EDI Developments in the Italian Book Sector

By Michele Casalini, Casalini Libri

WESS Newsletter

Fall 1996, Vol. 20, no. 1

Association of College & Research Libraries
©American Library Association

[This paper was presented at the Research and Planning Committee Meeting in July at ALA. Many thanks to Roger Brisson, WESS Research and Planning Committee Chair, for his help soliciting this article-Editor.]

Introduction to EDILIBE

EDILIBE (Electronic Data Interchange for Libraries and Booksellers in Europe) was divided into two phases: phase one (which started in 1991 and finished in 1992) served as a pilot project to define the theoretical basis. Phase II (which started in April 1993 and finished in December 1995) included five libraries (Biblioteca Nacional Madrid, Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, Manchester University Library, Niedersächsische Landesbibliothek Göttingen, and Stadt- u. Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt/M), two library software suppliers (Pica and BLCMP) and three library booksellers (B.H.Blackwell, Casalini Libri and Otto Harrassowitz) from five European countries. Both phases were partially funded by the Directorate General XIII of the European Union.

The scope of the EDILIBE project was to define the EDIFACT subsets for the libraries and booksellers business cycle (four messages were defined-offers, orders, order responses and invoices) and to implement the electronic data interchange of those messages using EDIFACT as data exchange format and X.400 as transfer protocol. The project leader was the Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt/M.

The situation in Italy at the start of the project

The first time I introduced the EDILIBE project, then in its early days, was in July 1991 at the National Library in Florence (at that time the National Library was not yet a partner in the project). The occasion was a meeting on plans for European cooperation between libraries. I remember that there was great enthusiasm for this project, enthusiasm which, for the most part, was born of the opportunity the Libraries Programme offered for cooperation between partners in the different European countries.

The analyses carried out in Italy during the project

A few months before the first phase of the project had begun. It involved checking national standards which were in use in the acquisition department and the book trade. This analysis, coupled with the one on the state and preconditions of the X.400, allowed us to verify the state of the art in Italy in the format and communication standards sectors of the book world. This study brought us into direct contact with the Italian reality (at the time fairly obscure even to us) and, in particular, allowed us to establish that no electronic data exchange activities were taking place in the library and bookselling sectors excepting the purely bibliographic exchanges already in place (generally in UNIMARC standard) and the internal ones of one or two large distributors (carried out with the use of internal company formats). The only format that we could therefore include in our study on formats was the SBN, the Sistema Bibliotecario Nazionale, a service which began in 1985 but which in 1991 still had no complete application in the acquisitions sector.

From the telecommunications point of view on the other hand, we found that X.400 services were offered by numerous companies but these services were all still based on the 1984 standard and were not utilized by members of the book sector. The study on the state of telecommunications was brought up to date two years later, in 1993, at the beginning of the second phase of EDILIBE, by the Biblioteca Nazionale di Fairness with the inclusion of three other service suppliers, still using the X.400/'84 standard.

The choice of the EDIFACT converter also allowed us to verify that the availability of tested products was still fairly limited in Italy three years ago. The majority derived from previous projects, for example from the motor industry (the ODETTE system).

Presentations and initiatives taken during the project

One of the constant concerns during the project has been to ensure the diffusion of information in articles published in specialized journals, through discussions at library meetings and book fairs and the organization of study seminars.

In particular, in Italy, lectures were held during congresses and book fairs, seminars were organized at the National Libray in Florence and at the Regione Lombardia in Milan and the promotional video illustrating EDI application in the library and book trade was shown continuously during the National Library Congresses and the Turin book fairs in 1994 and 1995. Articles were also published in specialized journals such as Il Giornale della Libreria; Biblioteche Oggi; Biblioteche in Toscana; AIB Notizie.


The diffusion of information contributed, at the beginning of 1995, to the formation of a group of librarians (including those from five Italian universities) whose specific interest was in problems concerning EDI. This group, working with the two italian EDILIBE partecipants, elaborated a new project called "EDIBOOK : Application of EDI standards for commercial and bibliographic data exchange in the book trade". The project was submitted to the Call for Proposal in June 1995. The main objective of EDIBOOK was to continue the extensive work accomplished in EDILIBE I and II of the previous DG-XIII Programme of the European Union. Participants in the project were heterogeneous organizations from five different countries including four academic and research libraries, three academic library networks, one national library, a consortium of metropolitan libraries, four book dealers and one publisher. This variety would allow the project to verify speed of communication, efficiency of service, precision of exchanged data, and reliability of supply and invoicing. A particularly significant aspect of EDIBOOK was the integration of EDI solutions into four widely-used library systems (including ALEPH, GEAC, ALLEGRO) which, together, represent several hundred European libraries. The different organizational structures within the offices of each participant would permit partners to substantiate their capacity to diffuse bibliographic data to all sectors of their organization (teaching staff, scholars, librarians situated in different offices or even in different cities). Partners would also verify their ability to transmit EDI messages between the various sectors of their organization whose offices adopt different SW and HW structures (for example, exchange of data between the accounts department and the library acquisitions department).

The project had been evaluated as fully eligible but had been placed on the Reserve List for budgetary reasons. It is, however, our opinion that EDIBOOK, or a similar project, is essential to ensure the diffusion of EDI methodology throughout Europe with as little delay as possible.


The beginning of 1995 saw the start of another initiative. With the support of EDItEUR (The Pan-European EDI user group for the book sector) a first meeting was held in March 1995 at the British Council in Rome at which the three associations of the category (AIE-the Association of Italian Publishers; AIB-the Association of Italian Librarians; and ALI-the Association of Italian Booksellers) took part.

Shortly afterwards, in May 1995 at the Salone del Libro in Turin an open meeting was held to verify interest in founding an Italian association to promote and sustain the adoption of methodologies based on the EDI standard for the transmission of bibliographic and commercial information in the book sector in Italy.

In the following months numerous other meetings have been held with the same three associations and with the additional participation of the Regione Lombardia, Aster, the publishers Mondadori, Rizzoli, Bibliografica, IE Editoriale and with Casalini Libri and Messaggerie Libri. During these meetings a statute has been elaborated for the new association which was founded in March 1996 in Milan. Currently 42 organizations are members of EDILIBRO.

The main aims of the association are:
a) to encourage the knowledge and diffusion of the EDI standard in Italy among all members of the book sector including publishers, distributors, wholesalers, bookshops, libraries;
b) to ensure, as Italian point of reference, the maintenance and supervision of contacts with and the continuance and updating of the EDI standard;
c) to participate in the work necessary for the national and international standardization in the sector;
d) to organize seminars and formative and updating courses.

It is our hope that EDILIBRO will contribute to bringing together the many potential users of EDI in the Italian book world. We naturally also hope that similar initiatives will be taken in other countries and that certain tasks in the respective workplans can be developed as joint efforts.

Forecasts for the coming months

With the experience and the results which EDILIBE has given us we have already started data exchange in the four formats so far studied (offers, orders, order responses, invoices). We have set up a work programme with the Stadt- und Universitätsbibliothek Frankfurt/M and the Stanford University Libraries, and we are currently organizing another with the National Library in Florence. The National Library is also working with the other Italian SBN centres in order to produce an EDI module which can be transferred to the various SBN software packages. We will then seek to extend the number of implemented formats in order to cover the entire business cycle. We will also seek to encourage the adoption of the EDI standard by our suppliers (publishing houses and distributors). In the past year there have also been other initiatives regarding the application of EDI which are now beginning to apply the standards developed by EDILIBE. In particular, a teleordering service is about to be set up which will be the first of its kind in Italy. Some important publishers and certain distribution networks are also considering the possibility of adopting the EDIFACT standard in their future software packages.

We believe that EDILIBE has offered the opportunity to all, or almost all, members of the Italian book world to work together on a common project. It is perhaps the first time that the three associations as well as libraries, booksellers and publishers have confronted such a strategic challenge together in order to successfully realize one standard for all.

Return to WESS Newsletter
WESSWEB | WESS Newsletter Editor