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Large Scale Demonstrators for Global, Open Distributed Library Services


The UNIVERSE project aims to deliver and utilise a 'logical union catalogue' that is capable of providing this 'single point of contact' for specific subject domains.

UNIVERSE will use this logical union catalogue to deliver a number of advanced library services for both the end-user and the librarian:
Search and Retrieve: very large scale, transparent multi-database searching.
Multi-Media document delivery: integrated to the search and retrieve process.
Inter-Library Loans: integrated to the search and retrieve process.
Collaborative cataloguing/record supply.

Technical approach

UNIVERSE will exploit the outcomes of previous library projects and utilises developments in key standards:
Z39.50 / SR - to provide heterogeneous database searching;
UNICODE & UNIMARC - canonical internal character and record representation;
ILL - as a part of the document delivery process.

Large scale logical union catalogues will be developed in two subject areas. UNIVERSE will aim to deliver advanced services around a Pan-European technical catalogue and a Pan-European environmental catalogue. This will involve collaboration with the G7 pilot project on 'Environment and Natural Resource Management'

The logical catalogues will be established by co-ordinating large numbers of relevant libraries through subject based 'user groups' to stimulate cross-border co-operation and resource sharing between libraries. The national libraries in UNIVERSE have the role of providing rich, high volume data sets. They will consolidate the activity within the subject areas, and broaden the scope of the demonstrators across further subject areas, geographical areas and library types.

Key issues

The ability to search in parallel, multiple physical databases which are heterogeneous in terms of access methods, record syntax, character set and even language, presenting results as if a single logical database were being searched.
The multiplicity of data sources is hidden from the user and a high quality of service is achieved both in terms of performance and data quality through record de-duplication and merging.
Through the use of Open Distributed Processing (ODP) techniques the architecture has potentially unlimited scalability. UNIVERSE should be capable of transparent, simultaneous searching of massive sets of physical databases, whilst maintaining high performance.

Impact, users and expected results

The project will provide:
A large scale implementation of distributed library services, and the experience so gained.
An implementation of an open software architecture and that makes a significant step toward the Global Information Infrastructure.
Contribution to the standards process.

The work undertaken to produce the design specifications has identified two key areas where UNIVERSE will potentially contribute to the development of international standards:
Z39.50 profile for multi-lingual thesaurus
implementors agreement for interim search results responses to enable the system to act more like a single database.


Major deliverables completed so far are:
Technical State of the Art
User Services State of the Art
Technical specifications
A prototype of the client software for use by librarians in Interlibrary Loan and Document Delivery was demonstrated at the TAP Conference in Barcelona in early February 1998.

Call for proposal

Data not available


Fretwell-Downing Data Systems Ltd
EU contribution
No data
Brincliffe House 861 Ecclesall Road
S11 7AE Sheffield
United Kingdom

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Total cost
No data

Participants (4)