Introduction to OpenURL

OpenURL is a standard that enables 'context sensitive' linking of web pages. The idea is that a link offered to a user in a web page will take into account the nature of the user when it links to the requested resource.

For example, if a searcher identifies a useful document in a database, such as a journal table-of-contents service, the record giving details about the article can be accompanied by an OpenURL link. If the searcher selects this link they will generally be offered a variety of options for either accessing the document or obtaining more details about it. The OpenURL link may provide the user with options such as:

  • a link to the document full-text on another database,
  • a link to a database, such as Copac, offering details of libraries that may hold a copy of the document,
  • contacts for their library's inter-library loan and document delivery service to allow the searcher to request a copy of the document.

The options offered to the user may depend on who they are, for example if the user's library does not subscribe to a relevant full-text journal service then the user may not be offered the option to look at the article full-text online.

The target of the OpenURL link is generally an OpenURL resolver. A university or other institution may have its own OpenURL resolver containing details of the services available to its users. If not, then a general purpose OpenURL resolver may be available. However, the latter will generally have access to less precise information about the services available to the searcher, so whilst it may be able to look for sources of information relating to the document the searcher wants, it may not be able to identify whether those sources are accessible to the user.

The OpenURL can also be used in a more general way. It can provide a standard format allowing a service to provide a link from a document to details of one or more related documents on another service. For example a searcher finding an article of interest on a database might be offered the option to find details of libraries that hold the document. Choosing that link might create an OpenURL link to Copac to find records for the same document that will supply holdings locations.

Details of the standard are available on the NISO OpenURL web page.

Linking to Copac through OpenURL

If you wish to create links from your service to Copac using OpenURL, the base address for Copac OpenURL access is:

Copac uses standard OpenURL parameters. We suggest you use the options shown in the table below.

Suggested Copac OpenURL metadata options
Metadata Meaning
title document title
jtitle Journal title
au Personal author, editor etc.
aucorp Corporate author, conference author
isbn International Standard Book Number (ISBN)
issn International Standard Serials Number (ISSN)

The actual content of the OpenURL string will depend on what material you're trying to access. For example, to find records relating to the music entitled 'Angels' by Carl Ruggles the OpenURL would be:

Bear in mind that many Copac periodical records are very brief. These short records may not have an ISSN and are unlikely to have an author.

You may find the the Key/Encoded=-Value (KEV) Format implementation guidelines helpful.

You will find details of the appropriate parameters to use for different types of document in the details of the metadata formats accessible from NISO web site.

Linking from Copac through OpenURL

OpenURL links in Copac

If you do a Copac search you will find that each Full Record display includes an OpenURL link. Selecting this link will take you to your own library OpenURL resolver - if you have one. If not, it will connect you to the general access resolvers LitLink and getCopy.

If the OpenURL link in the Copac record doesn't automatically take you to your own OpenURL resolver, this may mean your resolver is not registered with the OpenURL Router at Edina:


Copac includes COinS in the Brief and Full record displays. The COinS is an HTML element that contains an openurl and is structured in such a way that it is not normally visible. To make the COinS useful (and visible) you need to install an extension into your web browser.

One such extension is Openly Informatics' OpenURL Referrer for the Firefox browser. Once installed the extension can be configured to make the COinS into a clickable link that delivers an OpenURL to your Institutional OpenURL Resolver.