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The Prototyping Tank at MIT: "Come On In, the Water's Fine" Copyright 1994 CAUSE.

From _CAUSE/EFFECT_ Volume 17, Number 3, Fall 1994. Permission to copy or disseminate all or part of this material is granted provided that the copies are not made or distributed for commercial advantage, the CAUSE copyright and its date appear, and notice is given that copying is by permission of CAUSE, the association for managing and using information resources in higher education. To disseminate otherwise, or to republish, requires written permission. For further information, contact Julia Rudy at CAUSE, 4840 Pearl East Circle, Suite 302E, Boulder, CO 80301 USA; 303-939-0308; e-mail: jrudy@CAUSE.colorado.edu GOOD IDEAS THE PROTOTYPING TANK AT MIT: "COME ON IN, THE WATER'S FINE" by Marilyn McMillan and Gregory Anderson Since 1990 MIT Information Systems (IS) and the MIT Libraries have worked collaboratively to deliver electronic library services. Dubbed the Distributed Library Initiative (DLI) in 1991, this effort is an umbrella program encompassing a number of explorations and specific projects by individuals from both partner organizations, as well as from other parts of MIT and other institutions. The guiding principles for DLI are expressed in a jointly developed vision statement. In addition to establishing the goal for our work, the vision commits DLI participants to live in the future, respect each other's expertise and contributions, strive for excellent communications, and remain nimble in a networked world of accelerating change. This vision promotes a creative, progressive environment for everyone involved in DLI and, ultimately, for everyone who will enjoy its results. Articulating the principles was a major step forward in our partnership. Living them out in real life here and now is a continuing challenge. From the outset we anticipated that the partners' differences in language, culture, and operating style might hamper progress. We encountered and worked to overcome the predictable differences. We've moved beyond both "patrons" or "users," for instance, to serving "our faculty, students, and staff." Today, many of us involved in DLI, without regard to organization of origin, can explain the distinction between authorities and authentication. WE HIT A SNAG Nevertheless, we were surprised by a particularly snarly stumbling block: our varying interpretations of "prototype." In planning sessions, we all thought we agreed about prototyping. It is very important to do. We have so much to learn about how people, especially large numbers of them, use new tools for electronic library services. We must prototype. Then developers actually rolled some prototypes out for

general use. From the viewpoint of a software developer, a prototype can be working code you want people to try and, perhaps, pound on in high volumes. The passage from developer's desktop to prototype offering is optimally rapid and reversible just as quickly. Developers view the transition from prototype to production release as the more rigorous hurdle, off in the future, often requiring formal turnover to someone else who'll address the operational and support issues. The service provider sees a prototype that is offered broadly as much closer to a functional service, a likely candidate to evolve into full-fledged production. People using it raise questions about it. If they like it, they may come to depend upon it in their work. Once something is this close to production, yanking it off the air for enhancements or fixes is a big disruption. Allowing it to hang around with aging contents is even worse. While they view the boundary between prototype and production as highly permeable, service providers typically expect that, in development, a tool or function has been rigorously tested and carefully packaged before it is released for prototype use. Our agreement about the abstract concept of prototyping didn't hold up in the specific experiences of it. Each partner's permeable boundary--the entry into prototyping or the exit from it--was the other's formidable brick wall. The results of that discrepancy had painful interpersonal repercussions. More important, our misunderstandings caused confusion and annoyance among the very people we wanted to use these new tools. WE FIND A SOLUTION The steps we're taking to overcome this barrier have greatly improved how we work together and how we engage our faculty, students, and staff in working with us. The "prototyping tank" is our mechanism to move into the future while also delivering production services today. Our prototyping tank is a virtual container to facilitate the transition from research and development to operational, production-quality services that are manageable, scalable, and sustainable. Operating with a shared understanding of the tank, in concept and in experience, all the researchers, developers, service providers, and testers involved can much more readily align their expectations about the permeability of its walls and the state of the tools in it. The tank is a "space" where developers and researchers can put working samples that are not yet ready for prime time as an operational offering, but which are sufficiently stable in their designs to sustain voluminous use. In a real sense, the tank itself is an additional DLI service offering, a testbed which gives granularity to a research endeavor and provides real-life feedback at critical junctures in the development process. The DLI Coordinating Committee (DLICC) serves as the "lifeguard" for the prototyping tank. DLICC works to ensure

that everything in the tank has the resources and safeguards for success and that everyone using it understands the limitations and possibilities. DLICC is a small group of individuals from multiple levels of several organizations at the Institute, including faculty, planners, managers of development and systems, and senior developers from the libraries, from the Library 2000 research project in MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, and from IS, as well as the Institute's assistant intellectual property counsel. DLICC's style has been to work proactively to bring together the elements necessary to make a prototype successful. Operating as a self-managed team, DLICC is using several criteria to guide its decisions about introducing new facilities into the tank, including: * Purpose of the eventual service: How will it serve the electronic information requirements of our community? * Extent of prototype: What are the objectives? Who is the intended audience? * Operating requirements: What support is required? Is it available? What, if any, contractual obligations apply? * Coherence: How does the activity fit or compete with other prototypes in the tank? * Readiness: How will we know when the prototype is ready for operations? for decommissioning? Who will be involved in the decision? * Time frame: When will results be ready for assessment? In addition to DLICC, several other groups are involved with the operation of the prototyping tank. One is the electronic library development group (elibdev) of IS programmers, analysts, and faculty liaisons and library programmers, librarians, and staff. Elibdev confers electronically and meets regularly to review project plans, see demonstrations, and walk through code before prototype services are taken forward toward operations. Feedback from elibdev during a walk-through of routines for handling MARC records in the WILLOW environment, for example, helped improve those routines and promoted their use by others. While elibdev focuses on technological issues, other groups review the usefulness and supportability of prototypes in the tank and candidates for it. Signs of a prototype's readiness to emerge from the prototyping tank are examined continuously by DLICC. Reports from elibdev and from individuals who use the prototype are important factors, as are assessments by service providers of the resources necessary and available to bring a service into production. Issues such as multi-platform supportability, security, growth, and renewal are considered. IS and the Libraries have made great progress in jointly addressing service issues, leveraging our separate and collective strengths. IS is preeminent in network development, maintaining the technological infrastructure that is the critical carrier of information. The libraries' strengths are in information management, organization, and support. Both groups draw upon their experiences working with the Institute community. When a service is ready for production, DLICC brings forward

a recommendation to the DLI Steering Committee. The DLI Steering Committee, headed jointly by the director of libraries and the vice president for information systems, sets the priorities for and directs progress toward the objectives of the overall initiative. PROTOTYPING TANK IN ACTION Two examples illustrate the prototyping tank in action. The first focuses on underlying technological issues for the longer term. The second, in addition to technology challenges, is investigating utility in the nearer term. * The Library 2000 project, led by Professor Saltzer in MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science, is concerned with understanding the issues related to very large-scale information systems. Leveraging the dramatic cost reductions in technology, Library 2000 is exploring future architectures for storing and manipulating very large volumes of data. Their exploratory prototypes, offering the current MIT Libraries' catalog as well as prototypical abstracts and images of computer science technical reports, are available in the tank. * MIT is a participant in TULIP (The University Licensing Program), sponsored by Elsevier Science Publishing. TULIP makes available the page images and abstracts of Elsevier journals in the field of materials science. Working with faculty and researchers in materials science and engineering, staff in IS and the Libraries are investigating ways to make these images usefully available and what the licensing mechanisms should be for a production delivery system. The initial rough prototype of the TULIP service will soon be replaced by a more robust, but still prototype, service in the tank. Both examples are benefiting not only from the availability of the tank itself but also from the experience and products of the other project. Though each prototype is used by different groups of individuals, the project members share the feedback they get about such issues as tolerance for delays in page image presentation. TULIP needed enormous storage capacity quickly, but the Libraries and IS had insufficient resources to support that need. The staff of Library 2000 had expertise in high-density devices, as well as temporarily spare capacity which was loaned to the TULIP effort for startup. For TULIP, IS staff developed a very fast image browser, and this software has usefulness for Library 2000. The synergies of the prototyping tank accelerate productivity for both projects. To enable these synergies, the operation of the prototyping tank balances seemingly contradictory requirements: fluidity and structure. We have learned that both earlier interpretations of the entry and exit walls of the prototyping tank are useful, under different circumstances, and that neither is entirely correct. Sometimes it's appropriate for the boundary from development into the tank and back to the drawing board to be readily penetrable. Sometimes, the border crossing from prototype to production must be quick and smooth. What's important is that the

permeability of the walls be explicitly established for any given prototype; that everyone, including the people using it, understand the nature of the walls; and that the decision be reviewed periodically. Persistent attention to communication in all directions throughout our organizations is the first element of the balancing act. Our upcoming challenge will be to manage success, ensuring that we communicate the distinctions effectively to the growing numbers of people who use the increasing suite of tools in the prototyping tank. CONCLUSIONS The structure that frames the prototyping tank is identifiable, yet open. There are many points of entry into DLICC's deliberations, and its members participate actively in the projects and groups that fall within or near the DLI umbrella. The group has developed an effective style of working together electronically, as well as in person. We have become accustomed to speaking frankly with one another, to learning together, and to improving what we do based on what we learn. The galvanizing force for our decision-making remains the DLI vision statement. We are constantly scanning for new opportunities and evaluating how well an activity or approach helps us achieve our vision. The prototyping tank for the MIT Distributed Library Initiative has established a productive, flexible, widely understandable framework. The tank is enabling the Libraries and IS to make progress together and to demonstrate a willingness and capacity to work with the remarkable research talent available on the MIT campus. The DLI has become an exciting and accessible opportunity for a variety of groups to explore new forms and approaches to information delivery at MIT. Above all, faculty, students, and staff are able to exploit an information-rich environment for the creation of new information and knowledge.

**************************************************** SIDEBAR Vision Statement Massachusetts Institute of Technology Distributed Library Initiative (DLI) of MIT Libraries and MIT Information Systems February 1993 DEFINITION: The Distributed Library Initiative is a joint undertaking of the MIT Libraries and IS to improve radically electronic library services. VALUES AND BELIEFS: We believe: * Access to information is critical to the education and

research mission of MIT. * Access to information should be free and unimpeded and not subject to censorship. * The Institute resources available for information delivery should be allocated according to a framework that is broadly accepted and known. * Access to information should be ubiquitous, easy, and satisfying. * Consumers are the appropriate judges of the value of information. * In cooperation and teamwork in delivering information to the MIT community. * MIT should provide leadership in delivering information. * In respect for individual privacy in access to and delivery of information. * MIT has a special responsibility to disseminate information created at MIT. PURPOSE: To enhance the quality of education and research through continuous improvement of information delivery MISSION: MIT will do the best job in higher education of filling a community's information needs electronically. VIVID DESCRIPTION OF THE DLI AND MIT IN 1998: The way MIT and its people do research and pursue education will be revolutionized by enriched access to all forms of information at their fingertips. Sitting at a workstation in the classroom or laboratory, in the sorority, or in the airplane, anyone can retrieve, manipulate, interpret, and integrate information into their personal knowledge banks. They can easily move among personal, on-campus, and worldwide resources to find, evaluate, sort, and store information. MIT students, researchers, educators, and administrators, freed from the drudgery of information management, are now better able to work together in putting that information to use in the advancement of humanity. We provide this diverse access to information through an extensive collaborative effort involving Information Systems and the Libraries. The Libraries remain preeminent in the acquisition and intellectual management of information. Information Systems remains preeminent in the design and implementation of network-based delivery mechanisms. Individually and collaboratively, IS and the Libraries educate the community in the use of information. Most work on the Distributed Library Initiative involves teams comprising the right people from each organization and empowered to gather information, analyze options, and implement their ideas. Overall responsibility for DLI, and especially for managing its complex web of projects and goals, is shared between IS and Libraries. ******************************************* Marilyn McMillan is Director of Information Systems Planning

at MIT, and a past member of the CAUSE Board of Directors. She and Greg Anderson are MIT's representatives to the CNI Task Force. Gregory Anderson is Associate Director for Systems and Planning in the MIT Libraries. He works closely with MIT Information Systems on the development of the Distributed Library Initiative. *******************************************