What’s the Deal with NCIP?

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What's the deal with NCIP? For those that don't know, NCIP is the NISO protocol that attempts to "define the various transactions needed to support circulation activities among independent library systems." For example, "patron and item inquiry and update transactions, such as hold or reserve, check-out, renew, and check-in."

I came away from a meeting yesterday at the State Library of Ohio on plans to investigate a new statewide resource sharing system somewhat confused about the state of this standard. Those in the meeting were pessimistic, based apparently on experience with prior products that claimed to be "NCIP compliant," about the standard's ability to truly "support circulation activities among independent library systems." From what I could gather, even with the approved standard and implementations that can claim compliance with the standard, there is enough variability in interpretation that bilateral testing and agreement on meanings of messages was still required to make it work. And that so much flexibility was possible that such bilateral testing and agreement is a very time consuming process.

A little searching turned up the NCIP Implementation Group website hosted and maintained by EnvisionWare, Inc. It seems somewhat stagnant, though (the link to the discussion mailing list leads to a 404-not-found error page). I stopped following NCIP a number of years ago, but I thought I understood the basic concepts and remember thinking that what was going on was a good thing. In fact, I assumed, based on what remember from those several years ago, that the issue of inter-ILS circulation communication was a solved problem. Fast forwarding to now, is the world of inter-ILS communication really this bad? Is anything being done to solve it? Does "NCIP Compliant" actually mean anything?

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.niso.org/standards/standard_detail.cfm?std_id=728 to http://www.niso.org/workrooms/ncip on January 19th, 2011.

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.winslo.state.oh.us/ to http://www.library.ohio.gov/ on January 20th, 2011.