[OAI-implementers] Sets Proposal (from DLF)

Dr Robert Sanderson azaroth at liverpool.ac.uk
Fri Apr 22 13:11:36 EDT 2005

At DLF last week in one of the Birds of a Feather sessions some of the 
issues that people had with sets were discussed.  The following is a 
proposal for how these issues might be addressed without changing the 
OAI protocol.

Your comments are very welcome.

Thanks to Ralph and Jeff for their additional material incorporated 
below and to Tom Habing for his comments.

Rob Sanderson


*** OAI Set Proposal: Devolve Sets to Subsidiary URL Access Points ***

Author:  	Rob Sanderson (azaroth at liv.ac.uk)
Contributors:  	Ralph Levan   (levan at oclc.org)
 		Jeff Young    (jyoung at oclc.org)


There have been many issues identified by the OAI community with the 
interoperability of sets, set descriptions and the out-of-band 
communications between data provider and service provider required to 
either create new sets or determine the nature of sets if the description 
is insufficient or not present.
Furthermore, given the present set specification, there has yet to be a 
consistent approach described to having a hierarchical structure of sets, 
nor a way to specify that a record has been deleted from a set, but not 
from the repository as a whole.
When populating set descriptions, it is possible to have some subsets make 
their records available in a different set of schemas to other subsets and 
it is not clear that this should be permitted at all, and if it should, 
how to unambiguously specify the set's capabilities.


Instead of furthering the misconception that sets are a weak form of 
search, due primarily to the lack of explicit semantics as to how sets 
should be defined, sub-collections could instead be treated as separate 
OAI repositories without any change to the existing protocol.  These 
subsidiary repositories typically would be an extended path from the base 
provider's URL.

For example, an OAI interface might be available at:
The server might then support sub-collections of the full archives at:
 	http://oai.cheshire3.org/liverpoolArchives/cunard/ and


Additional URL paths are free for practically all intents and purposes. 
Once a service can be made to listen at one URL, additional listening 
points below are much easier.  Thus the infrastructure of the web is made 
to assume part of the technical requirements of the protocol.

Not only does this shift a part of the burden on to the infrastructure, it 
enables various implementation strategies not currently available. 
Instead of one repository maintaining the complete collection and all of 
the sets, sub-collections could be handled either by one repository 
implementation or by running a new instance for each subsidiary URL/set. 
This second method lowers the barrier-to-entry for supporting 
sub-collections as a data provider.

This solves the tree-of-sets issue with no additional requirements. 
Because there is no (practical) limit on the length of a URL path, the 
depth of the sub-collections is likewise not technically limited.  The 
context is also more apparent, as it is present in the URL.

It also solves the problem of not being able to signal the deletion of 
records out of sets when they have not been deleted from the repository. 
For example, if a record were moved from one set into another, the record 
could be flagged as deleted in the repository maintaining the first set, 
and recently added to its new location.  This is not currently possible 
and requires periodic complete reharvesting.

The misperception regarding sets as a filter or search, rather than access 
to a well defined sub-collection is greatly lessened by the proposal. 
Instead of having a parameter carried in the request, which can easily be 
abused, the new URLs imply much more strongly that this is a well defined 
OAI service, especially as it is one.  This lessens the likelihood that 
service providers will contact the data provider asking for new sets 
[whether or not that is an advantage is easily debatable], and also the 
likelihood that searches will be crushed into the set parameter.

Benefits also accrue for the service providers as they do not have to 
implement set handling for the approximately half of the total data 
providers that support them [as per Thomas Habing's registry].  The move 
from the set specification to linked services also means that service 
providers will actually process the friends information, which otherwise 
may be ignored.

If there is one record which appears in multiple sets, then it will appear 
in each OAI repository instance.  Also, the records should all appear at 
the base OAI repository.  Even though these are different instances, the 
sets should have the same unique identifier such that they can be 
deduplicated if and when necessary.  The protocol specifically allows for 
common identifier schemes to be defined, so there seems to be no technical 
issue with this.

Technical Requirements:

The technical requirement for discovering these sets would be done via a 
slightly enhanced version of the Friends schema.  Each repository instance 
would maintain the next lowest level of sets.  In the examples given in 
the description, liverpoolArchives would link to gypsy and cunard. Cunard 
would then link to its sub-set about the Titanic.  Each set would also 
link upwards to its super-set.

Each friend entry needs to identify the relationship between the current 
repository instance and the friend.  As an example, this could be 
accomplished by a type attribute, with a default value of 
'relatedCollection' for backwards compatibility.

<f:friends type=subCollection>
<f:friends type=superCollection>
<f:friends type=relatedCollection>

The need for the link upwards is that the services may be provided by 
systems that do not work by url path elements, and instead use some other 
system. For example a less sophisticated, but equally valid approach would 
be to name CGI scripts with increasingly long names within the same 
directory.  For example:

The sub-collection description would then be moved into the Identify 
response from the listSets response.  This has the advantage of only 
requiring service providers to process one sort of collection/service 
description rather than two.  Secondly it means that the best practices 
regarding the Identify response would also apply to any sub-collections, 
increasing the likelihood of content providers describing their sets 


       ,'/:.          Dr Robert Sanderson (azaroth at liverpool.ac.uk)
     ,'-/::::.        http://www.csc.liv.ac.uk/~azaroth/
   ,'--/::(@)::.      Dept. of Computer Science, Room 805
,'---/::::::::::.    University of Liverpool
I L L U M I N A T I  Cheshire3 IR System:  http://www.cheshire3.org/

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