The Union

In 1999 LIB-IT supplied the integrated library management system Libero for the Library Union in the region of Aachen ( Germany ). This library union is a voluntary association of public libraries (10), museum libraries (2) and one archive library. The Union is a collective catalogue that all participating libraries can contribute to by either cataloguing directly into the union system database or by importing catalogue records to the union database from external sources like the internet, other union catalogues, via Z39.50, etc. The Libero union system implementation started in 1999 with data conversion from a DOBIS/LIBIS union system, which had approximately 215,000 title records in the union database and it has since grown in excess of 300,000 catalogue records.

Union System and Local Servers

Apart from the shared union catalogue, each library has a server with its own local database, to which they download catalogue records online from the union catalogue, rather than catalogue locally for their own stock. So the ideal case is that one library creates the record in the union database, and then it will be downloaded to all the other 13 local databases, so it then becomes part of the standard literature that is available in all libraries. All catalogue records that have been downloaded can be enriched with additional information by the local libraries, e.g. non-standard subject headings, images, Web Links, links to files in the library’s file system, etc.

When a catalogue record is changed on the union server, this change will automatically be transferred within seconds to all the local library catalogues where this specific record has previously been downloaded and will not overwrite special local information that has been added to the record within the local catalogue.

Conversely, the local databases transfer item information to the union server on a daily basis, so that the union catalogue can also be used as a single point of access to all literature and media in the region with information about location, call number, availability, etc.

The size of the local databases varies between 10,000 media and a few hundred users to more than 240,000 title records and 30,000 library users.

Common Ground versus Individual Interests

The configuration of the union with one central union system server plus a number of local database servers guarantees the maximum amount of individual freedom to each partner library in the union as far as the parameter settings for that library are concerned. A certain number of parameters have to be standard throughout the union (e.g., media types and branch codes), but all other parameters (e.g., loan policy, acquisition parameters) are completely under the control of each library and can be configured irrespective of policies of the other libraries in the union. This guarantees the ideal combination of shared cataloguing with individualised loan and acquisition policies, serials maintenance and WebOPAC according to their own corporate identity for all participating libraries.

Union System versus Branch System

In the early 90s, one of the main reasons why the Aachen libraries decided against an individual branch system in favour of a union system was that they are all differently funded. One public library, the two museum libraries and the archive library are funded by the city of Aachen, while the other union members are financed by a different city.

All union members share the cost for the union server and the cataloguing proportionally to the size of their city or institution. But apart from that, every union system member remains under the budget control of their own city. The construction of shared online cataloguing in combination with fully maintained local catalogues through online downloads would also allow each of the union members should they wish the option to cease being part of the union. However, since 1990 when the union was formed no library or city has ever considered opting out of the scheme because it has been so successful.

Academic and Public Libraries

Most of the libraries in the Aachen Union System are public libraries, but they all work to the German cataloguing standards set for scientific libraries. This is owing to the biggest library in the Union, the Oeffentliche Bibliothek der Stadt Aachen, which was founded as a scientific municipal library. Items held by the library include old, valuable and scientific stock that needs specific cataloguing and classification.

Even with its large and highly reputable music department, Aachen public library still maintains all the required standards. In addition, Aachen has a video/DVD and a children’s department, several branch libraries and a mobile library operating within the suburbs of the city five days a week. Also, they run the LIBERO circulation including registration, reservations, etc. In conjunction with the data exchange via the central library server each day and collating the actual cataloguing information the system also maintains the latest available information of stock for the whole combined library system.

In addition to the Aachen public library, the museum libraries and the archive library take care of high-quality cataloguing for their own stock. This represents no obstacle to a highly satisfying co-existence with small and medium-sized public libraries in the Union system as the shared union catalogue adopts German national cataloguing standards.

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