ISO, the International Organization for Standards, has approved the Bath Profile as an IRP (internationally registered profile). The IRP builds on ISO Z39.50—the international label for what is commonly designated Z39.50—by detailing the level of conformity that vendors should achieve for libraries to realize true interoperability.
Within any standard there are implementation options. When software developers select different options to implement or interpret a standard differently in their system, users can receive many false hits or, conversely, may not retrieve suitable records. A profile provides a mechanism for interpreting and implementing a standard in the same way.
In August 1999, a group met in Bath, United Kingdom, to discuss possible improvements to 239.50. Rather than rewriting the standard, they decided to focus on vendor implementation of the standard. The profile they developed at the Bath meeting, and subsequent ones, does the following:
- Defines a core set of searches required for the basic search and retrieval mechanism needed by library users when interacting with library catalogs and other electronic resources.
- Defines search and retrieval requirements to provide bibliographic and holdings information adequate to identify a library's holdings.
- Defines searches and retrieval mechanisms to address cross-domain information retrieval (for example, a library catalog and a museum catalog or a library catalog and online reference service).
The hope is that vendors will adopt the Bath Profile as the specifications for implementing Z39.50 and that libraries will require Bath Profile conformity. If that happens, the full potential of Z39.50 can be realized. Searching and retrieving information from multiple databases will be easier and search results will be more accurate.
Several vendors are reviewing the profile to see what modifications will have to be made to their implementations of Z39.50 to meet the specifications of the profile. Sirsi and EOSi have already announced that their client/server products conform to the Bath Profile.
Libraries may include conformity to the Bath Profile in their RFPs as a desirable feature, but not as a mandatory one. As partial conformity is a possibility, a library should ask a vendor to detail the ways in which its product conforms.
The National Library of Canada is the maintenance agency for the Bath Profile, but the most complete source of information is at www.ukoln.ac.uk/interop-focus/bath.