COBISS Platform – Co-operative Online Bibliographic System and Services
Libraries are like capillaries; they carry knowledge into every single cell of society, and also have the task of recording the results of "intellectual production". As a rule, they are the element of the information society that people encounter first and at the largest extent. However, libraries cannot take on their role, if their work is not supported by modern information and communication technology.
For the information society that supports knowledge-based development, library information systems and current research information systems are an essential infrastructure, indispensable in advanced education and research, as well as in cultural, technological and economic development. Libraries are unable to efficiently function as isolated islands, so following knowledge and culture they must link with each other and provide conditions for dialogue and collaboration, which further provides the basis for the development of each individual country and the international community as a whole.
In 1987, a shared cataloguing system was adopted by the then Association of the Yugoslav National Libraries as a common ground for the library information system and the system of scientific and technological information of Yugoslavia. The role of the information and bibliographic utility, as well as that of the organisational solutions and software developer was taken over by Institut informacijskih znanosti (Institute of Information Science, IZUM) from Maribor. At the time of Yugoslavia's disintegration in 1991, the system connected 55 libraries from all former Yugoslav republics.
In 1991, IZUM continued with the shared cataloguing system and promoted it under the name COBISS (Co-operative Online Bibliographic System and Services), the acronym which IZUM started to use also for the related software. The libraries outside Slovenia resigned from the membership in the shared cataloguing system, although almost all of them later on gradually renewed the collaboration with IZUM, and are at present setting up their own autonomous information systems based on the COBISS platform.
COBISS represents an organisational model of joining libraries into a uniform library information system with shared cataloguing, the COBIB shared bibliographic database, i.e. union catalogue, and local bibliographic databases of participating libraries, the COLIB database on libraries, the CONOR authority database, and with a number of other functions of the so-called virtual library. Functioning of the system is preconditioned by:
- Standardised and shared processing of library materials as well as a uniform management of catalogues and bibliographies;
- Adequately skilled cataloguers;
- Linking of libraries via computer and communications network.
COBISS3 represents the third generation software for library automation and access to different databases. The software, developed and maintained by IZUM, supports different functions of libraries and library information services, and provides user interfaces in several languages (Slovenian, Serbian, Bosnian, Macedonian, Bulgarian, Albanian and English).
COBISS.SI, COBISS.SR, COBISS.MK, COBISS.BH, COBISS.CG and COBISS.BG are designations for the autonomous library information systems with their own shared bibliographic databases COBIB that have been, or are being, set up in individual countries (Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Bulgaria). COBISS. AL is a special case. It is a bibliographic system for the evaluation of research results in Albania with the COBIB.AL shared database to manage researchers’ bibliographies, and that makes it. Within all these systems, over 700 libraries use COBISS software for the automation of their operations.
COBISS.Net is the name of the network that connects autonomous (national) COBISS library
information systems of different countries and their current research information systems. From a technical
perspective, COBISS software enables users to download records from any of the COBIB shared bibliographic
databases, the OCLC catalogue (WorldCat) and other databases.
The Agreement on the establishment of the
COBISS.Net network and the free exchange of bibliographic records, created
in autonomous library information systems of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro,
Macedonia, Slovenia and Serbia, was signed in Belgrade in February 2003. In November 2006, the aforementioned Agreement was also
signed by the Bulgarian National Library. At the beginning of December in 2012, the COBISS.AL system was included in
COBISS.Net on the basis of a special agreement between IZUM and the Academy of Sciences of Albania.
Each national library information system built on the COBISS platform is co-created by the national Library Information Service and libraries participating in the shared cataloguing system.
The Library Information Service (National COBISS Centre) is an institution the main responsibilities of which include:
- Planning and co-ordinating activities related to computer linking of libraries;
- Providing and maintaining common computer and communications capacity for the operation of the central services;
- Providing COBISS software and manuals for shared cataloguing, local library functions and other services;
- Managing the COBIB shared bibliographic database;
- Providing professional assistance to libraries with the acquisition, installation and maintenance of computer equipment;
- Organising training and professional help to libraries and other users of COBISS software and services;
- Helping libraries with the conversion and downloading of data from other systems;
- Establishing suitability of library staff qualification for the shared cataloguing purposes (in co-operation with the National Library);
- Organising access to foreign information services and databases under consortium agreements.
The Library Information Service is set up either by the government of the interested country or by the interested libraries.
Within the library information system based on the COBISS platform, libraries may have a status of:
- the national member, which is assigned to the national library that actively participates in the shared cataloguing and performs special tasks, such as cataloguing national publishing output, provision of training for librarians, proficiency verification of record creators (cataloguers), cataloguing quality control, etc.;
- a full member, which is assigned to any library that actively participates in shared cataloguing and may, based on preliminary verification of their cataloguers' skills, contribute their records into the shared bibliographic database. Before being granted appropriate permits/privileges for shared cataloguing, cataloguers are not allowed to contribute records into the shared database; they can only download records from the shared database and store them to their local databases.
As a rule, established to address the development and operation of national library information systems built on the COBISS platform, are the COBISS Members Councils that consist of representatives of all types of libraries (national, public, academic, special, school), chosen according to the number of all the records contributed into the COBIB shared bibliographic database.
Under a signed agreement, and if not otherwise agreed, the libraries pay an annual membership fee to the National Library Information Service for the provision of basic services. In Slovenia, the activities of the Library Information Service in the COBISS.SI system are almost entirely financed by the Slovenian Research Agency.
IZUM develops and maintains standards and COBISS software, and functions as the National Library Information Service for the needs of Slovenian libraries and end users.
IZUM co-operates with Library Information Services and libraries outside Slovenia under umbrella contracts on the use of COBISS software for the automation of library functions, and under inter-country agreements on scientific and technological co-operation.
Every two years, IZUM organises an international COBISS Conference with a view to presenting achievements, open questions and development plans. Known world-wide experts are invited to this conference as visiting speakers to present the most recent trends reflected in the library information field, and at the same time evaluate solutions in the COBISS system that either have already been, or are yet to be, implemented.
The COBISS system architecture was set by IZUM back in 1987, when also a technological platform of the system (VAX/VMS computer systems in DECNET network with terminal access, using Cobol, Basic and Macro programming languages) was chosen. Soon followed the introduction of new technologies (the Internet, HP AlphaServer and HP Itanium servers, OpenVMS, TCP/IP, C Visual Basic, Delphi, etc.), and the development of various products and services. On this technological platform runs the second generation of application software (COBISS2). For shared cataloguing and for the COBISS2 local applications, COBISS/Connect software on personal computers or laptops with Windows, Linux or MacOS operating systems is used to access the servers.
Launched on a newer technology platform is the third generation of application software (COBISS3). On the server side, Java-based application servers with Windows operating system are used. For the needs of a back-end database, the Oracle relation database is used on the servers with the Linux operating system. On the client side, as well, Java-based applications are used, which allows workplaces at the libraries to be provided with personal computers or laptops with different operating systems (mostly Windows, some also Linux and MacOS). For the COBISS3 software to run smoothly, corresponding computers purchased after the year 2000 and with at least 256 kb/s Internet access are required.
Highlights of the COBISS3 software architecture:
- Graphical user interfaces (GUIs);
- Data entry and search also in other scripts (Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, etc.);
- Software flexibility in terms of possible implementation outside Slovenia;
- Minimum dependence on operating system and hardware;
- Implementation of UNICODE Standard (ISO 10646).
The COBIB shared bibliographic databases and the local databases of all participating libraries reside on either the servers of the National Library Information Services or on IZUM’s servers.
Online shared cataloguing has been developed through co-operative data collection and distributed data processing, which enable a rational division of labour and time saving in the onerous procedure of processing library materials. Each item needs to be catalogued only once; after that, all participants in the system and in the COBISS.Net network can online access the record through the COBIB shared bibliographic database.
A close connection between local databases/catalogues of individual libraries and the shared bibliographic database is a characteristic feature of shared cataloguing.
Databases contain bibliographic records for different types of library materials (monographs, serials, integrating resources, articles and other component parts), and for the purposes of managing bibliographies also records for performed works.
For the preparation of personal bibliographies of researchers within the COBISS system, a unified typology of documents/works must be used. The bibliographic units are classified in accordance with the aforementioned typology. The type of every bibliographic unit, which must comply with the valid definition, is specified (e.g. original scientific article, review article, professional article, scientific or professional monograph, scientific or professional conference contribution, etc.).
In both, the COBIB shared bibliographic database and in the local databases of all participating libraries the structure of bibliographic records and that of summary holdings data is the same. The local databases additionally contain uniformly structured copy-specific holdings data, vital for the library local functions and for the display in COBISS/OPAC.
To exchange data in the COBISS system, the COMARC/B format is used for bibliographic data, the COMARC/A format for authority data, and the COMARC/H format for holdings data. The first two formats are based on the UNIMARC format; the third was developed entirely by IZUM. For the international data exchange, the MARC 21 format is used. Possible are conversions from the COMARC format into the MARC 21 format and vice versa. Records are available in either the ISO 2709 structure (MARC 21, COMARC) or XML (Dublin Core, MODS, MARC 21, COMARC). Bibliographic data can be exported from the COBISS system in MARC 21 and Dublin Core.
In online shared cataloguing, data is entered through local databases and is updated simultaneously in the COBIB shared bibliographic database. Concurrently with this, online indexing by using about 100 search indexes for bibliographic, authority and holdings data is carried out.
Before adding a record to the local database, a cataloguer first checks as to whether the bibliographic record already exists in the COBIB shared bibliographic database. If it does, he/she downloads it to the local database and adds the relevant holdings data. If it does not, he/she can download the record from the COBISS.Net network or from any other foreign database, or creates the record in the local database, from which it is then transferred automatically into the shared bibliographic database.
For creating records for serial titles, the international ISSN database is used as the authority database; from the ISSN database, the relevant data is transferred into COBIB and local databases. Also possible is downloading of bibliographic records from WorldCat and from the Library of Congress Union Catalog. A special agreement between the Library Information Service and OCLC is required to download records from WorldCat.
Retrospective conversions from machine readable records, made by libraries prior to joining the COBISS system, are possible as well if minimum quality criteria and compatibility with the COMARC format are met. As a rule, such conversions are done only to local databases.
The quality, uniformity and consistency of the local databases and that of the COBIB shared bibliographic database are provided in different ways: by authority control for personal names, by duplicates control, by COMARC program controls, by record editing, by common (global) code lists for all standardised data (e.g., countries, languages, UDC), by local codes lists to provide uniformity of data within a library (e.g., locations, internal designations), by automatic counters (e.g., accession numbers, numbering in call numbers), by unique identification control of serials, etc., and above all by providing a systematic training for record creators and integrating the COMARC formats documentation into software.
Shared cataloguing is a very demanding and responsible job. It can be performed only by skilled librarians who are specialised in cataloguing because their work also influences the work of other libraries and cataloguers within the system.
Cataloguers who wish to participate in the shared cataloguing process, and create and edit bibliographic records for the needs of a shared database MUST:
- have a university degree in library science or a university degree in other discipline and a proficiency exam in librarianship,
- pass cataloguing training courses, and
- by the prescribed procedure, obtain necessary permits/privileges to catalogue specific types of library materials.
These requirements do not apply to cataloguers who only download bibliographic records from the COBIB shared database into their local database. These cataloguers have to attend, however, the course The use of COBISS3 software/Records downloading and holdings.
National Library Information Services deliver courses relating to the use of the COMARC/B, COMARC/A and COMARC/H formats and the use of COBISS software provided that they have previously acquired the necessary permission from IZUM. The respective national libraries deliver, as a rule, courses relating to the use of cataloguing rules and other library standards.
Permits for shared cataloguing are normally issued by the National Library Information Services in accordance with their respective National Libraries.
COBISS/OPAC is a web application that allows libraries and end users to access:
- bibliographic databases within the COBISS system (COBIB and local databases);
- other COBISS databases (COLIB, CORES, CONOR, ELINKS, SGC);
- specialised databases (of local and foreign database providers) residing on the server of the Library Information Service;
- databases residing on remote Z39.50 servers.
As a rule, access to foreign databases is regulated under consortium agreements between the Library Information Service and database providers; some databases are freely available. Through the COBISS.SI system are thus under the consortium agreements among others accessible:
- OCLC FirstSearch databases (WorldCat, ArticleFirst, ProceedingsFirst, etc.);
- Impact factor databases - Journal Citation Reports (JCR SE, JCR SSE);
- Library of Congress Authority File (LC NAMES).
The search techniques are adapted to various skill levels of users (Basic search mode, Advanced search mode and Expert search mode).
When searching bibliographic databases in the COBISS system, the Basic search mode enables searching by words or phrases. The search results are sorted by relevance. The Advanced search enables searching by 27 search fields – additional search indexes. The Expert search allows you to search with the SELECT command, which enables the use of Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) and proximity operators (WITH, NEAR, SUBFIELD). You can display the list of terms appearing in the database, truncate search terms (words and phrases), limit the search by language and type of material, sort the search results, etc. There are four record display formats for bibliographic data (Short, Full, ISBD and COMARC), one format for summary holdings data and one format for copy-specific holdings data.
Search strategies used in searching other databases match the characteristics of these databases; nevertheless, the searching is implemented via the same user interface.
Downloading of records from the COBIB shared bibliographic database by end users and libraries is intended either for personal use in compliance with conditions of use, or for the use in local applications in compliance with the provisions of special agreements.
If a library has its loan automated through the use of COBISS software, online information on the availability of any item (as to whether an item is on loan or not, loan period) is provided through COBISS/OPAC. Users can use the system to view the items they have on loan; they can renew the loan period, reserve items, place an interlibrary order, view their outstanding balance of current debts, and subscribe to electronic notification services.
When dealing with the local applications, a great deal of attention has been given to the uniformity of data entry and the display of local data intended for end users. The uniformity has been provided to a great extent by the COMARC/H format for holdings data. Besides, prior to including an individual library in the system, the Library Information Service and the respective library agree on how to enter local data. The data entry is adapted so as to render an end-user as friendly presentation as possible, and at the same time preserve the uniqueness of the work organisation in any of these libraries.
The COBISS3/Acquisitions software module consists of the following procedures for acquiring library materials (monographs) and managing financial resources in funds:
- Pre-order selection (recording and processing of acquisition requests);
- Purchase, comprising orders (standard orders, pre-orders, on approval orders, blanket orders), order cancellation, prepayment for and receipt of items ordered, payment of items received (receipt of invoices and monitoring of the funds balance);
- Claims for non-delivered items, received items and received invoices;
- Orders, receipt and delivery of exchange, receipt and delivery of legal deposit copy, receipt of gift and entry of other types of library materials acquisition;
- Maintenance of partner and fund data, and setting-up of counters;
- Sending orders to suppliers by using the EDIFACT Standard;
- Sending lists of legal deposit material in XML format and preparing lists after receipt.
The COBISS3/Serials software module includes all the procedures for acquiring serials and managing financial resources in funds:
- Pre-order selection;
- Purchase, comprising orders (annual and standing orders), order cancellations, prepayment and payment of publications, and monitoring of the funds balance;
- Creation of publication patterns;
- Serials check-in using publication patterns with central recording or recording in individual library departments;
- Claims for missing items or received invoices;
- Receipt and sending of serials based on exchange, receipt and sending of legal deposit copies, receipt of gifts and other types of acquisition;
- Maintenance of data on partners and funds, and setting-up of counters.
The COBISS3/Holdings software module allows complete management of holdings data, including:
- Downloading bibliographic records from the shared bibliographic database into a local database;
- Updating the fields 610az, 675bs, 992by and 99389;
- Updating local code lists;
- Creating and editing holdings data directly in COBISS3/Holdings or automatically from COBISS3/Acquisitions and COBISS3/Serials;
- Forming sets;
- Assigning accession numbers and copying holdings data;
- Setting up counters for accession numbers, running numbers and loan numbers, and the possibility of setting criteria for automatic selection of counters;
- Implementing separate procedures with special privileges for minor modifications of holdings data (statuses, availability levels, etc.);
- Printing labels by sending them directly to the printer or to the report queue during holdings data editing;
- Transferring holdings data between bibliographic records;
- Searching for and working with individual holdings data;
- Displaying the list of local databases that include a certain record;
- Supporting the process of inventory-taking.
The COBISS3/Loan software module enables the following basic functions:
- Entering, searching for and modifying membership card data or numbers, and deleting member details;
- Lending material outside the library or to the reading-room, returning, reserving material available and unavailable, renewing loans, changing due date;
- Searching for library material, gaining insight into the library material status (availability, the details of the member borrowing the material, return date, list of reservations, etc.), and making notes on library material;
- Defining loan parameters (time parameters, calendar, price list, loan restrictions, and other parameters);
- Separately managing the loan record by departments, inter-departmental loan (for libraries with the Loan organised by departments);
- Electronic notifications about a loan period expiry date, the receipt of the forthcoming overdue notice, received material, reservation expiry and membership expiry;
- Routing of serials;
- Overdue notices;
- Financial Management System with the option of manual or automatic recording of debts, debt settlement (cash or otherwise); closing out cash register, printout of various receipts for members, etc.
The COBISS3/Interlibrary Loan software module includes all the procedures in which the library acts as a library ordering materials from other libraries, and all the procedures in which the library acts as a library supplying materials from its own collection. The module allows:
- Processing received COBISS3/ILL orders (received from other libraries using the COBISS3/Interlibrary Loan software module);
- Processing received COBISS/OPAC orders (library members orders);
- Accessing home library catalogue and reservation of home library material;
- Ordering material from the supplier or the library closed stacks, re-ordering, forwarding orders;
- Cancelling orders from the supplier or internal orders;
- Recording the receipt of material from the supplier or the home library material;
- Delivering material to a customer;
- Returning customer material and returning material to the supplier or to the library closed stacks;
- Preparing different notifications for customers and suppliers;
- Preparing invoices for legal entities – partners acting as customers or payers of the services, and printing the sales ledger;
- Notifying (e-mails, SMS messages, etc.) users on received items, non-delivered items and loan period expiry date.
The COBISS3/Reports software module includes all typical functional features of a report generator. Libraries can use standard printouts generated by IZUM. Prepared reports can be printed or sent via e-mail, some of them can be saved to a text file (data export) for the needs of further processing. Reports are prepared on the basis of data from all COBISS3 software modules.
Types of reports:
- Reports from bibliographic and authority databases (reports of records in COMARC, ISBD, GARE, etc.);
- Reports from local application databases (Acquisitions, Serials, Holdings, Loan, Interlibrary Loan):
- statistics (for the needs of loan, interlibrary loan, acquisition, holdings, etc.);
- documents (order in acquisition or for an interlibrary loan, invoice, delivery note, various types of notifications and claims, lending form, checking to coordinate acquisitions, etc.;
- internal documents/lists (accession book, list of de-accessioned material, internal order, routing list for serials, list of members with material on loan, inventory reports, etc.);
- labels (for material, member library cards, with partners’ addresses, etc.);
- Data for further processing (data export).
The COBISS3/Application Administration is a software module which allows libraries:
- Maintenance of data on home libraries and partners;
- Insight into the data on the system users (linking to the Central Register of Users).
Bibliographies of Researchers is a Web application allowing the preparation of personal bibliographies of researchers provided that beside standard bibliographic data the COBIB database records also include the unique ID (researcher's code) of the author and the designation of the type of bibliographic unit, as sorted by the valid typology of documents/works for bibliography management within the COBISS system. By selecting the entry parameters, several different types of reports can be prepared. In Slovenia, some of the functions of this application have already been integrated in the Slovenian current research information system, i.e. SICRIS and are used to evaluate the bibliographic indicators of research performance.
Best read books is a web application that allows preparing the list of most frequently borrowed items within a certain period of time (based on loan statistics of libraries with automated circulation).
Public Lending Remuneration Scheme is a web application that allows the preparation of the lists of borrowed items (i.e. loan statistics) by authors who receive payment under the criteria of the competent state authority for loans of their works by public libraries. In the COBISS.SI system, the Rules on Implementing Public Lending Right Remuneration, adopted by the then Ministry of Culture, apply. (Lists have been prepared on the basis of bibliographic records from the COBIB.SI shared bibliographic database, authority records for personal names from the CONOR.SI authority database, as well as on the historic statistics of loans in public libraries over a certain period of time.)
Z39.50 server allows users to access bibliographic databases in the COBISS system based on a specific agreement with the national Library Information Service (for accessing the COBIB shared database) or with the individual library (for accessing its local database).
Rights of the participating institutions are governed by international conventions and directives issued by the European Union, by the Copyright Act and related rights acts, by the Industrial Property Act, by the Competition Act and by mutual agreements.
In accordance with the above, the National Library Information Service has the copyright on the COBIB shared bibliographic database as a whole, as a compilation of data, but at the same time does not claim the copyright on any of the records in this database. The data on the record creator and the institution contributing such record is permanently stored in the COBIB shared bibliographic database.
Participants and/or users of the individual COBISS system are not permitted without the prior written consent by the National Library Information Service to download machine-readable records from the COBISS system to other databases and automation systems of library local functions, or use them for selling purposes. Participants are free to use their records, created by themselves, without limitations only for purposes that do not jeopardise the integrity and conception of the development of the individual COBISS system. Records, taken from COBIB and downloaded to other databases and systems must must bear the record creator’s user name and the COBISS symbol attached to them, which means that they are COBIB-derived records.
When using other databases, offered by the National Library Information Service under special agreements with their producers/providers, the restrictions from these agreements must prevail.
The owner of the copyright on COBISS software and on the related manuals is IZUM.
COBISS, COMARC, COBIB, and COLIB are registered trademarks.
It is the responsibility of each Library Information Service to protect personal information in the COBISS system, in that it prevents illegal and inappropriate use of personal data.
Technical support by IZUM is available to COBISS software users in Slovenia and to Library Information Services within COBISS.Net between 7.30 to 21.00, Mondays to Fridays, and between 7.30 to 13.00, Saturdays, via telephone + 386 (0)2 2520 333, or e-mail:
- email@example.com for urgent queries only;
- firstname.lastname@example.org for all other queries relating to the development and operation of the COBISS system and services.
Professional help to the libraries outside Slovenia is rendered by their National Library Information Services.
© IZUM, December 2012
Institut informacijskih znanosti
(Institute of Information Science)
2000 Maribor, Prešernova 17, Slovenia