The broad-scale objective of this project was to facilitate sharing and distribution of geospatial data among government agencies, scientists, and the public in the Eastern Sierra region of California. This is consistent with the mission of the University of California White Mountain Research Center (WMRC) to promote research and education in the eastern Sierra region of California and the mission of the Eastern Sierra Land Information System Network (ESLIN), our collaborator on the project.
To realize this broad-scale goal, specific objectives of this project were to:
Establishment of a node of the NGDC involved several steps. We attended the kickoff workshop in Tempe, AZ (Oct., 1997) to familiarize ourselves with the overall design of the clearinghouse, the Z39.50 communications protocol, the FGDC metadata content standards, and to talk to other developers of NGDC nodes.
We then evaluated available software for creating FGDC-compliant metadata, parsing it, and Z39.50 implementation. We chose to use MetaMaker for creating metadata at our own site due to its great flexibility, and the experience of our staff with Microsoft Access. We chose the Isite package for our initial Z39.50 implementation because it was cost effective for the relatively small number of metadata documents in our node.
In conjunction with this project we established a Frame Relay Internet connection for high speed, reliable Internet access. As part of a re-design of the WMRS website, we added a page describing the ESGDC node and the NGDC. This page includes a link to the NGDC gateway site as well as a link to view directly a list of the holdings of the Eastern Sierra node.
To educate collaborating agencies regarding the NGDC and FGDC metadata standards, we gave presentations at ESLIN meetings in October 1997, and April 1998. Although our original proposal called for a single workshop to focus on metadata creation and the FGDC content standards, we decided to provide two presentations and individual training sessions. By providing these presentations and training sessions, we were better able to address issues arising from the variety of operating environments and differing degrees of institutional support among ESLIN members. At the individual training sessions, we discussed metadata creation, provided information on FGDC standards, and identified particular datasets of widespread interest to be documented for inclusion in the Eastern Sierra node of the NGDC. We also discussed FGDC metadata standards with scientists doing research through WMRC and explained to them how their data might be distributed through the NGDC.
We were successful in educating staff and management of collaborating agencies as well as independent researchers regarding the clearinghouse and FGDC metadata standards. We provided information to six agencies:
regarding details of the FGDC metadata content standards. We also helped agency staff identify internal obstacles to metadata production and maintenance. We also worked with research scientists representing a variety of disciplines at WMRS to create FGDC compliant metadata for their data.
In order to extend our outreach capabilities and to assist agencies directly in metadata production we employed two interns. The interns were able to speed up the process of metadata creation by working with data producers directly and entering the needed information using Metamaker. The interns efforts substantially increased the number of datasets for which metadata has been generated.
III. Project Challenges/Implementation Lessons
Partnerships were essential for this project. Since other entities (i.e. agencies and individual scientists) had produced data that we wished to include in the NGDC, we could not have proceeded without their consent and cooperation. This project has definitely increased the level of communication and collaboration between WMRC staff and local agencies at both management and staff levels.
The most important recommendation for other groups regarding formation of effective partnerships is that the partnership be established on as many levels of the agencys hierarchy as possible. In our discussions of metadata creation and standards, for example, we found agency GIS staff to be already knowledgeable and interested in metadata issues, but they were frequently given other priorities by management. Educating managers and department heads was essential to get support for the endeavor and remains the most difficult task.
Decisions regarding investments in technology involve balancing such factors such as cost, expected longevity of the technology, experience of personnel, and the importance of the desired product. The balance we struck led to our choice of the Isite package for implementation of the Z39.50 protocol. There are more "state of the art" packages available, but we found the functionality of Isite and level of support to be adequate for our needs and the price was right. The cost of software necessary for establishment of the clearinghouse was consistent with our expectations, as was the time for its implementation.
We concur with the findings of other implementers that understanding details of the metadata standard was one of the most challenging parts of the entire effort. Trying to relate use and output of different software implementations of the FGDC standards (for example, Document.Aml and Metamaker) was also challenging. Our task was simplified by the fact that most of the datasets described in the clearinghouse were not based on remote sensing data, had relatively simple spatial references, lineage and process steps, so we did not have to work with many of the most complicated parts of the content standard.
The first metadata document generated certainly took more time to create than have subsequent ones. It is difficult to quantify the increase in efficiency, however, because we typically have several metadata sets under construction at the same time and work on any single document may be spread over a period of days or even weeks.
The biggest single obstacle encountered has been getting agencies to translate support for the concept of the clearinghouse into actual time spent by staff members to work on metadata production. Metadata issues tend to be treated as long term concerns and tend to get pushed aside in favor of more immediate concerns. We were able to overcome this obstacle to some extent by funding interns to work with agency staff, but until agency staffing levels increase it will be a chronic problem.
Another factor that must be considered is that local offices of agencies are constrained to work within policies of the state/national agency, and in some cases state/national agencies may not have finished developing the appropriate policies. This situation occurred in our collaborations with local offices of the BLM and the Forest Service (Inyo National Forest). Due to interest and cooperation of staff members this was not an insurmountable obstacle, but it is one more layer of complexity that must be considered in the collaborations necessary for clearinghouse development.
Susan Szewczak, Ph.D.
Daniel Pritchett, M.A
Chris Horward, M.R.P.