Information and documentation Standards for interoperability among library and related systems

A library

Within ISO Technical Committee 46 'Information and documentation', subcommittee 4 'Technical interoperability' plays a key role in facilitating interoperability among systems and organisations. Recently, the subcommittee has finalised two important Standards – ISO 2146 and ISO 8459 – that will underpin interoperability among library and related systems, services, and databases.

New Zealand holds the secretariat for ISO Technical Committee 46/Subcommittee 4. Alison Elliott, Director of Content Services at the National Library of New Zealand, is Chair of Subcommittee 4.

Organisation of data elements for cultural institutions

ISO 2146, Information and documentation – Registry services for libraries and related organisations, soon to be published, will facilitate the organisation of data elements of the services and resources of cultural institutions.

ISO 2146 will provide a model for establishing standard data elements and structures to be used in the creation of registries describing the collections, parties, activities, and services provided by libraries and related organisations.

The abstract model in ISO 2146 is object-oriented, so that it can be converted to machine-readable formats such as XML. The Standard does not prescribe content encoding, allowing different ontologies and controlled vocabularies.

Registries provide services involving multiple databases and systems, particularly for the discovery to delivery process. As discovery becomes increasingly global in scale, systems require either international registries or a series of interoperable regional and national registries. Registry information also supports inter systems and digital repositories, discovery services, delivery services, and reference services.

Common definitions for data exchange

ISO 8459:2009, Information and documentation – Bibliographic data element directory for use in data exchange and enquiry is an important tool enabling the interoperability of Standards in bibliographic and library domains comprising content schemas, protocols, profiles, and models. This Standard provides common definitions for data elements exchanged in protocol messages between systems.

Originally published as a multi-part Standard, ISO 8459 has evolved over the years. Its first part, published more than 20 years ago, addressed interloan applications, standardising terms used in forms exchanged among libraries. Its second part covered acquisitions applications, focusing on electronic ordering of data elements, and the third was dedicated to information retrieval applications.

ISO 8459's fourth part, published in the 1990s, focused on circulation applications, and was subsequently used as the base for the National Information Standards Organization Circulation Interchange Protocol, NISO NCIP (Z39.83). The last and fifth part, published in 2004, covered data elements for the exchange of cataloguing data and metadata. The 2009 version of ISO 8459 replaces and revises all former parts.


Consolidating the five parts of ISO 8459 was always intended. The parts were originally developed during a period of revolutionary technological change. Data transmissions leapt from paper to electronic communications, which advanced from narrowband to broadband to web-based protocols. The ISO 8459 drafters anticipated that numerous elements would need to be redefined, deleted, or added.

It was not easy to determine a method for consolidating the different elements. After several false starts, it was decided to map the elements to data elements within protocols in current use. Missing elements were added, and those that had no clear current role were discarded. This approach offered in addition, a simple method for elements in one protocol to be mapped to another. The protocols and schemas mapped include:

  • ISO 10161 Interlibrary loan application Standards (ISO ILL)
  • NISO NCIP Z39.83
  • OpenURL Request Transfer Message
  • Open Archives Initiative-Protocol for Metadata Harvesting (OAI-PMH)
  • Z39.50
  • SRU (search/retrieval via URL)
  • SRU record update
  • ISO 20775:2009 Schema for holdings information
  • Relevant elements from ISO 2146 Registry services for libraries and related organisations (not yet published).

Most of these Standards – except EDItEUR and OAI-PMH – employed one or more of the ISO 8459 parts in their development. With the exception of the basic Dublin Core elements (ISO 15836:2009), which were included in the original Part 5 and ONIX*, no metadata standards for bibliographic description were mapped because the scope of ISO 8459 is on exchange of information at the message level.

There are 588 data elements in the consolidated version, of which 451 elements were sourced from the original five parts (consolidated from more than 991 elements) and 137 added from the selected protocols.

In total, 876 elements were mapped from the protocols to the data elements, as equivalents or as examples. The protocol mappings (which are not part of the official Standard) are available for online searching. (

At the same time, the elements were consolidated along conceptual lines so that loans, inter-library loans, and acquisitions requests were all considered as varieties of acquisitions requests. Overdue loan notices, interlibrary loan recalls, and acquisitions claims were all considered as varieties of claims.

The conceptual grouping enables system developers, who typically employ multiple standards, to use the identified interrelationships and definitions in their database designs. The full French translation serves development of multilingual interfaces. Other national bodies associated with ISO may also consider translation into other languages.

Aligning data elements

The main role of the new ISO 8459, however, is not to support system development directly, but to act as a reference for the development of new protocols, models, and schemas.

ISO 20775:2009, Information and documentation – Schema for holdings information, and the OpenURL Request Transfer Message both drew heavily on ISO 8459 during their development.

NISO's NCIP also refers to ISO 8459, and the delivery community has expressed interest in the mappings that show the equivalences of the data elements in different protocols, although the names are almost always different.

By inheriting element names and definitions, new Standards can be developed in an efficient manner that directly relates them to existing Standards in the field.

* ONIX stands for ONline Information eXchange and refers to an XML schema for representing book industry product information.

Reproduced from an article by Janifer Gatenby in 'ISO Focus+' February 2010

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