A coherent national information resource for universities to replace the "mindless serendipity of the web" is being rolled out this year under the guidance of the Joint Information Systems Committee.
Reg Carr, chairman of the JISC for electronic information, told a JISC conference in London last week that the Distributed National Electronic Resource (DNER) would build rapidly on the work started by the Follett committee in 1993 and developed under the electronic libraries programme.
"eLib is dead, long live the DNER," he said. "Given the mess out there on the internet we need to provide an alternative. By filtering we will add a quality kitemark, add value by aggregation and produce a national information hypermarket."
The DNER will revolutionise resources and services available to people who use information, from learners, teachers and researchers to managers and administrators. The goal is to provide customisable interfaces so that individuals will have easy access to the resources they need most frequently.
Costs of building the infrastructure, delivering the DNER and widening access to it beyond the original audience of higher education and research councils will involve more partnerships.
Maxwell Irvine, JISC chairman, said that the funding arrangements pointed to a need for more national and international partnerships. JISC also would be heavily involved in educating decision-making bodies about the need to avoid replication of resources.
"It is a nonsense, for example, for regional development agencies to be developing their own information and communication technology policies separate from those already in place. We have a great task of educating RDAs on what we are about," he said.
Professor Maxwell said that JISC aimed to build its information base to "critical mass", reaching the widest possible audience. Digital television will speed the process.
JISC says that DNER will:
Enable users to make the most of the lifelong learning society, opening educational opportunities to a wider range of people than ever before
Link with other networks - such as the National Grid for Learning and the New Library Network - to ensure that learners are able to access their own preferred sets of resources from any networked computer
Provide a range of content including VR material, such as virtual fly-throughs; spatial mapping data; journal articles and abstracts; electronic books; digital images; bibliographies; teaching resources; self-assessment applications; sound collections; image collections (including manuscripts); and peer-reviewed web resources created by teachers, students and researchers already creating learning materials to professional standards
Provide a framework for incorporating learning materials into the pool of resources available to education. The material will complement the datasets compiled by professional and commercial information provider enabling the delivery of hybrid libraries, which bring together printed and online material.
Although in many cases much of the content is already available, a user working on a particular topic will have to carry out many different searches.
The DNER's customised interfaces will enable information to be presented thematically, according to the individual user's own requirements.