Highlights related to the Government Information Locator Service (GILS)

Toward a Global Information Locator

Contributed by:

Eliot Christian
U.S. Geological Survey
[email protected]

D-Lib Magazine, March 1996

ISSN 1082-9873

International representatives met on March 4 in Brussels to discuss moving toward a Global Information Locator modeled on the U.S. GILS (http://www.usgs.gov/gils/locator.html). The Global Information Locator is being pursued under the Environment and Natural Resources Management project within the G7 Global Information Society initiative (http://www.usgs.gov/gils/g7list.html).

Canada is working toward adoption of GILS on a national basis. One aspect of the Canadian GILS will be a central site for public access to government information through a facility known as GIFT (Government Information Finding Technology) (http://www.gc.ca).

Japan and the United Kingdom are also working on implementing GILS on a national level.

In Australia, the Environmental Resources Information Network maintains a GILS resource (http://kaos.erin.gov.au/general/gils/erin_gils. html).

The European Commission and Centre for Earth Observation are investing heavily in the development of advanced tools based on Z39.50. Already, a contractor in the UK, Satellites International Limited, has placed into the public domain a new Z39.50 toolbox (http://www.sil.com).

Law and Policies

As required under U.S. public law (44 USC 3511) the GILS Board held a public meeting in December 1995. Among the issues discussed was OMB Bulletin 95-1 that specified that all agencies would be operational on GILS by December 31 (later extended to January 31, 1996 because of the government shutdown) (http://www.usgs.gov/gils/omb95-01.html).

A policy was approved by the Committee on Earth and Natural Resources that applies to all agencies participating in environment and natural resources research. It calls on the agencies to develop data and information access systems with at least Internet connectivity and compliance with the ANSI Z39.50 standard for information search and retrieval (http://www.usgs.gov/gils/cenr.txt). Among the major inter-agency and international systems covered by this policy are the Global Change Data and Information System, the EOS Data and Information System, the National Environmental Data Index, and the National Geospatial Data Clearinghouse.

The Department of Defense amplified the government-wide GILS policy by mandating that all newly created DoD information dissemination products include the location of a GILS locator record (http://www.dtic.dla.mil/c3i/gilsplcy.html).

The Southeastern states collectively are establishing a regional information infrastructure that features distributed GILS-compliant locators for information relevant to economic development issues. The expectation is that this infrastructure will give the region a competitive edge nationally and globally in attracting new business (http://www.solinet.net/pip/pubinfo.htm).

Various states individually are working on public access laws. For example, the State of North Carolina recently passed a law that requires public institutions throughout the state to have metadata about each of their databases and to make that information publicly accessible. State-level agencies must become compliant in 1996, but all must be compliant by 1998.

Public Domain Software

The Clearinghouse for Networked Information Discovery and Retrieval (CNIDR) updated the Isite software to be fully GILS-compliant (http://www.cnidr.org).

The public domain YAZ (Yet Another Z39.50) toolkit from Index Data of Denmark (reported elsewhere in this issue) has been augmented with Zebra, a GILS-compliant server that is free for non-commercial use (

The Australian Distributed Systems Technology Centre created a GILS-compliant gateway to X.500 databases (http://www.dstc.edu.au/RDU/ZXG/).

Z39.50 Profiles

The European Space Agency drafted a Catalog Interoperability Profile that takes advantage of the powerful capabilities provided under Z39.50 version 3 (ftp://styx.esrin.esa.it/pub/od/CIP/cip_release_a/cip11.ps).

Other Z39.50 profiles in active development include one for Access to Digital Collections (renamed from Digital Libraries) (http://lcweb.loc.gov/z3950/agency/profil es/digital.html). Also, a profile is being created by the Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI) (http://www.cimi.org/cimi).

Some changes are being made to update the GILS Profile. Most are minor editorial changes, but some address additional requirements such as those suggested for the Canadian GILS (http://www.usgs.gov/gils/prof_v2.html).

The National Spatial Data Infrastructure continues to refine the Geospatial profile that is a superset of GILS. (ftp://h2o.usgs.gov/wais/docs/AppProfile_GEO1.2.ps) All of the compliant NSDI Clearinghouse servers will be automatically GILS-compliant as well (http://fgdc.er.usgs.gov/fgdc.html). The same is true for the National Biological Information Infrastructure (http://www.nbs.gov/nbii).

Selected System Initiatives

GILS-compliance has been built into the Inquery search system developed by the Center for Intelligent Information retrieval at the University of Massachusetts. This search system also supports a sophisticated Web crawler that has found application in helping users navigate among government Web sites (http://pardoo.cs.umass.edu/GovBot/).

The U.S. Government Printing Office has mounted all of the GILS locator records for about 25 Federal agencies on the GPO Access system, for which GPO charges only $4 per megabyte on an annual basis. The free GPO Access service also provides a "Pathway" facility comprised of GILS locator records acting as pointers to the GILS and World Wide Web resources of all other U.S. federal agencies (http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/gils/gils.h tml). A similar approach has recently been launched by the National Technical Information Service (http://www.fedworld.gov).

The GILS resource maintained by the Defense Technical Information Center acts as a pointer to resources throughout DoD but also offers a free ride for locator records of other agencies through its "How to Get It" GILS-compliant directory. The DTIC facility has an on-line entry form for creating GILS locator records. Driven by CGI and a Perl script, the facility performs some quality control checks and produces SGML-tagged records ready for ingest to the GILS-compliant server. This script has been widely imitated and a generalized version is also available (http://www.dtic.mil/).

Over 2 million United States patents are now searchable on-line through the GILS-compliant Isite server (http://patents.cnidr.org).

The Consortium for Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) has committed to build GILS-compliance into the nodes of its international Information Cooperative (http://www.ciesin.org/).

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