Author: Dr. Egbert De Smet, University of Antwerp, Belgium (email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Last update: March 29, 1999
|What it is|
|What it is not|
|What it can do|
|What it can not do|
|When to use it|
|When not to use it|
|Who is using it|
|Who is not using it|
|Where to get it|
|Where to get more information|
The ISIS software family is a set of textual database softwares based on the same data formats to which a very strong retrieval engine (for searching information) and an even more powerful formatting language (for displaying/output of information) is applied. The data format allows for textual information of the semi-structured type to be stored in a highly economical but still very organised way : all texts are stored in fields, and fields can have an undefined number of occurrences (zero, one or more), an undefined length (between the limits of - depending on the ISIS-member - about 8 to 64 Kb) and, if desired, subdivided into subfields. By these capabilities, ISIS software can accommodate for the international information formats MARC, CCF and other ISO-2709 based formats. These formats are most widely used in libraries, documentation- and information centres, but as long as the information fits within this semi-structured textual frame (alphanumeric data which can be grouped into logical, structured records) ISIS delivers the right approach. Applications for factual information (directories of organisations, projects, experts, scientists ) abound as well as more catalogue-like, bibliographic databases.
ISIS software comes in several flavours :
|CDS/ISIS, a menu-based character-mode system on three computer
|WINISIS, the Windows-based release of CDS/ISIS with multimedia extensions|
|CISIS, a set of command-line tools for database maintenance, available for most UNIX-environments and DOS|
|WWWISIS, a server software allowing for WWW-based access to ISIS-databases on UNIX, NT (as a DLL) and DOS/Win95|
|ISISDLL, a programming library to develop graphical interfaces and applications based on the ISIS-formats for data storage, retrieval and formatting|
|JAVAISIS, JAVAISIS is a Client-Server software which allows you to browse any CDS/ISIS databases through a JAVA interface.|
The first two family members are developed and maintained by the General Information Programme of UNESCO, Paris; distribution is for free through accredited national distributors. The next three software categories are developed and maintained by BIREME, Sao Paulo (Brazil); distribution is either for free or for a moderate fee (which entitles for support) through the Internet.
The last member, JAVAISIS, is developed by the Italian Association for Documentalists and Librarians (DBA); as a very new product distribution policy is yet to be set and published.
All ISIS-softwares are deliberately multi-lingual (or rather : language-independent) and adaptable in nature, allowing several profiles and interface-types.
The ISIS software family is not :
|a typical database software oriented towards administrative purposes, which imply fixed structure formats, calculations and other numerical handling.|
|a relational software which allows organisation of data into interlinked tables (however data from different ISIS-databases can be joined into one output format, therefore allowing semi-relational setups).|
|an integrated library system addressing all library automation functions, although such a system can be developed based on the database engine and the programming tools|
|a commercial product, trying to incorporate more and more bells and whistles, wizzards and other fancies, in order to stand out in the commercial debate|
ISIS software deals with textual information as follows :
|database structures can be defined for an unlimited number of databases|
|the data are stored in records, with fields and subfields as structural units|
|fields, parts of fields, processed fields and all or marked words in fields can be inverted, i.e. registered into a very efficient index file for immediate location into the databases|
|data extraction or definitions of what exactly to register, can be defined for indexing, displaying and conversion of data|
|records with fields, parts of fields or processed fields can be formatted for display, printing or sending through the Internet; this formatting can define character-mode, Rich Text Formatted or HTML-formatted outputs|
|an unlimited number of formatting definitions can be defined and applied to the data.|
The processing of fields, both in producing indexed elements and in output (screen, print or client), is based on a formatting language which includes programmed add-ons, therefore allowing an open-ended multitude of formats.
The retrieval functions allow for :
|field based selection (with suffixes)|
|prefixed organisation of index-elements|
|Boolean combinations OR, AND, NOT|
|proximity operators (word distances, within field/occurrence)|
|selection of elements from other databases|
|direct selection of terms from the indexes|
|free-text sequential searching.|
The Windows based ISIS-softwares can deal with (references to) non-textual information by invoking dedicated software tools to deal with the multimedia files pointed to.
An important part of the ISIS software solution exists of the manyfold of user-programmed solutions, either as ISIS-Pascal programs or independent programs, provided by the highly international users community.
Some of them are :
|add-on interfaces for searching (e.g. HEURISKO, IQUERY, IRIS), data-entry (e.g. ODIN)|
|independent interfaces for data-entry (e.g. ADEM)|
|software for circulation control in libraries (e.g. LOANS, ISLS)|
|conversion tools (e.g. FANGORN, ATTICA, CCF-MARC Converter, DBTOISIS, DB3ISO)|
|mixed sets of tools (e.g. ISISUT, CISIS Utilities)|
|small software tools for all types of problems :|
Mostly the problem is not does it exist ? but : where can I find it ?.
ISIS software cannot easily deal with :
|numerical values, so applications where intensive calculations (as in accounting and stock management) are needed are not good candidates|
|very dynamic data where high numbers of information units are to be replaced all the time by new values (as in financial systems)|
|data where the presentation lay-out elements (fonts, page characteristics ) need to reside with the data themselves or are set for individual words (as in textprocessors and electronic publishing software)|
|huge text documents (like books), unless these are split into smaller subunits (as
ISIS software is best suited in situations where :
|there is a need for non-standard, sophisticated solutions|
|information of very different types (with different field structures) is to be integrated into one database allowing for multi-type information retrieval|
|the user (or using organisation) is happy with the idea of a do-it-yourself solution, requiring above average skills and expertise, but allowing for open-ended elaboration of applications|
|financial constraints are real on the one hand, but manpower is available on the other hand.|
As a corollary to the previous section, it can be stated that ISIS software is not suited in situations where :
|no or very little manpower and expertise are available|
|financial constraints are not predominant|
|closed-box, standardised solutions are most wanted|
In such cases very good commercial alternatives are available, which can provide easier start-up guidance, better documentation and more off-the-shelf application models.
By the UNESCO- and non-profit-based nature of the software, ISIS software is mostly used, even to a degree of dominant positions as far as documentation and library applications are concerned, in :
|Latin and South America|
|Eastern Europe, including Russia|
|the Near East (Iran, Pakistan )|
|India, China and the Far East.|
Within the Western world ISIS software is mostly used in the non-profit environments, e.g. the NGOs for development co-operation, cultural organisations, small documentation units etc.
UNESCO counts (by registration) more than 10.000 registered users, but this estimate hides both many unregistered users as registered non-users.
Since UNESCO does not distribute the software for commercial or other profit-oriented environments, ISIS is not used in firms and companies. Also larger libraries who can afford to buy dedicated integrated (but always expensive) softwares for library management (including acquisition transactions and circulation management) are not using ISIS, with an exception sometimes for small sub-units within the library where text-retrieval rather than administrative management is the foremost priority.
Although UNESCO distributes directly many copies of the package from Paris, the policy is to promote the establishment of distributing centers in as many countries as possible, whenever the number of users becomes significant, so as to reduce the financial burden on UNESCO. To date we have a network of some 138 officially appointed distributors around the world, 72 of which are national distributors. The conditions on the use of CDS/ISIS are specified in the License Agreement signed between UNESCO (or the official distributor) and the receiving institution.
Available from national distributors and/or UNESCO's ftp site on ftp://ftp.unesco.org/pub/winisis/windows/
Available from BIREME ftp site on ftp://brme.bireme.br/cisis/
Available from BIREME ftp site on ftp://brme.bireme.br/wwwisis/
Available from BIREME ftp site on ftp://brme.bireme.br/isis_dll/
Info from : Italian Association for Documentalists and Librarians, Italy; Last update: 25 April 1998
at http://www.info.fi.it/dba/javaisis.htm (by Italian Association for Documentalists and Librarians (DBA))
|The UNESCO micro CDS/ISIS
Software website at UNESCO, Paris|
|The CDS/ISIS User Forum (Hosted and maintained by Wageningen Agricultural University Library, Netherlands) provides links to various CDS/ISIS sites and includes information on the very instructive, active and animated CDS/ISIS Discussion List (some 730 participants in November 1977);|
This is am extremely useful site with a wealth of links to ISIS related tools, documentation, applications etc. Here is a selection (25 April 1998):
- Putting CDS/ISIS databases on a CD-ROM
- The CDS-ISIS software archive: utilities for Demonstration and learning , Data conversion, User friendly searching and browsing , Data entry and editing , Printing.
- Database designs (e.g Union catalogue of serials)
- Multilingual stopword file
- Binbliography on ISIS
- Archive of the CDSISIS Listserv
- Links to over 25 ISIS related ftp and WWW sites
|The ISISPLUS (the
CDS/ISIS UK User Group) Home page provides information on
CDS/ISIS activities in the UK , information on ISIS related meetings and links to other
|The CDS/ISIS Handbook (by Alan Hopkinson and Andrew Buxton). |
More info on http://www.mdx.ac.uk/~alan2/handbook.htm
As ISIS is not a commercial product no commercial support is available.
Support for the ISIS software follows the characteristics of the do-it-yourself philosophy, mentioned above, meaning that all support presupposes the initiative of the users themselves and the capacity to wander around for useful sources of information and help :
|some countries have user-groups, which organise themselves with regional persons for helpdesk functions|
|many user-groups organise training courses at beginners, intermediate and advanced levels|
|on the Internet an e-mail based discussion list is the most important source for help, problem solving and additional information ( http://library.wur.nl/isis/isislist.html)|
|several WWW-sites gather and keep available all kinds of related information, useful addresses, sample applications, databases and problem-solving tools (clearing-house function), a.o. : URL ftp.unesco.org/pub/, ftp.bireme.br The best starting point is http://library.wur.nl/isis, providing a real clearing-house function with many links to other sources.|
Page last updated on : May 31, 1999