VOCAL - a model for a union catalogue[1]



The model of co-operative cataloguing the  present paper describes is not one of the classic ones. Though it was created to serve the needs of the user community of the same integrated library system it does not follow the plausible solution of the centralized union catalogue model, where bibliographic records are created in the central database and distributed from there. Its structure, which preserves the primacy of the local databases, was planned to meet a few practical demands of the member libraries, without demanding the investment of much labour on the side of the central  database.


I. Present copy cataloguing practices


The potential user group of the union catalogue consists of at present some 20 higher education libraries in Hungary with holdings varying between a few thousands and a few millions. They all use the same library system, have various size authority controlled databases in USMARC format. A common  characteristics of the libraries is the fact that their bibliographic databases are relatively small  compared to their holdings and they all take considerable effort in retrospective cataloguing.


Copy cataloguing has been of great importance among these circumstances, some tools of which have already been offered to and used by the member libraries: they have been using the Library of Congress and the Hungarian National Library bibliographic databases in their retrospective conversion and they have direct access to each other online catalogues to pull bibliographic and authority records from there into their own databases.


However effectively these tools may help cataloguing work, however intensive the export from  the catalogue of one or the other member institutions can be, they cannot substitute a union catalogue with full co-operative cataloguing possibilities. In the absence of an overall picture of all databases at the same time, cataloguers have chosen a favourite catalogue as the source of their record import not making use of the potentials of other catalogues. Their choice is usually motivated by two factors: likeliness of hits and similarities of cataloguing practices.


As all databases are authority controlled the fact that cataloguers can import bibliographic  records solves only a half of their problems. Before they can save the imported bibliographic record into their online catalogue they have to check it against their existing authority database and quite often need new authority records. There exists the possibilty of authority record import, as well, but cataloguers find it easier to create their own authority record than going through the relatively awkward wokflow of selecting and importing the already existing  authority records of another catalogue one by one.


II. Tasks to be solved


The VOCAL model, which is in its test period, primarily aims at enlarging the copy cataloguers possibilities  giving them one database updated online containing all bibliographic records of the member libraries. The database will be authority controlled by authority records of personal, corporate and conference names, uniform and serial titles, and subject headings linked to the bibliographic records.


Our experience with copy cataloguing so far has proved one of the basic axioms of good co-operations: it works only if it makes life easier for the co-operating partners. An istitution is happy to join the project if it can peserve its integrity and results achieved so far, if it does not have to face major structural changes. A cataloguer will use the records from another institution's catalogue only if the time spent on its retrieval, editing and saving into the local system is shorter than creating a new record of a book in hand. The creation, and maintenance of the VOCAL database have to take much less effort of cataloguers than they spare when  they import a new record to their database from VOCAL.


As their is no centrally maintained MARC authority file existing in Hungary, institutions building authority controlled databases are involved in creating and maintaining authority records very extensively. The nature and the very essence of authority work make it even more important to share the burden of it and co-operate in authority file creation. Importing a bibliographic record saves only time, while a common pool of authority records can become a tool of building  a database of "re-usable authority records conforming to cataloguing rules on the one hand and acting as unifying force on the other.


Co-operation in authority work in general is of special interst of subject-cataloguers building vocabularies, which constantly expend as newly issued documents require. The facts, however, that subject heading systems work with references extensively and more importantly that member libraries use various systems make the developers of VOCAL pay attention to their unique needs.


The VOCAL database does  not only  serve cataloguers and subject cataloguers. It is going to be a union catalogue offering location information online with direct links to interlibrary loan and document delivery services.


The VOCAL model has to find a technical solution to the fact that libraries cannot provide any additional staff for the purposes of the union catalogue. Libraries, focusing on developing and maintaining their own online databases can devote only a fragment of staff time to the VOCAL.


III. The model of the system



The VOCAL model is based on the local authority controlled catalogues. Cataloguing work is carried on at this side much in the same way as before the implementation of VOCAL. Cataloguers do not experience any major change in their local cataloguing window except for some new save options. They go on with their normal workflow they are accustomed to in their local database. There are only two basic changes for them: the first and most important one is that before starting to catalogue a document they have to check  not only their local catalogue for the title but the VOCAL database, as well. Whenever they find a record there, they have to use that as the raw material of their work. The other is that as a default they have to use a new save option, which saves all new and updated records to the local online catalogue and the VOCAL database at the same time. Except for cataloguers in charge of the VOCAL database - who can choose to do maintainance work there using the same  cataloguing interface - this is all VOCAL requires of a cataloguer.


The mechanism behind the scene is the following:


1. The cataloguer not finding a re-usable record in the VOCAL database creates a new bibliographic record in the local system. saves it into both the local and VOCAL  databases.


2. The authority control will probably stop the save process making the cataloguer create the authority records matching the heading of the new bibliographic record. The new authority records are saved into both databases.


3. When the new bibliographic record is finally saved into the the catalogues the cataloguer will have to confirm the acceptance of the new headings for the local catalogue, while the bibliographic record arriving  at the VOCAL catalogue is validated automatically by the  authority record saved a few moments ago already waiting for it in the VOCAL database.


4. Now the bibliographic record in the VOCAL database is needed by another institution. It is pulled into the edit window of the local cataloguing modul. All the authority records "attached" to it are automatically sent along with it into the buffer, which is normally used by cataloguers when doing authority work.


5. The record is edited, local holding information, local subject headings are added, "alien" subject headings are deleted.


6. The record is again saved into the local + VOCAL databases.

6a. Local save might need the authority records already in the edit buffer. The cataloguer has to  make a conscious decision when accepting the authority records and has the opportunity to revise them if needed. Unused authority records are simply aborted from the  buffer.

6b. The VOCAL save process is again  automatic: most of the bibliographic fields are updatable, while some, like subject and holdings information fields are simply added to the already present fields.


Some special save options like "save to VOCAL" or "save to OPAC" alone allows a lot of variations to the life circle of bibliographic and authority records but the above procedure will be characteristic of most of the cataloguing work going on in the VOCAL system.


The offered model has various advantages without putting much extra burden  on cataloguers. It ensures a very uptodate database of bibliographic and authority records always available for a technically easy record export. The database provides very reliable location and holding information thus ready to form the bases of interlibrary loan and document delivery connections. All these are achived through automated processes on the side of the central database keeping the system alive even  if no staff can be devoted to extensive work on the side of the central database.


Automated processes have their disadvantages. They, themselves cannot prevent the accumulation of variant forms of headings arriving from local databases. They, however, provide the technical tool and collect the raw material, which as in the case of all high quality  databases, becomes a coherent catalogue provided it is built with disciplined observation of cataloguing rules and mutually confirmed local regulations, on the one hand, and staff time is invested on the maintainance on the other hand. The model does not promise that cataloguing becomes an easy job that can be done by "auxiliary workers". Cataloguers, relieved of the burden of tedious, unnecessary repetition of entering the same data into the catalogue again and again, have to remain what they have always been, well trained specialists performing high quality work.


IV. Workflow and cataloguing rules


The quality of the central catalogue depends on conscious effort on the member libraries and local cataloguers. As we have seen, the VOCAL  model provides a workflow that does not add a lot of additional task  to what has been performed by cataloguers before  entering the co-operation. On  the other hand there are two rules without the strict observation of which  there is no hope for a high quality central catalogue:


1. The first step of all cataloguing activity  is a search in the central VOCAL catalogue. If the record of the document or heading is already there it is to be pulled into the local system and used as the  raw material of the local record. Should this step be omitted, the accumulation of duplicate bibliograhic records and authority records sanctifying various forms of the same headings start to accumulate. As, however,  cataloguers gain considerably if they can make use of an already existing record there are strong hopes that this rule will be generally observed.


2. All "saves" as a default must be saves both into the local and the VOCAL catalogues. This rule ensures that the VOCAL database always reflects the latest state of the local databases and a search in  it can be trusted to retrieve all information present in the local databases. This solution, however, results in what is relatively rare in co-operative cataloguing systems: the bibliographic and authority records once sent to the VOCAL database can be  subject to constant updates, changes, additions. The phenomenon is usually feared in co-operative cataloguing practices, a phenomenon that can result in the corruption of originally high quality records. Updates, on the other hand, occuring as the same record  is worked with by various cataloguers, can be observed as addition of information, correction of minor mistakes and "maturing" of the records.


We believe that the every day practice of the VOCAL database will prove that the strict  observation of national and international cataloguing rules and a carefully chosen set of commonly observed VOCAL practices can stregthen the positive rather than the negative effect of the free updatability of the database.


Without trying to give a full picture here let us highlight  some key areas the VOCAL cataloguing manual has to put an emphases on:


Formulation of headings must be very minutely decided as VOCAL aims on building a generally usable authority database. It is not enough to declare the general observation of  the cataloguing standard but all cases where the standards allow for individual decisions must be discussed.

The  minimum level of VOCAL records must be defined.

There must be a list of the types of changes (spelling mistakes, additional note information etc.) any cataloguer can make to the VOCAL record. A record cannot be subject to any major "conceptual" correction (series vs. multivolume document; edition information etc.) without discussing it with the institution that created the record. Should a cataloguer decide on major changes on an exported VOCAL record, she is to save her version of the record into the local catalogue and send only the location information back to the VOCAL database.

Regulations must deal with the circumstances changes can be decided on (eg. no changes can be made without the document in question in hand)

No information (except for "alian" subject headings, and location informtion) must be deleted from an exported VOCAL record. Should an institution decide on it  for some reasons, their version of the curtailed record again must be saved into the local database only.


As a model even verified by a test run cannot be prepared for all circumstances occuring in real life work, cataloguers will have to be ready to keep an eye on what is happening inthe VOCAL database for a while and adjust their rules and regulations accordingly.


V. Library of Congress Subject Heading translation project and the VOCAL


The fact that it reflects the current state of all member databases and its content is easily updatable from various intitutions makes  VOCAL a valuable tool for other bibliographic database related co-operations. The Library of  Congress Subject Heading translation project going on in the Kossuth Lajos University Library, Debrecen (KLTE) is typically one that can only be expanded into a co-operation project if  the partners can share the latest information all the time.


The original translation project in the KLTE library is based on the capabalities of the authority control of  its system. Translation of a heading in fact means the creation of an authority record with it and thus making the new heading part of the  authority controlled database. The tools authority control  module provides from pointing out conflicting headings and references to the discipline it   forces on subject cataloguers make it possible for us  to do the translation and subject cataloguing work parallelly, to start using the Hungarian subject headings without a long preparatory period. Subject cataloguers translate only the strings that are needed for the document in hand thus letting the vocabulary build gradually. If the references and broader and narrower terms are translated together with the headings, as well, the structure of the original system gradually appear in the translated version, too. It seems to be a dangerous approach at first but the strict observation of  the reference system  attached to the Library of Congress subject headings and the authority control module of our library software ensure that the gradually created Hungarian vocabulary becomes controlled and the terms in it keep their original position within the structure.


The present method of translation is based on the constant use of two databases: the original Library of Congress database of subject authorities and that of the already translated headings in the KLT|E online catalogue. When cataloguing a new book subject specialists try to use some of  the already translated ones. If there is not any available, a relevant Library of Congress subject heading is chosen and translated together with  all its references with a special care of keeping the coherence between  the new heading and references and all the elements already in the database.


This type of subject work can be ideally done in co-operation developing  a division of  labour among institutions according to the nature of their collection and the expertise of their staff. The same relatively staightforward method, however, can only be followed in an inter-institutional  environment if every cataloguer working in the project is given the most recent information on what and how has been translated on the one hand and given the  the possibility to update the database. VOCAL seems to provide the above necessary conditions in general.  It is worth investigating in details how it can fully meet all the needs emerging in a co-operation like this.



Debrecen, 1998.

Dr. Klára Koltay



[1] A description of the database was prepared to be read at by Klára Koltay at the conference on Research libraries co-operation in Automation, Cracow 16-19.11. 1998