Welcome to lesson 3 of the SCIS short course! Let’s get started …
What is a catalogue?
Your school library catalogue is the access point between your library users and your library collection. Library catalogues include metadata about the items in your library collection, both physical and digital, that allows library users to perform search and find resources relevant to their information needs. An effective catalogue should be able to help users find, identify, select and obtain catalogued items while navigating the catalogue itself. The key to this is consistent metadata that classifies and describes your library’s resources. Metadata put simply, is data about data — or, in our case, bibliographic information about resources held in libraries.
As an example, let’s say a library user wants to learn more about insects. There is a book sitting on your shelf titled Totally amazing facts about creepy-crawlies that matches your student’s information needs. Despite insects not being in the title or the summary, your library catalogue should be able to direct your user to that book. If your catalogue only included metadata about book title, author and ISBN, there would be no way to connect a catalogue search of ‘insects’ to the specified book. A standards-based approach to cataloguing will strengthen your catalogue’s ability to show users relevant resources, ensuring searches don’t miss important items.
Why do we need to follow standards?
We mentioned the need for consistency in library catalogues, and this is largely achieved through cataloguing standards. The benefits of following standards are that:
- you do not need to create your own set of rules for describing items
- you are future-proofing your library catalogue
- you can import or copy records from other catalogues
- your catalogue records will remain consistent.
Which standards do I need to be aware of?
Below is a rundown of existing standards that may impact your library’s cataloguing.
The current international library cataloguing standard is Resource Description and Access (RDA). For this, your school will need a subscription to the RDA Toolkit. This will give you full access to RDA standards, which includes data elements, guidelines and instructions for creating high-quality metadata. By subscribing to a descriptive cataloguing standard such as RDA, the functions of your library catalogue will be strengthened.
RDA is the content standard, instructing cataloguers on what information should be recorded, and how.
MARC, or MAchine-Readable Cataloging, is a standard to support machine-readable data. Where RDA focuses on the what, or the content, we can look at MARC as providing the means of communicating that content: it is a code input into the catalogue record to ensure computers can read and understand the data. While RDA can indeed support MARC, it should be noted that they are two separate standards.
Your library management system should be able to infer information from MARC data that allows it to be displayed in user-friendly ways.
For example, look at the two images below. The first is the raw MARC data, written in machine-readable code:
This image is how the user sees it:
Notice that in the second image, there are ‘Additional terms’. These have been inferred from the MARC data, by way of machine-readable code, in order to create more meaning for our catalogue users. This is made possible by consistent, standardised metadata.
Z39.50 — sometimes referred to as z-cataloguing — is a protocol that allows users to search and import library records from remote databases directly within their library management systems. Examples of databases that might be useful for schools are SCIS, Libraries Australia or the Library of Congress.
Z39.50 is not a ‘standard’ that library staff need to adhere to in the same respect as RDA or MARC; most of the work here is done by library vendors in creating Z39.50-compliant systems.
It is, however, useful to know about, and worth checking if your library system has Z39.50 capabilities. If you have a subscription to any of the abovementioned databases, Z39.50 will simplify your cataloguing process.
Library management system
The type of system used in libraries to store catalogue records is known as a library management system. This system will allow you to:
- create catalogue records
- import catalogue records from other systems
- provide a search interface for your community (this is called an OPAC — Online Public Access Catalogue — or Discovery Layer)
- lend materials
- order materials
- and more.
Library management systems can assist you with many of the tasks we have covered in previous lessons: evaluating the existing collection, weeding and stocktaking. All library management systems assist you with creating and presenting catalogue records to the user. Most library management systems comply with the standard explained above.
Making standards work for your library
All of the information available through the RDA and MARC standards can feel overwhelming when you are facing decisions about your own cataloguing. You will not need to learn or understand them all, as in most cases you will be able to import or copy existing records external catalogue databases. This will be discussed further in lesson 7.
Nevertheless, it is recommended that you understand how your library management system uses and displays catalogue metadata, and which metadata fields (MARC fields) are mandatory. In addition, libraries will make local decisions on how they wish data to be recorded, which then impacts on how the records are presented to users in the OPAC. Any cataloguing decisions should be made keeping the needs of your users in mind.
In lesson 2, we touched on the need to document processes within your school library. It is recommended that you create your own guidelines for cataloguing. Of course, this does not need to be a comprehensive document, but one that keeps a record of which standards you follow, and which metadata fields are mandatory for your library management system.
This week we introduced this idea of cataloguing, and why we need to follow standards in order to support access to your library collection. We provided an overview of what a library management system is in relation to collection management. Over the next three weeks, we will delve a little deeper into library cataloguing standards, looking at descriptive cataloguing, subject cataloguing and classification. We’ll use both RDA and MARC as the frameworks in which we explore these topics.