Project lays foundations for future scholarly communication

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Dr Leni Helmes, head of IT development at FIZ Karlsruhe, describes a project with the Max Planck Society to support open access to the society's research information

A year ago, the Max Planck Society and FIZ Karlsruhe began a strategic partnership to support future scholarly communication, information and collaboration services. The eSciDoc pilot project will develop capabilities in the aggregation, management, dissemination, preservation and integration of scientific information objects. The project is scheduled for a period of five years and is funded by Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the national eScience initiative.

The two German partners bring different skills to the project. FIZ Karlsruhe produces and provides databases in various fields of science and technology, including patent information. The Max Planck Society is an independent not-for-profit research organisation that mainly promotes and supports research at its own institutes.

It is in this area of research promotion that the project should have a particularly significant impact. One of the main aims of the eSciDoc infrastructure is to enable the construction and sustainable operation of future eScience services. These services will provide open and persistent access to the research results and materials of the Max Planck Society. It will also integrate these materials into an emerging eScience network.

As well as promotion and preservation of research results, the research process itself will be made easier by the project. The new infrastructure will provide comprehensive access to information for Max Planck researchers and their work groups. It will also support scientific collaboration and interdisciplinary research.

Many uses for one system

A challenge within the project is the design, implementation and hosting of a scalable architecture that is able to take in, store, preserve and publish huge collections of digital objects. The system must also be able to aggregate a wide variety of media-types. In addition, the infrastructure needs to be highly configurable and extensible to be able to support the four eSciDoc services that are envisioned initially.

The first of these services is called Scholarly Workbench. This will enable researchers to create digital collections online and share them with colleagues. They will also be able to work with the materials using research-specific tools such as visualisation environments or language analysis tools.

The second service, Publication Management, will manage, archive and disseminate the scientific output of the Max Planck Society's institutes, including supplementary material, and make it available on the web.

The collection and archiving of scientific electronic journals and bibliographic databases that are subscribed to by the society is another part of the project known as eLib.

The fourth service, eLab Journal, will provide services for computer-enabled scientific documentation. In the area of chemistry, for example, this might include managing analytical results, methods, publications and details of chemical compounds.

Until the end of 2006, the main focus of work will be the Publication Management and the Scholarly Workbench services.

Creating an infrastructure to meet all these tasks is a complex process. This infrastructure, which consists of different functional building blocks, has to support all the services. However, general prerequisites such as scalability, the sustainability of the system and the long-term preservation of digital objects also have to be met.

This is achieved by implementing the individual infrastructure functions (as shown in Figure 1) as atomic services. This builds the basis for a service-oriented architecture (SOA). In this open environment, the different infrastructure services are made available to other services and applications in a standardised way.

Figure 1: The eSciDoc system: multidisciplinary services are built on top of a SOA infrastructure

The new infrastructure will help authors to increase the impact of their publications by providing a format that is optimised for search engines, enabling OAI-PMH harvesting, and supporting federated searches. Features to help authors publish reliably include the allocation of persistent identifiers to ensure citability, linking to primary data and secondary information, and the support of complex review and publication work flows.

The safe and sustainable storage of digital objects will also be tackled through standardised containers and documented object models, bitstream preservation, interfaces to KOPAL for long-term archiving, and versioning of objects.

The processing of various data formats is another challenge for researchers. The eSciDoc infrastructure will support user-defined object types and metadata modellers to facilitate the mapping of different data schemes.

The project is also tackling the integration with existing systems. This will be achieved using the open service-oriented architecture, standardised interfaces for easier data exchange, and standardised protocols.

And the work does not end there. The system is also being designed to enable further eScience applications to be built in the future.

Cooperation is likely

Many of the tasks within this project are also being worked on in other national and international organisations and cooperation is likely. One example is Germany's D-Grid initiative which is also funded by the BMBF. This promotes the development of so-called grid services to support scientific partnerships through high-performance computer resources and databases hosted in different places. FIZ Karlsruhe will mainly work on the development and implementation of the eSciDoc technical infrastructure while the Max Plank Society will focus on the applications themselves. Central components of the system will be hosted at FIZ Karlsruhe. A joint integration team will work on the overall architecture of the system and its interfaces. In the future, FIZ Karlsruhe plans to offer this infrastructure and services to other national research institutions.