Report of the SEL High Tech Subcommittee

Ken Cherrington, John Heimaster (chair)
David Mays, and Tom Merrick
August 3, 1997

1 Background

With ever more materials appearing in electronic formats and with the development of digital libraries, the Science and Engineering Library (SEL) must expand its role of housing and delivering print materials to include the delivery of materials in digital formats. These materials include both electronic versions of traditional indices and journals, and new multimedia materials quite unlike printed books. These materials offer new opportunities; the electronic version of a reference work, for example, can be searched in more sophisticated ways than its printed counterpart. SEL needs to select and install these materials, educate its patrons to use them, and provide access through computers in the Library and in the patrons' homes and offices.

Today, University Libraries provides the electronic journals of Academic Press, the American Chemical Society, the American Institute of Physics, and the Institute of Physics. During 1998, the nearly 1,200 journals published by Elsevier will be available at OSU in digital form, with more to follow. The electronic versions of many of the indices in SEL are more heavily used than their print counterparts, and the electronic versions of such reference works as Beilstein are much more convenient to use than the printed sets. SEL needs the new electronic materials, appropriate computer and communications facilities, and adequate staff support to thrive in this new environment.

When the Library was planned in the late 1980s, many of these trends were clear, but it was difficult to select products in a rapidly-changing market. Most choices were deliberately postponed, with general provisions made in the Library design for future electronic services:

Since the completion of the Library, various ad hoc groups have been designated by the Science and Engineering Library Committee to recommend appropriate use of the high-tech area and the movable equipment funds. Each group concluded that

"The limiting factor in establishing the computational capabilities of the SEL is the staff required to support the functionality of the hardware and software." High Tech Subcommittee, August 10, 1992
and was reluctant to buy more computer equipment than the available staff could support. Consequently, each group recommended that a portion of the equipment funds be spent on urgently-needed equipment, and the remainder be left untouched until staff was available. Currently, the available funds are:
State capital funds$372,359.28
OSU funds $105,756.74
Total $478,116.02
with the State funds due to expire on June 30, 1998.

To meet the coming deadline, the present High Tech Subcommittee was appointed in March 1997 by John Wilkins, Chair of the SEL Committee. It is charged to develop a plan to meet SEL customers' needs for electronic access to journals and databases, and for associated training, with the available funds and staff.

Any plan to use the (expiring) Ohio capital funds must meet the State's requirements for capital equipment purchases:

2 Results and Recommendations

In its investigations, the subcommittee found:

These observations suggest a future dominated by server computers with large databases and high-speed network connections, delivering results to primarily to remote customers. Use within the Library will continue, and expand modestly, but outside use will dominate. Rooms filled with PCs are a temporary phase in the evolution of libraries, expensive to support and ultimately unnecessary.

An orderly transition to this future is required. Appropriate facilities must be designed and built; old services must continue to be supported, while new services are chosen and installed; staff and customers must be trained. The available capital funds provide a unique opportunity to support the infrastructure needs of this transition, and the available OSU funds can soften its impact on operating budgets. Specifically, we propose:

The Library administration must recognize that servers, workstations, and (especially) support staff require continuing funding if these facilities are to meet the customers' needs.

3 Computing infrastructure

3.1 Server room

The server room is an area of about 800 square feet on raised floor, partitioned from room 390 as shown on the attached drawing. This is a conventional computer room, with specialized services and security. The essential requirements are:

3.2 Server and network equipment

This equipment should consolidate the services now located in the Main Library with those needed by SEL. Existing equipment includes Unix and Novell file servers, a number of small network servers, and several CD-ROM towers.

3.3 Communications services

The existing data communications between SEL and SONNET are quite slow, limited by a technical requirement for all central-campus libraries to share a single Ethernet (10 mb/sec total), for hundreds of computers. Various technical changes will shortly remove this constraint, and allow SEL to obtain much better access to SONNET and the Internet. The centralization of servers at SEL will greatly increase traffic for SEL, calling for a complete re-engineering of SEL's networks and SONNET connection.

The SONNET fibers should be extended from building entrance into the server room. centralizing building communications there. A high-performance switch (Fast Ethernet, at 100 mb/sec) should serve as a building hub, with Fast Ethernet connections to SONNET, to all servers, and to each floor of SEL. Secondary switched on each floor should drive many ordinary Ethernet (10 mb/sec) workstation connections simultaneously, producing significantly improved performance. Additional outlets should be provided for customers' laptop computers. A small UPS will probably be needed in each wiring closet.

7 Electronic classroom

This room, created at the south end of room 390 by the partition for the server room, contains equipment to instruct small groups of Library patrons and staff in the use of electronic services. It contains twelve workstations for customers, one workstation for an instructor, plus facilities for projection of computer and video images. It must have sufficient cooling for its equipment and 10-20 people, and suitable furniture, power and data distribution, lighting, and security. Software for sharing an instructor's screens and actions should be considered as a supplement to, and perhaps substitute for, projection of computer images.

5 Public-Access area

This area, created at the north end of room 390 by the partition for the server room, contains equipment for use by Library patrons. It should be available to the public during all normal library hours, requiring a design for security as well as utility. It should house about thirty workstations for searching Library materials and for general Internet access, and should provide printing and storage of data onto patron's removable media, such as ZIP or Jazz cartridges. Color printing and document scanning will be needed, a natural extension of library copier use to new media. Separate video facilities should be provided initially, with the expectation that these will merge into the computers over time. Sufficient cooling must be provided for the equipment, plus at least 40 people.

6 Basement lecture room (090 SEL)

The existing lecture hall is satisfactory for occasional presentations and introductory training. It does require the addition of a video projector and video patch panel, allowing display of material from computer screens, video tapes, and video disks. The geometry of the room (long and narrow) precludes detailed viewing (for example, of web pages) but allows lecture-oriented materials to be seen by several dozen people. The growing importance of computer-based training in the use of library materials, and the declining importance of lecture-based training, does not seem to justify an investment beyond that for a typical OSU ``computer classroom''.

7 Security issues

The introduction of a large number of computers in the public area introduces a risk of theft and a requirement for customer support. The introduction of CDs and video tapes raises new circulation issues. An additional open area, with limited sight lines, increases the risk of personal and property crimes. These aggravate a number of existing security issues for SEL, suggesting some possible changes to SEL practices:
Your comments and suggestions are appreciated.

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Report of the SEL High Tech Subcommittee
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