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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 011-164-E
Division Number: IV
Professional Group: Cataloguing
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 164
Simultaneous Interpretation:   No  

A Time to Build - Israeli Cataloging in Transition

Chaim Seymour
Bar-Ilan University


The Israeli library scene can be compared to that of European countries with a similar population. There are school libraries, public libraries, college and university libraries. Israel's national library also serves the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.The World of Learning, 1999 lists seven libraries with more than 250,000 volumes. Cataloging is carried out in the vernacular using four character sets, European, Hebrew, Arabic and Cyrillic.Retrospective conversion is taking place in two major libraries using OCLC's RETROCON. Cataloging INTERNET resources is assigned high priority.Preparations are being made for migration to a PC based client-server software, which will use Unicode and will improve the bi-directional facilities at present available.



The Israeli library scene can be compared to that of European countries with a similar population. There are school libraries, public libraries, college and university libraries. Israel's national library also serves the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The World of Learning, 1999 lists seven libraries with more than 250,000 volumes.

Library Volumes Current Periodicals
Weizmann Institute 250,000 1,450
Ben-Gurion University 720,000 5,000
University of Haifa 780,000 8,000
Bar-Ilan University 850,000 4,500
Tel-Aviv University 880,000 4,800
Technion 900,000 5,000
National Library/Hebrew University 4 million 15,000

Note that all the major libraries serve as University libraries.

Status Quo Ante

It may be claimed that some of the distinctive features of the Israeli cataloging scene are superior to the equivalent features in the United States. The major libraries are not only members of the same academic network, but also use the same software, Aleph. The library network is linked both via the Internet and internally using proprietary software. Romanization is rarely used. Many Israeli libraries use four character sets, European, Hebrew, Arabic and Cyrillic1. In the case of a terminal or PC not equipped to display Arabic or Cyrillic characters, the Arabic is displayed in Hebrew transliteration and the Cyrillic is romanized by the computer. This solves the display problem. Searching, however, has to be carried out using the Arabic or Cyrillic characters. The system is bi-directional. The computer is informed which is the dominant script by a code at the beginning of the line (Lazinger & Adler, 1998, p. 183). European letters can be inserted into Hebrew text, but Hebrew cannot be inserted into text in one of the European languages.

The system is ASCII based. When working in Hebrew the standard ASCII symbols from 224 onwards are replaced by Hebrew letters. Libraries, such as the Hebrew University and the University of Haifa, who were pioneers in automation paid the price. Their early systems were based on less sophisticated computers using the 128 symbol ASCII, which only supported two character sets. The Hebrew letters replaced lower-case English and their catalogs were in upper-case English and Hebrew characters. Even today, with the exception of the national library, Israeli libraries do not use diacritics such as the umlaut, etc (Lazinger & Adler, 1998, p. 160). Most Israeli libraries operate in a non-MARC environment, using two letter field codes, which are a lot more general than the MARC fields in most cases.

Most of the network uses an older version of Aleph, Aleph 3. A newer version, Aleph 500 is fully functional at many sites outside Israel. Aleph 500 is a modern PC based client-server system, which will require a reorganization of our system. Aleph 500 was initially marketed without Hebrew support and was therefore unsuitable for Israeli use. The present target is to convert the larger Israeli libraries in the summer of 2001.

The Time to Build (or Change)

a. Retrospective Conversion
Academic libraries used different methods for retrospective conversion. The Hebrew University Mount Scopus campus library was closed for a number of months and opened fully computerized. At Haifa University short records were made and subsequently enriched. By 1997, only three major libraries had not completed their retrospective conversion. In 1997, Bar-Ilan University was the first Israeli university to use 'outsourcing'. OCLC's RETROCON service was introduced for European languages. After overcoming the problems involved in adapting MARC records to a non-MARC environment, Bar-Ilan undertook a partial conversion of AACR1 records into a more modern form (see Seymour, 1999). Logical tests identify inconsistencies in authority files caused by the introduction of OCLC records. The Hebrew University began outsourcing in 1999 and the Sourasky Library at Tel-Aviv University is also considering RETROCON.

b. Cataloging Internet Resources
Of all the changes carried out in the last decade, I feel that cataloging Internet resources is the most radical. It changes our whole conception of the library and of the catalog. The cataloger used to be responsible for listing 100% of the contents of the library. The library catalog now lists material that is outside the library but available to its patrons. We now have to catalog selectively, since 100% coverage of available material is no longer possible. I tackled the subject in an Israeli librarianship periodical Meda veSafranut in 1996. At that time, OCLC had just begun the INTERCAT experiment and Haifa university library had begun a similar experiment.

Some three years later, the September 1999 number of Meda veSafranut includes three articles discussing aspects of cataloging Internet resources. Aharoni (1999) describes procedures at Tel Aviv University Library of Life Sciences and Medicine, which are based on the attachment of electronic versions of periodicals to the cataloging of the print version. Electronic Periodicals purchased by the consortium of Israeli universities are cataloged in the Union List of Periodicals. Member libraries are at liberty to copy these catalogings. Eliyahu & Kedar (1999) discuss the Dublin core. Shai (1999) of Haifa University library draws conclusions based on some four years experience. Haifa University library catalogs not only electronic journals and databases, but also websites. When I wrote my article (Seymour, 1996), the question was whether we should join Haifa University Library's experiment. Today, we are discussing what to catalog and not whether to catalog.

c. Introducing Marc
The Israel MARC committee in its discussions in 1998 identified the major problems to be addressed as a part of the upgrade from Aleph 3 to Aleph 500.
It was decided that prior to the transition to MARC, the libraries using uppercase European characters only will introduce lower case characters. Records will be compared with existing records in upper and lower case in other libraries and in case of an exact match, the upper case will be replaced automatically by the mixed characters set.
MARC in Israel would not be identical to USMARC. Hebrew records would not be romanized. There was considerable dissatisfaction with the ISBD punctuation. There was general agreement about the adoption of the 'Core record' standard for original cataloging. A series of courses in MARC have taken place in both Jerusalem and Tel-Aviv areas. Many more courses will be necessary.
The migration to Aleph 500, will also mean teaching people who currently work on terminals, how to use PCs. The actual transfer of records may very well present unexpected problems.

The university libraries have to make a tactical decision, whether it is preferable to introduce MARC under Aleph 3 and transfer to Aleph 500 separately, or to combine the two major changes, 2 smaller revolutions or 1 large revolution. At this stage, Israel's national library has completed the transfer to MARC and Haifa University library is in the middle of the transfer. Additional libraries are waiting their turn.

d. Unicode and Bidirectionalism
On the 1st November, 1999, Ex Libris, who own the ALEPH software, announced that they had joined the Unicode Consortium (Rogers, 1999). Unicode will solve a number of problems in Israel. The letters in the Israeli alphabet are mostly consonants. Most vowels are represented by extra elements above or below the letters. Most written Hebrew does not include the vowels and Israelis are used to reading consonants and understanding the words within their context. There are, however, two spelling conventions, 'defective' and 'plene'. The 'plene' or full spelling uses two letters as vowels and is very popular in Modern Hebrew. The defective spelling may be ambiguous in some cases. In standard texts, Israeli publishers tend to use vowels only in the case of ambiguity.

Libraries tend to prefer the 'defective' orthography. Word processors with Hebrew capacity offer the possibility of adding vowels, but the library software does not include this provision. Under ASCII, Hebrew has 27 letters. Unicode offers 82 letters, including combinations of each letter with every possible vowel (Lazinger & Adler, 1998, p. 164). Libraries under Unicode will be in a position to eliminate ambiguity from their Hebrew catalogs.

I am not at all sure that we will all be satisfied that we can no longer claim that for technical reasons, we are ignoring diacritics in European languages. At present, USMARC offers a more efficient solution for bi-directionalism than that available in ALEPH (Aliprand, 1992). The fact that Unicode differentiates between storage and display can only improve ALEPH.

The disadvantages of Unicode from the Israeli point of view, would seem to be the need for marginally extra resources to handle the much larger character set and the additional storage required. In the case of Hebrew, the algorithm for alphabetizing will be more complicated than the present algorithm, since punctuation and other special characters are common to the other character sets.


There is a well-known curse, that 'you should live in interesting times'. There is no doubt that the times are interesting for the cataloging world in general and for Israeli catalogers in particular. We have made changes and are about to make even bigger changes, but we are confident that the situation is more or less under control.


1. Lazinger & Adler, 1998 has a very full discussion of the differences between Israeli and U.S. cataloging practice.


Adler, E., 1984. Automating Haifa University's Library. Israel Society of Special Libraries and Information Centers: Bulletin, 14(1):4-13. (Hebrew).

Aharoni, Y., 1999. Bibliographic Databases and E-Journals in Tel-Aviv University Library of Life Sciences and Medecine. Meda veSafranut, 24(2): 27-31 (Hebrew).

Aliprand, J.M., 1992. Nonroman Scripts in the Bibliographic Environment. Information Technology and Libraries, 11 (2): 105 ff. (ABI Electronic version)

Eliyahu, R. & R. Kedar, 1999. The Cataloging of Internet Resources and their Inclusion in the Library Catalog. Meda veSafranut, 24(2): 13-20 (Hebrew).

Lazinger, S. & E. Adler, 1998. Cataloging Hebrew Materials in the Online Environment : a Comparative Study of American and Israeli Approaches, edited by S.S. Intner with a Foreword by

Bella Hass Weinberg. Englewood, Colorado : Libraries Unlimited.

Levi, J., 1988. Interaction and Coordination in ALEPH's University Network. Israel Society of Special Libraries and Information Centers: Bulletin, 16(1):5-8. (Hebrew).

McClure, W.L. & S.A. Hannah, 1995. Communicating Globally : the Advent of Unicode. Computers in Libraries, 15(5): 19-25. (Gale Electronic version).

Rogers, M., 1999. Ex Libris (USA) joins Unicode. Library Journal, 124 (18): 28. (ABI Electronic version)

Seymour, C., 1999. Retrospective Conversion at Bar-Ilan University : From AACR1 to AACR 1.7. Technicalities, 19(7): 4-5.

Seymour, C., 1996. Cataloging Internet Resources. Meda veSafranut, 22(1): 33-35 (Hebrew).

Shai, N., 1999. Cataloging Electronic Texts in the University of Haifa Library Catalog. Meda veSafranut, 24(2): 21-26 (Hebrew).

World of Learning, 1999. 49th Edition. London : Europa Publications.


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