A Class on the Net for Librarians with Little or No Net Experience


"You can't expect to hit the jackpot if you don't put a few nickels in the machine."

-- Flip Wilson, 1971


If you remember the old Archie comic books, you know that Veronica was Archie's girlfriend. Today, she's more: she's a Very Easy Rodent-Oriented Net-wide Index to Computerized Archives. (That *is* a bit of a stretch, isn't it?) What it means is that Veronica is a gopher-based search tool that goes out, searches for and locates information by keyword in gopherspace.

In fact, Veronica regularly combs gopherspace, maintaining an index of all the titles of all the documents on most gopher servers -- currently 6,000+. She searches only the *titles*, not the full text of documents accessible to gopher. She takes keyword requests from searchers (like you and me) and returns a temporary menu of titles containing these keywords. The number of Veronica searches per request is usually limited to a maximum of 200 hits, although the server you access may have adjusted this figure up or down.

If your home gopher doesn't run a Veronica server for you locally (the USC gopher server doesn't, and many won't), it may provide a link to public Veronica searches. Look for a link on your home gopher called "Search all of Gopherspace Using Veronica" or something similar. If you can't find such a link from your local gopher, you can access public servers via the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) gopher server, where Veronica was first developed in 1992. Point your gopher client to:


Set a bookmark so you can get back to UNR's Veronica in the future.

NOTE: Don't be surprised if the collection of Veronica links changes regularly -- different servers (or a different number of servers) may be available from day to day via the UNR interface -- you just have to use whatever's available!

AND BE FOREWARNED: Since the number of public server sites around the world is very limited (less than ten are usually available), Veronica stays *busy*. Due to this heavy traffic, it is often difficult to get a search connection during the work day, even during evening hours and on the weekends! Nevertheless, Veronica is worth the effort, because she's so very "user friendly." She supports Boolean searches using the operands AND, OR, and NOT, and also allows you to perform sophisticated searches using gopher "type" ids (limiting your searches to just "menu"; or just "document"; types, for example. Coming up, under tips to improve your Veronica searches, I'll tell you where to locate a document that outlines how to compose Veronica queries.


There are two categories of Veronica searches: "Find ONLY DIRECTORIES" and "Search GopherSpace". On many days, several public servers for each search type will be available. Also, a version of each (labeled "simplified") is often available. These simplified versions are an attempt to limit your frustration in trying to reach an available server: each simply queries all available sites to find a server that isn't busy, and then directs your search to that server!

  1. The "Find ONLY DIRECTORIES ..." category will accept keywords to search only titles of directories in gopherspace. It will ignore all other gopher items. Because this option finds only directories -- a Veronica search here has the advantage of providing you with a collection of more relevant information in a more organized format, as compared to an otherwise unorganized list of sources.

  2. The "Search GopherSpace ..." category will accept keywords to search all the Gopher item titles that Veronica knows about (including any directory, file, search tool, sound file, or telnet session.) Of course, because this option sweeps with a much wider broom, a Veronica search here is likely to present you with a long, unorganized list full of files, many of which may prove to be irrelevant to your needs.

Regardless -- whichever search option you choose -- you'll be impressed by how easy Veronica is to use. Select the search; you want to try, and you'll be prompted for keyword(s). Veronica will then return a temporary menu of "hits" from all over gopherspace for you to explore.

NOTE: You cannot create bookmarks for items directly from the menu screens Veronica builds because gopher-based client/server connections are only temporary and once the information has been served the connection is closed. However, once you open any item from the menu screen and find it useful, you can then set a bookmark in order to return to it.

Although Veronica is a very useful tool, it does have its shortcomings. Veronica searches only titles, and has no way of knowing the content or subject matter of a particular file in any index. Therefore, it may pull up many files that have been vacated or perhaps never filled in the first place. This can be frustrating for the searcher who is going down a menu list of retrieved subject-title entries, opening one empty file after another. Unfortunately, given the less-than-diligent maintenance on many gopher servers lately, due to the preeminence of WWW servers, more and more empty holes seem to be opening up. (And, you should realize that Veronica searches only against gopherspace; when we discuss the WWW I'll show you specialized search tools for exploring webspace.)

Added to this frustration is the fact that Veronica has no standard list of subject headings or keywords to go by, so that you (the researcher) have no way of knowing which words are more commonly used to refer to which subjects. When using Veronica, you are at the mercy of the people who name gopher files. Hmmm, maybe we ought to try a Veronica search for "neat stuff."

Veronica searches are seldom uniform and may return different results; this is because Veronica servers update their databases at different times each month and because they use different "stoplists." Stoplists are lists of certain words routinely excluded from indexing by programmers to keep from overtaxing their server. Words with explicit sexual connotations, for example, are often added to stoplists. Just because Veronica does not return any files in response to your request doesn't mean there's nothing in gopherspace on that topic; it might mean that you've used a stoplist word on that server.

Here's some tips from UNR's Steven Foster to help you improve your Veronica searches:

  1. Use the trailing wildcard character (*). "Many searches," says Foster, "fail because they specify a plural word form and miss the singular, or vice versa." (For example, searching for librar*, returns library, libraries, librarian, etc.)

  2. Read the "How to Compose Veronica Queries" document. You'll find this document posted at the UNR gopher, along with a collection of Frequently Asked Questions about Veronica.

  3. Learn how to spell!


Jughead is a version of Veronica that has been designed to search gopher menus at a restricted set of gopher holes (e.g., only documents located on the home gopher or only a collection of gopher servers at a particular University). Jughead has many selective uses on gopher, but unlike Veronica, you won't find his name on a Gopher root menu. He is what Ed Krol likes to call "the searcher you never see." He's usually there, however; just look for a search option labeled something like this:

Search all the Gopher menus at this site

That's Jughead, Archie's good buddy, (or, if you prefer, Jonzy's Universal Gopher Hierarchy Excavation and Display -- another "stretch"). You'll see Jughead implemented all over gopherspace, because he allows quick and effective searching of specific sites.


WAIS (Wide-Area Information Server; say "ways") is a client/server search tool that has been "gatewayed" through gopher. WAIS allows you to search many varied types of documents/databases accessible on the Net, and you don't need to know where they really reside, or what their hostnames, or pathnames, are. Unlike Veronica, which searches only the titles of files, WAIS searches the contents of database files. Anything can become a database -- listserv archives, electronic books, USEnet group archives, academic document collections, etc. Both powerful and flexible, WAIS can be used to create indexes of any collection of materials available on the Net.

When you connect to WAIS, you are presented with an index of WAIS databases from which you select a database of interest; then you are prompted for a search string. WAIS attempts to return search results beginning with what it supposes to be the most relevant to your search query (although the logic of its choices is not always obvious!)

There are over 500 WAIS indexes currently maintained on the Net. All are not equal: older versions do not support Boolean operands and therefore are not as search-friendly.

WAIS was developed as a joint project among several computing interests and stock brokerage firms in order to allow keyword access to fast-changing market information. Currently, WAIS indexes are maintained by volunteer effort and donated computer time.

Your service provider may give you access to a WAIS client but, if not, both gopher and telnet provide you with an interface to WAIS indexes. Many searchers find these versions difficult to use (I know I do) and, if you're like me, you may prefer to connect to WAIS through the World Wide Web.

If you don't have this option, you'll have to learn how to use one of the others. The USC gopher offers a link to WAIS-indexed databases from its root menu; you can also sample WAIS searches via gopher at the gopher host:


Look under "Other Gopher and Information Servers", then go to "WAIS Searches."



If you have access to a WWW browser, you can access an index to WAIS databases at the URL:

* "BCK2SKOL" is a free electronic library classroom created by Ellen Chamberlain, Head Librarian, University of South Carolina Beaufort, and Miriam Mitchell, Sr. Systems Analyst, USC Columbia. Additional support is provided by the Division of Libraries & Information Systems, University of South Carolina Columbia.

Your feedback and support for BCK2SKOL are appreciated; please email link updates, suggestions and comments to: eechambe@gwm.sc.edu

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Links checked 9 March 1998. See the BCK2SKOL homepage for course update details.
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URL: http://www.sc.edu/bck2skol/fall/lesson16.html