April 15, 1998 issue. This file presents an archive copy of the issue of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which was distributed via email on April 15, 1998.
Versions of the following have appeared online regularly, since 1992, as a feature of the FYI France ejournal, ISSN 1071-5916, which is distributed for free via email every month except August. Ejournal subscriptions may be obtained via email request to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Here this file is one of a number made available -- hopefully attractively, all in one place, and relevant to libraries and online digital information work in France and Europe -- as part of FYI France (sm)(tm), an online service to which anyone can subscribe for 12 months by postal mailing a check for US $45, payable to Jack Kessler, to PO Box 460668, San Francisco, California, USA 94146 (site licenses also are available): please write your email address on the front of your check. Please email suggestions for improvements to me at email@example.com
* Note: a full calendar of Bibliothèque nationale de France closings -- important to know in this "year of the move" -- now is online at,
together with a detailed and fascinating description of the move.
Bibliothèque Inter - Universitaire de Médecine (BIUM), Paris
For any of you with an interest in medicine and its history, or in France, or in digital libraries and their development, or in digital images: at,
http://www.bium.univ-paris5.fr/ (starting up with a wonderful although noisy sonata which, if it distracts others in your lab or library, can be switched off by hitting your browser's "stop" button)
the Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Médecine (BIUM) is constructing a fascinating site devoted to some of France's greatest and oldest medical schools and libraries, including their histories, image collections, and rare books.
What follows describes the entries at the BIUM site linking to information about its "Histoire", "Images", and "Fonds Ancien". But many other resources, including much about current events and research at the "Université de Paris V - René Descartes" and various French medical schools, also may be found there.
Per previous FYI France issues describing "digital libraries" --
Jan 15, 1998 "Digital Libraries" in France: The BnF's Gallica
Mar 15, 1998 "Digital Libraries" in France: The BM Lyon's Enluminures
some analysis is offered here along with the simple description:
8 Criteria for What Makes a Digital Library "Good"
|1) content||5) metadata|
|2) organization||6) multilingual|
|3) size||7) interactive|
|4) updates||8) standards|
so, as applied this time to the site of the BIUM, Paris --
1) content. Is the information really useful to users?
The BIUM site offers a large assortment of information, from news bulletins to conference announcements to catalogs of books, theses, and images, to links to all sorts of resources. It appears to offer a "one - stop - shopping" approach to everything online, and much that is not, about "medicine in France". I expect that it will become indispensable to anyone online who is interested in this subject.
The three categories in focus here -- "Histoire", "Images", "Fonds Ancien" -- appear to offer much to any user. "Histoire" is a short but fascinating introduction to the development of the BIUM itself, sumptuously illustrated with images from the collection, accessible and interesting to any general reader.
"Images" offers catalog access to currently 100 of the 9,000 images in the collection, from 19th to 15th century works -- one hopes that fulltext one day soon will follow. "Fonds Ancien" also holds only a test collection for now, but wonderfully supplies an image of the text sought: clicking on "AGRIPPA (Heinrich Cornelius)" summons up a series of intriguing - looking handwritten title pages of the actual texts in the collection -- again, the dream would be to see the fulltext here some day.
One general strategy question to pose: given that the entire Internet is a "work in progress", at what point in its development should a database -- such as "Images" or "Fonds Ancien", here -- be "released to the public", i.e. put online and connected up so that a user in California can see it?
"Fonds Ancien" does not retrieve much, yet, in the BIUM case: it is fascinating to see that it exists, and titillating for any lover of old books to see what is there and to wonder whether digitized fulltext might become available there sometime soon -- but for now all that we have appears to be title pages. "Images", on the other hand, gives a full description, a thumbnail of the image itself, and a very attractive and -- with permission, doubtless difficult to obtain -- useful full image in addition.
I myself am firmly on the side of mounting Internet "works in progress", even if they only indicate that progress is being made. These resources still are too new to take them for granted. I still have to defend the Internet's general utility to audiences, myself, particularly to "busy professional" audiences like doctors and medical researchers. So, to me, indications of "the good things to come" -- such as partially - completed "Fonds ancien" and "Images" projects -- are very useful. But perhaps others feel otherwise?
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2) organization. Can a user find things?
The BIUM site makes less use of "hypertext links" than other sites do: than does, for example, the BM Lyon site reviewed here in March. In some ways this is to the BIUM site's advantage, I myself think, as I confess to a personal allergy to "hypertext".
BIUM has used a "frames" design -- elegantly colored and illustrated -- which retains a simple and straightforward list in the left - hand column: one always knows where one is at...
But "frames" is a problem: more in Microsoft browsers, in my experience, but in this case for both those and Netscape's. The BIUM site provides an impressive display in IE 4.0's "fullscreen" mode, or in Communicator with all of its "toolbars" hidden. But it does not provide a scrollbar and so cuts off the bottom of the left - hand column when not in "fullscreen". Most users will come in at "less than fullscreen" or with "toolbars" blazing, and will become frustrated when they cannot see the bottom of the column.
Once inside the left - hand column's first - tier hierarchy of 17 terms, navigation becomes problematic at BIUM. The initial screen of "Histoire" offers a clear outline -- using links -- as to the feature's contents. The same is not true, however, for "Images", where the user must scroll down through text for a bit. "Fonds ancien" is "in test" but at least offers users a dialog box, right away, to engage their interest.
Searching is straightforward in the BIUM site dialog boxes: accented characters or not are permitted, truncation is implied -- "Images" offers complex multicriteria searching already, while "Fonds ancien" offers "author" searches only, and both clearly are interested in adding more. It all works for hundreds of entries -- I hope it will work when there are tens of thousands.
I do not find BIUM's current organization difficult to use, myself. I would expect, however, that its medical users and particularly its general users will want to search by "subject" rather than by "support" -- i.e. currently "images" and "books" and "periodicals" and "videocassettes" and "theses", etc., all are separated -- so that some form of union cataloging retrieval, perhaps implemented simply on this site, may be useful for BIUM in the future. Librarians like "supports", users like "subjects".
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3) size. Can the user's systems handle the sizes involved?
BIUM at least is aware of the problems of retrieval size, particularly as to images. Two things might be added, though:
a) indications of image size, everywhere, for text and images -- most users, even busy and computer - phobic professionals, will realize that image size denominated in "100s" of kbytes is going to take them longer to download than sizes denominated in "10s" -- so the site should show "size" wherever possible;
b) retrieval restriction by "size" -- it ought to be possible to construct both the image database and the search engine to specify "size" data in kbytes and then to restrict retrievals, i.e. "find all images about 'cardiac' but not over 50kb"... if anyone has done this somewhere I would like to hear...
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4) updates. How current are both the information and the system?
I see no "update dates" anywhere on the BIUM site. These are extremely important as users try to keep up with the constant changes in digital information: users make "bookmarks" and "hard copies" for online information, and become very frustrated when they return to the source only to find that it has changed -- an "update date" on each page at least tells the user that something has happened. One day, in bibliographic heaven, all the "old versions" even will be archived somewhere, for comparisons and scholarly consideration, but this still is our age of digital incunabula... at least give us those "update dates"...
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5) metadata. Can users find it from other systems?
I do not find any metadata imbedded in the HTML source for the BIUM site, for use by search engines and other online utilities. Such metadata would best conform to some standard: Dublin Core, hopefully, which has development participation in France -- see,
Metadata is becoming the Internet's "index": "digital libraries" need this indexing -- without it important things will become lost, or they will not even be found in the first place.
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6) multilingual. Can users understand what they find?
No multilingual access appears to be available on the BIUM site, yet. BIUM undoubtedly has made the "effective cost calculation" which dictates that initial development should be in its own "home" language. The problem with starting off this way, however, is that it becomes far more difficult to add other languages later on. US databases, which nearly all began in American English exclusively, learned this lesson at some cost once they tried to expand "overseas". BIUM might consider the addition -- now, while things are developing -- of German or Italian or Spanish or even English: it might make things far easier, later one, when they try to add Arabic and Russian and Chinese...
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7) "interactive". Something new, or "old wine in a new bottle"?
The "value - added" offered by the BIUM site certainly is, at least, the ability to find so many different resources at last in one place, so attractively presented. This long has been a problem for medical research, particularly with its modern proliferation of disciplines and research approaches: the Internet may give doctors, like other professionals, the long - sought chance to "see the forest for the trees" once again.
But digital information also has been developed as a dynamic medium, one which offers many tools for keeping up with the constant change characteristic of the modern professions. "Interactivity" is one such tool: "chat", "bulletin boards", "econferencing", "messages" discussions such as now are offered by http://www.yahoo.com . BIUM does provide an opportunity for users to offer comments to the site's developers -- through its "Enquête" feature -- but it might also consider the addition of interactive discussion among the users and developers: doctors like to "discuss" among themselves, if this can be done efficiently, and "interactivity" tools can provide this.
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8) standards. Can users transfer current skills to this system?
Two "standards" questions -- "browser" problems and the need for
"metadata" -- already have been mentioned here. Many other "standards"
questions are raised by the BIUM site's work. If the Internet ever is to
"scale up" to non - American English approaches and users, non - American
English applications and "standards" must be developed. Every "standards"
body needs to become concerned about this -- now that North America is
nearly saturated with digital information, increasingly the largest
expansion figures will be coming from "overseas" -- and the BIUM could be
invaluable in a number of such efforts, specifically "medical", broadly
"professional", and even "general". Is there a world, in other words,
beyond ASCII and USMARC, and MESH?
So, 8 "Criteria for What Makes a Digital Library 'Good'", and another successful "digital library" effort under way in France, this one by the Bibliothèque Inter - Universitaire de Médecine (BIUM), Paris...
One final thought: how will professional - level "digital libraries" differ from their general public access counterparts? The BnF, BMLyon and BIUM all serve very different publics. Are there "digital libraries" under development which make such distinctions, or is all of this still just being "thrown up" onto the Web, still without thinking about "the user"?
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