CURL OPAC launch

Andrew Cooper describes the CURL OPAC launch in Manchester.

The Consortium of University Research Libraries (CURL) has for some years maintained a database of machine-readable catalogue records contributed by member libraries to enable the costs of cataloguing to be kept down, to members' mutual benefit. Hitherto, these records have only been made available to librarians, but with funding from the Higher Education Funding Councils' Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), the database is being turned into an Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC) known as COPAC (i.e. the CURL OPAC). COPAC was officially launched on 30 April 1996 at a seminar in the John Rylands University Library at the Uni versity of Manchester. There were four speakers:

  • Professor Martin Harris, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester, recalled how the Follett review had been set up in order to provide extra reading-places in the libraries of new universi ties, but had developed into a far more wide-ranging enquiry with as much emphasis on research as on teaching. He saw COPAC as a symbol of the larger universities' responsibility to the needs of scholarship in the academic community as a whole.
  • Derek Law, Chair of the Information Services Sub-Committee of the JISC, dwelt on the richness of the CURL dataset and the opportunities for further collaboration with the National Libraries in a National Bibliographic resource. COPAC fills a slot in JISC/ISSC's portfolio somewhere between the Anderson Report and the ELib programme. With the development of document delivery facilities, access for researchers in all HEIs to the great wealth and richness of university research collections will become easier. Further, the revenue from such services would be kept within the academic community.
  • Reg Carr, Librarian of the University of Leeds and Secretary of CURL, spoke of the founding of CURL in the early 1980s and of the establishment of the Database and its subsequent history. Funding from the (then) UGC was conditional on access to records being open to all HEIs. CURL has always recognised that its activities are intended to benefit the whole academic community. Thus, when a new platform had to be found, it was recognised that its future should not be as a purely commercial operation, and the Follett review had offered a way forward.
  • Sarah Davnall, CURL OPAC Project Leader at Manchester Computing, paid tribute to the COPAC team (Shirley Cousins, Ashley Sanders and Peiyao Shao), who had worked long and hard to get COPAC up and running by the agreed date. Inevitably, problems had arisen, some of which had not yet been solved. Work is being carried out as a matter of urgency on enabling the retrieved record set to be sorted, making available a wider range of download formats and adding help for specific commands.

Other enhancements will take a bit longer. There is a problem with searches by author, where search results are inaccurate - the nature of the data may prevent a complete resolution, but some improve ment can be expected. The consolidation of records needs further attention, and holdings for those CURL libraries not yet represented in the database need to be added. (This is purely a time and re source problem. It is not the libraries' fault: they are queuing impatiently.) Even when all machine-readable records have been loaded, COPAC will not accurately reflect the total holdings of CURL libraries until retrospective conversion of manual records is complete. Serials in particular are not well represented at present.

On the interface side, search aids such as relevance feedback, particularly valuable in a context where authority control is not possible, will be added. In addition, BRS/Search, the software underlying COPAC, has a natural language processing module which offers further possibilities.

The World Wide Web interface has some limitations (for example, the absence of record tagging). In the long term, the appropriate progression will be to implement the Z39.50 protocol. This may well be the appropriate way to eventually implement a National Bibliographic Resource.

Manchester Computing is contractually obliged to provide document request facilities in COPAC. However, there are still many problems to be ironed out at the infrastructure level. If an end-user requests a document, it will be necessary for a transaction to be set up between two libraries. This is not as simple as it sounds. Can the item requested be lent at all? (COPAC does not currently provide any detail about the precise location of items or their loan status.) Is the user in good standing with his/her home library? Which particular branch does (s)he use? What about user charges t hat are now often levied, or payments between libraries? These matters are under discussion; resolution of them may not be easy.

The co-Chairmen of the seminar, Chris Hunt (Librarian and Director, John Rylands University Library of Manchester) and Professor Robin McDonough, Director of Information Systems at the University of Manchester, expressed thanks to all who had helped to bring the COPAC project to fruition: CURL, JISC, Manchester Computing, Shirley Perry and David Miller (who established the CURL Database) and, last but not least, Derek Law, its current godfather. The Heads of Agreement upon which COPAC is founded were formally signed at the launch by Reg Carr for CURL and Derek Law for JISC.

As well as World Wide Web access to COPAC, there is a VT100 interface: Telnet to: and answer copac to the login and password prompts (Note that the word copac must be in lower-case). Both interfaces include context-sensitive on-line help.

Further help and information is available from the COPAC Helpdesk, email, telephone 0161-275-6037. Any comments on the interfaces or the database should be sent to the Helpdesk.

User Guides are available for each service, giving brief details of the facilities and commands in use. The Guides are available for downloading from the World Wide Web site. Alternatively, copies can be requested from the COPAC Helpdesk.

Date published: 
Sunday, 19 May 1996
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