Consistency Matters

This article is an updated version of an article published in Connections Issue 108 in 2019, as there have been recent changes to SCIS cataloguing standards.

The SCIS database is well known for its high-quality catalogue records. We sometimes receive queries from SCIS subscribers about inconsistencies in our records. However, these are often the result of standards changes that have occurred over SCIS’s lifetime. This article highlights some changes that have affected SCIS records, and other factors that may contribute to inconsistency in some records.

Cataloguing rules for resource description have changed

The earliest SCIS records were created in the 1980s, when we used AACR2 (Anglo-American cataloguing rules) to create our records. Over the years, AACR2 changed and we amended our processes with it. In 2013, SCIS implemented international standard, RDA (Resource Description and Access), which created many new changes in records. These include the following:

  • There is no longer a rule of three. If there are more than three authors, the first named person is given main entry. In AACR2, this would have been title main entry. SCIS applies the RDA option to name only the first person,
    or corporate body in the statement of responsibility if there are more than three, and to spell out the number of the others; for example, ‘Susan Jones [and four others]’.
  • There are no more abbreviations, unless they appear on the work itself. For example, the edition statement will vary according to how it appears on the item, such as ‘Second edition’ or ‘2nd edition’.
  • GMD (General Material Designation) is no longer in use. This has been replaced by three new RDA MARC fields — 336, 337 and 338 — for information on content, media and carrier. Using these three RDA fields, SCIS has developed a ‘Resource type’ vocabulary to help our subscribers easily identify the resource type for each record.
  • The 260 MARC field is no longer used for publication data. It has been replaced by MARC field 264, which makes a distinction between the functions of publication, distribution, manufacture, and copyright. Most SCIS records record publication details; for example, Sydney, NSW: HarperCollins Publishers, 2013.
  • Square brackets are only used in RDA when information is not found on the item in hand. For example, The Girl and the Ghost, published by the author Ebony McKenna has no place of publication to be found on the resource itself. The place of publication is recorded as [Melbourne, Victoria], as information taken from Amazon shows that the author lives in Melbourne.

The implementation of diacritics

From January 2018, SCIS has applied diacritical marks in subject, name and series authorities. Diacritics have not been applied for SCIS records in the past, for example for Māori terms, as some library software could not display them. However, this is no longer an issue for vendors.

Changes in SCIS standards

SCIS standards are continuously reviewed and updated in order to meet customer demands as well as internal cataloguing needs. Where possible, we do run processes to apply these revisions to older catalogue records. However, we are not always in a position to make amendments to works that were catalogued before the standards were revised. Some examples follow.

  • Fictional works in rhyme, such as those by Dr Seuss, are no longer classified as poetry and their subject headings are no longer given Poetry subdivisions. They are now classified as F for Fiction, with the Fiction subdivision being used, and the additional genre heading ‘Stories in rhyme’.
  • Series sequential numbering terms such as Bk., Book, No., Number, Pt., Part, Vol., Volume and Issue are no longer included in the series heading, MARC field 830. RDA requires us to copy information from the book in hand exactly, although this can lead to inconsistencies in series filing. For example, what might be Bk. 1 in one country becomes Vol. 1 in another. In order to remove these inconsistencies, SCIS revised its cataloguing standards in May 2018 to simply record the series number and not record the designation (book, volume, etc.). An exception to this policy is to use the term ‘episode’ with numbering of television series.

Publisher inconsistencies

SCIS adheres to RDA, which states that cataloguers need to record data from the resource, as it appears. This can lead, in some cases, to inconsistencies due to the way information is recorded on each particular item. For example, differing terms are used among publishers for the place of publication, for example NSW, N.S.W. or New South Wales. Because the RDA instruction is to record data from the resource itself, as it appears, publisher names and places of publication cannot be standardised.

Another common issue is the use of duplicate ISBNs. Sometimes publishers will give the same ISBNs to multiple titles they have published. RDA requires us to record this information as is.

Series inconsistencies

Items in a series present special problems to cataloguers, often because of decisions made by publishers. Some examples follow.

  • Changes in the series title when published in another country: For example, the series ‘The Saga of Darren Shan’, first published in the UK, is known in the US as ‘Cirque du Freak’.
  • Classification: In general, all books in a series should have the same type of classification — either fiction or non-fiction. However, the content of the item is the most important part of determining the classification so there have been rare occasions when this has not happened (for example, a series on countries having a mixture of history and geography numbers). These records with inconsistent classifications are being amended as we become aware of them.
  • Subject heading inconsistencies in fiction series: Although most fiction series have the same characters and common themes, the content of the item will determine the subject headings. For example, the series Pippa’s Island has additional subject headings, as well as the same headings such as ‘Islands–Fiction’ and ‘School stories’. The second book, Cub Reporters, has the headings ‘Reporters and reporting–Fiction’, ‘Journalists’ and ‘School publications’, whereas Book 4, Camp Castaway, has the headings ‘Outdoor education’ and ‘School campsites’.
  • Differing sequences for subseries, especially in reading sets; for example, a variety of sequences for levels, colours, and numbering: These differing sequences make it difficult for users searching series titles. Again, since RDA requires us to transcribe the item as is, we must copy the information as the publisher presents it in the series statement, MARC field 490.
  • Where possible, we are standardising the series headings, MARC field 830, for users’ benefit. In 2018 SCIS introduced series authority files to address these publisher inconsistencies in series titles. We are undertaking retrospective authorising to series headings allocated in the past 10 years.

Changes to subject headings

To meet users’ needs, SCIS cataloguers are constantly revising subject headings and establishing new ones for terms in common usage; for example, ‘Cyberbullying’, and new curriculum terms such as ‘STEM education’. However, early works on these topics may not have the most specific subject headings because they had not been established at the time.

Classification inconsistencies

It sometimes appears that resources with similar content have different, or inconsistent, DDC numbers. However, there are reasons for this:

  • Classification varies according to the content of the item: For example, general works on the incidence of COVID-19 (614.592414) and medical works on COVID-19 (616.2414), have different content so will have different Dewey numbers.
  • There are also differences in classification due to updates of DDC: For example, in DDC edition 22, graphic arts were classed in 760 (Printmaking and prints), but are now, in DDC edition 23, classed in 740 (Graphic arts and decorative arts).
  • Differences occur due to cataloguer interpretation: For example, a book about trees and flowers could be classed under Trees, 582.16 — or Flowers, 582.13 — depending on how much of the content is, in the cataloguer’s opinion, about trees or flowers.

Prepublication and catalogue request items

With an increasing amount of SCIS records being produced from information sourced from online cataloguing requests and publishers’ websites, there may be differences between the information given in the SCIS record and that found in the actual resource. Cataloguers create the best possible record based on the data presented to them. This is why we prefer to catalogue from the item in hand and, where this is not possible, request scanned images of the publisher information pages, title page, etc. If that information is not given, we must wait until we receive the item at one of our offices to update the record and confirm that everything is correct.

Consistency matters

We run regular quality assurance tests to help us identify and correct any inconsistencies in records. To help us maintain the high quality of our records, we would appreciate it if you would let us know any errors or inconsistencies that fall outside the areas mentioned above. Please contact us at help@scisdata.com

By Mavis Heffernan, SCIS cataloguer

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/

Is there life beyond MARC?

SCIS forges into a new frontier

The Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) is working with several major school library management system vendors in Australia and New Zealand to revolutionise how library catalogue records are distributed to schools.

Continue reading Is there life beyond MARC?

New in SCIS series

Below is an important message about a change to the SCIS Cataloguing Standards which was sent to school library management system vendors on 31 March 2011.
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Thangmar Göttingen, SUB Library, Lesesaal, old bibliographies, Public domain
Gottingen, Old bibliographies by Thangmar 2005, PD

The MARC 440 field (Series statement/Added entry – Title) was made obsolete in the international standard in 2008.

In 2009 SCIS announced its intention to stop using 440 and use both the 490 and 830 tags as prescribed in the standard. Tag 490 is part of the description of the resource, and contains the series statement as it appears on the item; tag 830 is the series access point or added entry. In some cases the data in the two fields may be identical. SCIS does not use fields 800, 810 and 811 as it prefers to provide series access by title rather than name/title.

For new records, SCIS is now using 490 and 830 as required. Records created prior to the changeover retain the series added entry in the 440 field. Your local system should provide for searching and displaying both 440 and 830 as series titles. Both 490 and 830 are repeatable, ie there may be more than one 490 or 830 in a single record.

You can find some examples of 490 and 830 fields in the updated MARC coding section of the SCIS standards.

For full details see the MARC 21 Format for Bibliographic Data.

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Library system vendors have indicated that they either already support this standard, or are planning to implement it and that school libraries should experience minimal change as a result of this update. Please contact your support person if you have further questions about how this works in your system.

A more in-depth article on the series cataloguing standards change will be available in Connections Issue 77 arriving in schools in Term 2 2011.