Library Automation: It's All about Connections

Article excerpt

Nothing whispers "learning" more than a library. This is where people go to teach themselves--to find answers, explore, discover. This is also true of the Internet. It's no surprise, therefore that the two are teaming up.

At the American Library Association's annual convention in June, the "virtual library" was a recurring theme. Firms showed off Z39.50-enabled programs; several demonstrated products that search library holdings via a World Wide Web browser. New program versions, services, add-ons and more were also featured.

Library automation technology is flexing new muscle, extending its reach, making connections.

* "Virtual Library" via Z39.50

Lengthening library automation's reach is Z39.50, a search protocol based on client/server architecture and TCP/IP.

Both vendor- and platform-independent, Z39.50 retrieves bibliographic records from any system running compliant server software. Z39.50 servers include remote library catalogs, online reference services and peer institution databases. Records are transmitted in USMARC format, thus patrons can search, retrieve and display records using their local system's familiar interface.

Flexible, the standard will accommodate other search types, attribute sets and record formats. In the works is delivery of full text and images by a Z39.50 search. Functionally, Z39.50 means easy access to information no matter where it exists and in a way that's transparent to users.

Note also that over two-thirds of U.S. academic libraries can be accessed over the TCI/IP-based Internet, and the significance of Z39.50 becomes even more clear. is one key to creating the library the 21st century.

* Web's Influence

Pairing library access with the Web is a natural. New tools for this are just becoming available.

NetPublisher is one of the most interesting. This Windows-based program supports Web, Gopher and Z39.50 searches and can deliver all types of information over any TCP/IP network, including the Internet. It's from Ameritech Library Services, Information Services Group.

Also a publishing tool, the program collects, sorts and stores text image, audio or video files via a GUI editor. Data is entered only once and automatically formatted for all three types of searches. Templates eliminate the need to know HTML. And NetPublisher's searchable databases can be integrated with various OPACs or stand alone.

WebPAC, from Auto-Graphics, acts as a gateway between HTTP (Web) and Z39.50 protocols. Thus it allows any Web browser, like NetScape or Mosaic, to be used as a public client for searching a library's Z39.50-compliant databases, including the OPAC. (Note that WebPAC is almost a new genre of software; several firms use that exact name and spelling for for their product, including Ameritech and Data Research.)

Auto-Graphics serves library consortia and their WebPAC works in conjunction with a new add-on Z39.50 product to their Impact/ONLINE library association resource-sharing system, featuring patron-initiated InterLibrary Loan (ILL) requests.

SIRSI's WebCat (like WebPAC) turns a library's resources into a full-fledged Web catalog by automatically generating HTML pages. WebCat with Z39.50 offers fully interactive sessions plus all the features of SIRSI's OPAC like e-mail search results, forward/back in a hit list, cross references, etc. Included are a sample library home page plus tools to modify it.

EBSCO Publishing's newest is EBSCOhost, a Z39.50-compliant client/server system offering access to full-text periodical databases via the Internet or direct connection. Designed to fit seamlessly into any library, EBSCOhost works with most ILSs and OPACs and has an intuitive graphical interface. The server, at EBSCO's headquarters, runs a proprietary search engine that can keyword search a database of two million records in fractions of a second. Its client-level software is very customizable and can be run at EBSCO or locally. …