Anatomy of a Scout Report: Resource Discovery in the Information Age, or How We Do It
Jack Solock, Special Librarian
Resource discovery in the networked environment can sometimes seem arbitrary or haphazard, and sometimes it is. However, at Net Scout ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/) we combine simple research techniques, and the serendipity that is sometimes crucial to research, with a set of rigid information quality guidelines, to bring our clientele the best of what is new and newly discovered on the Internet every week.
Our flagship publication, The Scout Report ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/), is what is referred to in the library world as a current awareness readers advisory. That means that we try to keep our readers up to date on new and newly discovered Internet resources of interest to the U.S. research and education community (our primary clientele), but also to any interested Internauts.
Susan Calcari ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/team.html#scal) created the Scout Report and personally produced it for some two and a half years. Recently, after being a contributor to the Report, I was promoted to Editor.
Since the report has a broad subject focus, we (other Net Scout staff contribute one or two annotations a week) try to balance it in three ways so that it will contain items of interest to the largest possible audience. The first is to balance the subject content across six broad categories (arts & humanities, business & economics, law, medicine & health, science & mathematics, and social science), as well as two other categories we call network tools and weekend scouting. Network tools are resources specific to hardware, software, and content related to the Internet. Weekend scouting annotations should be visited by researchers and educators only during their leisure time. :)
The second balance to achieve each week is between new and newly discovered resources. The "new" items maintain one of the report's original goals of being a "town crier" of the Internet. On the other hand, "newly discovered" resources can be those that have been available for a long while or more recently, but ones that are content rich and contain quality information. We know that some of our readers may already be aware of these resources, but many of them aren't. We also include resources in the report with one eye on the Scout Report Archive, ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/) as we feel strongly that when users search it, or browse our bimonthly compilations ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/bimonth/) or forthcoming Library of Congress subject tree, they should find the very best resources in their field.
Finally, we attempt to provide a balance between resources that are titles (full text books, monographs, journals, or articles), other types of original content, and meta-sites (sites that point to other sites).
We annotate a small number of K-12 sites, as well as notifying the network community of important grant opportunities. As a specific response to a user survey, we have become more sensitive to the need to include business oriented sites.
With this in mind, this column will take you on a tour of the creation of one Scout Report. The tour will illustrate how we use some simple techniques (along with the serendipity that comes with all research), combined with some rigid quality information standards (see the November 1996 End User's Corner [ http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/toolkit/enduser/archive/1996/euc-9611.html]) to produce the 14-18 annotations that go into a report.
We use three techniques to produce a report: information trawling, information scouting, and user submissions. Information trawling lets the experts in many subject fields bring us quality resources. In order to do this, we monitor some 70 mailing lists and various Usenet Newsgroups. In addition, we monitor Gleason Sackman's legendary Net Happenings, (http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/caservices/net-hap/) and not so legendary, but equally valuable NEWSLTR Digest (see the Scout Report for November 29, 1996-- [ http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-961129.html#18] for subscription information), for resources. Since Gleason monitors some 150 lists and newsgroups himself, this adds terrifically to our resource base. We also monitor major news sources such as the New York Times,Los Angeles Times,Chicago Tribune,Washington Post,Christian Science Monitor, PBS, and National Public Radio, among others. These resources are our "sea" of hundreds, and sometimes thousands of resources to trawl.
Trawling is very useful, but only part of the job. As there are several librarians on staff, we spend some time "scouting," that is, searching the Internet for quality resources. The technique we use here is "site-ation" pearl growing, (see the June 1996 End User's Corner [ http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/toolkit/enduser/archive/1996/euc-9606.html]) where we find sites by searching known quality information meta-sites. We usually begin with sites such as the Argus Clearinghouse ( http://www.clearinghouse.net/), the W3C Virtual Library ( http://www.w3.org/hypertext/DataSources/bySubject/Overview.html), or BUBL (the Bulletin Board for Libraries) ( http://link.bubl.ac.uk/) and proceed from there. However, we also use many other quality meta-sites, as you will see below. In this way, we find sites, sometimes new, sometimes not so new, but all with quality information.
Finally, we use some of the sites submitted to us by readers. Although there are no user submissions included for the report we chose to examine closely below, we have found some terrific sites that way, including Northwestern University's magnificent Oyez Oyez Oyez Supreme Court Oral Arguments site, (January 26, 1996 Scout Report-- [ http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-960126.html#2]) New Ideas in Pollution Regulation, (January 24, 1997 Scout Report--[ http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-970124.html#5)]), and Robert Beard's great Web of Online Grammars meta-site (January 3, 1997 Scout Report--[ http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-970103.html#5)]), among others.
Now lets take the tour. Here is the anatomy of the Scout Report released on February 21, 1997. ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-970221.html)
1. Interactive and Viewable Atlases
This was a double annotation. The Perry-Casteneda Map Library was a site Aimee Glassel, Net Scout's Internet Cataloger ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/team.html#aglassel) found from one of her favorite meta-sites, the Berkeley, California Public Library's Index to the Internet ( http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/bpl/bkmk/index.html). She found it in late January, under the "What's New" section. Unfortunately, at that time, we had just done two map sites, so we backlogged this one. During the week of Feb. 21, 1997, I received a message from Bill Thayer's RomanSites-L mailing list ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-960517.html#7), an excellent but rather obscure listing of new sites about Roman history, that mentioned that there were some good Roman images at the University of Oregon Historical and Cultural Atlas resource. I back tracked the URL to find one of the most imaginative interactive historical atlas resources I had ever seen. So we found one site by scouting and one by trawling, a combination arts & humanities and social science subject blend. Neither site was new, but both were excellent.
2. "All" Engineering Resources on the Internet--EELS
Our major source of funding is the National Science Foundation, which funds science and engineering. We hadn't done any engineering resources recently, so I decided to scout one out. I used the W3C Virtual Library engineering pages to find EELS, one of the oldest and best known engineering meta-sites. I must admit that I didn't know about it, but a little research showed me how well known it was. EELS had added an automated, subject-specific search feature recently, so this was a science & mathematics site that, while not new, had a fairly new feature.
3. Robbins Algebras Are Boolean
When the story of Argonne National Laboratory's Dr. William McCune solving a 60 year old problem by use of a "thinking computer" appeared in the New York Times in December, 1996, I searched through the Argonne National Laboratory pages and found nothing. I usually put current events on my white board in order to remind myself to look for sites related to them, but quite honestly, I had forgotten about this one. Later I was looking for government information and was searching through Department of Commerce sites from a meta-page of executive branch servers maintained by the Federal Information Exchange ( http://www.fie.com/www/exec.htm). I was hoping to find some new meaty information from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (I have an agricultural economics background), but there wasn't anything there. After searching the National Marine Fisheries Service (agricultural economics again), I went to the National Institute of Standards and Technology and again came up empty. I decided to look at their links and found a link to NIST labs, of which Argonne came up high on the list. Something in the back of my mind "clicked," and within a few clicks, I found the Argonne Algebra site I had been looking for earlier. Matt Livesey, ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/team.html#mlivesey) our production editor, a Ph.D. candidate in his own right, and by far my superior in math, did the honors of annotating the resource. Scouting, and more than a little luck, combined with the fact that I read the New York Times, provided this new science & mathematics resource.
4. Black Images of Freedom--MSBET
This was an easy one. February being Black History month, along with the well publicized fact that Microsoft and Black Entertainment Television had collaborated on a web site, led us to the MSBET home page. This new arts & humanities site was one click away. We scouted for it, but it actually dropped into our laps.
5. Teaching Reading: A Balanced, Comprehensive Approach to Teaching Reading in Prekindergarten through Grade Three--California Department of Education
This annotation started as a K-12 astronomy meta-site (which may appear in the report by the time this article is published). When the lineup for the report was ready, I thought that it leaned too much to the sciences, so I went scouting for a K-12 humanities site. I used the S.C.O.R.E. (Schools of California On-Line Resources For Education) language arts meta-site, one of a group of excellent, distributed K-12 meta-sites ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-961122txt.html#6). This new social science K-12 resource was pointed to from the home page.
6. Legal Current Awareness Eyes and Ears--Cornell Legal Information Institute
This was an annotation that had moldered in our backlog for weeks, because when I originally found it (a simple trip to Cornell's Legal Information Institute, [ http://www.law.cornell.edu/] one of the best legal resources on the Internet, procured these two great resources), we were suddenly inundated with a barrage of new legal resources. Since this was not as new, it could wait until now.
7. bionet.genome.gene-structure--A new Usenet Newsgroup
We like to announce new services that are not web-based when we can, because the Internet is more than just the web. The formation of this group was originally announced back in December, 1996 in the bionet.announce Usenet news group. We often use this group to locate new biological web sites and news groups. And though bionet.genome.gene-structure didn't actually come online until late January-early February, 1997, when it did, we were ready for it.
8. EPA Global Warming
This was a new science and social science site I found in January while scouting through the EPA main site ( http://www.epa.gov/). It got lost in the shuffle, but when we had space for it, I had Teri Boomsma, ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/team.html#tboomsma) our resident Webmaster and also a recent zoology and conservation graduate of the University of Wisconsin, do the honors.
9. Mayo Health O@sis
This medicine & health site came to us via trawling, as it appeared on many new listings lists in early January of 1997, including the inet-news mailing list, the gsunet-l mailing list, Liz Tompkins' NBNewsletter (which is one of Gleason Sackman's NEWSLTR Digest selections), and Net-Happenings. I wasn't exactly sure how new it was, but its quality was never in doubt.
This was a science & math golden oldie that we had never done before. Susan had done a part of it back in July, 1995, ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-950721.html#NAGASAKI) and when Teri, who knew all about the site, annotated it and showed us it wasn't in the archive, we had a valuable addition.
11. Three Short Spike Lee Joints--Timecast
See Below, under RealPlayer 4.0 Beta.
12. The Sporting News Baseball
This weekend scouting site was well publicized on the Net when I first heard of it in January. Net-Happenings, i-net news, and NBNewsletter were just a few of the places it was mentioned. I wanted to emphasize the baseball aspect of the magazine. To any real baseball fan, that's what The Sporting News is all about. So I waited until the beginning of spring training camp to annotate the site.
13. I-Advertising--Internet advertising/marketing discussion list
We use the NEW-LIST ( http://www.lsoft.com/SCRIPTS/WL.EXE?SL1=NEW-LIST&H=LISTSERV.NODAK.EDU) mailing list as one of our major sources of new mailing lists. We almost always trawl for mailing lists, and NEW-LIST is the pre-eminent mailing list announcement list. Since this was also an Internet business related site, it fit the report nicely.
14. RealPlayer 4.0 Beta from Progressive Networks
On Friday, February 14, 1997, Matt came strolling into my office to show me how great the stereo sound was on the RealAudio 3.0 player. We didn't have 3.0 installed on our Windows NT machine, so we decided to download it. When we went to the site, we found that RealPlayer 4.0 Beta was available. And when I looked at the small print on the page, there was a pointer to Spike Lee's films. A Spike Lee resource on the Internet was a must, especially after we saw how good the films were, and how well they were transmitted across the net. It was too late to get these annotations into the February 14 edition, so we got them in as quickly as we could.
15. The Internet: Bringing Order from Chaos--Scientific American
This was a new site I found by trawling, and it appeared on many lists, most notably the Web4Lib ( http://scout.cs.wisc.edu/scout/report/archive/scout-960308.html#6) librarians mailing list. It was a natural, another example of a wonderful resource being delivered to my e-mail door.
16. UNIXNT-L--UNIX & NT server discussion list
This came from NEW-LIST. It had easily accessible archives, so I was able to read some of the discussions.
In the February 21, 1996 Scout Report nine sites were found by trawling and eight by scouting. We used four well known meta-sites. The subject breakout was:
Science & Mathematics: 5
Note that some annotations have been counted in more than one category.
13 of the sites were new or fairly new. Five were golden oldies.
Of the web based sites, nine contained original content, three were titles, and two were meta-sites.
In all cases, we used well known and reliable sources to glean our annotations. Then we spent a good deal of time analyzing the sites for quality and richness of content. A few of the sites we included were, frankly, unavailable to those without the fastest connections and most powerful computers. We try to keep an eye on that and provide sites and access methods that are available to all of our users.
Providing a current awareness service can at times seem a haphazard and serendipitous enterprise, but in most cases, because of our methods, we are able to report on the best new and newly discovered network resources. While our aim is still to be a "town crier" for this magnificent information medium, we also try to be a guide to some of its loftier sites. We hope we succeed in doing this, and we greatly enjoy trying.
Copyright Susan Calcari and the University of Wisconsin Board of Regents, 1994-1998. Permission is granted to make and distribute verbatim copies of the End User's Corner provided the copyright notice and this paragraph is preserved on all copies. The Internet Scout Project provides information about the Internet to the US research and education community under a grant from the National Science Foundation, number NCR-9712140. The Government has certain rights in this material.
Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the University of Wisconsin - Madison or the National Science Foundation.
© 1997 Internet Scout Project