Life beyond MARC and Z39.50

Building a catalogue with SCIS APIs

Rachel Elliott

In 2017, the Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) announced the release of SCIS RESTful APIs as part of a major infrastructure upgrade. For those who are part of the SCIS community, you would have lived through the upgrade, as outlined here and here. This work was driven by our commitment to improving user experience, and preparing SCIS for a library world that is changing rapidly. SCIS APIs are at the forefront of this evolution.

API stands for Application Programming Interface. In very simple terms, APIs allow different applications to send and receive data in order to communicate with each other. (This video neatly and swiftly explains the concept.) APIs are a common and integral part of your online activity. To understand why SCIS has implemented APIs, let’s start with a brief look at some global library standards.

For over fifty years, the library industry has used MARC (Machine Readable Cataloguing) for encoding data, with the Z39.50 protocol used for delivering it. These standards are widespread, reliable and consistent.

However, these standards also pre-date modern web technology, making it difficult for library systems to interact with other systems in the school environment. MARC is a custom data format delivered via a custom Z39.50 protocol, used in a world that is increasingly reliant on interoperability.

SCIS has been using MARC to encode data since our inception in 1984, and we will continue to do so. Yet, the days of delivering catalogue data in one bespoke format are behind us. SCIS APIs allow school libraries to move to a modern web-based standard to upload catalogue records.

Technical benefits of the SCIS APIs include:

  • Modern communication: APIs use the familiar HTTP(S) instead of the custom Z39.50 communications protocol to transfer data. Applications that use Z39.50 protocol need to use special software, and it is not always permitted nor easy to set up within the school environment. As many of our school users are not able to utilise Z39.50 within their school, APIs provide a new means of accessing catalogue records securely and efficiently.
  • Data formats: SCIS APIs provide the ability to search and retrieve records in multiple formats (MARC, JSON and MODS XML). This can make it simpler for catalogue data to be used in modern systems, through providing a more common and familiar data format for software developers to work with.
    For the curious amongst our audience, MODS stands for Metadata Object Description Schema: a contemporary standard maintained by the Library of Congress. Use of MODS has the added benefit of allowing for enriched SCIS content to be included in the catalogue record – see “New vocabularies” below.
  • Integration opportunities: SCIS are working closely with several publishers to explore further possibilities for data integration between our APIs and digital content providers.

There are some extra content benefits, too:

  • New vocabularies: Using the MODS data format allows for download of extra vocabularies that are not available in MARC. Depending on the title, this data will include audience level, learning area, resource type, and fiction vs non-fiction status. There’s been some pretty complex work done to map curricula and content sources to existing catalogue records. We believe that including the educational use and purpose of resources further enriches the value of library catalogues for students and educators, and we will continue to develop this feature of our database.
  • Customised download: APIs can make it simpler for users to customise their download preferences, including the option to include or exclude the ScOT vocabulary, solving one of our most common help desk queries.
  • Digital content: The rich and light-weight API search service makes it ideally suited to adding SCIS as a source for federated searches of relevant, curated online content such as websites and apps. Including digital content greatly enhances the search experience and access to resources for students and educators.
SCIS catalogue record
A SCIS record supplied via MODS XML includes additional vocabularies such as learning area and resource type. Users can also customise import of full or abridged Dewey and subject headings.

So why is all of this so important? Making resources manageable and discoverable is what we do. We want SCIS data to be modern, useful and interoperable. We want to make our users life easier and we want to make it simpler for vendors to support this. Libraries have consistently led the way in best practice information management, and we’re pleased to contribute one more step in the revolution.

The SCIS team would like to thank library management system vendors and other catalogue providers who have worked so closely with us over the last few years to advise, test and implement the APIs. Together we’re part of a dynamic library industry: making complex information simple, searchable and beautiful.

SCIS is a business unit of Education Services Australia, a not-for-profit government-owned developer of educational technology solutions. For further information, please visit www.scisdata.com.

References and further reading:

Chadwick, B. and Elliott, R. (2018). Is there life beyond MARC? – SCIS. [online] Scis.edublogs.org. Available at: https://scis.edublogs.org/2018/03/13/is-there-life-beyond-marc/

Elliott, R. (2017). Where SCIS becomes much more … muchier – SCIS. [online] Scis.edublogs.org. Available at: http://scis.edublogs.org/2017/05/16/where-scis-becomes-much-more-muchier/

Elliott, R. (2017). SCIS system launch – SCIS. [online] Scis.edublogs.org. Available at: http://scis.edublogs.org/2017/10/03/scis-system-launch/

Kneebone, L. (2015). The relationship between SCIS Subject Headings and ScOT – SCIS. [online] Scisdata.com. Available at: https://www.scisdata.com/connections/issue-95/the-relationship-between-scis-subject-headings-and-scot

Mulesoft (2015). What is an API? video Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7wmiS2mSXY

Loc.gov. (2019). Metadata Object Description Schema: MODS (Library of Congress Standards). [online] Available at: http://www.loc.gov/standards/mods/

SCIS system launch

The SCIS team is pleased to announce the launch of the new SCIS system, found at www.scisdata.com.

For a quick overview, you can watch our short video.

Key features include:

  • richer search capabilities
  • new vocabularies to enrich discovery
  • online cataloguing requests
  • ease of download for print and digital content
  • online invoicing and payments.

Continue reading SCIS system launch

Where SCIS becomes much more … muchier

For anyone who may follow us on social media, or has chatted to the team recently, you may be aware that SCIS keeps talking about our ‘big infrastructure upgrade’. This is the result of three years of quantitative and qualitative market research – thank you once again to everyone who has provided feedback along the way.

So here’s a little more detail about what a SCIS infrastructure upgrade means, and why we’re so excited.

Continue reading Where SCIS becomes much more … muchier

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 cataloguing standards update: Dewey or don’t we?

There has been some discussion at SCIS about how schools treat picture books that rhyme. It has been SCIS practice to classify stories in rhyme picture books as poetry, with each book allocated a Dewey Decimal number. However, feedback in workshops and surveys indicate that this did not reflect the preferred classification in schools.

The Information Services Standards Committee (ISSC) meets regularly to discuss and make revisions to the SCIS Standards for Cataloguing and Data Entry, and this issue was recently discussed during a teleconference with the committee. The decision was made on behalf of the ISSC to classify stories in rhyme picture books as fiction, intending to make browsing easier for students and staff in schools. This will also save you the time spent changing the classifications manually.

If you have any questions about this update, please contact scisinfo@esa.edu.au.

We are interested in learning more about how you manage resources so that our standards continue to reflect schools’ needs

We want to make sure our catalogue records continue to meet the needs of our subscribers. Can you spare ten minutes to complete this survey so we can understand how resources are being managed in school libraries?

All survey respondents will go in the draw to win a $250 book card.

Digital resources to use on Harmony Day

Harmony Day is celebrated on 21 March, coinciding with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, and following Victoria’s Cultural Diversity Week (12–20 March).

We have created catalogue records for the following digital resources:

Harmony Day : recipes for harmony [website], by the Australian Department of Social Services (SCIS no 1753238)

This website provides information about Harmony Day 2016 and information about the multicultural make up of Australian society. It also provides news feeds, access to free resources, and ideas about how to celebrate the day. Included is access to ‘Recipes for Harmony’, an online resource featuring recipes, cultural profiles and personal stories from every-day and high profile Australians. It also includes a teacher resource to accompany ‘Recipes for Harmony’, which provides example lesson plans, work sheets, ice breakers, and other classroom activities.

Y challenge : celebrating diversity [website], by the Australian Red Cross (SCIS no 1753460)

The Y program encourages young people to explore and celebrate Australia’s cultural diversity. It also helps them develop projects that promote fairness, respect for one another, participation and a sense of belonging among their school and local communities.The program is divided into three sections (Description based on online preview). The program is divided into three sections: Explore, Inspire, and Take action.

Harmony Day Stories (SCIS no 1753463)

Experience three stories that are part Australia’s past, present and future – Renata, Kofi and Anh. Download the Harmony Day Stories app today to watch each stories come to life with augmented reality, a cool new interactive experience (Taken from the app’s description). Available from both Apple and Google stores.

Share our pride, by Reconciliation Australia (SCIS no 1753479)

Developed by Reconciliation Australia, this website introduces its readers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, cultures, and perspectives. ‘Share our pride’ was designed to raise awareness and break down cultural myths and barriers in order to build respectful relationships.

Roads to refuge, by the Australian Red Cross (SCIS no 1696317)

Roads to Refuge is designed to give students, teachers and the community access to relevant, factual and current information about refugees (Taken from website).


To find more resources celebrating cultural diversity on SCIS OPAC, you can ‘Browse by subject‘ using a range of different subject headings, such as: Harmony Day (Australia); Cultural diversity; Multiculturalism; or Cultural enrichment.  You can also check out the carousel on our homepage, featuring books that promote a variety of multicultural perspectives.

If you use any other websites or resources that celebrates cultural diversity and encourages cultural awareness, we’d love to hear about them. You can leave a comment here or send us a tweet at @schoolscatinfo.

Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day

Safer Internet Day (Tuesday 9 February) is an annual, international day promoting safe and responsible use of the internet, particularly aimed at children and young adults.

As students are well and truly immersed in the digital age, it is important for them to be able to navigate the vast landscape of the online environment, and use the internet in a way that does not cause harm to themselves or others. The internet is filled with endless opportunities for learning, discovery and social interaction; Safer Internet Day reminds us that it also needs to be approached with a sense of responsibility and with some degree of caution.

Digital citizenship can be found in the Australian Curriculum in the Digital Technologies learning area, as well as across multiple general capabilities, including Information and Communication Technology, Critical and Creative Thinking, Personal and Social Capability, and Ethical Understanding.

Below is a list of websites (and one book) that can be used to encourage safer internet use and ensure students wear their digital citizenship badges responsibly:

Cybersmart detectives by the Australian Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner (SCIS no 1749917)
http://opac.scis.curriculum.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=1749917

Cybersmart Detectives is an interactive website suitable for Year 4 students. It offers a half-hour class activity that asks students to take on the role of the Cybersmart Detective, where they must find clues and answer questions, demonstrating that certain actions made in the online environment can have negative repercussions.

Digital citizenship in schools: nine elements all students should know by Mike Ribble (SCIS no 1739384)
http://opac.scis.curriculum.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?&bibId=1739384

Produced by the International Society for Technology in Education, this book examines issues concerning information literacy, digital citizenship, and social aspects, and safety measures of using the internet. The book discusses how both teachers and students can become informed, responsible internet users.

CyberSense and nonsense : the second adventure of the three CyberPigs by the Media Awareness Network (SCIS no 1746691)
http://opac.scis.curriculum.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?&bibId=1746691

CyberSense and Nonsense teaches young people about netiquette, as well as the information and critical literacy skills necessary to distinguish fact and opinion, including those that contain bias and harmful stereotypes. The website also offers information about encouraging ethical online behaviour, how to be an effective searcher, as well as teaching guides for parents and teachers.

eSmart Digital licence by The Alannah and Madeline Foundation (SCIS no 1722072)
http://opac.scis.curriculum.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=1722072

The eSmart Digital Licence is a website developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation suitable for children aged 10+. It uses an interactive quiz that includes videos and games with eight learning modules to evaluate students’ understanding of digital safety, and teaches the skills required to learn, socialise and play online in a safe and responsible manner.

Posti network by Arts Centre Melbourne (SCIS no 1566388)
http://opac.scis.curriculum.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?&bibId=1566388

Developed by the Arts Centre Melbourne, with the support of the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, this website aims to help upper-primary school students understand the implications of occupying digital spaces, especially in regards to social media use. It is also designed to teach young users about their roles and responsibilities as ‘digital citizens’.


You can also check out Kay Oddone’s article in the latest issue of Connections, ‘Information and critical literacy on the web’, which is an abridged version of a series of blog posts she has written about information and critical literacy in online spaces. Her original blog series can be found here.

Do you use any other resources to teach students to become responsible digital citizens? Let us know in the comment section below, or send us a tweet at @schoolscatinfo.

Happy and safe internetting!

Enhanced content in SCIS catalogue

The SCIS Catalogue is a valuable starting point for school staff looking to identify books, digital resources and websites to support the curriculum, and subscribers are encouraged to use it as a selection aid for locating resources that are required for a particular purpose in a school. While providing catalogue records is core business, SCIS recognises the value of enhancing the catalogue record where possible with any information that may help school staff discover and review resources of interest.

In July 2011 SCIS added enhanced content services from Syndetics Solutions and LibraryThing for Libraries to the SCIS Catalogue, via a subscription with Thorpe-Bowker. The bibliographic records in SCIS OPAC are enhanced to display additional detail about resources, including plot summaries, author notes, awards and reviews. This content is delivered to SCIS by linked data based on ISBN.

Consider the subject headings and notes if using SCIS Catalogue as a selection tool
Figure 1: If using SCIS Catalogue as a selection tool, consider using the Subject Headings and notes

The SCIS Catalogue bibliographic record display provides a link to Google Books. The Google books link/s (if any) will appear at the bottom of the display.
There are three possible links:

  • Entire book is viewable
  • A portion of the book is viewable
  • “About This Book” information is available.

These links will enrich search results with lists of relevant books, journal articles, web page citations and links to related works and full text when available.

Google Books link in SCIS Catalogue record
Figure 2: Google Books link in SCIS Catalogue record

 

Social bookmarks links in SCIS Catalogue
Individual records from SCIS Catalogue can be saved directly to selected social media services as bookmarks. The persistent website address (URL) for these records will be in the format http://opac.scis.curriculum.edu.au/vwebv/holdingsInfo?bibId=1411770 where the bibID is the SCIS number for that record.
Note that you will need a subscription to the social bookmarking service you wish to use, and anyone accessing these SCIS records from your bookmarking service will need to be a SCIS subscriber.
The social bookmarking services currently supported include delicious.com, diigo.com, facebook.com, google.com and StumbleUpon.com.

Social bookmarks links in SCIS Catalogue full record screen
Figure 3. Social bookmarks links in SCIS Catalogue full record screen

 

Images linked to Google Books are not available for download from SCIS. The book cover image from Thorpe Bowker located within the catalogue data (if available) can be downloaded into your library management system from our orders page or via your system’s z39.50 connection. Subscriber schools may also display the images on the school website including blogs, wikis, online newsletters and the school intranet.

Syndetics content in SCIS Catalogue
Through the subscription service Syndetics, SCIS offers additional descriptive and evaluative information where available including:

  • summaries and annotations
  • fiction and biography profiles
  • summaries and annotations
  • fiction and biography profiles
  • author notes
  • awards
  • books in a series

Syndetics reviews
Syndetics delivers edited reviews from authoritative reviewing sources including:

  • Bookseller & Publisher reviews
  • New York Times reviews
  • School Library Journal reviews
  • Publishers Weekly reviews
  • The Horn Book reviews
  • Kirkus reviews

SCIS and Campfire Film

The Campfire Film Foundation provides schools access to short films which promote understanding and discussion about meaningful issues including many curriculum areas.  SCIS provides bibliographic records for these films in the database.  Here is a quick guide to accessing a full list of Campfire Films on the SCIS catalogue.

Logo
Campfire Film Foundation

1. Subscribers wishing to bring up a full list of Campfire Films should use ‘Campfire Film Foundation’ as a search term

Use ‘Campfire Film Foundation’ as a search term
Use ‘Campfire Film Foundation’ as a search term

 

 

 

 

 

2. The search will bring up all the titles distributed through Campfire Film Foundation.

Titles distributed through Campfire Film Foundation
Titles distributed through Campfire Film Foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. Click on the title that you are interested in and the full bib record looks like this including summary.  Subscribers can use the SCIS number to order bib records using the SCISWeb Orders screen or Z39.50.

The full SCIS record
The full SCIS record

 

 

 

 

SCIS Asks 2013: The future of discovery systems

This SCIS Asks 2013 presentation by Alan Manifold, Digital and Library Applications Manager at the State Library of Victoria sets the future of library discovery architecture in the context of the evolution of library systems and search. Alan outlined the purpose of metadata as being to:

Alan Manifold and Ben Chadwick
Ben Chadwick and Alan Manifold
SCIS, CC-by-nc
  • Authorize
  • Limit
  • Evaluate
  • Categorize
  • Link

He postulated that the format of the item no longer matters, it is about providing connections between resource and curriculum and resources inside and outside the library.  The catalogue which was once designed for inventory control has morphed into a search engine.

Alan posed questions about the evolution in libraries and catalogues in the age of electronic resources, searchable full text and mega-aggregate sites.  He touched upon discovery products such as EBSCO, WorldCat Local and the State Library of Victoria’s Primo Central. A useful observation was that while school students need authoritative information as soon as possible, they tend not to require a specific title or edition of a work.

His advice was that SCIS needs to provide connections between resources and curriculum and external indexes and search platforms.  He recommends SCIS

  • continue to provide quality metadata
  • increase the connecting of resources with curriculum
  • work on linking controlled vocabularies
  • highlight diversity of resources and formats and
  • explore ways to rate materials

Education Services records its thanks to Alan for his clear thinking and recommendations.