NET NEWS: Facelift for Grassroots Libraries

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Science  03 Dec 1999:
Vol. 286, Issue 5446, pp. 1811
DOI: 10.1126/science.286.5446.1811b

One of the Web's oldest catalogs of sites is now undergoing an overhaul, thanks to participants who want to show that a 7-year-old volunteer effort can still rival commercial sites such as Yahoo.

The WWW Virtual Library, as it's called, is the stuff of Internet legend, having sprung from the brow of World Wide Web pioneer Tim Berners-Lee. Like Yahoo, the library is a directory of Web sites compiled by subject area—but unlike Yahoo, it's a collection of separate sites kept by more than 200 volunteers around the world. The science libraries, which cover everything from genetics to whale watching, are in many cases among the most authoritative directories in their fields. For instance, the beam physics site, housed at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, lists facilities, conferences, and online courses. And the cell biology site offers scores of annotated links, such as online biology texts, labs studying apoptosis, and backgrounders on angiogenesis.

But a few years is an eternity on the Web, allowing some neglected Virtual Libraries to decay into collections of dead links. That's why the virtual librarians this month plan to elect a new council to set standards and recruit more sites. Gerard Manning, who curates the library, thinks it still serves a useful purpose. When it comes to esoteric topics like free electron lasers, he says, commercial directories are “probably not going to do a very good job.”

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