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/

The dreaded case of duplicate ISBNs

A few weeks ago, the SCIS team were at a ‘Making the most of SCIS’ workshop and our conversation turned, as it often does, to ISBNs. If you love discussing ISBNs as much as we do, here – republished in full – is one of our most popular blog posts. Enjoy!

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The dreaded case of duplicate ISBNs

Doreen Sullivan
SCIS Cataloguing team leader

Have you ever had this experience? You search for or download the record for an ISBN and a completely different title is returned. Huh? How could SCIS have gotten it so wrong?

In most cases, this is not a mistake. The fact is, sometimes publishers print the same ISBN on more than one of their publications. Although ISBNs are meant to be unique to each title edition, it is surprisingly common for publishers to give the same ISBN to different books.

These are known as ‘duplicate ISBNs’ or ‘ISBN duplicates’, and they are frustrating for all concerned. It means that the same ISBN could show in two or more SCIS records.

When a SCIS cataloguer creates a record with a known duplicate ISBN, they will include a note like this: ‘Duplicate ISBN. Linked to SCIS record no. 911499’. But if you’re simply downloading a record, chances are you won’t see the note field.

You can set your profile to ‘Prompt me to choose from a list’ when ISBN duplicates appear. If you have this setting enabled and we’ve catalogued both items — the same ISBN but two different titles — the SCIS system will inform you of the duplication when you go to download the record directly from SCIS. Then you can select the title you need.

If you need more information to make your choice, we recommend performing an ISBN search on the SCIS catalogue, which will provide the SCIS number for each record. You can then download the record using the relevant SCIS number.

And if SCIS hasn’t catalogued two records — you can only see one title and it’s not the one you want — please contact us at help@scisdata.com so we can look into the issue for you.

First published September 28, 2017

To change your ISBN duplicate settings in your SCIS profile, please follow the prompts in the article, My Quick Scan result does not match the item ordered.

For more information on downloading SCIS records, please see our brief video, Downloading records in SCIS.

SCIS Data case study: Chris Archbold, Riccarton Primary School, NZ

‘SCIS makes a consistent catalogue. If all the primary schools around New Zealand are using SCIS, they are all getting the same information. This means that students can move from school to school and know that they are still going to get good, consistent search results.’

School: Riccarton Primary School
Type: Government school for years 1–8
Enrolment: 284
Cataloguing subscription: SCIS Data
Library management system: MUSAC
Size of collection: 4,200

Chris Archbold opens her library each morning at 8.30 am to an enthusiastic crowd of library-goers, and she relishes in the buzz created by students. Chris is the library manager at Riccarton Primary School in Christchurch, in New Zealand’s South Island.

This buzz is the telltale sign of a school community enthusiastic about their library. ‘We are buzzing here in the morning and again at lunch times,’ Chris says. ‘Some kids are having chat sessions, some kids are borrowing books, and some kids are reading books. To be able to sit at the OPAC and find what they are looking for is really important, so to have the best possible search options is fantastic.’

Chris has been using SCIS for her library cataloguing for more than 10 years, which helps her save time and make library resources discoverable to Riccarton Primary School’s enthusiastic staff and students. Students are able to access the catalogue containing more than 4,000 titles from the library and all classrooms within the school. With the help of SCIS Data, students can easily search for relevant titles before locating them in the library.

Continue reading SCIS Data case study: Chris Archbold, Riccarton Primary School, NZ

SCIS Data case study: Caroline Roche, Eltham College, UK


‘Yesterday, a student asked for a book on Emmanuel Macron. It will be delivered today, and I will be able to catalogue it within five minutes because SCIS is quick. I’ll have it in her hands this afternoon.’

School: Eltham College
Type: Independent school for boys (aged 7–18) and girls (aged 16–18)
Enrolment: 850
Cataloguing subscription: SCIS Data + Authority Files
Library management system: Accessit
Size of collection: 11,780 in junior library; 22,665 in senior library

Eltham College, a high-performing independent school in South East London, focuses on the core business of school libraries: providing access. Librarian Caroline Roche works in the senior school library, supported by a library assistant and a school community enthusiastic about the library’s role. Spread over three floors, Eltham College’s senior library provides space for students to study, read and gather during break times. In a library that prides itself on immediate access, SCIS Data contributes to their fast-turnaround workflow.

Continue reading SCIS Data case study: Caroline Roche, Eltham College, UK

Enhance your library collection with digital content

Most subscribers use SCIS Data to download records for books and other physical items that they would like to make available in their library catalogue.

But, with over 100,000 records available for websites, apps, ebooks, audiobooks, and digital videos, it is also the perfect tool to help build your digital collection.

This blog post looks at the benefits of including digital content in your library catalogue, and how SCIS supports this.

Continue reading Enhance your library collection with digital content

The dreaded case of duplicate ISBNs

Doreen Sullivan
SCIS Cataloguing team leader

Have you ever had this experience? You search for or download the record for an ISBN and a completely different title is returned. Huh? How could SCIS have gotten it so wrong?

In most cases, this is not a mistake. The fact is, sometimes publishers print the same ISBN on more than one of their publications. Although ISBNs are meant to be unique to each title edition, it is surprisingly common for publishers to give the same ISBN to different books.

These are known as ‘duplicate ISBNs’ or ‘ISBN duplicates’, and they are frustrating for all concerned. It means that the same ISBN could show in two or more SCIS records.

Continue reading The dreaded case of duplicate ISBNs

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.

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!

The 21st century library

In the 21st century school libraries need to consider their spaces, the role of the teacher librarian, and the move to digital content and access in the age of BYOD (Bring your own device). In Australian schools, demonstration of the value of the school library to principals and school councils is essential as they look at resourcing the Australian Curriculum.

‘What do teacher librarians teach’ by Joyce Valenza and Gwyneth Jones  is an excellent infographic to highlight the  multifaceted role of teacher librarians. Evaluating resources is an important focus for teacher librarians, as is digital citizenship, and educating students about  plagiarism.  Increasingly, teacher librarians are working with classroom teachers to develop their students’ capacity to identify and ask good questions, and to improve study and research skills.

Modern school library design may look more to the contemporary approach of buildings such as Trinity Grammar’s Tudor Centre, which brings together library, curriculum, and technology staff.

In the age of BYOD students are not necessarily accessing the same information at the same time. For students and staff 24/7 access to resources is important, as is providing resources in a variety of formats: print, e-book, DVD, audiobook and digital video library. Identification of suitable apps for teacher resources and for use by students is  featuring increasingly.  While we may be seeing a drop in the use of our non-fiction print collections this may not be a matter of student preference.  Content and relevancy are important regardless of format.

In most schools the school library catalogue is the only place where users can search for school-owned/licensed resources all in one place. School library catalogues provide access to learning resources for the school community.  While students and teachers can use a search engine to find millions of online resources, this search will return everything online EXCEPT the very resources that the school or system has actually selected and paid for.

The student or staff member seeking books, information, and learning resources expects to do one search and for that search to return all the relevant material available to them, regardless of its format or its location.  Single point of search assumes an integrated set of search results, which requires integrated metadata.

21st century, next generation library systems will need to include digital rights management, a seamless secure single sign-on, and federated searching across a variety of resources, databases and collections.  Next generation systems will need the ability to connect with  a variety of devices and, increasingly, to provide a personalised service similar to the Amazon or Google experience.

This is why making digital content discoverable through school library catalogues is essential.
For a long time a priority for library staff has been to organise the physical library space in ways that are attractive and encourage users to visit and explore, as well as making it easy for them to find what they need, and assist browsing for inspiration. We work to make location and lending of resources as seamless and self-servicing as possible. We now have additional responsibilities. As well as serving our users who are visitors, browsers and borrowers of physical items in a physical library space, we now need to serve our library users accessing and downloading resources in virtual spaces.

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