Arthur E. Oldehoeft
Professor and Chair
Department of Computer Science
Iowa State University
226 Atanasoff Hall
Ames, IA 50011 USA
v: (515) 294-4377
f: (515) 294-0258
Education, higher; Research, academic; Other (Dissemination of Information)
Innovative or improved ways of doing things; Local commitment to network-based activities
Supporting Documentation (contact author for more information):
- Department of Computer Science
- Iowa State University
- 226 Atanasoff Hall
- Ames, IA 50011
- Coping with requests for information
- Innovative or improved ways of doing things; significant savings in time, effort, and costs.
The Department of Computer Science at Iowa State University has been beleaguered in recent years by requests for 1) copies of technical reports and 2) information about the graduate program. By 1991, we were annually responding to more than 3500 inquiries regarding our graduate program. And while we did not have an accurate count of the number of technical reports that were reproduced and mailed each year, we were all in agreement that the number was large. Servicing these demands required a large amount of secretarial time and effort, not to mention the payment of substantial copy and postage charges. Because of exchange agreements with many other departments, we do not charge for and therefore do not recover costs for the majority of the orders.
Numerous potential solutions were explored, but the only viable one seemed to be “automation” where those who needed materials could send requests directly to a mail server. Or, if requests came to an individual, they could be forwarded with little effort to a mail server. In March, 1992, our Systems Support Group completed the installation of an Almanac Mail Server (a porting of the software by the same name developed at Oregon State University). In the interests of security and ease of use, we preferred the mail server approach over use of the Internet File Transfer Protocol. Numerous other departments, institutions and agencies presently have similar mail servers in place.
With regard to the graduate program, we immediately made available via Almanac the standard materials including a description of the research interests and a list of representative publications of the faculty. Formal advertisement of this Almanac service did not begin until September, 1992. Even so, news of this service seemed to spread (by word of mouth and through electronic mail exchanges) and usage of the service was noticed almost immediately. In the first thirteen months of operation, our Almanac mail server has responded to more than 950 requests for information about the graduate program.
By June 1992, the department had developed procedures for its faculty to submit technical reports for Almanac distribution. Technical reports written over the previous two years were made available (in both text and postscript formats). News of the existence of this Almanac service spread rapidly even though it was not advertised in any formal way until March, 1993. Since October, 1992, our Almanac mail server has responded to more than 515 requests for technical reports (full documents and/or abstracts).
The usages of Almanac are increasing at a rapid pace and we expect the level of subsequent year usages to dwarf those of the first year. Prospective users of this system can quickly learn how to use our Almanac by sending mail to “email@example.com” with the body of the message consisting of the line “send help”.
Subsequently, we have installed Gopher and WorldWideWeb (WWW) servers, providing interactive, more user-friendly access to an abundance of information about our department — including the information that is available from Almanac. In the future, Gopher and WWW are expected to become the preferred ways to electronically disseminate information.