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UniCat : Towards a Belgian Virtual Union Catalogue (First phase: January 2002 - December 2003)

Research project I2/AE/101 (Research action I2)

Contract I2/AE/101 :

Duration of the contract :


Partners :

  • Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (Coordinator of the project)
  • Royal Library of Belgium 
  • Université Libre de Bruxelles 
  • Université Catholique de Louvain 
  • Universiteit Gent 
  • Universiteit Antwerpen 

Description :

The general objective of the UniCat project is to establish a gateway allowing users to simultaneously search and retrieve bibliographic records from Belgian library catalogues. As such UniCat can be considered as a virtual union catalogue of Belgian libraries. This gateway will be based on standards and protocols such as Z39.50 and OAI (Open Archives Initiative). In the project a uniform and multilingual web front-end to this gateway will be developed.

The UniCat project targets the following user communities :

- End users in general and more particularly the Belnet user community. The UniCat gateway focuses on transparent and simultaneous access to a variety of library catalogues for the purpose of searching and retrieving the scientific information available within these libraries. The primary users of this service are students, scientists and staff working at the Belnet universities, research centres, schools for higher education and federal scientific institutions such as the Royal Library. The UniCat service is not restricted to the Belnet community but will also be open for use by the general public.

- Library professionals in general and more particularly the cataloguing departments in the Belnet libraries. This means that cataloguers rather than create catalogue records from scratch, will be able to identify records in remote catalogues and copy these to their local catalogue (copy cataloguing). Although cataloguing rules and especially subject classification systems vary amongst the academic and scientific libraries in Belgium, the Belnet Workgroup on Libraries is confident that this type of record exchange will stimulate the discussion on the use of uniform cataloguing rules.

The project has 6 partners representing more than 40 various institutions. The partnership however wants to involve other interested parties from the beginning of the project, these could include libraries of museums, archives, documentation centres...

To achieve the objectives, the project has been divided into two major phases:

- Feasibility study and concertation: The feasibility study will elaborate on more technical issues such as protocols to use and their applicability in the Belgian library environment. Nowadays we can distinguish (at least) two protocols (Z39.50 and the Open Archives Metadata Harvesting Protocol - OAMH) that might fulfil the needs of the UniCat project. The overall architecture of the UniCat prototype will be defined. Finally the data that will be available through the UniCat prototype have to be defined. Also the technical and functional conditions for external partners to participate in the creation of the prototype will be finalised.

- Technical Realisation : The technical realisation of the UniCat prototype is largely based on the results of the feasibility study and therefor the realisations can not yet be defined more in detail. However, considering both above mentioned protocols (Z39.50 and OAMH), we can identify three different issues:

1. Creation of the central node for the Union Catalogue

2. Adapting the local library systems

3. End user access to the central node

In a project as this, it is essential to take the copyright issue into account. Who is the owner of the bibliographic record ? How far can this ownership go back? Can external sources (e.g; Books in print) be made available? On what conditions ? Which agreements on the record exchange have to be made between the (future) project partners ?

In the second phase of the project a general testbed of the UniCat gateway will be organised, this testbed will include both end users and professional users. Afterwards the UniCat gateway will be made generally available.

Other libraries and library collections will be invited to join the project and other cultural sectors will be contacted. Several functional extensions, such as: deduplication of bibliographic records, copy information and a link to document delivery can be considered.

- Contact person (project's coordinator):

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL)
LIBIS - Bibliotheekinformaticadienst
Johan Rademakers
De Croylaan 52B
Tel : 016 32 22 64
Fax : 016 32 29 81


Coordinator Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KUL)
LIBIS - Bibliotheekinformaticadienst

Partner 1 Royal Library of Belgium (KBR)

Partner 2 Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB) Recherche-Développement et Information Scientifique (RDIS)

Partner 3 Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL) Bibliothèque de Psychologie et des Sciences de l'Education

Partner 4 Universiteit Gent (UG) Centrale Bibliotheek

Partner 5 Universiteit Antwerpen (UA) UIA-Bibliotheek

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