ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Draft Networked Reference Standard Supports Q&A Between Library Patrons, Reference Sources


New York, Apr 20, 2004

The National Information Standards Organization (NISO) has developed a draft standard that defines a method and structure for data exchange between digital reference service domains. Developed by NISO Standards Committee AZ, Networked Reference Services, the Question/Answer Transaction Protocol (QATP) supports exchange between digital reference systems collaborating in the processing of a question.

Digital reference services (also called virtual reference and online reference) constitute a new but rapidly growing extension of the traditional reference resources offered to public and academic library patrons. Digital reference allows a user to submit questions to library staff to be answered by electronic means, and may be delivered via real-time chat or asynchronous e-mail.* Networked digital reference takes this process one-step-further by involving multiple institutions.

“There was strong interest in enabling localized network reference service domains to be interconnected with other collaborative reference services so questions that could not be answered in the "local" domain could be passed to another -- and this needed to be done in a totally automated, cost effective manner,” noted Sally H. McCallum, chief of the Network Development Office at the Library of Congress. "The networked reference protocol addresses this need. It specifies communications between domains for conveying questions, obtaining clarifications, returning answers, and other interactions related to this basic sequence."

“Four main categories of people have been keenly interested in developing this standard,” said Pat Harris, executive director of NISO. “They are the developers of digital reference services or software; the community trying to incorporate digital reference services into existing systems such as e-learning systems; groups assessing, acquiring, and specifying digital reference systems, such as government purchasing agencies; and librarians.”

NISO is introducing the draft standard freely for trial use for a period of 12 months. All interested parties are invited to review the protocol and participate as an implementor. Following the trial use period the comments and experiences of the implementor community will be considered in finalizing the Protocol for consideration as a NISO standard.

“With the draft freely available for trial use, we hope that all interested parties will try it and contribute to its evolution,” noted Harris.

Follow these links to download the draft, view related documents, and find other related information.

NISO, a non-profit association accredited by ANSI, identifies, develops, maintains, and publishes technical standards to manage information in our changing and ever-more digital environment. NISO standards apply both traditional and new technologies to the full range of information-related needs, including retrieval, re-purposing, storage, metadata, and preservation.


* does not occur in "real time."

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