Magazine article Information Today

The Benefits of Library Partnerships: Multilibrary Catalogs Can Allow Institutions to Efficiently Share Resources. (the Systems Librarian)

Magazine article Information Today

The Benefits of Library Partnerships: Multilibrary Catalogs Can Allow Institutions to Efficiently Share Resources. (the Systems Librarian)

Article excerpt

In April I had the pleasure of speaking about shared catalogs at a library conference. My role was to describe the virtual catalog approach that underlies Kudzu, a system that "covers the south" by connecting the catalogs of 16 academic libraries in the southeastern U.S. using OCLC SiteSearch software (

My co-presenter, David Singleton, talked about Georgia Library PINES (Public Information Network for Electronic Services;, a project that's based on an alternative model in which a number of libraries share a common integrated system. Georgia Library PINES provides a true union catalog that represents their combined collections, and Singleton is the project manager. The partnership encompasses over 200 public libraries in Georgia and is based on a large implementation of the SIRSI Unicorn library management system.

Both Kudzu and Georgia Library PINES involve libraries that have joined together to more efficiently share their collections. However, they have fundamentally different ways of accomplishing their goals. This month, I'll compare and contrast the virtual catalog and the shared library automation system as alternatives for sharing resources among libraries and offering patrons access to an expanded set of materials.


In this time of narrowing resources and rising expectations, libraries face many challenges and are under pressure to operate efficiently. The demand to provide more electronic resources, for example, often results in a need to find creative ways to get the most out of our physical collections.

Increasingly, libraries form partnerships so that they can share each other's collections. Today, libraries tend to borrow from each other more so that they can buy less. Whether it be through a formal consortium or an informal arrangement, a group of libraries can work together to find ways to operate collectively and gain new efficiencies. An online catalog that can simultaneously search the collections of a group of libraries is an essential component of a resource-sharing cooperative. By implementing such a combined catalog and other resource-sharing arrangements, a library can expand the amount of material that's available to its users.

Two approaches that might be followed for instituting an online catalog are 1) creating a virtual catalog that works on top of the existing automation systems or 2) having all the libraries migrate to a single system. These methods represent the two ends of a spectrum of options that are relative to the effort in implementation and to the level of institutional commitment among the libraries. Basically, the question is whether the libraries want to simply link their existing systems together or if they are able to completely combine their automation efforts in a joint implementation. There are, of course, other possible options. But for the sake of simplicity and space constraints, we'll limit our discussion to these two.

Virtual Catalog

Libraries with physically separate catalogs can create a combined catalog "virtually" through a layer of additional software. Virtual catalogs make use of the Z39.50 search-and-retrieval protocol-by now a standard feature available in all library automation systems. In order to create the virtual catalog, a piece of software is needed that will function as a gate way to the Z39.50 server component of each library's integrated system. The gateway would provide the end-user with a Web-based interface for entering searches and viewing results. It would operate behind the scenes as a Z39.50 client, simultaneously communicating with each of the Z39.50 servers in the system. In effect, the software is a Web-to-Z39.50 gateway. The WebZ component of OCLC SiteSearch performs this function and is what underlies the Kudzu virtual catalog mentioned above.

The virtual catalog approach offers several advantages. …

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