Ariadne: the next generation electronic document delivery systems

Hans Roes and Joost Dijkstra
Tilburg University, Library/Computer Centre
P.O.Box 90153, 5000 LE Tilburg, The Netherlands

HTML version of an article published in The Electronic Library 12(1), January 1994. Text may differ slightly, content remains the same.

1 Introduction

Electronic document delivery is a concept which promises to solve end user problems in retrieving the primary information referenced to in bibliographical databases. This article describes an approach to electronic document delivery which gradually evolved at Tilburg University over the past two years leading to the development of a system called Ariadne. First of all a rather pragmatic description of electronic document delivery is developed as a basis for a generation model of electronic document delivery systems. This model is illustrated with short references to existing systems and leads to the identification of global requirements for an Ariadne-like system. Special attention will be paid to existing and developing standards in this field, notably the work of the Group on Electronic Document Interchange (GEDI). The remainder of the article addresses the general model of Ariadne, currently under development at Tilburg University. The article concludes with some strategic issues for libraries and publishers in this field and a short look into the future.

2 A pragmatic approach to electronic document delivery

The disclosure of articles published in serials has improved rapidly over the past few decades via abstracting and indexing services offered online and increasingly by means of CD ROMs and current awareness services (Roes, 1993). With the help of these different services pointers to primary information, especially articles, can be found very quickly.

Finding references however is one thing, getting the primary information referenced to is another thing. It can be very time consuming to get hold of a copy or reprint of an article and even more so in case of Inter Library Loan (ILL) requests. Document delivery systems, whether or not electronic, have been proposed and developed to ensure library users quick and efficient access to primary information available at their own institution library and other libraries. Especially electronic document delivery systems have drawn a lot of attention lately (Ensor, 1992, Leach and Tribble 1993), promising both efficiency to libraries and speed to users (Roes, 1993)

The idea behind electronic document delivery probably dates back to the days of the first computers. Cawkell (1991) reports on projects in this field going on since the mid 1960 's, using early facsimile technology. Cawkell states that:

"The phrase 'electronic document delivery systems' self-evidently implies the supply and reproduction electronically of the kind of information usually provided in the form of print on paper".

This very wide definition encompasses nearly everything in the field of document delivery as long as something is electronic in the process. This may vary from the already mentioned facsimile technology to satellite, while documents can be represented in many forms, from more or less structured ASCII, to bitmaps or combinations of them. These representations can be, but are not necessarily, stored on all kinds of media. The term electronic will be left as vague as it is with Cawkell. In this way it is possible to deal with different kinds of electronic delivery.

On the other hand, Cawkell seems to restrict his definition to documents, which are available in printed form. With the advent of electronic publishing, it is possible that a document will never be printed at all. And, at the danger of causing even greater confusion, one could also state that the whole concept of what a document is, is becoming rather vague with the advent of multimedia. In this article however, Cawkell's definition is adopted: i.e documents are copies of articles, which appeared in printed journals.

In a more pragmatic sense, the main issue is the question implicitly raised above: how can an individual user get hold of primary information in an as easy, soon and efficient way as possible. Obviously, this implies the need for information technology (IT).

3 Evolution of electronic document delivery systems

By considering the evolution of document delivery systems from the start, it is possible to identify several generations: from mainly manual to highly electronic. Every generation is based on a more refined approach due to improvements in technology.

In the present library world three generations can be distinguished: systems based on online ordering, non-integrated supply driven image-based systems and integrated stand- alone image-based systems.

3.1 First generation: Online ordering

If easiness and speed in document delivery is the issue, the natural starting point for any document delivery service are reference databases. They contain all the bibliographic information needed to generate a request in an unambiguous way. All a user needs to do is to complete the request by adding his personal data, which to a large extent may already be present in administrative databases. An application connected to the reference databases could produce a worklist for document delivery personnel which makes photocopies. Final delivery is established by sending the documents by ordinary (snail) mail or facsimile to the applicants.

Currently, such a system is implemented in the Excerpta Informatica databases in Tilburg while all major host organizations, like DIALOG and ESA/IRS, offer these kind of services.

An important drawback in this generation is the lack of efficiency in request processing. Each time an article is requested library personnel has to go to the shelves, take the journal issue or bound volume, and make photocopies, even if it is a request for an article demanded before.

The bottleneck to speed in such a system will be the amount of money library management or users are willing to spend on personnel. The process is very labour intensive, but easy to implement and standards are hardly called for.

3.2 Second generation: Supply driven image based systems

The second generation document delivery systems resolves the efficiency problem to a certain degree by introducing a supply driven approach and by storing articles as images. Since scanning equipment has matured to the extent that scanning has become an act almost similar to photocopying, the most efficient way is to bitmap the articles pages. In this second generation, standards for storage and retrieval of image files become of crucial importance.

The supply driven approach advocates the scanning and storage of articles, which are expected to be in frequent demand, in advance. An application can be easily build in such a way as to automatically produce a hard copy together with a header page containing the address of the applicant which can again be send by snail mail or facsimile. Requests for articles, which have not been stored in advance, are processed as in first generation systems.

The ADONIS system resembles to a large extent a second generation document delivery system. See for an excellent overview of this system Stern and Campbell (1989), see also Stern and Compier (1990). For an evaluation of the ADONIS system at the British Library Document Supply Centre, see Barden (1990). One problem with the ADONIS system is that it is not integrated with local reference databases. Another problem with ADONIS is that it is, from the viewpoint of a library, both too little and too much (McKnight 1993). It is limited to biomedical journals and offers journals in that field which might not be in demand at a particular library. This is a drawback which seems inherent to second generation systems.

Besides the problems addressed, more drawbacks can be mentioned. First of all, problems arise if there is more than one reference database and these reference databases overlap, a situation which exists in Tilburg. In this case, identical requests might be generated but not recognised. If a mechanism for article identification were available, duplicate storage could be avoided and image retrieval would be simpler. Secondly, a supply driven approach introduces scanning overhead since it cannot be known in advance whether demand for the (already) scanned articles will exist.

If more than one reference database is present the user should be able to invoke the document delivery services from within several reference databases in one and the same session. Although most reference databases in Tilburg are accessible via a uniform interface, called KUBguide (Roes 1993), the problem of access to networked CD-ROMs remains unsolved yet.

3.3 Third generation: scalable stand alone systems

Third generation systems can be characterised as scalable stand alone systems. These systems are still based on images, but a demand driven approach is chosen to reduce overhead, i.e. only those articles in actual demand will be scanned. Furthermore, the delivery service is expanded with delivery at the end users workstation. Integration of the system within the library environment is enhanced by the incorporation of several local reference databases. However, the system still has a stand alone character.

An example of an approach having second and third generation characteristics is the Mercury project of Carnegie Mellon (Arms et. al. 1992, Tinsley and Yourison 1993). A supply driven approach is combined with tight integration with the reference databases. If a user finds a reference, the system shows if images of the referenced article are available. These images can be presented on the workstation by clicking a button. An example of a demand driven approach is the NAL/NCSU digitized document transmission project (Casorso 1991 and Casorso 1992), although this system seems not very well integrated with other library systems.

An important property of third generation systems is scalability. Due to the demand driven approach, one only needs to scan articles which are actually in demand. In this respect, a maximum flexibility in human resources as well as equipment is accomplished.

An important drawback of an image based system is that it is not open to likely future developments. A plausible development is that more and more printed material will become available in machine readable form. In the publishers world, for instance, SGML (ISO 1986) is slowly but persistently making its way as a standard, while in the office world ODA (ISO 1988a) is becoming increasingly important (Bormann and Bormann 1991). From the viewpoint of libraries, with their close relation to publishers, SGML is probably the standard to be reckoned with in the near future. Applications for electronic document delivery should therefore be able to deal with different document representations.

A second drawback is noticed in the non-integrated character of Inter Library Loan services and existing document delivery procedures. Functionality could be enhanced for both users and the library. For users integration means that via one channel they are able to make both internal and external (ILL) requests for articles. Integration for the library means that all document delivery activities are passing one department. Both internal and external (ILL) requests should be received at one point and processed by one organisational unit.

The factors mentioned here call again for standards, first of all standards for the generation of requests and secondly a standard for unique article identification.

4 Characteristics of the next generation

The discussion above indicates the global requirements for the next, fourth generation of electronic document delivery systems which form the basis for the development of Ariadne at Tilburg University.

Two main objectives serve as a framework for this development and are implicitly deduced from the generation model for electronic document delivery systems. The first objective is that the new system must be self-contained in order to meet internal demand for document delivery in a local area network (LAN) environment. The second objective is that the electronic document delivery system to be developed must be able to communicate with equivalent systems in a wide area network (WAN) environment.

Besides these two main objectives, the following requirements are identified:

  • The new system must be standards compliant for the reasons mentioned above. Standards in this area are the subject of the next section.
  • The system should be integrated with existing library services (reference databases) and (document delivery) procedures.
  • The system design must be prepared for future developments, especially in the realm of document representations.
  • The organisation of the scanning part of the system should be preferably based on a demand driven approach, although a supply driven approach should still be possible. A demand and a supply driven approach are not mutually exclusive. Some material might already be available in electronic format, while the system should also be able to react proactively. E.g. if it is known, based on management information to be generated by the system, that articles from certain journals are in frequent demand, a decision can be made to scan these journals in advance.
  • Closely related to the demand driven approach: storage of scanned articles is an option, not a rule. In this respect, images of articles will only be stored whenever there are no legal motives not to do so.
  • Users should be able to demand output in different formats: printed output for snail mail delivery; electronic delivery to an end users workstation to be viewed from screen; and facsimile delivery.
  • Integration with ILL services and procedures must be accomplished and it must be possible to transmit electronic documents across a wide area network to equivalent systems.
  • Finally, the system should generate management information and support the automation of administrative tasks. An important aspect here is monitoring the use of the journals collection in a library.

These highly advanced requirements ask for a sophisticated system, which is not yet available in the libraries of today. Ariadne, as currently under development at Tilburg University, will be such a system. In this respect, PICA, the Dutch centre for library automation, and Tilburg University are participating in a project concerning the development of the kernel of Ariadne, called the Document Delivery Server (DDS).

5 Standards in (electronic) document delivery: ISO-ILL, GEDI and ISO-BIBLID

As in any area of information technology, also in the field of electronic document delivery, standards are important to guarantee portability of the system to take advantage of hardware developments (Natraj 1991) and therefore to protect ones investments in systems development. But standards are also important to make cooperation with other organisations possible. While the first argument is true for all IT developments the second is of special importance in the library world were the exchange of documents is every day business.

An important development for libraries in this respect is the work of the Group on Electronic Document Interchange (GEDI 1991). The GEDI is a group of library organisations from several European countries and the United States aiming at the definition of a framework for electronic document delivery. The GEDI-report describes issues related to the distribution aspect of electronic document delivery: the service model, the document file format and the file transfer mechanism, and will be addressed next. The GEDI agreements do not mention storage of images. The main standards in the field of document imaging have to do with storage, retrieval and communications (Wiggins 1990).

The service model advocated by GEDI, makes a distinction between GEDI domains and private domains. For document interchange, agreement is only necessary within GEDI domains, not among the various private domains. The private domains can however be connected through GEDI domains by means of relay functions.

The GEDI file format separates electronic documents in two parts: the document header, containing specific information about the files contents and the document image, or more general the representation of the document itself. The header mainly contains:

  • information on the document interchange format itself,
  • information on supplier and consumer domain (requester and responder of a request),
  • information on the applicant and
  • bibliographic information of the contained item.

Except for the document interchange format information, the document header information is, to a large extent, based on the ISO/ILL 10161 protocol (ISO 1991), concerning the ILL-request primitive.

For the document representation, GEDI chooses initially Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) Class B which is, in the opinion of the GEDI, the most widely supported image format. This implies support of CCITT Group III 1-Dimensional Modified Huffman, facsimile compatible CCITT Group IV and Packbits compression algorithms.

The GEDI states explicitly that since document information and document image are clearly separated, this document interchange format can easily accommodate additional formats for the representation of documents such as SGML and ODA.

For the file transfer mechanism GEDI advocates use of FTAM (ISO 1988b), an OSI standard. A problem here is that OSI is still but one standard in the area of open systems. In reality there are only a few OSI products. The development of Ariadne, including its core DDS, will therefore be based on the FTP protocol, which is in much larger use in the Internet world and therefore a de facto standard.

The GEDI proposals seem to be in line with developments in IT and are backed by important library organisations like the British Library Document Supply Centre, OCLC, RLG and PICA. Adherence to these standards seems therefore safe in developing electronic document delivery applications.

The last standard to be addressed, not covered by the GEDI agreements, since storage of articles is not considered in this document, is the ISO-BIBLID (BIBLiographic IDentifier) (ISO 1987). BIBLID comprises four main parts to identify "contributions in serials and books" : ISSN or ISBN, year of publication, volume/issue and pagination of the contribution. If articles can be identified by this BIBLID, so can its corresponding image, and this would simplify the retrieval of article images, when they become an integral part of the reference databases. BIBLID can however be only a partial solution. Partial, since the BIBLID construct heavily depends on ISSN (serials) and ISBN identifications, which implies that articles contained in serials without ISSN (a few percent of the journals, mostly older ones), already drop out for reuse. (See for a discussion on this standard and related standards Stern and Campbell 1989). In these circumstances provisional solutions must therefore be considered.

6 General model of Ariadne

6.1. System environment

Ariadne aims at fast document delivery to end users. While the system design is prepared to take care of different document representations, in the prototype phase only images of articles are supported. To achieve the goal of fast document delivery, communication with several surrounding systems must be established. The main systems to be considered in this respect, are:

  • a central ILL-system, forwarding external requests to appropriate libraries,
  • a local Circulation Control System (CCS) to verify the authorization of requesters and to validate the presence of requested items in the local library,
  • electronic document production and delivery equipment, like scanners, printers and facsimile equipment and finally,
  • the request sources (bibliographic databases) themselves.

Ariadne consists of several applications and a kernel, called Document Delivery Server (DDS). This DDS itself is already a self-contained system and has been designed in a modular way. In addition to the DDS, Ariadne includes in its design the support for end user facilities, management statistics reporting and invoicing facilities to keep track of the financial aspect of electronic document delivery. Furthermore, Ariadne is prepared for image management.

In a WAN environment Ariadne communicates with these self-contained DDSs, to be installed at other libraries. In a LAN environment, Ariadne interacts with local devices and uses the LAN for electronic document transmission and user notifications by means of electronic mail.

Besides the local request sources, remote request sources are available through the use of the Dutch Open Library Network (OLN). This network connects various libraries in the Netherlands and enables local end users to search catalogues of remote libraries. Currently, access is restricted to remote browsing, although in the near future, remote catalogues will become available for remote requesting by local end users as well. In this respect, the DDS will become integrated with both the WAN/LAN environment and this library network. Note that the OLN is particular for the Dutch library environment.

Ariadne System Environment

Figure 1.
The Ariadne System Environment

6.2. The core system: the DDS

Ariadne without a DDS will not yield an operational system. This is due to the fact that the exchanged data are stored in a (relational) database, which is a logical part of the DDS. However, since data sharing is one of the main starting points for a fully integrated system, Ariadne will make use of this database to. The data to be used by Ariadnes additional applications, do not necessarily need to pass the DDS.

Ariadne System Architecture

Figure 2.
Ariadne System Architecture

The DDS currently consists of five modules which are rather independent in their intercommunication:

  • request handling,
  • document production preparation,
  • document handling,
  • distribution handling and
  • messaging.

The DDS can be extended with new modules any time there is a need to do so.

The DDS receives requests from local (reference databases) and remote request sources (ILL system). Request handling is in charge of the detection of newly arrived requests and their administration in the database. After that the CCS validation and verification module is triggered. Successful CCS checking triggers the scanning preparation module (described next), while unsuccessful CCS-checking results in the generation of messages, to be distributed to the appropriate systems or requester. Note that this will be done by the message module, one of the five major modules.

Scanning preparation, as a particular example of document production preparation, consists of two main submodules: final scanning assignment and scanning worklist production. The final scanning assignment module is in charge of assigning every scanning request to a particular scanner. While the CCS returns a list of potential scanners for the requested item, the DDS finally assigns the scanner request to one operational scanner. The other submodule generates worklists for each operational scanner, containing a set of scanning requests. Since, the scanning act is quite similar to photocopying, both are supported in an analog way. A sophisticated assigning algorithm will be implemented to insert certain requests with priority in earlier created worklists, in order to process these requests with preference, if so indicated.

Image production is performed at the scanner site. Every scanning request should result in a document (cover information and image), which will be redirected to the local DDS for further processing by the document handling module. In case the required item is not available, despite the positively returned CCS validation/verification check, standard operator messages will be generated and send to the local DDS, which takes action to inform the necessary ILL-systems or end-users.

Besides the local document source (i.e. scanner), a remote DDS serves as remote document source. The documents generated at these sources are typically a result of processing locally generated ILL-requests. In the same fashion the local DDS can send documents to remote DDSs.

Similar to request handling, document handling receives and administrates newly produced documents. Storage of documents might be triggered if the document is marked for it, otherwise the document will be passed to the distribution handling module, to be distributed to its destination (local or remote) according to the delivery preferences of the requester. Remote distribution always happens electronically to an equivalent DDS in the WAN environment, since every library, hosting this DDS, serves its own local end users. Distribution handling also takes care of submission of requests and messages to their appropriate destination.

The fifth module, messaging, is responsible for the generation of messages to either inform the ILL system of the outcome of remote requests, or local users about the current status of their issued requests by so called user notifications (e.g. by electronic mail). Furthermore, and again similar to request and document handling, the message handling module receives messages from surrounding systems. Detection, administration and appropriate action will be provided by this module.

6.3 Ariadne's end-user facilities

Since document delivery systems are developed to serve end users, the design of Ariadne paid extra attention to support them. While the core DDS system already provides user notifications by means of electronic mail, Ariadne additionally provides the support for request confirmation, cancellation and the monitoring of the status of issued requests by end users.

Request confirmation and cancellation springs from the point of view that users usually start browsing databases, without actually knowing in advance what will be returned. It implies that the longer they browse, the better idea they get of what they really want. However, since selections can be made from the moment they start browsing, request confirmation/cancellation is supported to cancel selections made in the browsing session which were at first sight interesting, but have been overruled by even more interesting references. From the perspective of making end users aware of the ordering of articles, request confirmation is added. It is impossible to issue requests, without passing this application.

Finally, end users can monitor their issued requests. During the process of request processing several persistent stages are achieved. E.g. it might be interesting to know that the request is currently under scanning or that the request is met and the document can be picked up at some desk.

7 Concluding remarks

Several concluding remarks need to be made concerning strategic issues facing libraries and publishers in electronic document delivery, and the likely future development of electronic documents and electronic document delivery.

Systems like Ariadne and DDSs are technically feasible systems. It remains unclear whether they can also be regarded as economically and legally feasible systems. Ariadne was first of all conceived for internal document delivery, to relieve faculty and students from the time consuming task of going to the library, search the shelves and make photocopies themselves, a situation which exists at present and which seems to be perfectly within legal constraints. Image storage is added to the Ariadne system for efficiency reasons, to avoid copying of similar requests, but poses two problems. The first problem is that it is not known in advance what the average rate of double requests will be, although this rate is crucial in assessing the systems efficiency. The only way to find out is to try. Besides that the assumption is made that, the journals collection can eventually be tuned better to users needs, by using the management information generated by Ariadne. Today the only information Tilburg University library can obtain on the use of its journals collection is derived from logging the use of the Online Contents database, containing references to articles (Roes 1993).

The second problem arises from the fact that storage of images, although scanned from articles in journals to which the library subscribes, violates existing copyright law, even if they are only stored for the purpose of internal delivery on campus. Tilburg University seeks to make bilateral arrangements with publishers to solve the legal problems.

More complex issues derive from external delivery, the interchange of documents between DDSs and a lot more resistance from publishers can be expected in this area (Hunter 1992). A system of interconnected DDSs could indeed threaten the existing information cycle if no agreements are made between libraries and publishers. It should be stated clearly that Tilburg University has taken initiatives to confront this problem since the goal is to serve end users in a more acute and efficient way, which is in the interest of publishers as well.

Regarding future developments, a new generation can already be identified. This generation would support full multi media document delivery and the full integration of (initially) articles and their reference databases, independent of the representation of the article.

Currently, electronic document delivery systems are focusing on the support for (printed) journal articles. However, in a (electronic) world in which multi media becomes gradually more important, electronic document delivery systems should be able to process also other library items as well as multi media documents.

In this context, more and more information is already present in electronic form. One example is working papers produced at the parent institution, another example is electronic journals which are of growing importance (Lynch 1991, Bailey 1992, Stoller 1992, Keyhani 1993). A system able to handle these items without the need for intensive preprocessing would be the ultimate generation of electronic document delivery systems. Ariadne is designed in such a way that an upgrade to this new generation will not take much effort.

These likely future developments imply that agreements on (multi media) standards must be commonly accepted and implemented, otherwise this will lead to an "electronic tower of Babylon" (Leach and Tribble, 1993). Therefore, the GEDI proposals and Ariadne's compliance to ISO-ILL might be the first step to uniform electronic document interchange in the library environment.


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The Authors

Joost Dijkstra

Graduated in Information Management and Technology at Tilburg University, 1989. Main subject: documentary information systems. As systems developer he has been responsible for the design of the Ariadne system. Main areas of interest: documentary information systems, multi media systems, object oriented systems design and databases.

Hans Roes

Graduated in Monetary Economics at Tilburg University in 1982. Joined Tilburg University Library in 1990 as librarian for economics and information science. Managed the Online Contents project and is now deputy librarian and responsible for the Ariadne project.