Experiences with
Information Locator Services

by Eliot Christian, United States Geological Survey

This paper is being prepared for publication in the Journal of Government Information.


Over the last few years, governments and other organizations have been using new technologies to create networked Information Locator Services that help people find information resources. These services not only enhance access to information, but are designed to support fundamental information policy principles.

This paper relates experiences in developing and promoting services interoperable with the Global Information Locator Service standard that has now been adopted and promoted in many fora worldwide. The author describes example implementations and touches on the strategic choices made in public policy, standards, and technology. The author also offers ten recommendations for successful institution of an Information Locator Service.

Table of Contents

What is an Information Locator Service?

An Information Locator Service is part of an information infrastructure, i.e., the underlying framework of facilities, institutions, and policies supporting information throughout a community. An Information Locator Service is specifically designed to identify and describe information resources and to assist searchers in obtaining the information.

In addition to online information delivery, a system for locating information can include other media and various value-added and dissemination services by intermediaries in all sectors of society. With network technologies such as the Internet, complemented with international standards for information search, an Information Locator Service can be focused or comprehensive, interoperable without being restrictive, and coherent without being centralized.

A Global Information Challenge

The United States in 1995 established in public law a Government Information Locator Service [1].  A major precedent of the U.S. Federal GILS is the data management work undertaken by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and others beginning in the 1980's. This work was oriented primarily by the Global Change Research Program, which encompasses very large science and socio-political issues such as climate change and loss of biological diversity.

The broad scope of  the Global Change Research Program imposes certain requirements for information access. The user community includes virtually anyone, anywhere who makes decisions affecting, or affected by, the environment. Users range from children to politicians to specialized researchers, and they must be assumed to communicate in many languages and disciplines. It is also the case that Global Change research will be in a formative stage for decades. The data, information analysis, and presentation requirements of users cannot be fully determined, especially as most of the users have yet to be born.

Because Global Change research is open-ended, the scope of relevant content is very broad. Such content includes not only environmental measurements, but materials from social, economic, and political domains. The forms of relevant resources are also very diverse, ranging from small data tables to global satellite observations. Among other needed resources are: directories of organizations and people; chronicles of events; bibliographic references for publications, books, and maps; and the holdings of natural history museums and archives of all kinds, from seed banks to butterfly collections to genetic libraries to the USGS rock library.

It is impossible to envision fully a global data and information system that addresses all Global Change research requirements. Moreover, even existing systems are challenged to address current needs:

Every year, the [United States] Federal Government spends billions of dollars collecting and processing information (e.g., economic data, environmental data, and technical information). Unfortunately, while much of this information is very valuable, many potential users either do not know that it exists or do not know how to access it. [2]

Given that the problem of finding information is already huge, it may seem that the broadly scoped Global Change Research Program only makes the policy and technology challenges more intractable. Yet, just such a broad perspective is essential to envision the policy and technology principles needed for a national or global information infrastructure. Global Change Research Program issues closely parallel public policy issues, especially on fundamentals such as the unrestricted inquiry, free flow of information, and public access to government information. 

Toward a Global Information Locator Service (GILS)

In 1992, the U.S. Global Change Research Program published its "Global Change Data and Information Program Plan".[3] The plan emphasized the advantages of networked and decentralized systems, and highlighted the need for integrating data systems access with other modes of public access such as libraries. Because so much of the relevant data and information resources are held by the U.S. Government, the work was also related to initiatives of other agencies not directly involved in Global Change.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), National Archives and Records Administration, and General Services Administration were then studying how to reduce duplicate data collection across agencies. Their study [4] recommended adoption of the decentralized design approach advocated in the Global Change research community, including use of the ISO 23950 (ANSI Z39.50) search standard [5] developed by the library community and adopted for application to Global Change Data Management.

Policy objectives, not efficiency or innovation considerations, were the drivers behind the choice of a decentralized design based on peer computer network technology. In contrast to technologies such as broadcast television and master/slave computer terminals, peer computer networks such as the Internet allow for very decentralized information dissemination and can therefore enhance diversity among points of view. The choice of the ISO 23950 standard was also driven primarily by a central policy objective: to include the nation's systems of library catalogs in public access to information. The ISO 23950 standard technology is being widely adopted among libraries worldwide.

In 1993, OMB issued policy in Circular A-130 [6] that addressed public access to government information. This landmark policy was noticed immediately by an interagency group concerned with developing guidelines for public access to government data systems. The group recognized the synergy between the new public policy and emerging network technologies. Some key members of the group elaborated the policy and technology ideas, with a particular focus on the problem of locating information. By 1994, this work resulted in recommendations tied to standards work just completed by the Interagency Working Group on Data Management for Global Change. This standard was the first version of the GILS Profile, subsequently adopted as Federal Information Processing Standard Publication (FIPS) 192. (FIPS 192 was updated as FIPS 192-1 in 1998.)

In 1994, the new Administration in the U. S. Federal Government formed a top-level task force to promote the vision of a National Information Infrastructure. This Information Infrastructure Task Force approved a GILS report [7] that articulated the policy and technology framework for the U.S. Federal GILS initiative. Also in this period, the U.S. Federal Geographic Data Committee was formed with an Executive Order mandate [8] to improve the management of geospatial data across Government. The mandate featured a clearinghouse mechanism to make it easier to locate relevant geospatial data. This geospatial data clearinghouse mechanism is designed to be GILS-compliant.

In 1995, Congress established the U.S. Federal GILS in law (United States Code, Title 44, section 3511 [1])  and assigned to OMB the authority and responsibility to implement GILS. OMB issued Bulletin 95-1 [9] delegating specific responsibilities to agencies and giving specific dates for implementation. OMB reiterated the law and policy directives to agencies in 1998 [10].

While the U.S. Federal GILS was being created, other communities were proceeding with their own GILS implementations. The Canada GILS initiative was led by the Treasury Board of Canada and Environment Canada [11], while Australia's efforts were led by the Australian Archives. Among states in the U.S., early adopters of GILS included New York, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. U.S. state involvement in GILS is a major focus of the study entitled "Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems", undertaken by the U.S. Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel (IEP) and conducted by David Landsbergen, et al. [12]. The report of the study states: "While the federal architecture is relatively well developed, the information policy in some states needs to focus more explicitly on information sharing."

The environmental and Global Change research community carried GILS into several related contexts, including very large national and international systems for remote-sensed data, and for social science and political data and information. In addition, the clearinghouse mechanism based on GILS became operational as part of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure and the National Biological Information Infrastructure. Both of these also have strong state-level and international components. [13]

The Global Information Society initiative was also launched in 1995, by the G7 Group of Nations (since renamed G8 on inclusion of Russia). This initiative sponsored eleven demonstration projects, including one led by the U.S. entitled Environment and Natural Resources Management [14]. A central goal of the project was to seek international consensus on a Global Information Locator Service using the U.S. Federal GILS as a model. The project succeeded in reaching such consensus in 1997 [15]. Aside from the differences in political scope, the Government Information Locator Service is identical to the Global Information Locator Service.

Experiences with GILS

The results achieved by GILS vary depending on the perspective one assumes. From a policy viewpoint, the singular result is the widespread consensus achieved on the goals and objectives--goals that faithfully reflect fundamental values of a pluralistic society. The success of GILS is evident in the strong affirmation of its policy base in U.S. Federal law and regulation, as well as in some state and other national and international laws and policies.

The report on "Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems" [12] makes the following points: "GILS is an important formal solution to the sharing of meta-data. Beyond providing an inventory of the information possessed by the organization [...], GILS also attaches meta-data about the information that is crucial to deciding whether information would be useful. It is essential that information policy makers and managers renew their commitment to the GILS project as a starting point in identifying meta-data important for interoperability."

The decentralized nature of GILS is a source of resiliency. While any one effort may stall or backslide, others carry on unaffected and contribute to the common pool of implementation expertise and tools. On the other hand, without a central coordination mechanism a GILS implementor may not even be aware of relevant GILS implementations already underway.

For the sake of efficiency especially during early implementation, most GILS implementors do rely on central coordination. The coordination role takes many forms, some examples being the Federal Geographic Data Committee, the Experts Group of the G8 Environment and Natural Resources Management project, the CIESIN Information Cooperative, the National Environmental Data Index, and DefenseLink. The U.S. Chief Information Officers Council is designated to coordinate aspects of the U.S. Federal GILS implementation. Central coordination for GILS overall is carried out through the GILS discussion list. [16]

From an organizational viewpoint, experiences in implementing GILS are as varied as the organizations that make the attempt. Some U.S. Federal agencies still struggle with the challenge of implementing GILS while confronting more immediate government information issues as well as drastic downsizing. This set of complicating factors is further compounded by the dizzying pace of technological change, especially in the Internet.

The report on "Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems" [12] states: "barriers to interoperability [include:] privacy concerns, ambiguity about statutory and political authority to share information and the threat of opening up the agency to scrutiny; lack of trust among agencies, very little experience in how to identify opportunities to interoperate [...]; the difficulty in defining and then providing appropriate resource incentives for those situations where interoperability is a ‘public good’". The report also contends that "hardware and software problems of sharing data [are] modest when compared to such problems as identifying opportunities for sharing, aligning data definitions, including meta-data, and providing political and economic incentives for the sharing of information."

Nevertheless, there are many success stories. Multi-national GILS implementations were established by the European Commission's Centre for Earth Observations and the European Environment Agency, as well as the Committee on Earth Observing Satellites and some agencies of the United Nations. Successes in U.S. Federal agencies include the Department of Defense, the Department of the Treasury, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Government Printing Office, and the remarkable Geospatial Data Clearinghouse developed and operated by the Federal Geographic Data Committee.

The following provides a brief sampler of GILS implementations that may be relevant to implementors of Information Locator Service systems. Names of contacts for these and other GILS implementations are also available [17].

Advanced Search Facility [18]

The Advanced Search Facility provides freeware for gathering and indexing the content of sites on the Internet. The facility includes a gatherer that extracts documents by following HTTP links, traversing FTP directories, and using ISO 23950 search and retrieve facilities. An indexer also creates locator records for individual documents and collections. The facility supports full-text, fielded Boolean, and spatial queries.

Arctic Environmental Data Directory [19]

The Arctic Environmental Data Directory is maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey on behalf of the member agencies of the Interagency Arctic Research Policy Committee. The directory is the initial repository for information on the Arctic in support of the Arctic Research and Policy Act of 1984. It contains descriptions of data on global change studies, environmental interactions, earth sciences, social sciences, and policy and management. Contact information to obtain the data is provided in each entry.

California Environmental Resources Evaluation System [20]

The California Environmental Resources Evaluation System is an information system developed by the California Resources Agency to facilitate access to a variety of electronic data describing California's rich and diverse environments. The goal is to improve environmental analysis and planning by integrating natural and cultural resource information from multiple contributors and by making it available and useful to a variety of users.

CEOS Information Locator Service [21]

The European Commission's Centre for Earth Observation created this system on behalf of the Committee on Earth Observing Satellites (CEOS). The CEOS Information Locator System is designed to provide users in developing countries around the world with easy access to information about earth observation by remote sensing. It also provides the opportunity to enter, administer, and share their own relevant data and information. There are nodes in Australia, Germany, Italy and Kenya. The United Nations Environment Program is helping to promote this system and train users in developing countries.

CIESIN Gateway [22]

The Consortium for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization. CIESIN operates a partnership that includes more than 20 nations and agencies of the United Nations. The CIESIN Gateway is a distributed information system for integrated information searching, viewing, browsing, and ordering. It provides access to more than 14,000 catalog entries pertaining to human interactions in the environment, some held at CIESIN and many others held at distributed sites.

Defense Link [23]

DefenseLink is operated by the Defense Technical Information Center and provides access to a wide range of content: news releases, photos, fact sheets, biographies, career opportunities, doing business with the Department of Defense, education, history, publications, speeches, directives and instructions, descriptions of all major weapon systems, Freedom of Information Act documents, and Web policies. The Department of Defense has specific policy covering its implementation of GILS and use of the World Wide Web. [24]

Environment Canada: The Green Lane on the Information Highway [25]

The Green Lane is the World Wide Web site of the Environment Canada, a Federal Department. It provides 24-hour, one window access to the products, services, data, programs and policies of Environment Canada and its partners. The Green Lane was launched in 1994 and consists of a network of seven sites across Canada. It includes information of both regional and national scope. The Green Lane provides information on key environmental issues and topics such as endangered species, atmospheric change, biodiversity, toxics and weather, as well as related information on environmental science, technology, socio-economics. It also includes information on Environment Canada including its mandate, responsibilities, organization, and programs.

Environmental Protection Agency GILS [26]

EPA's GILS points to a wealth of information available within the Environmental Protection Agency. The types of resources described include databases, hotlines, clearinghouses, and catalogs of publications. The GILS records for these resources inform users what information is available, where it is located, and how it can be accessed. For an information resource that exists in electronic form, a direct link to that resource will usually be available.

European Environment Agency Catalog of Data Sources [27]

The Catalogue of Data Sources provides detailed descriptions of information resources across Europe, flexible linking of the resources to each other, and classification of resources through a multilingual thesaurus of environmental terms.

European Legislative Virtual Library [28]

The objective of the project is to develop an Internet-based aid for search, selection, and presentation of information on European law and politics. Today this body of information is scattered among numerous locations and media with no unified method of access. The proposed application will significantly increase the availability of the information and be an important step towards building a European infrastructure of legal and political information to the benefit of both the civic and educational community.

European Wide Service Exchange [29]

The European-Wide Service Exchange is a prototype system focused on Earth observation. Organizations who register can use it to advertise their own services and events, contact users, and customize a Web page in the Tradeshow. The system maintains catalogs of users, organizations, products, education, jobs, documents, other sites, case studies, projects, algorithms, and software. Search access to these catalogs is provided through tools that support geographic searching in addition to keyword search, which includes synonyms and broader/narrower terms. The system was created by the European Commission's Centre for Earth Observation and will be launched operationally in 1998 as "INFEO".

Geospatial Data Clearinghouse [30]

The purpose of the National Spatial Data Infrastructure is to achieve coordinated policies, standards, and procedures for organizations to cooperatively produce and share geographic data. This is a partnership across all levels of government, Federal, State, regions, counties, and municipalities, as well as with commercial and non-government organizations. The Geospatial Data Clearinghouse uses a search mechanism called the Geospatial Profile, which is interoperable with GILS. The U.S. Geospatial Clearinghouse is operational with distributed spatial search of more than 90 clearinghouse servers. Also, the Clearinghouse mechanism of the National Biological Information Infrastructure is in prototype. In addition to geographic searching, the biological diversity community is involved in thesauri and taxonomic systems.

Global Environmental Information Locator Service [31]

This service was created for the Environment and Natural Resources Management project within the Global Information Society initiative. The server software supports search on free text, keywords, geography, and time. It includes interactive user registration and online submission of locator records and supports on-line registration of locator records for GILS and compatible servers accessible via an integrated ISO 23950/Web client gateway. Created by the European Commission's Centre for Earth Observation, the software is available free to environmental organizations wishing to participate.

Government Printing Office GILS [32]

The Government Printing Office has over 100 databases of government information, including the very popular Federal Register, Code of Federal Regulations, Congressional Record and Commerce Business Daily, to name a few. (About 30 of these are the U.S. Federal GILS databases published on behalf of Executive Branch agencies.)

InterAmerican Biodiversity Information Network [33]

The objective of the network is increasing the amount of useful information available to decision-makers, scientists, and the public. This requires some degree of consistency in how information is collected and communicated, that information directories be established, and that basic information resources like species lists and remote sensing materials be developed.

International Directory Network [34]

The International Directory Network is an international effort to assist researchers in locating information on available data sets. Sponsored by the Committee on Earth Observation Satellites, it provides open, online access to information on worldwide scientific data including Earth sciences (geoscience, hydrospheric, biospheric, satellite remote sensing, atmospheric sciences), space physics, solar physics, planetary science and astronomy/ astrophysics. This worldwide metadata resource has about fifteen cooperating nodes and describes data held by university departments, government agencies, and other organizations.

Master Environmental Library [35]

The Master Environmental Library is a GILS-compliant repository for the atmospheric modeling community. This application created a very popular GILS-aware Java applet for geographic, keyword, and time searching.

Nordic Web Index [36]

The Nordic Web Index is a public service, collaborative effort providing a free Web search across the Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden). It is a multi-lingual database of World Wide Web resources that is built by "directed crawling". The resulting database is then made available for searching on a GILS-compliant server.

North Carolina GILS [37]

The North Carolina Government Information Locator Service provides the public with a standardized means of finding out about the contents of public information created by government agencies. A North Carolina Executive Order required the establishment of data indexing content standards and a prototype project to provide appropriate tools for a global state government information locator service. Two features distinguish this locator service: multiple metadata types and the description of some database resources to the data field level. Currently, this locator includes government statistical information, financial assistance programs, county profiles, state comparisons, industry profiles, an index of computer databases, state government documents cataloged by the state library, state agency records from the state archives. Planned metadata sources include performance measures for planning and budgeting purposes and World Wide Web resources produced by state government agencies.

Recommendations for Information Locator Services

The creation, organization, discovery, and use of data and information will be greatly facilitated by the development of an Information Locator Service, especially where distributed systems and networks play a major role. It is hoped that the following recommendations will be useful for those involved in planning and implementing such a service, perhaps as part of an information infrastructure strategy.

1. Policy should be the foundation of an Information Locator Service.

Underlying information infrastructures are several major policies themes. Among these are unrestricted inquiry, freedom of information, privacy, intellectual property rights, and equity of access. Also, there may well be policy issues such as efficient management of resources and minimizing of information collection burden. Although there will always be refinements in the specific policies supporting these basic themes, the fundamental policies reflect values that are deeply held in pluralistic societies and are unlikely to be significantly altered in the foreseeable future.

Organization leaders are sensitive to communications media just as are many people in modern times. Given the high levels of public and commercial interest in new information technologies, it is easy to be caught up in the "hype" and the frenzied pace of technological innovation. New technologies such as interactive computers systems and the World Wide Web are useful in many aspects of access to information. However, faster or more engaging information technology does not in itself assure positive effects on organizations or the free flow of information in a society. Technology for its own sake must not subordinate policy considerations. 

2. Information value ultimately depends on trust.

Trust is perhaps the single most important factor determining the usefulness of data and information resources. Friends and relatives are more trusted than strangers, and we value information from an impartial expert differently than the same information obtained from a political group. Trustworthiness of information sources is of concern not only for individuals but for entire societies, whether in government, commerce, academia, or other sectors.

Traditionally, a level of trust is developed using a wide range of cues. Such cues include subjective measures as well as some few objective measures that vary culturally and over time. (One aspect of the absence of cues is that "on the Internet, no one knows you are a dog".) Most of our usual trust measures have yet to be translated into electronic information facilities. Indeed, it is inherent that a "seamless Web" would not provide obvious cues when crossing between information sources. Several decades of experience with mass media suggest that issues of trust will not be easily addressed.

In building an Information Locator Service, it is important to realize that parts of the public information facilities have very different attitudes concerning trust issues. Certainly, the objectives of governments in disseminating government information are quite distinct from those of commercial and entertainment interests. Such objectives should be described explicitly, as in a "Collection Policy" statement and "Usage Guideline" document associated with an Information Locator Service   implementation. [38] Another simple step is to assure that references to resources are carefully annotated as to any constraints and as to the information source.

3. An Information Locator Service should fit into a broad context for access that includes libraries and non-automated information.

Information systems in general should be designed for the future and should anticipate the technology advances being realized in communications and computer technology. With a little ingenuity, an Information Locator Service can leverage tremendous amounts of locator materials already existing in automated forms--resources such as bibliographic databases, mail and telephone directories, organizational manuals, budget documents, etc. Locator records for many electronic resources such as Web pages can be developed at minimal expense using emergent machine-aided abstracting and cataloging techniques (see, for example, the Advanced Search Facility [18]).

Yet, it is important to design an Information Locator Service to facilitate access to the full range of accumulated knowledge. An exclusive focus on data and information that is or can be automated would leave out of consideration much of the most valuable information sources that real people use to understand and communicate information and knowledge. In dealing with non-automated information, locator records must be constructed by people familiar with the resource working in concert with trained catalogers.

Designers of an Information Locator Service should therefore be sure to solicit advice from professionals working in publishing, communications, libraries, museums, and archives in addition to the usual disciplines of computer science and networking. Having such a broad base of input will help to assure that the Information Locator Service takes advantage of the commonalties across these disparate communities. Without such input, one might merely create an efficient but wholly ineffective data system.

4. Support for content standards and technology standards should be fundamental.

Support for broad-based access to information should not be seen as generating a new set of requirements, but as fitting into a pervasive information infrastructure. In part, the policy rationale for this attitude is quite pragmatic--a fixed amount of available funds can be greatly leveraged by making maximum use of technology already deployed for purposes such as entertainment or commerce. Perhaps even more compelling is the argument that any special training requirements for people to access the information will drastically reduce its use and thereby impede long-term sustainability of the information system.

Many organizations take pride in being leaders who set standards and discount the critical need to examine and adopt existing standards. While the urge to innovate is laudable in research settings, operational systems must take maximum advantage of proven standards. In particular, organizations developing an Information Locator Service should focus on using open, international de jure standards. Such standards are available for most aspects of an Information Locator Service and are being developed for issues such as multi-lingual support, privacy, security, and intellectual property rights.

The report on "Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems" [12] makes a further point about standards that should be taken into account: "technical standards can function like law [...] However, unlike public law, many of the processes designed to create technical standards do not have adequate mechanisms for representation and appeal."

5. The information locator problem should be isolated from other issues.

There is a complex range of issues involved in broad-based access to information. Many of the issues are very difficult, such as how to subsidize, deliver, interpret, enable, or assure appropriate use of the data and information. However, there is now a broad base of experience showing that the problem of locating data and information resources can be successfully addressed separately from other issues.

It makes sense for people in leadership roles to delineate the minimum service that the whole organization should provide in helping people to locate information. Specialized and value-added services should be addressed quite separately, especially as these may vary dramatically by organization.

In addition to variance across organizations, there is great variance across the kinds of data and information resources that should become more readily accessible. In developing the content of an Information Locator Service, one might develop locator information for data systems, Web resources, directory systems, bibliographic systems, document management systems, records management systems, press releases, and event registries, among many others. Obviously, it will be the work of many years to build interoperability bridges among such diverse resources. However, many GILS implementations have already demonstrated that a locator system for such resources can be built today.

6. Designers should avoid giving preference to any particular hierarchy or other way of organizing information.

There is a natural tendency to prefer some particular way to organize information. Efforts billed as "one-stop shopping" often have this idea as their core approach. While such a system can be useful for its single target audience, it should not be substituted for the more generalized approach of an Information Locator Service.

Any collection of more than a few hundred items becomes difficult to use unless there are multiple ways of accessing the information. With machine-aided indexing and modern cross-indexing tools, an Information Locator Service can optimize access by allowing many organizing structures to co-exist over the same collection. With techniques such as GILS, traditional organizing schemes such as Title, Author, and Subject, can be augmented with dates, places, words in context--virtually any pattern-matching approach that might characterize a set of information resources.

In addition to the access efficiencies gained by providing for multiple organizing schemes, an Information Locator Service approach directly serves some crucial policy goals. In supporting many ways to view collections of information, it enhances the free flow of information by allowing providers to organize information in ways that reflect their diverse points of view. For the searcher, it also allows for the originality of perspective that is so critical to insight and basic research.

7. Intermediaries should have a primary role as agents of user communities as well as content owners.

As a practical matter, it is clear that no one information provider can provide the best service for all of the myriad information needs throughout a complex organization much less an entire society. In most cases, it makes sense for content owners to concentrate their energies on managing their data and information resources in whatever manner best suits their primary clientele. With the simple additional provision of search access using GILS, the content owner can enable intermediaries to serve those resources to other audiences in the forms best suited to their needs.

An Information Locator Service should be designed with a strong focus on the needs of intermediaries. Intermediaries are themselves a part of user communities and may be able to articulate the information needs of those communities. Intermediaries may be internal or external to the organization. Intermediaries may be in the commercial sector or may be in various public sector organizations, including libraries, non-government organizations, and government itself.

Ideally, content owners and intermediaries should be full participants in the Information Locator Service. They should be able to draw from all other locators and make known their value-added products through the same mechanism.

8. Organizations should implement at different rates over the years.

Organizations vary widely in their responsiveness to change. For example, libraries in general adopt new technology more slowly than Internet service providers though perhaps more quickly than archives. Superimposed on this generality is the situational responsiveness of any particular organization.

A newly formed organization or one having a major change of mission is more open to new ideas. Such events in the organization may provide an opportunity to cultivate a champion for the Information Locator Service, though individual personalities will probably be at least as important as organizational dynamics. Over the long term, most organizations have significant personnel turnover and present recurrent opportunities to affect positively their participation in the Information Locator Service effort.

In view of the variable rate of introduction of new ideas, it will be very useful to institute mechanisms for sharing and preserving experiences among implementors. The report on "Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems" [12] states; "One of the most important steps in renewing the commitment to the GILS effort is to assemble a clearinghouse to accumulate GILS experiences and best practices."

9. Sustainable systems should be designed so that benefits accrue to organizations in proportion to their investments.

Much of the long-term investment in maintaining data and information occurs in low-level organizations. Typically, a low-level organization has a narrowly scoped mission in which public access may be of very low priority if present at all. Having specialized organizations is useful for the overall enterprise, but it works against the broader goals of public access.

Each organization should consider ways to reconcile broad enterprise goals of public access with the very specialized focus of many data and information managers. One approach may be to institute mechanisms that pass public access rewards down from higher, more visible levels of the organization. Rewards can be tangible, such as pay bonuses and additional resources, or intangible, such as praise and public recognition.

10. An Information Locator Service should be a long-term enterprise.

Any Information Locator Service will evolve over the years and decades with maturing policy and technical advances in understanding how people handle information. Because information changes meaning according to context, the service should be regularly evaluated to improve its ability to help people find resources, share knowledge, and extract information from data.

Deep roots and sustainable growth are much more important than a rapid start-up. While evolutionary and sometimes revolutionary changes should be expected, these should not be cause for compromising on basic principles. The main objective should be to ensure an institutional or organization-wide commitment to the Information Locator Service.

End Notes

1. An excerpt of the law is at <http://www.gils.net/s244.html>.

2. Clinton, William J. & Gore, Albert, Jr., (1993). Technology for America's Strength, A New Direction to Build Economic Strength. Washington, D.C. Government Printing Office.

3. United States Office of Science and Technology Policy (1994). The U.S. Global Change Data and Information Management Program Plan. Washington, D.C. National Science Foundation.

4. McClure, Charles R., Ryan, Joe & Moen, William E. (1992). Identifying and describing federal information inventory/locator systems: Design for networked-based locators 2 Vols. Bethesda, MD National Audio Visual Center.

5. National Information Standards Organization. (1992). ANSI/NISO Z39.50-1992, Information Retrieval Application Service Definition and Protocol Specification for Open Systems Interconnection. Gaithersburg, MD National Information Standards Organization Press.

6. Office of Management and Budget. (1993). Circular No. A-130, "Management of Federal Information Resources" (58 F.R. 36068, July 2, 1993).

7. Christian, Eliot. (1994) The Government Information Locator Service (GILS): Report to the Information Infrastructure Task Force. Available at <http://www.gils.net/gils.doc> (Microsoft Word format) or <http://www.gils.net/gils.txt> (ASCII text format).

8. Executive Order 12906, "Coordinating Geographic Data Acquisition and Access: The National Spatial Data Infrastructure" is at <http://www.fgdc.gov/publications/documents/geninfo/execord.html>.

9. OMB Bulletin 95-1 is at <http://www.gils.net/omb95-01.html>.

10. OMB Memorandum 98-5 is at <http://www.gils.net/omb98-05.html>.

11. A report on the Canada GILS experience is at <http://gils.gc.ca/gils/doc/gils-e.html>.

12. The Intergovernmental Enterprise Panel report entitled "Eliminating Legal and Policy Barriers to Interoperable Government Systems" is available at <http://iep.fedworld.gov/library/elapbigs/phase2.html>

13. A sampler of GILS implementations is at <http://www.gils.net/sampler.html>.

14. Information about the G7 Global Information Society and the projects, including Environment and Natural Resources Management, is at <http://www.g7.fed.us>.

15. A press release relating this agreement is at <http://www.g7.fed.us/enrm/press.txt>.

16. To join the GILS discussion list, send an e-mail message to LISTPROC@CNI.ORG with a single line saying SUBSCRIBE GILS followed by your name.

17. See <http://www.gils.net/contacts.html>.

18. See <http://asf.gils.net/>.

19. See <http://www-ak.wr.usgs.gov/aedd/aedd.html>.

20. See <http://ceres.ca.gov>.

21. See <http://cils.dlr.de/>.

22. See <http://www.ciesin.org/>.

23. See <http://www.dtic.mil/defenselink/locator/>.

24. Department of Defense GILS policy is at <http://www.dtic.mil/c3i/gilsplcy.html>.

25. See <http://www.ec.gc.ca/envhome.html>.

26. See <http://www.epa.gov/earth100/index.html>.

27. See <http://www.eea.dk/locate/CDS/default.htm>.

28. See <http://bib10.sub.su.se/sam/elvil.htm>.

29. See <http://ewse.ceo.org/>.

30. See <http://ceo.gelos.org>.

31. See <http://fgdclearhs.er.usgs.gov/>.

32. See <http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/gils/gils.html>.

33. See <http://www.nbs.gov/nbii/iabin/>.

34. See <http://gcmd.gsfc.nasa.gov/ceosidn/map.html>.

35. See <http://www-mel.nrlmry.navy.mil/>.

36. See <http://nwi.dtv.dk>.

37. See <http://www.ncgils.state.nc.us/>.

38. An example collection policy is at <http://ceo.gelos.org/free/REPORTS/Collection.html>. An example usage guideline is at <http://gils.gc.ca/gils/guide_e.html>.

Glossary of Terms

Data are here regarded as facts themselves, distinct from "information" defined as data communicated.
A document is here regarded as an information resource that includes textual matter or other content accessible to information processing. A document may contain or be otherwise associated with relevant metadata.
Document Collection:
A document collection is composed of one or more document sets.
Document Set:
A document set is a grouping of documents by some rationale (e.g., subject, format, ownership, references, etc.).
Information is here regarded as data communicated, distinct from data (facts themselves) and knowledge (information comprehended).
Information Infrastructure:
The basic, underlying framework of facilities, institutions, and policies supporting information in a community.
Information Provider:
An information provider is any person or organization providing access to information as owner or intermediary.
Information Resource:
An information resource is the means to supply information. This concept includes but is not limited to people, services, tangible products, and computer systems.
An intermediary is any information provider referencing content owned by another.
Knowledge is here regarded as information comprehended, distinct from "information" defined as data communicated.
A locator is an information resource that identifies other information resources, describes the information available in those resources, and provides assistance in how to obtain the information.
Search Engine:
In a narrow sense, a search engine is software that responds to search requests, typically by indexing some set of information. A broader sense of the term includes the means by which information content is acquired by a search engine.


The author wishes to acknowledge the valuable contributions to GILS by many hundreds of people worldwide involved in related policy, standards and technology over the years. Space here does not permit the naming of everyone, but the following are among the most dedicated and valuable contributors: Archie Warnock (A/WWW Enterprises); Tim Gauslin (American Management Systems); Renato Iannella and David Crossley (Australia); Margaret St. Pierre and Jim Restivo (Blue Angel Technologies); Ed Buchinksi, Pia Cole, Dave Harvey, and Oliver Javanpour (Government of Canada); Clive Best (European Commission Centre for Earth Observation, Italy); Clifford Lynch and the late Paul Evan Peters (Coalition for Networked Information); Sigfus Bjarnson (European Environment Agency, Denmark); Elizabeth Sikorovsky (Federal Computer Week); Woody Horton (Federation for Information and Documentation); Sebastian Hammer (Index Data, Denmark); Bonnie Carroll (Information International); Brewster Kahle (Internet Archive); Keith Belton (Southeastern Library Network); Paul McOwen (Sovereign Hill Inc.); Chuck McClure (Syracuse University); Jim Fullton (United Nations, World Intellectual Property Organization, Switzerland); Kurt Molholm and Tammy Borkowski (U.S. Defense Technical Information Center); Steve Hufford and Al Pesachowitz (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency); Mike Nelson (U.S. Federal Communications Commission); Doug Nebert and Bill Miller (U.S. Geological Survey); Mike DiMario, Wayne Kelly, and T.C. Evans (U.S. Government Printing Office); Rebecca Guenther and Ray Denenberg (U.S. Library of Congress); Jim Hastings (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration); Tom Kalil (U.S. National Economic Council); Bill Trefzger (U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology); Chuck Stein (U.S. Navy); Peter Weiss and Bruce McConnell (U.S. Office of Management and Budget); Jim Quinn (University of California, Davis); Bill Moen (University of North Texas); and, Toni Carbo (University of Pittsburgh).