The Mysterious Mr. Z in Z39.50 ;-)

An explainer about what “z” in z39.50 stands for all the confused souls.

27 years back, in 1991, Subhash Ghai released a movie named – Saudagar. The signature tune from its original soundtrack was a song – “ILU ILU.. YEH ILU ILU KYA HAIN? ILU ILU? (‘ILU ILU… What is this ILU ILU?’)“.

In case you are wondering about the context of this song, ever since NECOPAC z39.50 service went live last month, the most repeated common question coming from LIS students and professionals on FB has been – “What does ‘Z’ stand for in z39.50?”.

For some, it is a question that popped up in their head when encountering z39.50 search in Koha. For others, especially from West Bengal, India, apparently this is a question that is being asked at the currently on-going interview for WBHRB.

Some wondered that it perhaps stood for the company that started z39.50, while others had no idea.

So what is z39.50?

In very simple terms Z39.50 is a communications protocol for searching and retrieving information from a bibliographic information database over a TCP/IP computer network. It is covered by ANSI/NISO standard Z39.50, and ISO standard 23950:1998. The standard is maintained by US Library of Congress.

Cataloguers mostly encounter z39.50 when they attempt to do copy cataloging. Copy cataloging is a process of fetching and editing a pre-existing bibliographic record from a z39.50 server instead of creating a completely new record from scratch. Thus helping to save time, effort and therefore money, while bringing in a certain standard in cataloging quality.

Ok! Just tell me what “Z” stand for!

Asking what “Z” represents is actually asking the wrong question. The correct question to ask is What does Z39 stand for?.

The short answer

On its own, Z39 simply refers to the American National Standards Committee Z39. By itself “Z” has no special meaning. In the present context, Z39 refers to NISO standards related to publishing, bibliographic and library applications in the United States of America, all of which start with “ANSI/NISO Z39.”.

Towards the end of this post a few example NISO standards have been listed.

The long answer

To understand we have to look back at the history of standardization process as it happened in the United States of America during the last century.

Exactly 100 years back in 1918, 5 engineering organisations and 3 federal organisations came together to form the American Engineering Standards Committee (AESC). In 1928, AESC re-organised to form the American Standards Association (ASA). In 1966, ASA became the USA Standards Institute, followed by a further transformation in 1969 to become the American National Standards Institute or ANSI as we know it today.

The centenary video from ANSI describes the journey of standardization in United States and its global impact.

It was during the ASA years that formal standardization of librarianship started to take shape.

Image source: The Legacy of a Librarian: Carolyn Ulrich’s Little Magazines

In 1935 Carolyn F. Ulrich of New York Public Library led the initiative to create a standard for arrangement of periodicals that became known as Z29.1-1935.

In 1937, prompted by various library associations, ASA appointed Ulrich to represent ASA on International Standards Association’s (ISA) Committee 46 – an international committee on documentation.

This further led to the organisation of a national committee on library standards in June of 1939. The committee was simply named as “Committee Z39” and was tasked with setting up

“Standards for [library] concepts, definitions, terminology, letters and signs, practices, methods, supplies and equipment.”

Over time it came to be known as the “American National Standards Committee Z39“. In 1984, it changed its name and structure to become the National Information Standards Organization (NISO). NISO today continues to develop, maintain and publish technical standards related to publishing, bibliographic and library applications in the United States of America as an ANSI accredited SDO (standards designator organization). All NISO standards all start with “ANSI/NISO Z39.” (read as zee or zed thirty nine dot).

To cut a long story short, z39.50 is simply the 50th NISO approved standard

Example of NISO standards

If you wish to explore further into the world of NISO standards, please do visit the NISO standards tracker for active standards.

Featured image is from the document “Task Force on American National Standards Committee Z39: Activities and Future Directions” published in 1976. The full-text of this historical document is available here.

NECOPAC : a new z39.50 service from North Eastern India

The launch of NECOPAC the first volunteer-run, freely available, public z39.50 service in North Eastern India.

On the auspicious occasion of Rongali Bihu (for the Assamese) and Poila Boishakh (for the Bengali), on behalf of the NECOPAC team, I’m happy to announce the start of NECOPAC z39.50 service. This is the first freely available, public z39.50 (copy cataloging) service in North Eastern India. As on date there are 92,333 bibliographic records in the database, all of which are volunteer contributed. We are expecting more records to be contributed soon.

Origin of the project

The germ of the idea of NECOPAC started about 2 years back during a chance meeting of a group of young like-minded library professionals and technology specialists in Guwahati, Assam.

The north eastern Indian is home to 8 states – Assam, Manipur, Tripura, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. The region boasts of great cultural heritage and diversityr. Libraries are an important means of preserving and disseminating this rich heritage, traditional knowledge, literature and other creative output.

Freely available copy cataloging of Indian publications using z39.50 service, to this day, remains largely a distant dream for most Indian library professionals. The scenario in the North East is even more difficult when it comes to publications in the local languages from this part of India.

The NECOPAC z39.50 service is a volunteer-run collaborative attempt at bridging this service gap. It is the first freely available, public z39.50 service in the entire North Eastern India. For us to grow bigger and be able to serve more LIS professionals in the NE, we need your active support and contributions i.e. a copy of your bibliographic records.

DISCLAIMER : The bibliographic records are provided on AS-IS basis by this service and the NECOPAC team does not vouch for the correctness or accuracy of these records.

Connecting and downloading records from NECOPAC

You will need to setup your z39.50 client using these details:

Parameter Setting
Server name NECOPAC
Hostname z3950.necopac.in
Port 9999
Database biblios
Syntax MARC21 / USMARC
Encoding UTF-8

Running a public z39.50 service with 100% reliability

Over 2 months now, we’ve been running the 5th public z39.50 server from India with 100% host reliability.

Earlier this year on April 20th, we had shared with our readers that FMIRO CCU’s public access z39.50 service run by L2C2 Technologies had achieved 100% host reliability (according to irspy.indexdata.com) and in the process had become the 5th Indian entry into the IRSPY’s global directory of open access z39.50 servers.

We are happy to inform that 2 months on, we have managed to run the server without a single service drop and have continued to maintain our 100% host reliability status. For us this has been a learning exercise and we hope this will encourage more Koha users across India to start opening up their catalogs for copy cataloging by their fellow catalogers.

Host connection reliability

Host connection reliability measures the reliability of the target only in its ability to respond to connections: the display indicates the number of successful connections in the last two months, the total number of attempted connections in that time, and the percentage of successful connections. For example, reliability of 9/15 = 60% indicates that fifteen attempts have been made to connect to the server in the last two months, of which nine (60%) have been successful. [1]

About IRSpy

IRSpy maintains a global registry of information retrieval targets, about 1295 as per recent count (http://irspy.indexdata.com/stats.html), supporting protocols like ANSI/NISO Z39.50 (ISO 23950) and SRU/SRW web services.

About Index Data

Short answer: The guys who publish the Zebra indexing engine and YAZ toolkit and software libraries.

Long answer: Since 1994, Index Data has offered software development, consulting and integration with a focus on search. Our pioneering involvement in open source and open standards dates back to the first release of the YAZ toolkit for Z39.50 in 1995. [2]

References

[1] IRSpy help: info/reliability

[1] About Index Data

FMIRO CCU’s public z39.50 server running on Koha ILS achieves 100% reliability on IRSpy.

Hosted by L2C2 Technologies, FMIRO becomes the 5th Indian entry into IRSpy’s global z39.50 directory.

We are happy to announce the z39.50 service of FMIRO CCU (FOSMA Maritime Institute & Research Organisation, Kolkata branch) has achieved 100% reliability as an open access z39.50 search target for bibliographic materials related to maritime and ship operations. With this, FMIRO CCU becomes the fifth publicly announced z39.50 server from India which is listed on IRSpy service provided by Index Data.

FMIRO CCU’s nascent library is hosted on L2C2 Technologies‘s cloud platform using Koha ILS. The FMIRO OPAC is available at : http://fosma-opac.l2c2.co.in/. The collection at FMIRO is a specialized collection focused solely on topics related to maritime, marine engineering, ship building, ship operations and nautical sciences. It is still a very small collection that is quite literally growing by the day.

Host connection reliability

Host connection reliability measures the reliability of the target only in its ability to respond to connections: the display indicates the number of successful connections in the last two months, the total number of attempted connections in that time, and the percentage of successful connections. For example, reliability of 9/15 = 60% indicates that fifteen attempts have been made to connect to the server in the last two months, of which nine (60%) have been successful. [1]

About IRSpy

IRSpy maintains a global registry of information retrieval targets, about 1295 as per recent count (http://irspy.indexdata.com/stats.html), supporting protocols like ANSI/NISO Z39.50 (ISO 23950) and SRU/SRW web services.

About Index Data

Short answer: The guys who publish the Zebra indexing engine and YAZ toolkit and software libraries.

Long answer: Since 1994, Index Data has offered software development, consulting and integration with a focus on search. Our pioneering involvement in open source and open standards dates back to the first release of the YAZ toolkit for Z39.50 in 1995. [2]

References

[1] IRSpy help: info/reliability

[1] About Index Data