B3Kat New Approaches to Catalogue Data

Screenshot B3Kat
Screenshot B3Kat | Photo (detail): © Bayerische Staatsbibliothek

B3Kat, the union catalogue of the Bavarian Library Network and the Cooperative Library Network Berlin-Brandenburg, contains descriptions of 23 million media and is available in the form of linked open data.

B3Kat is an award-winner. At “Apps for Germany”, the first German programming competition held in March 2012 at the CeBIT computer fair in Hanover, the Bavarian State Library, the Bavarian Library Network (BVB) and the Cooperative Library Network Berlin-Brandenburg (KOBV) won an award for their joint catalogue in the “Data” category.

B3Kat contains more than 23 million sets of bibliographic data from 180 libraries in the three German states of Bavaria, Berlin and Brandenburg, and makes them available for general use online. Following the release of data by the central university library of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, this represents another major step towards making bibliographic catalogue records from academic libraries in Germany freely available.

B3Kat is the most extensive catalogue of data to be made accessible in the form of linked open data by German library networks to date. “Anyone capable of using the bibliographic format MARC 21 or the Internet format RDF can now download the data for their own applications or can interlink them with their own data”, explains Beate Rusch, deputy director of KOBV’s central office in Berlin.

Successful division of labour

This innovative joint database is the product of an alliance which has linked the BVB and the KOBV since the end of 2007. First there had been an in-depth discussion of strategy within the KOBV which raised questions such as: how can efficiency be improved without increasing costs? And how can a relatively small network prepare itself for new tasks? The answer: cooperation and division of labour.

Today, the cooperative venture is regarded as trailblazing. “What we have here are two German library networks meeting on an equal footing and contractually agreeing on very far-reaching collaboration. This is a good example of the direction in which library networks could develop in future”, believes Beate Rusch.

The cooperation partners meanwhile work well together as a team. “In Berlin we analysed and streamlined data in close consultation with the libraries, and then checked for duplicates. Next it was the turn of our colleagues at BVB’s headquarters to take over the baton the moment the data had been loaded into the operational joint database. The final step is to feed the new B3Kat data back into the OPAC digital library catalogue which is publicly accessible at the local level.” 

Liberal and flexible form

The libraries involved carefully negotiated just what form the new joint database should take. It was important, for example, to agree on roughly which data would be shared with whom and which rules would apply to their creation and maintenance.

B3Kat is based on the BVB union catalogue and its data model. “In many ways it is pleasantly non-constricted”, explains Beate Rusch. “The data model is extremely slim: B3Kat contains solely bibliographical information and no copy data.” There is also a great deal of freedom as far as cataloguing is concerned, she continues: there is for instance no obstacle to a more in-depth approach such as is needed by specialist libraries. Rights management is also kept to a minimum.

“For the libraries in Berlin and Brandenburg, B3Kat is primarily a cataloguing platform”, says Beate Rusch. “It is above all small and medium-sized libraries which profit from the large range of available data, the cooperative formal and objective data acquisition process whereby one library fills in for another, the automated data enrichment with content lists and the more rapid supply of publisher metadata for eBook packages. Ultimately, this gives many libraries a quality which they would not be able to achieve on their own.”

New goals

It goes without saying that the libraries in these three German states are already thinking about ways to take B3Kat a step further. “We have to ask ourselves which level we wish to be active on: on a regional, national or international level?”, says Beate Rusch. “Soon we will also be seeing entirely new library systems – data-based systems that are local system and network system in one.”

These new “cloud” systems could pave the way for new approaches: “In a dialogue between libraries, providers and networks we will have to completely renegotiate the rules for our future cooperation. It’s exciting!”