication protocols enabling users to access and transport data from one computer to another via electronic connections. But the data that could be viewed using these protocols was limited to simple text. Then in 1990, Tim Berners-Lee developed an SGML document-type definition he called HTML, or HyperText Markup Language; a corresponding communications protocol for transporting HTML files across the Internet called HTTP, or HyperText Transport Protocol; and a file-linking protocol called URL, or Universal Resource Locator. Together, these three protocols allow users to create complex documents that any other computer can display, as long as it is connected to the Internet and makes use of a Web server and a browser.

Just as a stretch of road gains its value from being compatible with and connected to all other stretches of road, so too does a computer gain from being part of a single environment. The urge to access and communicate information has been and will continue to be the primary motivating factor in computer development. The advent of the Web was a watershed because it gave computer users a sense of just how useful a common computer environment for text, sound, and visual representation can be.

Berners-Lee is now at MIT heading up the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), which continues to extend the functionality of his two original protocols. As great a breakthrough as HTML was, computer users still create information in proprietary formats and encoding structures because HTML code was designed primarily as a presentation format - and a fairly limited one at that.

Realizing HTML's limitations, the W3C began developing a new family of SGML subsets that are designed to work well with HTTP. The most important one, called the extensible Markup Language (XML), is being embraced by the entire computer industry. XML and its family of similar encoding standards will soon replace all proprietary word processors and all previous encoding protocols, including MARC. Next month I'll discuss the capabilities of XML and why it's inevitable that it will replace MARC as an encoding standard for cataloging records.

The Rights Stuff

If subscribing to an information source that provides access to periodical literature can be viewed as a form of marriage (economic and polyandrous), then the license the two parties work out can be likened to a prenuptial agreement. Well, the queen bees of subscription agents-Blackwell, Dawson, EBSCO, Harrassowitz, and Swets - have decided to make it more convenient for libraries to tie the knot by developing a set of standard licenses for various contractual situations (AL, Sept. …

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