Peter Murray-Rust and Lesley West

Libraries generally have a reference section including glossaries and dictionaries. What about virtual libraries? Have you struggled to find the meaning of a term on the Internet? Or simply struggled to find the term at all? Exciting developments on the Internet may help ease your way through finding terms, knowing their meaning particularly supported by multimedia, and cross links to related material such as bibliographies. What is new you say? Well, at present, there is no standard glossary on the Internet. You really have to know where to go or use Lycos or other search tools to happen upon a glossary. In the following brief summary, we describe some of the developments in this area of virtual hyperglossaries (VHG).

First, let us define our terms

By glossary, we mean lists of defined terms, generally sorted alphabetically. A virtual glossary is one on the internet rather than in a real library. Thus VHG is the multimedia glossary developed for the Virtual School of Natural Science (VSNS) of the Global Network Academy (GNA). Henry Rzepa and Peter Murray-Rust developed ideas and software further to ensure the VHG is independent of discipline Thus any organisation or discipline can adapt VHG. The relationship between an index and a glossary is slightly different. The VHG contains hyperlinks as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Hyperlinks: the relationship between terms is inferred by the links rather than spelt out explicitly as higher, lower or related terms.

However, there is nothing currently linking the term in a glossary to specific internet pages to create an index, although the software can be adapted. Finally, what is the difference between encyclopaedias such as Encarta's Multimedia Encyclopaedia, and dictionaries? Well, we have kept the definitions to around 3 lines with pointers to related resources. Thus the VHG software is relevant for glossaries, indexes, and dictionaries but probably not encyclopaedias.

What about the Internet?

'Organisations struggling to manage their internal information often cannot begin to contemplate what the outside world has to offer.' wrote Jackie Mackay in the May issue of Managing Information. However, these glossaries developed for the Internet could help your internal information. Firstly, you may adapt them to your internal needs. For example, recent mergers in Glaxo and Welcome used the VHG to ensure common definitions of terms and abbreviations used by these companies. So not only can the VHG help with external information but it could help your internal information as well.

VSNS and the GNA glossary developments

We prototyped the multimedia glossaries during the first non-computing, multimedia course on the Internet, 'The Principles of Protein Structure'. See figure 2 for an example glossary entry. This course was organised by Birkbeck College in collaboration with the VSNS. As several other disciplines such as Biocomputing and C++ came online, the multimedia glossary developed further into a discipline-independent VHG.

Peter Murray-Rust extended the initial software into SGML that allows powerful validation and development of VHG suited to each need. For further information, table 1 shows Unique Resource Locators for the VHG. Lesley West curated principles of Protein Structure glossary and has some interesting feedback about processes in developing online glossaries and working with virtual teams.

Resources               Useful Unique Resource Locators for the VHG                                  
Glossary faq                                      
SGML VHG                                        
PPS course                                                  
Peter Murray-Rust        
home page                                                       
Lesley West home page                                   
Henry Rzepa home page

Table 1. Unique Resource Locators for the VHG

The way forward using SGML

Now the VHG is ready to go further. Theoretical Chemistry is the first discipline used to test the SGML derived software. More terms are needed to complete this prototype. However, once the wrinkles are ironed out, the VHG is ready to take on conversion of existing glossaries on the Internet to ensure any clashes in namespace and indexing of terms is addressed.

What's Next

These glossaries are useful for virtual libraries as a whole. These may occur within an organisation, as well as academic organisations. Does your organisation need a glossary? Do contact us and let us know your

views. In the meantime, we continue development of the SGML glossaries in the hope that information science may increase order in the Internet.


Our thanks to Alan Mills, Webmaster of Crystallography, BirkBeck College, London, for his tireless support. Also, curation of the glossary was impossible without the virtual team of contributors who added material and helped prototype the philosophy.

ASLIB.HTM derived from ASLIB.DOC of 04July 1995, Version 1.0.

Published in 'Managing Information' September 1995 Page 38-39.