BELNET Workgroup on Libraries

Belgian Z39.50 Implementation Group - BeZIG

BeZIG Information Day - 7 July 2000 - register here

International ZIG-Meeting (12-14 July K.U.Leuven)

Concerted action for the implementation of the Z39.50 protocol in Belgium

About the concerted action


The accessibility of library catalogues has much improved with the coming of Internet and the WWW. It remains however a laborious undertaking to consult several library catalogues in search of an item. Searches have to be repeated, using the proprietary web-interface of each catalogue.

The international ISO 23950 standard, (or NISO Z39.50) allows the searching of catalogues with a Z39.50 client. This means that a user is only confronted with one interface while searching databases mounted on different systems. On top of that, these databases can be searched simultaneously.

This standard, with its Version 3 officially adopted by ISO in 1995 has now reached a mature status and is being supported in most state-of-the-art library software.

Over the last two years, several Belgian libraries have migrated to newer library management systems or are in the process of doing so (ULB - Unicorn; UCL - Virtua; RUGent - Aleph; KULeuven (LIBIS-Net) - Amicus ). Most of these systems support the Z39.50 library access protocol and libraries are investing resources in making their catalogues available through this standard.

As said before, the standard allows for simultaneous consultation of catalogues, a facility that previously could only be obtained by physically joining the catalogue records into one union catalogue. Most Belgian academic and research libraries now are providing their data concerning monographs to the CCB (Collectieve Catalogus van België / Catalogue Collectif de Belgique) and their data concerning periodicals to Antilope. The Antilope catalogue is maintained by the library of the Antwerp University through continuous updating based on the changes reported by the participating libraries. The CCB on the contrary, is recreated almost every year by merging the complete catalogues of the participating libraries. Both databases are published on a CD-ROM called 'Union Catalogues of Belgian Research Libraries" which allows them to be consulted through one interface. In both cases it takes a lot of effort to produce the databases.

The arrival of the Z39.50 protocol brings a virtual Union Catalogue into scope, where it is no longer needed to maintain a physically merged catalogue for consultation.

Why a concerted action

The implementation of Z39.50 is not so simple as the above paragraphs would lead to believe. If one would like one's library system to interact with another one, agreements are needed. One can reach an agreement with each library separately on a bilateral basis. This may prove to be a course that advances very slowly and might deter new libraries from implementing the protocol because there will be no guidelines.

The WG-Lib proposal for a concerted action aims at setting these guidelines by reaching a common agreement among Belgian libraries about how the Z39.50 protocol could be implemented for the benefit of all. One of the benefits could well be a virtual union catalogue, not only for consultation but also for cataloguing and resource sharing.


The Belnet User Forum Workgroup on Libraries (WG-Lib) represents the libraries and documentation centres of the BELNET sites that provide electronic information through the Belgian academic and research network.

One of the primary tasks of WG-Lib is to initiate projects that extent the number of services that libraries can provide over the BELNET network. WG-Lib identified the implementation of Z39.50 as having great potentiality for such services.

Since WG-Lib gathers people from the French and Dutch speaking libraries and from technical and institutional level it was felt to be the appropriate platform for the co-operation that is needed to implement Z39.50 on a larger scale. A specific workgroup was established with people belonging to university libraries already involved in Z39.50 developments such as KULeuven, UCL, ULB, RUG and Royal Library. This Belgian Z39.50 Implementors Group (BeZIG) will co-ordinate the concerted action.

Working Sequence

In order to motivate the participating institutions and libraries and possible subsidising organisationsn the BeZIG decided to follow a step by step strategy, providing, at each step :

Preliminary step: Enquiry among the Belgian libraries

To get an overview of the present status of automation, cataloguing and Z39.50 implementation among Belgian libraries, an enquiry will be sent out to a great number of Belgian libraries.

Step 1 : Establishing reference information for 1-to-1 Z39.50 consultation

The information gathered in the enquiry will be made available so that setting up bilateral connections will be facilitated. The creation of a BeZIG website, containing this information is envisaged.

56 of 215 addressed libraries have answered the enquiry. Please find here the list


Step 2 : Establishing 1-to-N Z39.50 consultation

A further step will be the possibility to consult several catalogues simultaneously. Therefor a common Z39.50 profile has to be agreed upon and/or one or more gateways to the participating catalogues may need to be created. Participating catalogues may include catalogues converted to the Z39.50 compatible ERL-platform.

Step 3 : Shared cataloguing

This phase could include deduplication of search results from different databases and the organisation of record exchange between different systems.

Step 4 : Links with existing services

Though mentioned as a last step, it is evident that linking with other information navigation and delivery services, will be paid continuous attention to and that links will be established whenever relevant and possible.

The progress reports and additional information related to this concerted action will be made available on this server or can be obtained from

If you want to know more about Z39.50, you will find here some useful links to Z3950.resources.

Actual members of the WG-LIB-BeZIG group: