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!

****

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.

Case study: Ruth Maloney, Tonbridge Grammar School, UK

‘I wouldn’t have such a high functioning system if I didn’t have SCIS, because it’s like having an assistant librarian whose job is just to catalogue, and who does that job really well. It’s an essential part of the library catalogue for me.’

School: Tonbridge Grammar School
Type: International Baccalaureate school for girls (11–18) and boys (16–18)
Enrolment: 1,200
Cataloguing subscription: SCIS Data + SCIS Authority Files
Library management system: Accessit
Size of collection: 8,000

Tonbridge Grammar School is a high-achieving International Baccalaureate school in Kent, United Kingdom. The school librarian, Ruth Maloney, works part-time in the library, and is responsible for everything from purchasing and accessioning books, to creating library displays and teaching information literacy. Ruth is grateful that her role at Tonbridge Grammar School is varied. ‘It’s different every day’, she says, ‘and I can make a difference every day’.

With Tonbridge Grammar School’s focus on enhancing students’ information literacy and research skills, the library is well positioned to develop its students into efficient researchers and information-literate individuals. This focus is supported by their subscription to SCIS Data through the provision of high-quality, consistent and reliable catalogue records.

As the only librarian in a large school, Ruth relies on SCIS Data to ensure speedy, reliable and consistent catalogue records.

Continue reading Case study: Ruth Maloney, Tonbridge Grammar School, UK

SCIS Publisher Survey

 

Thank you to everyone who recently completed our SCIS Publisher Survey. We received an incredibly impressive 1,162 responses – so we now have plenty of rich data to analyse, and a lovely list of publishing house suggestions.

Below are some key themes that emerged from the results.

The SCIS hit rate

Your feedback (and our hit rate) indicates we are doing well with our coverage of ‘major’ publishing houses. Our team will continue to focus on improving our hit rate for the smaller ones. We had plenty of comments about including more American and religious texts, though pleasingly many respondents observed that the hit rate had markedly improved in the last two years. In fact, 81% of respondents estimated your hit rate to be between 81–100%. (Yay!)

When a SCIS record is missing

We asked respondents, ‘If you purchase books from a publisher and there are no matching SCIS records, what do you do next?’ Forty-seven per cent of users catalogue the titles yourself (some referring to a ‘similar’ SCIS record or other library sources to help guide you), and 32 per cent put the books aside and check a week or two later to see if SCIS records become available.

While there are few surprises in these results, interestingly, only three out of 1,162 respondents contact their local publisher/bookseller or sales rep if SCIS records are not available for their recently purchased books. And only 33 of you contact SCIS directly to let us know if a publisher’s titles are missing.

As a cataloguing community, we rely on feedback to keep our hit rate high. So if you ever have an opportunity to mention SCIS to your local bookseller, or let us know directly, everyone will benefit.

Please take a moment to look at the amazing publishers who already support us.

Where to go for help

Not everyone is aware that we have online help articles that you can find by clicking the help icon on the SCIS website.  We also have a friendly customer service team, Sarah and Helen, who can help you troubleshoot issues and streamline downloading.

We also have cataloguers (Renate and the team) across Australia and New Zealand on hand for cataloguing queries.

Please check out our website, or email help@scisdata.com with any queries you have.

Next steps for SCIS

  1. We have a lovely list of new publishing houses to contact.
  2. Any feedback about catalogue records has been passed to our quality assurance manager.
  3. We will continue to work with publishers, distributors and library staff to keep our hit rate as high as possible for as many people as possible.

And below is one of our favourite quotes from the survey feedback. It’s all anonymous so we don’t know who you are, but you made our day.

‘I love SCIS. This is the best thing that happened to my cataloguing life.’

Thank you, and happy cataloguing!

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