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Z39.50 Interoperability:. A View from the Virtual Trenches. Colorado Virtual Library. http://www.aclin.org A web gateway to 133 Z39.50 databases 128 library catalog databases Four Dublin Core databases (Soon) An FGDC node for Colorado Altogether, 16 different server brands represented

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Z39 50 interoperability

Z39.50 Interoperability:

A View from the Virtual Trenches

Colorado virtual library
Colorado Virtual Library

  • http://www.aclin.org

  • A web gateway to 133 Z39.50 databases

    • 128 library catalog databases

    • Four Dublin Core databases

    • (Soon) An FGDC node for Colorado

    • Altogether, 16 different server brands represented

  • A public interface to statewide interlibrary loan

Interoperability where are we at
Interoperability:Where are we at?

Networking person to person interoperability
Networking:Person-to-Person Interoperability

  • You must contact everyone who manages a Z-server in your project group, to exchange configuration information

  • Not everyone who manages a Z-server knows how to configure it!

  • In Colorado, libraries are responsible for funding (and setting up) their own Z-servers


  • “Sure we have a Z-server. The address is www.mylibrary.com”

  • “Our IT department is refusing to turn it on. They’re afraid people will hack in through our Z39.50 port.”

Broadcast searching the bib 1 attribute set
Broadcast Searching: The Bib-1 Attribute Set

  • In our experience, Use attributes are interpreted pretty consistently across many server types.

  • Structure attributes are also used pretty consistently

  • Other attributes (Relation, Position, Truncation, Completeness) are interpreted variously.

Broadcast searching for best results
Broadcast Searching: For Best Results…

  • If you plan to do broadcast searching across different-brand servers, you will have to do some mapping of Bib-1 attributes.

  • Some Z39.50 clients can be configured to do this more conveniently than others.

Retrieval record syntax
Retrieval: Record Syntax

  • USMARC and OPAC are the most common Z39.50 Record Syntaxes for library catalog databases

  • In practice, these work great (except for holdings)

Record syntax
Record Syntax

  • For non-library-catalog resources:

    • Dublin Core

    • FGDC metadata

    • Abstracts & Indexes

    • Full Text

    • etc.

  • You will want a non-MARC Record Syntax!


  • Plain Text Record Syntax

  • Easy to implement

  • Low hassle

  • Not Feature-Rich

  • Supported by many (not all) clients and servers


  • Not supported by many systems today, but will be very prominent in the future

  • Can support richer features

  • Separates content from presentation; Use XSLT for flexible formatting

For best results
For Best Results…

  • Check whether your software supports the Record Syntaxes appropriate to your project’s collections

  • If you do a broadcast search across collections that use different Record Syntaxes, will your software display results together on a page, and still look nice?

Retrieval holdings
Retrieval: Holdings

  • CVL connects to 14 different types of bibliographic databases, and no two of them use the same scheme for holdings!

  • A big gaping hole where a standard should be


  • At a minimum, almost every human user who is searching for a book needs to know:

    • Where is the book? (Library institution, branch, and collection)

    • How do I find it? (Local call number)

    • May I check it out today? (Shelf status)

  • Claim: A system that does not deliver this much information to the patron will frustrate!


  • For automated resource sharing systems:

    • Essentially the same information, but in machine-parseable format!

      • Where is the book? (USMOC)

      • How do I find it? (Local Barcode)

      • May I check it out today? (Policy and Availability indicators)

Opinion on holdings
Opinion on Holdings

  • There ought to be a standard

Patron authentication
Patron Authentication

  • For automated Resource Sharing, you need to authenticate patrons

  • For Access to licensed databases, you need to authenticate patrons

  • Is there a convenient, generally applicable way to do this remotely?

Patron authentication1
Patron Authentication

  • Emerging Standard: NCIP

  • Designed to cover many circulation-oriented services

  • Now a real NISO standard

  • Coming soon to the real world


  • Wide adoption of standards makes life easier

  • Some areas still need work:

    • Non-MARC Record Syntaxes

    • Bibliographic Holdings

    • Patron Authentication, and other automated circulation functions