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Europagate Workshop / SR Concertation meetin

15th February 1996, Luxembourg

Background The Meeting
An introduction to the SR and Z39.50 standards
and the projects from the SR cluster
A summary of the presentations
and discussions at the meeting


The Libraries programme of the European Commission hosted a combined Europagate workshop and SR Concertation meeting on the 15 February 1996 in Luxembourg. The purpose of this Workshop/Concertation was to demonstrate the Gateway developed by the EUROPAGATE project and, at the same time, to give the projects implementing the SR/Z39.50 protocol (the "SR cluster") an opportunity to meet and exchange experience and ideas.

The results from one of the technical studies from the Libraries Programme: SR over X.400 was presented, and a overview of the activities of EG-LIB and EFILA were also presented at the meeting - in addition to the presentation and demonstrations given by the EUROPAGATE project.

The meeting was concluded with a panel discussion addressing a number of issues, relevant for implementors of the SR/Z39.50 protocol.

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The Libraries Programme of the European Commission was launched in the beginning of 1991. International co-operation and resource sharing between European Libraries were the overall headlines for the programme from the start.
Resource sharing imply resource access and resource sharing which again imply exchange of information between Libraries. Efficient exchange of information's imply interoperability and compatibility between different Library automation systems, and all this leads to a need for technical standards . Standards was (and still are) an important part of the programme. One of the action lines from the workprogramme ( FP III ), action line II: International interconnection of systems and related international standards addresses directly the problems related to the use of technical standards for international interconnection of Library systems. Theme 9 from this action line: Retrieval function - Interconnected OPAC's , addresses projects implementing the SR protocol. Theme 9 was reformulated for the third call: SR target development and their interconnection (called Theme 9bis) in order to stimulate projects concentration on the development of SR targets.

The international standard for Search and Retrieve (the SR Standard), was developed and approved by ISO in 1991. One could say that this standard was "born" at the same time as the Libraries Programme was born. Libraries had been very active in the definition and development of this protocol as they needed a standard describing how to interconnect Open Public Access Catalogues (OPAC’s). The standard is, however, defined as a general standard for structured information retrieval and can, in principle, be adapted for all types of structured information retrieval from databases.

The standard is based on a client/server model for communication between different computer systems. The requesting part acts as a client and the responding part acts as a server. The normal mode of operation will be to enter a query into the local system using that system's set of menus and command language. The SR client module located in the local system translates the query into a standardised format defined by SR and sends it to a database system acting as a SR server. The SR server module presents the commands and search queries to the database and returns the results in a standardised format to the client who initiated the search. The protocol is designed for communication between computer systems and the person, performing the search, do not need to have any knowledge about the SR protocol.

An American standard with the same purpose: Z39.50, was approved (as an ANSI standard) in 1992. The development of these two standards was co-ordinated closely (the same editor drafted both standards) and the 1992 version of the Z39.50 standard is almost similar to the SR standard (SR is a compatible sub-set of Z39.50-92).

Both protocols are defined as level-7 protocols according to the OSI reference model, so interoperability should, in principle, not be a problem. But the protocols are typically implemented in different environments. Z39.50 implementations uses Internet (TCP/IP) as the transport protocol while SR implementations uses (or used) the OSI protocols as transport protocols.

This problem - or more precisely this potential problem - was the rationale behind the EUROPAGATE project when it was defined in 1992. One could foresee that the interoperability between different bibliographic catalogue systems would be obstructed by non compatible underlying networks. The main objective of EUROPAGATE was to solve this problem by providing a gateway function between these different networks, and, at the same time investigate possible models (business scenarios) for the operation of such a gateway.

The situation today, in 1996, is quite different from the situation in 1992. The need for the basic function of the gateway (gatwaying between different networks) has more or less disappeared as very few catalogue providers have implemented OSI protocols - the Internet TCP/IP based implementations are dominating.

ISO has now decided, as a consequence of this situation, to forward the Z39.50-95 standard as the next international version of the SR standard. The standard is forwarded using the so called "fast track balloting" procedure and it is expected that the standard will be approved in November 1996. The ISO number will be ISO 23950. Z39.50 (and ISO 23950) are still "true" OSI level-7 protocols but they will be implemented in the TCP/IP environment.

The EUROPAGATE project has managed, over the years, to rescope the project and the functionality of the gatewaysoftware accordingly. The gateway can still act as a gateway between ISO and TCP/IP networks but the project has, in the last part of the implementation phase, focused on the implementation of the e-mail and the Web gateway .

The calls from the Libraries programme have resulted in more than 50 different RT&D; projects of which many still are on-going. Many of these projects implement or uses the SR/Z39.50 standard as a part of the project, but the projects addressing Theme 9 and Theme 9bis in Action line II have the development and implementation of the SR/Z39.50 standard as the main issue.

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One of the pilot projects from the preparatory phase was the ION project (Interlending OSI Networking). This project was one of the first European projects implementing both SR and ILL. The implementation was based on ISO network protocols. This project was conducted by a consortium of three Library organisations in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and France. These organisations represented more than 40 individual Libraries. The experience gained in this project has provided valuable input to other European projects in this area.

The two first calls: CfP'91 and CfP'92 resulted in two theme 9 projects:

  • SOCKER : SR Origin Communication Kernel (CfP'91) and
  • EUROPAGATE European SR - Z39.50 Gateway (CfP'92).

Three projects were accepted from the third call (CfP 93):

  • SR Target : SR Target development as a Paragon for Catalogue systems
  • and ARCA : Access to remote catalogues by implementing SR Target functions
  • and finally ONE : OPAC network in Europe.

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The SOCKER project has developed a "general purpose" SR client called the kernel software. This software implement the "protocol machine" for a SR client. The software provides an API (Application Programme Interface) to be used when integrating the software in other systems. This software has, as a part of the project, successfully been integrated in two different environments: A CD-ROM workstation and a Network Entry Point for DANBIB (The central system from the Danish Library Centre). The CD-ROM workstation has a Graphical User Interface and can access local (CD-ROM) based databases as well as remote OPAC's via a network. The Network Entry Point for DANBIB gives the DANBIB users the possibility of accessing databases (OPAC's) outside the DANBIB system. The first version of the software is based on SR (Z39.50V2) but the project is right now upgrading the software to include facilities from Z39.50V3. A Web gateway will also be developed by the project. The "kernel" software will be available for other implementors.

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The purpose of EUROPAGATE was, as mentioned earlier, to solve the foreseeable problem arising from the implementation of SR/Z39.50 Clients and Servers implemented over different networks. The project has developed and implemented a gateway between Clients and Servers (or Origins and Targets) based on different communication stacks (OSI and TCP/IP). The gateway supports also E-mail queries formulated in CCL (Common Command Language) as well as a number of administrative functions necessary for a commercial operation of the gateway. Conversion between a few different MARC formats have also been implemented. The gateway also supports access from WWW browsers and the project has tested the use of "minimal" OSI-software successfully.

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SR-TARGET is based on the results from SOCKER and another project from the Libraries programme: JUKEBOX / SR-TARGET has developed and implemented a "General Purpose" SR target software tool box for sound catalogues. The purpose of this "tool box" software is to develop software that implement the target functions of the SR/Z39.50 software. The software will be implemented a as module (with a well defined API) that can be integrated in different existing sound catalogue databases. The software has been integrated in three different sound catalogues. A central client with WWW access has also be implemented.

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The ARCA project will implement a stand alone SR client with a Graphical User Interface and a general software package (tool) to be used for upgrading existing library catalogues with SR/Z39.50 target functionality. This software "tool-box" will be integrated in two existing library systems (ISIS and SABINI). The interoperability between these systems and the client will be tested.

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The ONE project involves national library facilities in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and UK.

The purpose of the project is to establish a service infrastructure for searching Library catalogues in Europe which can be extended to include resources worldwide through the Internet, and can be further expanded to allow ordering of publications found through searching.

The project will define the functional requirements for a OPAC network in a European context. The project will also establish a trial service between the users and the database (catalogue) providers participating in the project.. The project will implement the international standards for catalogue access, ISO/SR and Z39.50 in the different technical environments of the participants. A set of software tools, intended to be portable to a wide range of system platforms, will be developed. These tools will provide additional functions such as conversion between different formats for bibliographic records and character set conversions.

The project will also develop and install a Neutral Entry Point . The project will also develop and install a which can be used as a dial-in facility for terminal-based access. The project will also investigate and define the requirements for international services and legal and financial arrangements between service providers.

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The Meeting

The meeting was opened by Ms. Ariane ILJON who welcomed the participants and outlined the purpose of the meeting.

Introduction to the meeting

Gordon PEDERSEN, who chaired the meeting, presented the agenda for the day and gave an introduction to the "SR" projects from Action line II. The background for the two standards, and the relation between the SR and the Z39.50 standard, were also presented.

The majority of the European implementors are now implementing version three of the Z39.50 standard. A survey, among 27 European projects, done in the start of 1996, showed that nobody plans to implement the whole standard. All the planned (and existing) implementations will support a subset of the standard. Scan, Explain and Item Order are the most popular facilities. A presentation of the different architectural models, used when implementing this Client/Server based protocol, were also a part of the introduction.

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The study: SR over X.400

The results from the study: SR over X.400 , were presented right after the introduction. This study had been undertaken by Level-7, a UK based consultancy company. The presentation was given by Mr. David MILLER and Mr. Tim MAUDE.

The study had been conducted in 1995 and the main purpose was to investigate the possibility of running an interactive protocol like SR over a store and forward based protocol like X.400. The problems from gatewaying between X.400 and Internet based mail systems had also been investigated in this study, as it is most likely that the SMTP protocol will be used as the transport system for SR (Z39.50).

It will always be preferably to have a on-line session available for database searching via the SR protocol, but there are situations were it can be an advantage (or the only possibility) to use e-mail when searching catalogues. E-mail facilities are offend cheaper to establish, than on-line connections and some organisations might, for a number of reasons, not want to establish direct connections to computers outside the company.

The study identifies a number of Usage Scenarios, were it could be relevant to do catalogue searching via e-mail.

The study concludes that it, from a technical point of view, is possible to implement the SR/Z39.50 over an e-mail protocol. The study identifies, and describe, a number of implementation options. And one of the recommendations from the study is to develop a profile describing how to implement SR/Z39.50 over e-mail.

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The presentation of the EUROPAGATE project was the next point on the agenda.

Mr. Sean PHILLIPS (Librarian UCD Dublin, chair EUROPAGATE steering committee) gave an introduction to the ideas behind - and the background for - the EUROPAGATE project. This introduction was followed by a presentation of the results achieved so far, given by Mr. Mogens SANDFAER. (DTV Copenhagen, Technical project leader Europagate) The implementation phase had been finalised and the trial period (the pilot service) would start now. This meeting marked the launch of the pilot service. The following facilities had been implemented and will be available during the trial period:

A WWW to Z39.50 gateway supporting the following functions:
Acces to multiple databases, parallel searching
Support for SCAN (a 39.50V3 function)
Display MARC records formatted or raw (the entire record)
A e-mail to Z39.50 gateway supporting the following functions:
Text based queries formulated in CCL
Single target, multiple databases queries
Display retrieved MARC records in predefined formats.

The gateway software is written in ANSI C and a number of standard software packages has been integrated in the software (Apache webserver, YAZ client software, etc.). The gateway software will be available to other implementors after the trial period.

The functionality of the gateway was then demonstrated by different participants from the EUROPAGATE project. The project had brought PC's with the software installed and access to the Internet had been established from the meeting room, making it possible to demonstrate live remote database searching via the gateway.

Three different parts of the functionality were demonstrated:

  1. Access from one SR client, via the Gateway, to two different targets (OPAC's);
  2. Searching different catalogues via the e-mail gateway;
  3. and finally 3) Searching catalogues via the central SR Client, using the WWW Interface.

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After lunch Mr. Erik Lorenz PETERSEN (Fischer & Lorenz, chair EG-LIB og EFILA) presented the activities of EG-LIB and EFILA .

EG-LIB is the Expert Group on Library Applications in EWOS (European Workshop for Open Systems). The purpose of this group is to discuss and define profiles (ISP's) for SR and ILL. A number of profiles has been defined (and approved by ISO/TC/46) but the liaison with other relevant (and active) groups and the sharing of implementation experience has been the most useful part of EG-LIB over the last two years.

EFILA (European Forum for Implementors of Library Applications) were instigated last year as a joint effort between EWOS and the Libraries Programme. The purpose of EFILA is to create a forum were implementors of library automation can meet and share experience and discusse problems relevant for their work.

Four meetings had been organised so far. The meetings are normally organise around one or more technical topics. Implementation of Electronic document delivery services and Z39.50 implementation experience are some of the issues that have been discussed at the meetings. The meetings are typically attended by 40 to 60 participants and more than 200 people are registered on the mailing list. One of the important meetings this year was the joint ZIG (Z39.50 Implementors group)/EFILA meeting in the start of October this year. This meeting was held in Brussels.

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Panel discussion

The last point on the agenda was a panel discussion. A panel, with some of the experts present at the meeting, discussed a number of issues relevant for the further interconnection of OPAC's in Europe. Mogens Sandfaer (DTV, EUROPAGATE), P.G. Maarchetti (ESA), Tim Maude (Level-7), Liv HOLM (BRODD, ONE project manager) and Erik Lorenz Petersen (Fischer and Lorenz) participated in the panel.

The following issues and questions were discussed by the panel:

  1. Will the availability of "slim" OSI software give OSI implementations a renaissance?
  2. E-mail gateways to OPAC's - is there a real need for this service?
  3. How can we stimulate further OPAC interconnections?
    Do we need service agreements and/or implementors agreements?
    Could Europagate complement existing interconnections?

ad 1) The EUROPAGATE project had tested some of the "slim" OSI implementations that are available. ("slim" OSI is the common denominator for software who only implement basic communication facilities but still are fully OSI compliant). This software functions very well and can interoperate with other OSI implementations like the ISODE software. However nobody in the panel believed that OSI implementations would be revived by slim OSI implementations - Internet (TCP/IP) implementations will still be dominant in a foreseeable future.

Many new providers of Internet based services has been established (or will be shortly) and the majority of the European TELCO's do (or will) offer Internet based services. Some mentioned the problems around the organisation of the Internet and the performance problems - and one of the panel participants mentioned that it was recommendable to plan for alternative solutions (e.g. OSI) when the applications are designed. Another panel participant mentioned that we perhaps would see "business class" Internet services in the future (services with a guaranteed performance).

ad 2). Everybody agreed that there is a need for the e-mail gateway. Organisations who don't want to have on-line sessions outside the organisation (due to security requirements or economical reasons) and users who lacks modern network facilities, are potential "customers" for the a e-mail based gateway service. A service like this would also give persons from outside Europe (placed in regions with less developed communication infrastructure) an opportunity to access remote library catalogues.

ad 3) A need for standard service and/or implementors agreements was also identified during the discussions. Implementors agreements will be necessary to document the technical details and the service (commercial) agreements will be necessary as the content of the catalogues represent a significant value. The ONE project develop these agreements for the project participants but others are welcome to comment and contribute.

Europagate will complement existing initiatives to interconnect Library OPACS, e.g. the ONE project. Many Libraries will interconnect their OPAC's directly - but there will be a need for Europagate in situations were technical and administrative problems obstructs direct interconnection. The WWW gateway and the administrative functions are function will be very useful for professional providers of "Library services". the report should reflect actions taken following the review recommendations.

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