Public Contact: Sarah Thomas, Acting Director for Public Service and Collection Management I. (202) 707-5333
Press Contact: Guy Lamolinara (202) 707-9217

February 1, 1995

Library of Congress Pilots Information Retrieval Protocol

The Library of Congress initiated a pilot project in June 1994 to employ Z39.50 as an application protocol for information retrieval. Z39.50 is an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) protocol that allows a user to search and retrieve bibliographic data from computers equipped with compatible servers.

The Library has been working with the library community since the 1970s to develop protocols for computer-to-computer communication, specifically for information retrieval and interlibrary loan. The Linked Systems Project (LSP) formed the basis for the development and approval in 1988 of ANSI Z39.50 by the National Information Standards Organization (NISO).

NISO approved a second version of Z39.50 in 1992 and called for libraries to participate in a test to implement the new software. In June 1994, the Library installed Version 2 of Z39.50, which offers many advantages to libraries that include enabling users to search and retrieve information from computer databases without knowing the search syntax applied by those systems.

Library management will explore five important issues in the Z39.50 Pilot Project and has assigned project coordinators to address each of the issues outlined below:

  1. The Library's plans for the Z39.50 server and for similar technologies.
  2. A study of current and future use of the project over the next 5-10 years.
  3. The cost of providing external use of the Library's server and the potential impact on LC's budget.
  4. The impact of Z39.50 on the private, public, U.S. and international library and information communities.
  5. An examination of political, legal and policy issues.

Coordinators of Issue 1 are considering several issues involving whether Z39.50 should replace or merely supplement LSP and Internet File Transfer Protocol. Also in question are the Library's plans for LOCIS/MARVEL (Library of Congress Information System/Machine-Assisted Realization of the Virtual Electronic Library) via the Internet and the National Digital Library. Coordinators will determine what role both will play in future implementation of Z39.50 and will also examine future plans that the Library has for expanding the capabilities of its Z39.50 server beyond access to the books and name authority files.

The Z39.50 Pilot Project coordinating team addressing Issue 2 will use system-level statistics to estimate current and future use of the pilot system. Coordinators will collect data on which institutions currently have Z39.50 clients installed, who uses the pilot system, the frequency and duration of their use, and the motivation for employing the service. The pilot project coordinators will identify the potential users of the service, categorizing them by size and type (domestic vs. international, public vs. private, etc.). They will also investigate the possibility of end-user information utilities (America Online, CompuServe and Prodigy) providing Z39.50 client access to its customers and what effect this would have on the Library's server.

Coordinators of Issue 3 are studying the costs of maintaining and providing access to the Library's Z39.50 server, as well as looking into details involving Internet costs over the next 5-10 years. The team will be working with the Library's systems office, Information Technology Services, and the Network Development/MARC Standards Office to determine the computer resources needed to accommodate future demand for the Z39.50 server and the costs of providing the service both nationally and internationally.

The Library's biggest concern is the impact its Z39.50 server will have on the library-information community (Issue 4). Coordinators will be looking at the effect of the Library's server on customers of the Cataloging Distribution Service (CDS); the possible purchase of Z39.50 clients by CDS, the impact on their business and the benefits of accessing MARC records via the Library's Z39.50 server; and the estimated value of Z39.50 access for reference and document delivery. The Library plans to consult with OCLC, RLIN, WLN, the major research libraries and other organizations to determine the impact of the Z39.50 server on their operations.

The Library will look at the relevant legal, political and policy issues that relate to use of the Z39.50 server (Issue 5), such as copyright or fiscal implications. Management plans to resolve the five issues previously mentioned by the conclusion of the Z39.50 Pilot Project in June 1996.

For additional information on the Z39.50 Pilot Project, please contact: Sarah E. Thomas, Library of Congress, acting Director for Public Service and Collection Management I, or Susan Tarr, Library of Congress Executive Director, Federal Library and Information Center Committee.

# # #

PR 95-017
ISSN 0731-3527

Back to top