On Your MARC

On Your MARC

Federal libraries race to widen information highway


Firewalls and funding have held back federal libraries from sharing their information more widely.

Now, one by one, about 300 federal libraries have begun widening the information highway through the use of a protocol for searching Web and machine-readable cataloging, or MARC, records and by adopting variants of a Web library management system from Sirsi Corp. of Huntsville, Ala.

Betsy Woods
Betsy Woods says the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's Information Resource Center is adopting a new records system for multiple purposes.
Sirsi users include 35 military libraries; the Agency for International Development; the Census Bureau; the Commerce, Interior and Labor departments; the Congressional Budget Office; the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; NASA; and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The Sirsi environment 'caters to a public library system, or it can be very technical,' said Tom Rogers, Sirsi's federal systems business development manager. The software runs under Unix and Microsoft Windows NT.

Tinker Air Force Base near Oklahoma City last month installed a $47,000 Sirsi Unicorn Library Management System that put the base's resources online for other military librarires nationwide.

Bruce Gaver, a reference librarian, said the base had worked two years to get the funding. 'Sirsi seems to be an Air Force standard,' he said.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization's Information Resource Center (BIRC) last month signed a contract worth up to $240,000 for the same type of system.

It will take BIRC about three years to finish installing Unicorn Stilas, a multitiered client-server application written for government, and Sirsi Hyperion, a digital media archiving module. A classified accountability module will track the mandated destruction of certain information and give reminders about scheduled downgrading of other classified matter.

'With some creative thinking, you can adapt a library record for other applications such as research databases,' said Betsy Woods, program manager for BIRC. 'It's doable if we think creatively.'

Rogers said the digital media archiving application can store 'JPEGs, MPEGs, real-time'anything you want to store.'

Broad but controlled access

The BIRC system will be open to all agencies involved with ballistic missile defense. They must use the international Z39.50 protocol for information transfer, a library interoperability standard.

'The idea is to use this as a central headquarters to interface the data repository archives and other headquarters information,' said Richard Bleach, BMDO's chief information officer.

The BIRC technical reports will have bibliographic links to large databases. Tinker and BIRC will not share their database information, however.

'You concentrate on [your own] collection,' Woods said. 'Tinker would do the same thing. They have a particular focus and will not have the emphasis on missile defense that we do.'

Jane Sessa, director of the law library at Commerce and a Sirsi user since 1993, said few agencies in fact manage to share information.

Firewalls, she said, have been quickly closing down this potential information highway.

She said the Sirsi system is best suited for intra-agency information sharing, or for public access to an agency's resources. To share information broadly, however, librarians have to make special arrangements as she has done with NOAA.

'Everybody in the whole government has a firewall,' Sessa said.

Tinker is using only Sirsi's Unicorn Library Management System. Patrons go online to find what they need. A Sirsi program called Workflows automates checking the library's resources in and out, ordering from publishers, keeping track of procurements and maintaining accounting records.

'You can search the holdings of all the libraries in the state or region or world,' said Vicki Smith, a Sirsi spokeswoman. 'Unless they have put up a firewall and closed it off, you can type in a uniform resource locator and you're there.'

Census, Interior and NOAA all have public online catalogs, Smith said.

The Z39.50 protocol lets library patrons search not only other libraries but also the entire Web and all MARC records. MARC standards are set by the Library of Congress.

The ballistic missile information center enhanced its system to handle digital documents as well as MARC and Committee on Scientific and Technical Information records. COSATI is a Defense Department standard for technical reports.

Woods said the Sirsi system is the only one her library has found that can handle both MARC and COSATI formats and convert them from one to the other. BIRC's research papers have links to books in the bibliography.

'You'll go to the bibliographic record; you don't have to go out to another record,' she said.

Although Z39.50 lets agencies share information with other agencies with the same types of programs, 'the different communities have different desires, wants, needs and looks,' Rogers said.

Interfaces for all

The interface for users at the Naval Research Laboratory, for example, is 'different from what you would want to present to a kid and his mom in a base library,' he said.

Gaver said Tinker's new system is a lot simpler for both patrons and librarians.

Patrons can do online research to find a book long before they walk into a library to pick it up.

But everything is classified under the Dewey Decimal Classification System, Gaver said, so patrons still need to know how to use a library.

'Old Dewey died, but the system didn't,' Gaver said.

The base's old system made it an ordeal, he said, to order a book from another library.

'We had to download records to a disk, upload those records into the earlier system from Geac Computer Corp. Ltd. of Toronto while doing conversions of the data to fit Tinker's format. It was a three- or four-step process, and we had to make a lot of changes to get that format,' he said.

Tinker patrons already have access to the new system that runs on a Unix platform, but it will take another month or two before the books checked out from the old Geac system are returned under the new system, making it the only one in use.

When the library purchased the Geac system in the mid-1990s, Gaver said, it downloaded records to disk. Sirsi uploaded those records to the new system.

BIRC also will have its data on tapes converted by Sirsi.

The new system will let librarians link directly to the Online Computing Library Center in Ohio via a personal identification number and password.

'They've got zillions of records that all libraries draw from,' Gaver said. 'It's going to be a lot less complicated.'

Although Tinker's library serves a fairly small base of about 30,000 workers, thousands of other people connect to its resources from other bases.

'When you push a button, you basically hit the world,' Rogers said.


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