Unicode & libraries: report from IFLA Conference

From: Joan Aliprand (BR.JMA@RLG.Stanford.EDU)
Date: Thu Sep 07 1995 - 20:02:53 EDT

Report from International Federation of Library Associations Conference
(held Aug. 20-26 in Istanbul)

Interest in the Unicode standard is rising in the library world,
principally among the librarians responsible for non-Roman script
collections. This Conference included a Cataloguing Workshop on
"Multiscript/Multilingual/Multicharacter Issues for the Online
Environment." Attendance was limited to 40 people: major national and
university libraries were represented, including the Kungliga
Biblioteket (Royal Library of Sweden), an Associate Member.

Six papers were presented. Topics were: the situation in Turkey;
multiscript and multilingual cataloguing in Russia; contrasts between
multilingual catalogues and authority control in Switzerland and Finland;
issues on the retrieval of Arabic script; and mine on the Unicode standard
(with Arabic script examples because Turkish was written in Arabic script
under the Ottoman Empire). Speakers have been invited to submit their
papers for publication in the journal "International Cataloguing and
Bibliographic Control." (I don't know whether they will also be available
at the IFLA Web site, http://www.nlc-bnc.ca/ilfa/)

In Europe, CoBRA (Computerized Bibliographic Record Actions) has set up
various studies, including one dealing with the Unicode standard. CoBRA
was set up by the Conference of European National Libraries (CENL), with
funding from the EU. Brian Lang, of the British Library, spoke at a
special session on CoBRA.

One of CoBRA's projects, CHASE, deals with character set standardization.
CHASE is being managed by the British Library. The CoBRA brochure
describes CHASE as
  "feasibility tests for migration strategies to UNICODE. The project aims
  to advance the adoption and implementation of the new character set
  standard (ISO 10646 Level 3, equivalent to UNICODE) by national
  bibliographic services through testing the technical and economic
  implications of migrating to the standard. Test-beds will be created
  of bibliographic data from the partner organizations converted to
  UNICODE and delivered via different media to a limited, representative
  sample of users. The tests will enable national libraries and others to
  gauge the extent of the work required to convert their databases from
  existing character set standards to UNICODE and give an idea of
  timescales and costs, including costs for analysis, set-up, and running."

[Similar work is going on in the U.S. The American Library Association has
a subcommittee investigating the use of Unicode/UCS data in USMARC, the
format for library records promulgated by the Library of Congress. The
Subcommittee's reports are published on the USMARC listserv.]

Two vendors exhibiting at the IFLA Conference were promising Unicode
implementations: one for summer 1996 (using Windows 95 as the platform);
the other for September 96 (no other details given). A third vendor claims
to be using Unicode values internally.

-- Joan Aliprand
   Research Libraries Group


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