On Your MARC, Get Set, Go

By Khalid, Farooq A. | Information Technology and Libraries, June 1996 | Go to article overview

On Your MARC, Get Set, Go


Khalid, Farooq A., Information Technology and Libraries


One of the outcomes of the meeting held at the United Arab Emirates University between October 5 and 6, 1993, titled "Workshop on Arabic Online Cataloging Network" was the creation of a committee charged with the responsibility of laying the foundations for the standards to handle Arabic machine readable data for bibliographic control. This paper highlights the status of machine readable bibliographic control in the Arabian Gulf countries and lists measures to be taken in establishing standards for Arabic machine readable data.

* Defining the Need

Arabian Gulf states find themselves poised to enter the structured and hopefully smoother road to automation in libraries and information centers vis-a-vis Arabic bibliographic materials. Whereas several organizations in the Arabian Gulf states have mounted Arabic online catalogs, unfortunately none of the systems in use employs a standard character set or conforms to an acceptable communication format for exchange of machine readable data. The need for compatibility, standardization, and cooperation in the Gulf region is an issue that has received much attention.[1]

* Problems Faced

Some of the organizations found themselves in trouble as the support of Arabic on their hardware was abandoned by the vendors. For example, both the National Scientific and Technical Information Center (NSTIC) of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) and the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Daharan, Saudi Arabia (KFUPM), began working independently with the building of Arabic online catalogs in the early 1980s on IBM mainframes using the XBASIC character set (figure 1). KFUPM Arabized DOBIS/LIBIS, while NSTIC had its OPAC on an Arabized version of STAIRS/CMS (a text storage-and-retrieval system).

The problem of the hardware limitations for both data entry and output of Arabic data on NSTIC's and KFUPM's IBM mainframe must be resolved, as there is no intelligence built in at the keyboard level. The user is required to key the variant forms of the alphabet during data entry because of limitations in XBASIC and IBM 3270 terminal types; the process is cumbersome to say the least. Workstations with contextual analysis features and keyboards that have one-letter keying capability are most desirable.

The pixel limitation on video display units does not allow the generation of Arabic characters in an elegant manner, and the quality of printed characters is poor. Yet another problem is that there is no byte-for-byte reversibility between the XBASIC character set and other known character sets.

It should be mentioned here that one of the reasons these organizations find themselves in this state of affairs is that they were the first to venture into Arabization when there were no standards and have had to pay the price for being the pioneers. Having had their fingers burned once, the organizations in the Gulf realize that this time around they will proceed only after standards are in place and vendors are committed to supporting their products.

Libraries are file-oriented organizations, and the database is by far the most important element of those required for automation. Since the integrity of the database cannot be compromised, the standard that dictates the character set and the record structure is of prime importance. All vendors of library automation systems interested in the Gulf market should bear in mind that compliance to existing and forthcoming standards will be the key to their success.

* Groundwork for Establishing Arabic Standards

Funding

The first and foremost tangible step to be taken by the committee has been to match its responsibility to its authority by acquiring the financial support needed to carry out its mandate. The Gulf Cooperation Council Standards Organization (GCCSO) has been approached for its support. Under the GCCSO's umbrella, it is hoped that issues related to standards for machine readable data will be established and accepted by the participating organizations. …

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