Volume 15, Number 2, May 1993, p.5
A new research resource of unprecedented power was announced this February in a deceptively low-keyed statement by Walter Henry:
"The Preservation Department of Stanford University Libraries is pleased to announce the creation of Conservation OnLine (CoOL), a Wide Area Information Server (WAIS) dedicated to providing Internet access to a group of full-text databases of conservation information."
Don't let those acronyms turn you off. CoOL is cool. This amazing "information server" works at mind-boggling speed, allowing you to obtain full texts of conservation reference material with a few easy keystrokes on your personal computer. You don't have to be a computer-networking expert, and it's accessible free of charge to everyone connected to the Internet.
What is WAIS? It's a fairly new service on the Internet that allows you to search through Internet archives looking for articles containing groups of words.
"...think of WAIS databases as private libraries devoted to a particular topic...WAIS allows you to find and access resources on the network without regard for where they really reside. ... You tell it what you want; it tries to find the material you need. A WAIS command is essentially: 'find me items about this in that library.' WAIS then looks at all the documents in the library (or libraries) you gave it, and tells you which documents are most likely to contain what you want. If you like, WAIS then displays the documents for you."1
Once you're connected, you search the conservation libraries of CoOL in a relatively straightforward fashion by asking to be shown resources about particular topics, or from certain authors--or by using any other normal approach to library research. Items that match your request are promptly listed in response to your search question. Then, any or all of the items can be "checked out"--perused on the screen, or transmitted electronically to your own computer.
By now, your head should be spinning with the dizzying potential of this tool.
The CoOL databases are growing weekly as individuals, organizations, and publishers contribute resources. One initial CoOL project is to collect disaster plans. Institutions--whether connected to the Internet or not--are urged to send their disaster plans, in machine-readable form (preferably ASCII), to have them included. (Send your disk to Walter Henry, Conservation Lab, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford, California 94305- 6004 USA.)
The basic CoOL databases include:
And while researchers clearly benefit from CoOL, so do writers. An author's work that hasn't been widely circulated can now be made readily available to all net-connected readers seeking information on its subject matter.
As newsletter editor, I regard CoOL as a wonderful opportunity to get what WAAC has published into a system that not only opens access to many more users, but also enables all of us--old or new WAAC Newsletter users--to find and retrieve material based on research questions. Let's say, for instance, you recollect that there was a little section in one of those back issues about dataloggers--but where and when was that? CoOL will offer you everything in its databases about dataloggers within about 20 seconds.
First, you will need to be connected to the Internet. The September 1992 WAAC Newsletter included an article by Walter Henry titled, "Islands in the Net: A Guide the Internet," which offered information about how to get online.
When you're connected to the Internet, you can obtain specific information about how to use CoOL by sending an e-mail note to firstname.lastname@example.org and asking for an information file.
Like most Wide Area Information Servers, CoOL is a zero-budget project built mostly by volunteer effort. In the spirit of the inventors of WAIS, who cited the free and easy distribution of information services and the desirability of exploiting electronic networks to distribute information, it is hoped that all of us in the conservation world will provide material2 to CoOL and create for ourselves a resource of maximum usefulness.
1. Ed Krol: The Whole Internet User's Guide & Catalog, O'Reilly & Associates, Inc., Sebastapol, Calif., 1992, pp. 211-12.
2. Copyright holder's consent is necessary for material not in the public domain.
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