Subject Authority: avoiding the unknown unknown

We recently had a query from a user who asked us to explain the value of SCIS Subject Headings and the ScOT vocabulary — and the rather tricky subject of authority control. This query often comes up in our inbox, at conferences and at professional learning sessions, so now feels like a good time for a blog post on the matter.

SCIS vs ScOT — which to choose?
Firstly, we do not consider this an either/or scenario; nor do 100% of our users. SCIS Subject Headings have been developed and refined to support best-practice for resource management in education. SCIS records provide the foundation of consistent, best-quality metadata, to which ScOT headings can be a valuable supplement.

The SCIS Subject Headings vocabulary dates back to the early 1980s and is a pre-coordinated subject headings list. It is intended as an educationally-focused alternative to the Library of Congress Subject Headings. SCIS subscribers can choose to supplement SCIS Subject Headings with ScOT, a post-coordinated vocabulary of topical headings.

Continue reading Subject Authority: avoiding the unknown unknown

SCISSHL and ScOT: Why use both?

Have you ever wondered why some SCIS records contain two similar or identical subject headings? SCIS cataloguers use two controlled vocabularies: the SCIS Subject Heading List (SCISSHL) and the Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT). You’ll notice that the codes ‘scisshl’ or ‘scot’ appear in parentheses after each heading, representing which vocabulary the heading came from. Subscribers who access records through SCISWeb have the option to have headings from both vocabularies in their downloaded records, or just their preferred one.

These two controlled vocabularies serve complementary functions. Simply put, ScOT terms are informed by curriculum language and structure, whereas the SCISSHL is informed by topics in the literature itself: its headings reflect the content of the SCIS database.

Seasons_SH_MARCviewThe benefit of using both is that if one person – likely, in this case, to be a teacher or school library professional – enters search terms inspired by the curriculum, and another person – such as a student – searches with no consideration of the curriculum, both will find relevant resources. Oftentimes there is an overlap between SCISSHL and ScOT terms that can describe resources (see image to the left); to maintain consistency, both terms are always used.

SCISWeb

MyProfileAdvancedOptionsWhile our cataloguers include terms from both vocabularies, you have the option to select a preferred subject heading format.

Once you’ve logged into SCISWeb, you can select ‘My Profile’ from the navigation bar, select ‘Advanced options’, and then choose your preferred subject heading format (you can press the ‘Help me choose which format’ if further clarification is needed), and then press ‘SAVE’.

Z39.50

Please note that the instructions above only change your settings on SCISWeb, and will not affect the format of records imported directly into your library management system through Z39.50 (otherwise known as rapid cataloguing or z-cataloguing).

When using z39.50 to import records directly into your system, some library systems allow you to choose between SCISSHL or ScOT terms. Others extract the ScOT headings and put them in special fields, treating them as keywords rather than specialised subject headings. Still others import both sets of headings and do not give you a choice in the matter. If the source of the heading is not displayed (‘scisshl’ or ‘scot’) it may appear that you have duplicate headings in your record, whereas one heading is from ScOT and the other from SCISSHL.

If you would like to know more about the differences between the two, see ‘ScOT in SCIS – more of the same … or different?’ and ‘The relationship between SCIS Subject Headings and ScOT’.

SCIS Asks 2013: The future of vocabularies

Education Services Australia manages multiple vocabularies including SCIS Subject Headings List and ScOT. At the SCIS consultation SCIS Asks, Ben Chadwick, ESA Metadata analyst outlined how vocabularies assist search.

     Australian Education Vocabularies >      Schools Online Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT)

Australian Education Vocabularies >
Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT)
  • Search expansion and faceting
  • Navigation and browsing
  • Collections Redirects (“See”)
  • Related topics (“See also”)
  • Mapping between repositories

ScOT as Linked Open Data

Ben outlined how ScOT  is published as open linked data and can be linked to other unique identifiers, inside and outside the vocabulary. It is available for consumption on the open web and is expressed in a standard, machine-readable format (RDF).

ScOT linking curriculum to resources

To date ScOT has been used to tag  20,000 resources  in Scootle  and 350,000 resources  in SCIS MARC records.  The Softlink survey 2013 showed that schools want curriculum alignment.  Aligning existing resources to the Australian Curriculum is one of three top priorities of school library staff. Future decisions  for SCIS around curriculum alignment  include

  • dealing with pre-2006 records without ScOT terms,
  • non-subject vocabularies,
  • increased records for digital resources,
  • retrospective updates of schools’ SCIS records
  • viability of Linked Open Data authorities as a new model for authority files.

Discussion points

Many have indicated that they would love to be able to search by curriculum in order to find related resources and that this would be a huge time saver. Suggestions included looking at the 658 MARC field to introduce a curriculum element.

It was noted that there was demand for automated  updating of bibliographic records. This would require a new process to ensure that library management systems can handle requests.   It was agreed that the ability to refresh bibliographic and authority records is an important one and further discussion is needed about whether models of linked data could address this problem.

SCIS asks: ScOT and subject access

In the subject access session of the SCIS consultation on 4 December 2012, Les Kneebone Project Manager of the Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT) presented an exciting overview of recent developments in the ScOT thesaurus. Key features that position ScOT for the future include:

  • its ongoing development with input from cataloguers, curriculum developers, subject matter experts and users
  • its use to describe the machine-readable Australian Curriculum
  • its linked data API facilitating automatic semantic relationships
  • its translation into languages including Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Māori
  • its use to describe a wide range of resources through the National Digital Learning Resource Network and SCIS

Discussion followed as to future directions for SCIS in the area of subject access.

Les Kneebone
Les Kneebone presents an overview of ScOT

The ScOT in SCIS project commenced in 2006 when the thinking was that keyword searching would become the pre-eminent means of resource retrieval. Since then SCIS has offered schools the option of downloading both SCIS Subject Headings and ScOT terms in their catalogue records. The challenge is how to manage and display both SCIS subject headings and ScOT terms in a meaningful way for users in order to exploit the inferred links between resources tagged with ScOT terms that match a curriculum tagged with ScOT terms.

Also discussed was an alternative scenario of transition from use of SCIS Subject Headings to ScOT terms and how schools would manage this process.

New release of Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT)

Education Services Australia has recently announced the release of Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT) version 6.7.

ScOT, together with agreed standards for digital resources, technical infrastructure, metadata, and rights management, supports Australia’s national operating environment for digital educational resources. The National Digital Learning Resources Network digital resources are free for use in all Australian schools. The resources are made available to teachers through State and Territory portals or via a national shared portal, Scootle. ScOT terms are also used in Schools Cataloguing Information Service (SCIS) records, accessed via most schools in Australia and New Zealand.
Ben Chadwick is new to the ScOT team and has made valuable contributions to recent ScOT data and user features via his work with web-services, data mining and thesaurus editing has contributed to the delivery of a substantial body of work.
For this release, significant steps have been taken in the area of non-English labels, especially the addition of Chinese, Indonesian, Japanese and Korean term translations. Other preliminary work, including development of language and character encoding support, facilitates translations in Arabic, Māori and other languages. A sample concept can be found at http://vocabulary.curriculum.edu.au/scot/976. This work represents a substantial opportunity for ScOT to support users who are learning or who have a background in languages other than English. Online environments can be designed or adapted to take advantage of standardised language encoding and character support.
A number of new features and improvements have been developed in the ScOT website:
  • User generated reports – lists new, modified and deprecated terms
  • Cataloguing tool – quickly identifies hierarchical relationships within a group of terms
  • Linked Data API for querying the ScOT database: SPARQL Endpoint
  • Tips and code examples for developing search tools and managing term changes
  • Revised license and simplified registration process
  • Auto-complete feature for searching ScOT
  • Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG 2.0) – range of issues identified and fixed
The associated report can be accessed from the ScOT website releases page http://scot.curriculum.edu.au/releases.asp.
ScOT and other Australian Education Vocabulary projects are published using PoolParty technologies.