sponsored by the Library of Congress Cataloging Directorate
William E. Moen, Ph.D.
School of Library and Information Sciences
University of North Texas
P.O. Box 311068
Denton, TX 76203-1068
Resource Discovery Using Z39.50: Promise and Reality
About the presenter:
Dr. William Moen teaches courses in the School of Library and Information Sciences, University of North Texas, on the information of organization, metadata and networked information organization and retrieval, and Z39.50 His research program includes the organization of networked resources, interoperability testing; distributed searching and networked information retrieval, metadata and networked information evaluation, user studies related to networked information seeking behavior, and the development and implementation of technical standards. Since the early 1990s, he has been involved in a number of Z39.50 initiatives including the development of the Government Information Locator Service (GILS) and its associated Z39.50 profile, the coordination of a Z39.50 profile for search and retrieval of cultural heritage information for the Consortium for the Computer Interchange of Museum Information (CIMI), and a comprehensive evaluation of the U.S. Federal implementation of GILS. Most recently, Moen facilitated the development of a statewide Z39.50 profile for Texas (the Z Texas Profile) and participated on the Bath Profile, and international Z39.50 specification for Library Applications and Resource Discovery. He serves as editor of the CIMI, Z Texas, and Bath Profiles. Recent writings include: Assuring Interoperability in the Networked Environment: Standards, Evaluation, Testbeds, and Politics (forthcoming) and articles on Z39.50 and related issues published in the Journal of Academic Librarianship, Journal of the American Society for Information Science, Texas Library Journal, and Communications of the ACM. Dr. Moen received his Ph.D. from Syracuse University where he wrote his dissertation on the development of the Z39.50 standard.Full text of paper is available
Summary: The ANSI/NISO Z39.50 protocol for information retrieval is considered by some as an important strategic tool for providing integrated access to distributed networked resources in the while others consider it to be an outdated "technology" that should be abandoned. An understanding of its historical development is critical to evaluate the current perceptions and misperceptions of the roles it is assuming in the networked environment. This paper briefly reviews the 20+ history of Z39.50 development, the complexity of information retrieval problems it addresses, and how the goals for its use has changed over time. In part, the paper shows how this standard was intended to solve problems within a limited community (i.e., libraries) but has now become deployed in other communities to solve the challenges of networked information retrieval. The standard can be viewed as a class of evolutionary standards, and it has evolved to incorporate advances in technologies and technical approaches (e.g., the use of the Internet, integration into the Web environment, and use of new technologies such as the Extensible Markup Language).
The context of Z39.50's goals provides a way to investigate the meaning of resource discovery. Like many terms in the networked environment, resource discovery has many meanings, and the paper attempts to identify the type of resource discovery enabled by Z39.50. Networked resource discovery implies the use of one system to discover resources on one or more separate systems, and such interworking of two systems highlights the key issue of interoperability.
One constant goal of Z39.50 developers was to enable interoperability between diverse systems and diverse resources. The paper describes how Z39.50 enables this interoperability yet details reasons why implementations of the standard have been deficient in achieving this important goal. Recent initiatives have resulted in important national and internationals specifications for using Z39.50 (i.e., profiles) to address underlying interoperability problems, and profiles appear to offer a realistic solution path for seemingly intractable problems in interoperability. The paper describes these profiles and the likely impact they will have on the use of Z39.50 both within libraries and within other communities such as museums. In addition, the paper suggests a framework for analyzing the complexity of interoperability and identifies an approach being developed at the University of North Texas for establishing a rigorous interoperability testbed.
The past several years has seen a new uptake of Z39.50, both within the library community for creating virtual union catalogs as well as in other communities to solve networked information retrieval problems and provide services to customers. The paper highlights several of these developments to indicate potential roles for Z39.50 in the networked environment. The paper concludes with an overall assessment of Z39.50 strengths as well as the opportunities and challenges the standard faces in serving as a strategic information retrieval tool for libraries and other communities in the networked environment.
Z39.50 continues to evolve as a comprehensive international standard designed to improve the information retrieval of networked resources in a distributed environment, with examples of numerous "profiles" that have been developed over the last several years. This presentation addresses the perception that the standard lacks the broad Internet community support and the contention that it is too flexible and too large and complex for widespread commercial application. It identifies outstanding problems and looks at how well positioned the standard is to offer a future solution to increasing retrieval problems of networked resources on the Web.