International cataloguing Cloud-based Infrastructure for Library Data

International cataloguing
International cataloguing | Photo (detail): © rendeeplumia – Fotolia.coms

Three library associations are working at the moment on a project sponsored by the German Research Foundation to develop a new cataloguing environment. Thorsten Koch of Zuse Institute Berlin (ZIB) sheds some light here on the challenges.

Mr Koch, what are the aims of the “Cloud-based Infrastructure for Library Data” project?

Our aim is to develop technical structures that are specifically geared to libraries, so that in future they will be able to switch over to modern, cloud-based library systems. At the same time this should also bring about steps towards more international cooperation in the field of cataloguing. For the libraries themselves cataloguing should continue to remain simple and convenient. Furthermore, as much high-quality data as possible should be available for everybody to use when cataloguing.

How did the idea come about?

For decades now in Germany cataloguing has been carried out cooperatively, making it a high-grade work-sharing process – this is almost unique on an international level. This does not happen, however, in one, single large database, but in a total of five associated databases. In the long term this is not efficient. In addition, the systems of these associated databases have been pushed to the limits of their capacities. This basic need for change has been recognised by the German Science Council and the German Research Foundation and in 2012 they responded with a call for proposals entitled Neuausrichtung überregionaler Informationsservices (Restructuring of Supranational Information Services).

International cataloguing environments

Since September 2013 your project has been sponsored by the German Research Foundation …

Thorsten Koch Thorsten Koch | © Thorsten Koch Our project was able to win people over with the idea of changing to international cataloguing environments, instead of setting up a new, national database. We decided against developing something ourselves, and in favour of working with the big, commercial providers of library software.

OCLC and ExLibris, for example …

Yes. Their new systems, WorldShare and ALMA, do not just offer software, but also data platforms at the same time. At the moment it is not probable (and also not desirable) that in such a federally structured country as Germany everybody would agree to using only one, single software platform. This is why it is worthwhile thinking about cross-platform strategies.

Your approach is not entirely uncontroversial …

No. Cloud-based catalogues were not explicitly developed for the German market. There is still a long way to go before they will be accepted by German libraries. It also has to be conceded that Germany’s networked system is characterised by a very high level of service quality.

Although the main features of cataloguing are the same everywhere, each linguistic zone works, for example, with its own normative authority data. In Germany it is the Integrated Authority File with which data records are linked. If, for example, you would like to work in international systems, as we in Germany are used to doing at the moment, the systems would have to undergo a good deal of change. We link entries with authority data records and are then also able to access the content of the authority data records. For example, you are still able to find Goethe’s Faust, even though you typed in “Koet’e” or “Gkaite”. This form of linking is what we would like to retain.

German data should not only be documented in international systems, but should also be made searchable and usable with a common-sense approach. An aspiration like this, however, means drastic changes would be necessary in particular for Worldcat, the world’s largest bibliographical database, with which the WorldShare system works. We will have to see just how far we get with this project.

The project foresees a new basis for the future

The setting up of a nationwide, standardised data space is one of the aims of the project. What are we to understand by this?

The term German data space describes the data of all German libraries. After a lot of talk in the beginning about online synchronisation between systems, at the moment we are thinking more along the lines of a data repository which every system can use.

A German data space is thus on the one hand a back-up copy, but, on the other, it promotes equal opportunities. A standardised data space will enable every library to access and use the data of all the other German libraries in their cataloguing environment.

The project is being carried out jointly by the Hessian Library Information System, by the Bavarian Library Association and by the Cooperative Library Network Berlin-Brandenburg. Will the other German library associations then be able to benefit from the fruits of the project?

Time alone will show just how the associations will put the results of the project into practice and adapt them for use beyond the limits of the project. The “Cloud-based Infrastructure for Library Data” project foresees a new base for the future. It is up to the other associations, whether they use it.

What is the greatest challenge for you?

The expectations regarding the project are incredibly high. The libraries are under considerable, political pressure to change, which in general is weighing heavily on the associations. This is also clearly shown by the many critical questions. If you also take into account how strong the will to change among the associated companies and the library associations is, such factors as time and the cost of new developments and, in addition, the structural complexity of the German associations, then it becomes clear that this undertaking can only be realised with patience, tenacity and a lot of communication.