Lesson 5: Subject cataloguing and authority files – why it is important to keep control

Welcome to lesson 5 of the SCIS short course! Let’s get started …

Subject cataloguing is the process of assigning terms that describe what a bibliographic item is about.

Cataloguers perform subject analysis for items in their library, most commonly selecting terms from an authorised list of subject headings, otherwise known as a ‘controlled vocabulary’. Controlled vocabularies often take the form of a ‘thesaurus’, which is used to link similar and related terms. In addition to this, a thesaurus also shows hierarchical relationships between terms. For the sake of simplicity, we will refer to this as ‘subject headings’ throughout this lesson.

Do I need to use a controlled vocabulary?

The decision not to use a controlled vocabulary is not something that would be noticed by most library users. The impact of controlled subject headings is subtle, yet it has a profound impact on your catalogue’s ability to retrieve results. It is an ‘unknown unknown’ for users, who do not know about items that their search does not retrieve.

The most common examples of uncontrolled vocabularies are social media tags or user-generated tags — in both examples, users are free to choose any term they wish. It is important to note the limitations of working with an uncontrolled vocabulary.

Consider how controlled vocabularies would help to clear up any confusion in the following situations:

  • Synonyms (two words with the same meaning)
  • Homographs (different words with the same spelling).

Without a controlled vocabulary, one cataloguer may assign the subject ‘Insects’ to a record, and another may assign the subject ‘Bugs’ to a similar record. This would result in discrepancies between search results, meaning that the two different subject headings will return two different sets of resources.

Subject heading lists will likely include preferred and non-preferred headings. A controlled vocabulary would choose an authorised, or preferred, subject heading such as ‘Insects’. It may also display ‘Bugs’ as a non-preferred term.

Please note, more than one subject heading can be assigned to a record.

How do people search?

Library catalogues usually provide two main types of search:

  1. A ’basic’ or keyword search that allows the user to type in a search term or phrase and then search across the whole database. This will often bring back too many search results, which then have to be narrowed down or filtered.
  2. An ’Advanced search’, which allows the user to do a much more specific, or targeted search by selecting particular fields. Typical fields include author, title, series, subject or ISBN. This allows for greater precision in your search results.

How do users benefit from subject headings?

There are several benefits of using subject headings, rather than keywords, in advanced searches. Although it can be assumed that most novice catalogue users will use keyword search rather than subject search, it is important that we communicate the benefits of the latter in order to enhance our library users’ information retrieval skills. This, in turn, means they will make the most of your high-quality cataloguing.

Subject searches expand their understanding of what is available

By performing a subject search rather than a keyword search, users can gain a broader understanding of the resources available in the library. For example, say a user enters the search query ‘Super heroes’ — but the preferred term is ‘Superheroes’. Users will be pointed toward the correct term and will see a broader range of subject headings that may assist their search.

Look at the following image as an example. If a user performs a subject search on ‘Flowers’, they will be directed to a range of resources tagged with that subject heading. But before they do, they might be interested in seeing what other options are available. While the user started their search broadly, they might be interested in browsing narrower terms that they didn’t think to search on — or perhaps a related search that might be of interest to them.

Example of subject search

Subject headings as access points

In the Resource Description and Access (RDA) standard, subject headings are presented as access points, which allow users to follow an efficient path for resource discovery. If we go back to the idea of the key functions of the library catalogue that we explored in lesson 3, we can understand that subject access points support both greater discoverability and navigation.

RDA supports the inclusion of access points, which, together with authorised subject headings and name headings, allows users to refine their searches. Of course, without authorised terms here, the catalogue’s ability to point users toward relevant resources is hindered; say one person has used the subject heading ‘bugs’ and another has used ‘insects’ — a user will only find one or the other, not both.

Choosing which subject headings to use

Your library users should be at the forefront of your mind when choosing which subject headings to prescribe to your catalogue; it is important that the subject headings align with the vocabulary that they would use. Luckily for cataloguers, there are a number of subject heading lists available for you to choose from, many of which have been created specifically for use in certain fields.  Two lists commonly used in the school library environment are SCIS Subject Headings List and Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT).

Each cataloguing authority that creates these subject headings often has an additional product called ‘authority files’ that allows the catalogue and, ultimately, the users, to reap the benefits of
authorised subject and name headings.

What are authority files?

An authority is the authorised or preferred form for a heading — most often names and subjects — in a controlled vocabulary. An authority file is an index of all authority records of any given agency or library. When your library users perform subject searches, authority files also act as ‘recommended searches’. It can point users to the correct subject heading and help them understand how to narrow or broaden their search.

The inclusion of authority files in your library catalogue ensures compliance with RDA standards. As part of the RDA standard, data used in records to describe ‘an entity’ associated with that resource — be it a concept, person, family, or corporate body — should help users find, identify, clarify and understand each entity.

Look at the example below. The authority record for ‘Superheroes’ leaves no confusion as to how to use this subject heading. This not only helps make the cataloguer’s job easier but also the library users.

Superheroes authority file

SCIS Subject Headings List (SCISSHL) or Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH) have authority files available for you to subscribe to. Please note, your subject headings and authority files should come from the same source.

Activities

Become familiar with different search options offered by OPACs and observe the usefulness of controlled vocabularies. Go to an OPAC in your library system or any other catalogue.

  • Do a basic keyword search for a term eg Houses, then go to advanced search, select subjects and search for the same term. Compare the results.
  • Find a ‘Browse search’ option for subjects. Browse for any term e.g. Houses. This browse list is populated from the system’s authority list of subject headings. Can you ascertain which subject heading list the terms come from?

Some library management systems use tag clouds and others use facetted searches to display the controlled vocabularies. Look for examples of these in your system or any other catalogue.

Conclusion

So now you have an understanding of the importance of controlled vocabularies, subject headings, and authority files in the library catalogue. Each one significantly enhances the consistency, value, and usability of your library management system and search functionality. You have seen how people search for resources and how different search interfaces produce varying results. Next week we’ll explore classification, Dewey, and call numbers.

Further reading

  • Schools Catalogue Information Service: Subject Authority: avoiding the unknown unknown http://scis.edublogs.org/2017/03/27/subject-authority-avoiding-the-unknown-unknown/

Lesson 4: Descriptive cataloguing – describing your collection and finding resource information

Hands of librarian holding books

Welcome to lesson 4 of the SCIS short course! Let’s get started …

Libraries use descriptive cataloguing to describe the resources within their collections so that they can be found by users. A library catalogue helps your users to discover what is in the library collection, helps them select the resource that meets their need, and directs them to where the resources can be found or accessed. This includes ’physical’ materials, such as books and DVDs on the shelves, as well as online resources, ebooks, apps and websites.

Cataloguers use a number of international standards to create consistent records so that related resources can be found, identified, selected and obtained. International standards also ensure that users can navigate and explore the catalogue database to find other resources of possible interest.

Doing your own cataloguing takes a lot of time. Rather than creating a brand new record from scratch every time a resource needs to be added to the collection, many libraries prefer to obtain their records from outside, saving them a lot of time. We will look at this a little more in lesson 7.

The level of cataloguing addresses how completely a record is catalogued. Full cataloguing generally takes more time as it includes verification with international standards.

Describe your library collection

In lesson 3, we introduced you to cataloguing. The information, or metadata, that the catalogue record contains provides access to the materials. Consistent and accurate cataloguing means that your users can find all of the information that the library holds to match their search.

Descriptive cataloguing is when standardised sets of rules such as RDA: Resource Description and Access are applied so that the title, authorship, publication data, and the physical extent of a work (for example, how many pages a book might have) are easy to find.

As well as the cataloguing standard used, such as RDA, libraries use an international standard called MARC (MAchine Readable Cataloguing). This gives each part of the catalogue record a number, or MARC field. For example, the 100 field contains the author’s name, and the 245 field contains the title.

Descriptive cataloguing focuses on what the resource is — whether it is a book 300 pages long, or a DVD in black and white — whereas subject cataloguing focuses on what the item is about; for example, a book about pet care.

Fields in a catalogue record

The most important fields in a catalogue record are listed in the table below.

Type of information MARC Field Description
Author 100 The name of the main author, for works by individuals. If there is no author, this field is left out. If the author is a corporation or a meeting, then a different field is used. An individual author’s names is usually formatted to show the surname first.
Title 245 The title, sub-title and statement of responsibility of the work.
Publication details 264 Publisher and place of publication. Older records will contain this information in a 260 field.
ISBN 020 International Standard Book Number. This is an identifying number that is assigned to each book by its publisher.
DDC 082 Dewey Decimal Classification number. This field contains the DDC number and information about what edition of Dewey was used.
Description 300 Physical description, number of pages (for books with numbered pages), and information about whether the item is illustrated.
Summary 520 A brief summary of what the item is about.
Subject 650 Topical subject heading, taken from a thesaurus or controlled vocabulary. This field contains additional information to identify which controlled vocabulary was used.
Genre 655 Genre heading for the resource. This field contains additional information to identify which controlled vocabulary was used.

Most of the fields in the above record are considered part of the description of the resource, providing information to help the user identify and select the resource that best meets their needs.

The DDC, Subject and Genre fields relate to what the resource is about. The standards used to create these will be covered in lessons 5 and 6.

How do people search?

  1. A “basic” or keyword search that allows the user to type in a search term or phrase and then search across the whole database. This will often bring back too many search results, which then have to be narrowed down or filtered.
  2. An “Advanced search”, which allows the user to do a much more specific, or targeted search by selecting particular fields. Typical fields include author, title, series, subject or ISBN. This allows for greater precision in your search results.

Cataloguing digital resources

Digital content is an important part of library collections. By including records for digital materials in the library catalogue, you make it easier for your students and teachers to find all the information they need from a single search point — the library catalogue. Records are catalogued using the same standards and subject headings that are applied to print-based materials so that resources of all formats for the same topics will be found.

Activity

As has been mentioned before, each library management system will display the cataloguing data differently, even though underpinning all records are the cataloguing standards mentioned earlier.

Study the OPAC display in your library management system. Identify where and how your systems display the following data:

  • Title (and statement of responsibility)
  • Author’s name
  • Publication details
  • Description
  • Summary
  • ISBN

Go to your library management system’s cataloguing module. Can you see your catalogue record in the MARC format (see example in lesson 3)? If you can, locate the following descriptive fields and identify the actual data it contains.

020                       ISBN

100                       Author name

245                       Title

264 (or 260)        Publication details

300                       Description

520                       Summary

Compare the MARC record with what your users can see in OPAC.

Conclusion

In this lesson, we have explored how you can describe the resources in your library collection. We provided an overview of important fields used in a catalogue record and how they are displayed in an OPAC. Next week, we’ll take look at controlled vocabularies, subject headings, and authority files.

Further reading

Kelsey, Marie, 2018, Cataloging for School Librarians, 2nd edition. Blue Ridge Summit: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2018.

Lesson 3: Introduction to cataloguing – unleash your library collection

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.

RDA

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

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:

Raw MARC data written in machine readable code:

This image is how the user sees it:

Library catalogue record

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

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.

Conclusion

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.

Lesson 2: Managing your collection – what does your library collect?

Teenager taking book off library shelf

Welcome to lesson 2 of the SCIS short course! Let’s get started …

It is very important to document all of your procedures and policies. This will help you with consistency, and also ensure that your school community understands how the library works. One of the most important policy documents in the library is the collection policy.

In a nutshell, the collection policy outlines what your school will catalogue, while your library’s procedures detail the process on how you manage and catalogue your collection. Both documents are important for the effective running of a school library.

A collection is a term given to the resources that you make available for your community in your library. The collection may contain a variety of different formats, including print and non-print materials, and online resources.

Managing the collection to provide access for students and teachers is a very important part of your role. Key to this is understanding your school community and the curriculum that the library is supporting.

In lesson 1, we briefly touched on the collection policy, and why it is important. In this lesson, we’ll break down collection policies and go over acquisitions, weeding and stocktake, all key activities required in order to effectively manage your collection.

Collection policy

A collection policy is a document that sets out the framework and principles for the library’s selection of resources and how they will be managed. It outlines the policy for selecting materials to include in the collection, as well as the criteria for removing materials. The policy will be complemented by procedural documents that outline how to undertake certain processes.

What do you need to create a collection policy?

The collection policy is unique to your own school community. So the first thing to do is to gather information about your school and the collection that you already have. You may have already started thinking about this during lesson 1. You can find information about the school and curriculum from school policy documents, your school’s website and intranet, and from discussions with the teaching staff. Information about the existing collection can be obtained from the library management system. Depending on the system your school is using, you will be able to run reports to provide statistics about the number of loans, and the material already catalogued in the collection.

The sort of information you will need to gather includes:

  • Your school community
    • Type of school
    • Year levels covered – primary, secondary or both
    • Number of campuses (if applicable)
    • The school’s vision and plans
  • The curriculum
    • What are the learning areas that you need to support?
    • Are there any specialty areas?
  • The existing collection
    • Are there any gaps?
    • What are its strengths?
    • How well used is it?
      • What parts of the collection are borrowed the most?
      • What parts of the collection are borrowed the least?
    • How many materials do you have?
    • How old are the existing materials?
  • The budget
    • Who is responsible for the budget?
    • How much is the school able to spend on resources?
    • How is this divided across the different parts of the collection?

What should be included in a collection policy?

Think about the collection that your school needs. What are the vision and goals for the collection?

Once you know what you want to achieve, you can start to build a policy to help you.

The list below is a guide to the sorts of things that you might include in a collection policy:

  • Vision and goals for the library
  • Criteria for selecting resources, including material formats
  • Procedures for withdrawing (weeding) materials from the library
  • Policy for websites and online material
  • Policy on donated materials
  • Policy on lost items
  • Procedure for dealing with complaints about materials in the collection
  • Copyright

Acquisitions

Acquisitions is the process of ordering and receiving resources into your library collection.

Ordering

Your school may have a procedure and system in place for purchasing, or you may order directly through an ordering module in your library management system. It is important to check and understand what the school’s requirements are for purchasing. It is a good idea to keep a record of all orders in the library management system so that you can keep track of your purchasing.

Receiving

Receiving is the process of adding the resource into your collection, finalising the purchasing process once the order has been received, and processing the invoice.

Barcoding

When new materials are received in the library, they are tagged for circulation. Libraries may use barcode labels or RFID tags for this purpose. These tags identify each item individually so that you can track them.

Libraries use barcode scanners to circulate barcoded material and to scan ISBNs from book covers during the receiving process.

Weeding

Weeding is the process of deselecting or removing material from your collection. Your collection policy can include the criteria that you use for this.

Things to consider are:

  • Is the material up to date? Is the information still current?
  • Current editions: Is there a later edition of the work that updates it?
  • Is the material being used? Circulation (loan/borrowing) reports from your library management system can tell you what items are not being borrowed
  • Is the material still in a useable condition? Is it damaged, dirty or ugly?
  • Is the material still relevant to your school and its curriculum?
  • Disposal of weeded material. Do you run a second-hand bookstall, donate weeded resources to charity or place in a recycling bin?

Stocktaking

Stocktaking is a process that checks the materials in your collection, against your holding records, and it is a good way to identify lost materials. It also ensures an accurate record of existing resources for insurance purposes.

For many school libraries, stocktaking is an annual task. Other libraries identify a particular part of the collection to do each year, on a rotating basis. A date is set for the start of stocktake, and then all materials that are in the library are scanned. Once the scanning is complete, you can run reports from your library management system. From these reports, you can identify all materials that have not been scanned since the start date. This will show you what is missing.

Activity

If your library doesn’t already have a collection policy, now would be a great time to create one! You can begin by gathering information about your school community, the curriculum, your existing collection and budget, as indicated above. Templates and guides on writing policies are found in the resources listed below.

Already have a collection policy set up? Fantastic! We suggest you read through and ensure it is still relevant and meets the needs of your community.

Undertake collection analysis and evaluation using the SCHOOL LIBRARY COLLECTION RUBRIC in A manual for developing policies and procedures in Australian School Library Resource Centres.

Take some time to review your acquisitions, weeding, and stocktaking processes. What are your policies around donated materials and lost items?

Conclusion

In this lesson, we’ve covered the basics of a collection policy and explained its importance. We’ve offered some suggestions for what to include in your collection policy, along with an overview of acquisitions, weeding and stocktake. In lesson 3 we dive into the cataloguing process by looking at cataloguing standards.

Further reading

Collection policy

Stocktaking

Lesson 1: Help! I’ve taken over a library. What do I do now?

“The school library is essential to every long-term strategy for literacy, education, information provision and economic, social and cultural development.” – School Library Manifesto

Welcome to the world of the school library and lesson 1 of the SCIS short course! This lesson was created for new school library staff but is perfect for library staff that would like a refresher. Focusing on collection curation and cataloguing, we will help you get started in organising the resource offerings of your library.

Running a school library is a challenging yet rewarding role. You are about to take on the responsibility of developing and nurturing inquisitive young minds, preparing them to become open-minded adults with an appreciation for what a library has to offer.

No longer is the library just a room with books. Librarians do not read books all day — they don’t have the time. And walking around shushing users is no longer the done thing.

Today, a library is a place for both research and leisure. It is where reliable information and works of imagination can be freely accessed and enjoyed by all. Library users have the opportunity to encounter diverse ideas and cultures all in one place. For school students, many of whom have limited chance to travel, the school library provides a safe environment from which they can have a window to the rest of the world and the wider society.

As the person who runs the school library, you are here to inspire students; equip them with the skills for research and enquiry; help them develop and sustain love and enjoyment of reading and learning; and teach them to evaluate and use information in all forms, formats and mediums. By the time your students graduate, they should have the information literacy skills needed to locate relevant and reliable information in order to be effective problem solvers and high functioning creators.

First steps

Have a look at your library. What is the current state of your library?

  1. The collection – is the content relevant? Are the resources being used?
  2. The literacy programs – are there any? If so, are they effective? Are the students engaged?

The best way to gauge this is to obtain feedback from your school community. Talk to the teachers and students. Ask them how they view and use the library. Perhaps even run a survey.

You may find that your library is well used and considered to be a valued space. In that case, excellent. The question then becomes: how do you maintain and improve the library’s sense of value within the school community so that it continues to remain well regarded?

Alternatively, you may find that your library is underused and undervalued. In this case, it is even more critical to seek insight from teaching staff and students to learn where the library has come up short. Ascertain what should be done to bring your library closer to where it needs to be. The goal here is to work towards making the library a tool that contributes to student learning and teacher success, as well as providing a space that members of the school community can use for enjoyment.

Overall, the main activities that create value for your school library are collection curation, literacy programs, support for teaching staff and students, and advocacy for your library by engaging with school management and administrators, parents, and the wider school/school library community.

Things to consider

Collection management policy

When you first assess your library, the collection should be part of this evaluation. It will be helpful to check whether the library collection is based upon the curriculum and needs of your school; and whether it reflects the interests of the school community as well as the wider educational community. The library collection should show diversity, with works created domestically and internationally, and covering a wide range of themes. A collection development policy documents how the library will meet these objectives. We will discuss this further in lesson 2.

Teenager looking at books on library shelf

Resources

In addition to books, resources can come in a variety of formats including digital media such as websites, apps and ebooks. Each user’s need is different and a variety of formats ensures that the wider audience is catered for.

Tip: Include educational websites as part of your collection! They do not take up physical space and the only cost involved is the time taken to add them to your library catalogue. Depending on your library catalogue, resources like this can even be accessed 24/7.

Not to be forgotten, your school library is also a place for enjoyment and so materials for that purpose should be included in the collection. Your students should be consulted for this as they make up the majority of your users. While you perform research into their interests and culture, it is also a great opportunity to improve their engagement with the library.

Engaging spaces

Have a look at how your resources are placed in the library. Think about the steps your users would take to locate a resource and assess whether the current layout flows naturally in accordance with these steps. At the same time, your school library should also feel inviting. Its physical space and appearance should attract your users to visit even when they have no particular need. Ideally, there should be areas for the collection, quiet study and research, group study, informal reading, instruction, and library administration. Take into consideration lighting and display. Of course, drastically changing the layout of your library when you are just starting out is not really recommended, however it is possible to make small adjustments here and there with these requirements in mind. Sometimes one colourful display can make all the difference.

Two children playing chess in school library

Activity

Create a survey for teachers and students to complete. This is a great way to gauge how the school library is currently viewed. Examples of questions to ask include:

  • How often do you come into the library in a week? Exclude the times when you come in because lessons are held here.
  • Do you usually find what you’re looking for when you come into the library?
  • What do you usually do when you come into the library?
  • Complete this sentence: The library is__________________.
  • What improvements would you like to see in the library?

Conclusion

So, now we’ve covered the basics of a school library, and how it can become a valuable space for educators and students — if it isn’t already. We’ve provided you with some simple steps you can take right now, to assess your library, and start making those small changes to bring your library closer to where it needs to be. In lesson 2, we’ll look at your collection and how you can create a collection policy. We’ll also discuss sourcing and acquisition, weeding, and stocktake.

References

Further reading

  • Schultz-Jones, B. & Oberg, D. 2015. Global action on school library guidelines. The Hague, Netherlands: De Gruyter Saur.School library guidelines (n.d.) Hobart: Libraries Tasmania. https://libraries.tas.gov.au/school-library/Pages/school.aspx

SCIS short course: Managing your library collection and catalogue.

Hello all and welcome to the SCIS Blog for 2020! We wanted to start the year with something a little different. The amazing SCIS team have created a free short course for new school library staff (and for those that would like a refresher). Focusing on collection curation and cataloguing, we will help you get started in organising the resource offerings of your library.

Each week for the next seven weeks, we will create a blog post that contains a lesson in managing your library collection and catalogue. To receive the email simply subscribe to the SCIS Blog.

In the meantime, here is a rundown of what to expect throughout this course.

Lesson 1: Help! I’ve taken over a library. What do I do now?

We’ll start slow, and take you through the basics of a library: what it is, and what it can be. Ideal for those of you who have just stepped into the role of librarian. But this is also a nice refresher, and a chance for those of you who have been working in a library for some time, to take a step back from your current practices and think about the basics.

Lesson 2: Managing your collection – what does your library collect?

Now we start to get into the juicy stuff! This lesson looks at the library collection policy and why it is so important. We cover sourcing and acquisition — building up your library collection — along with the necessary evils, otherwise known as weeding and stocktake.

Lesson 3: Introduction to cataloguing – unleash your library collection

This lesson dives right into the heart of cataloguing. We discuss why we need to follow cataloguing standards, what standards you’ll need to be aware of, and how to make standards work for your library.

Lesson 4: Descriptive cataloguing – describing your collection and finding resource information

We’ll start looking at the ways you can describe your library collection, and where you can find information on a particular item. We also look at how most people perform searches, and the important fields to consider when cataloguing.

Lesson 5: Subject cataloguing and authority files – why it is important to keep control

This lesson uncovers the benefits of controlled vocabularies. We also delve into authorities and authority files: what they are, and how they can make your collection more discoverable to staff and students.

Lesson 6: Organising your collection –classification, Dewey and call numbers

Here is where you can start to make your library work for you and your school. We discuss the importance of classification, describe the difference between full and abridged Dewey, and provide an overview of call numbers and genre classification.

Lesson 7: The value of your library collection – now that I’ve set up my library, what’s next?

Our final lesson ties everything together. We’ll look at how to evaluate and advocate your library, suggest activities for engagement and networking, and touch on creating efficiencies. In a nutshell, we discuss how you can make the most of your time to serve the needs of your school.

We are so pleased to take you on this journey!

Why do we ask for book images?

Written by Deb Cady, SCIS Cataloguing Team

It’s a good day.  You’ve just sent off your request to SCIS for items to be catalogued and moved on to another project.  And then – you get an email asking for images to be sent.  First, you sigh.  Then you say “Oh, sugar!”  Then you think to yourself “But why????”

SCIS relies on a number of sources to catalogue books from an online request.  When we contact you for images, it generally means the ISBN has not been catalogued ANYWHERE in the world.

In order to make the highest quality records for these books, SCIS needs to view certain information about each title.  This information is on the publishing history (or copyright) page.

Example of copyright page.

This page tells us the date, publisher, ISBN and other key information so we can complete your request.  It is, generally, the single best image you can send with any cataloguing request.

Often these requests are made because the resource is part of a special print run. Special prints runs might be books sold through newspapers, a single store, or distributor (Aldi, Big W, QBD, McDonalds, etc.) and are not advertised on the publishers’ webpages.

SCIS knows that it is not always easy for you to send images to us.  It’s not something we ask lightly.  We ask for it because we really need it to provide a quality cataloguing service.

More information on SCIS cataloguing can be found on the SCIS Help page.

Happy cataloguing!

SCIS Recommends

The unprecedented and devastating fires across many parts of Australia have caused untold grief and loss and will continue to have long-lasting traumatic effects on those directly and indirectly involved.

Inspired by the Yarra Plenty Regional Libraries list of books about dealing with disaster for children, here are 20 resources selected by the SCIS team to help school library staff support students and assist conversations about bushfire and natural disasters.

List of books from SCIS catalogue List of books from SCIS catalogue List of books from SCIS catalogue List of books from SCIS catalogue

It’s now time to take stock

Written by Julie Styles, Cataloguing Librarian, SCIS

With the end of the year fast approaching, now is an excellent time to consider stocktaking your library collection. You may want to stocktake the whole collection at once or do the fiction this year and the non-fiction next year. It all depends on how much time you have available and how much labour you have at your disposal.

Advantages of stocktaking

In handling each resource, you learn a lot about what you have and have not in your collection.

It may be time to ‘weed’ out outdated or little-used material. The ever-changing subject areas of computer science, science and geography are always a good place to start.

Books in a poor state of repair may need to be repaired or replaced.

You are likely to find at least a few books that have been incorrectly shelved and missing for a long time.

Gaps in subject areas will be discovered. You may have nothing or very little on 3D printing. You may alternatively decide you have quite enough on ancient civilisations.

Due to popularity, you may decide to buy additional copies of some titles.

Best of all, your collection will be all organised and ready to start the next school year.

Colourful books stacked tightly
Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

How to go about doing a library stocktake

As always, we recommend that you speak to your library management software vendor for specific instructions on how to complete a stocktake.

Stocktaking and SCIS records

The SCIS catalogue, like every other library catalogue, is continually evolving. It reflects changing international standards in cataloguing and internal policy decisions. Many of these internal changes come as a result of your feedback and often enhance the usability of the catalogue. Usually, we implement changes from a certain date and do not worry about previous records. However, in some circumstances, it is considered necessary to change older records also. When this is the situation, in many cases, we can make ‘blanket’ or ‘global’ changes to our older records. As this is a big job, we usually concentrate our efforts on records created in the last ten years.

Changes that impact SCIS records

In 2015 we stopped treating stories with rhyming text as poetry, changing the Dewey number from the number for poetry to F for fiction. And the subject headings for all these titles now had Fiction as a subdivision instead of Poetry. The SCIS genre heading Stories in rhyme and the SCOT Verse stories was also added to the record. Global changes were made to records made in and after 2012.

Before 2018 series titles were recorded as presented on the item, resulting in inconsistencies across records. Selecting consistent and authorised series authorities, and updating records has been a significant project and work continues to ensure that older records are linked with the correct series term.

From January 2018, we started adding diacritical marks to name and series authorities. This particularly made a difference to names and titles in the Māori language. We continue to update older records that do reflect these new authorities.

Series sequential numbering terms such as Bk., Book, No., Number, Pt, Part, Vol., Volume and Issue are no longer included in the series statement. RDA cataloguing rules require cataloguers to enter the information exactly as it appears on the book. But as the sequential terms used often vary amongst publishers, this can cause inconsistencies in series filing. It was for this reason that SCIS revised its cataloguing standards in May 2018 to record the series number and the sequential term. Older records are now being stripped of these terms.

In addition to these major bulk changes, we occasionally pick up spelling errors, Dewey number errors, and cataloguing errors in individual records which we correct immediately.

Conclusion

At SCIS, we have worked hard to make changes to records to improve the functionality of your library catalogue. However, if you still have many of the old records, your library users will not be gaining the full benefit of all these improvements.

Libraries that wish to update their SCIS records to pick up enhancements may decide to re-download the record for each of the titles handled during a stocktake. Yes, it will add to the process, but it is certainly not something you will have to do every year. However, I emphasise, if you want to do a big ‘clean up’ overwriting existing records with SCIS records, you need to confirm with your library management software vendor first to make sure you are doing it correctly. We do not want you to end up with duplicate records or deleted records inadvertently.

Please feel free to share your stocktaking experiences.

Happy stocktaking!

Free your inner writer: Strategies for writing engaging journal articles

Dr Hilary Hughes, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Faculty of Education, QUT, offers advice for librarians seeking to write impactful and engaging articles for a professional journal.

Introduction

Most of us have an inner writer that we promise to let free ‘one day’ – why not today? As you plan your school library program, a key goal could be: write at least one article for a journal like Connections or the SCIS Blog.

This article considers the problem of how to write an impactful and engaging article for a professional journal? It offers library staff encouragement and practical strategies for setting out on the writing track. After highlighting the personal and professional benefits of writing for publication, it explains how to write articles that provide insight and enjoyment for readers. It also provides a simple model for a clearly structured article.

Benefits of writing for a journal

Writing for a journal brings many benefits, both personal and professional. As a creative outlet, writing can boost your own wellbeing and the greater good of school libraries. You can make a lasting impact by authoring an article that opens a window on contemporary school libraries. Through your article you can report and explain current professional practices, highlight positive outcomes, debate challenges, and perhaps influence further innovation (Buzzeo, 2011; Hibner & Kelly, 2017). You can demonstrate how librarians are energetic, forward-looking, thoughtful, socially-minded professionals (and help banish the tired stereotypes!)

The catchphrase ‘publish or perish’ indicates the importance of writing for the sustainability of the profession and your own career, whether in schools or higher education (Schaberg, 2016). Library staff are often abuzz with creative ideas and make significant contributions to student learning and wellbeing, yet so often these seem to go unnoticed. By writing about your innovative library programs and services, and their positive outcomes, you raise general awareness of the value of the librarian role and offer models for other librarians to follow.

Good journal articles get people thinking and talking. They can be a powerful form of advocacy that showcases school library activities and their benefits for students and the whole school community.

From a personal perspective: “Publishing is proof that you take your profession seriously, that you give it time and thought, and that you are an active and engaged participant in your profession” (Buzzeo, 2011, p. 13). Through journal articles, you can reach a wide audience beyond your immediate school. They allow you to value–add work you’ve already done, for example by reworking a university assignment, report or workshop presentation. Through your writing, you may become known as an expert on a particular topic(s). Building a professional profile in this way may broaden your employment options and lead to invitations to speak at conferences or present workshops (Rankin, 2018).

The process of writing articles supports your professional development. It can provide a focus for reflection on your librarian practice and improve your ability and confidence to argue a convincing proposal. Writing is also a great basis for collaboration. Depending on the topic, you might write with other library staff, teaching colleagues, parents, academics or even students. The sharing of different information and viewpoints through collaborative writing could expand awareness of school libraries with co-authors beyond the library community.

Laptop and notepad

Write for insight and delight

Having set your writing resolution, what will you write about? Like a novelist, you can explore your experience and what is happening around you. No two librarians or libraries are the same, so you have plenty of material to draw upon which could include:

  • The design, implementation and evaluation of an innovative school library program
  • Evidence-based library practice – findings and implications
  • Selection and implementation of a new library management system
  • (Re)design of the library – process and outcomes

Aim to provide your readers with insight and delight, so that they gain new information or understanding, as well as enjoyment, from your article. The trick is to make the content interesting and relevant. An effective article goes beyond describing what you did and how to why you did it and ways it could be applied in other school contexts. The inclusion of real-life examples, vivid small stories or pithy quotes capture readers’ attention, while practical tips or a practice framework help them see the applicability of your findings. Well-presented photos and diagrams can further enliven a written piece.

A catchy title is great for grabbing readers’ interest, especially if it teases a little while still conveying the essence of the content. That is why Trent Dalton’s ‘Boy swallows universe’ (2018) is such a clever title. Closer to librarian territory, these two Connections article titles exemplify reader-enticing titles: ‘Even better than the real thing? Virtual and augmented reality in the school library’ and ‘Ten easy tips to be a library rockstar’. You can also be creative with section headings, as long as they are also indicative of the section content.

A well-signposted structure for the whole piece and clearly expressed line of argument is important for holding readers’ attention beyond the title and introduction. Like an inquiry learning project, it is generally effective to build the argument around an explicit question or problem statement. Developing an article outline before the writing begins helps maintain focus on the problem. Take care also to bookend the discussion with an interesting and informative introduction that sets the scene and indicates the purpose of the article, and a strong conclusion that explicitly summarises the main points and resolves the argument. Where possible, end the article on a high note to inspire readers. For example, this article concludes by proposing that: “As highlighted, writing journal articles can be an enjoyable creative activity that is personally and professionally rewarding”, rather than saying something similarly accurate but more negative like “Writing journal articles is challenging and producing publishable articles requires a great deal of hard work”.

Help readers navigate the article by presenting a brief overview of the content in the introduction that indicates the main sections or points covered. Meaningful section headings are also useful guides to the unfolding argument. Let each paragraph address one (only) main idea introduced with a topic sentence, i.e. a sentence that clearly signals what the paragraph is about. (For sample topic sentences, see the first sentence of this paragraph and the following one).

Judicious use of the literature adds weight to the article’s argument. A few well-chosen references, integrated into the discussion to support key points, generally have more impact than a string of ‘possibly relevant’ citations that tend to interrupt the flow. It is more meaningful to lead sentences with a concept rather than a citation. For example: “A library as incubator is a great opportunity for the space to facilitate learning by students and teachers that reflect their passions and interests” (South, 2017) is more compelling than would be: According to South (2017), “A library as incubator is …”. For professional and academic writing, accurate and consistent referencing is a hallmark of authoritative writing.   

For a journal like Connections, aim for a professional-scholarly tone. As a rule of thumb, avoid highfaluting academic jargon, especially if you are uncertain what particular terms mean. A clear and lively style, with short(-ish) logically linked sentences, is generally more effective for conveying new or complex ideas. For clarity and immediacy, active voice, first or third person, is generally preferable to passive voice, e.g.: The teacher-librarian (or I) conducted a survey, rather than A survey was conducted; The leadership team decided to fund the project, rather than It was decided to fund the project.

Some of the resources referenced below provide more extensive guidance of relevance to librarians about the writing process, including choosing and communicating with a journal, deciding the topic and crafting the title (de Castro,  2009; Hibner & Kelly, 2017; Murray, 2013; Rankin, 2018).

Free your inner writer

Now it is time to get creative! Rest assured that writing comes more easily to some people than others and always improves with practice. Try to think of it as a fun activity, as an opportunity to share and communicate with others, not as a daunting or dreary solitary task. You might find it helpful to set up a reciprocal arrangement with a critical friend or trusted colleague to read and provide constructive feedback on each other’s work, as suggestions rather than corrections (Dawson, 2017).

There is no right or wrong way to do the writing. Some people find it helpful to get into the habit of writing for half an hour each day at the same time, whereas others prefer longer periods when the mood takes them. If you find it hard to get going at the start of a writing session, try a few minutes of ‘free writing’, jotting down whatever comes into your head, to get the creative juices flowing (University of Richmond Writing Centre, n.d.). If you are still feeling ‘blocked’, allow yourself some time-out and try again later. Forcing yourself to write is generally counter-productive and unnecessarily frustrating.

Conclusion

This article has offered library staff well-proven strategies for writing impactful and reader-enticing journal articles. The key suggestion is to present intended readers with a clearly expressed and logically structured response to a well-defined question or problem statement. As highlighted, writing journal articles can be an enjoyable creative activity that is personally and professionally rewarding.

Learn more about how to write for SCIS at scis.edublogs.org/write-for-scis

A version of this article was first published in Scan, an online journal for educators: https://education.nsw.gov.au/teaching-and-learning/professional-learning/scan/past-issues/vol-38,-2019/free-your-inner-writer-strategies-for-writing-engaging-journal-articles
References