New subject terms in SCIS OPAC

If you have been using SCIS OPAC in recent months you may have noticed that the list of subject headings on each record has grown. If you haven't noticed this, try a title search in the SCIS OPAC for 'lunchtime activities' and have a close look at the record that comes up on your screen. It should look like this:

Some of the subject headings have the code 'scisshl' after them; others have 'scot' following the subject term.

Since 24 July 2006, about half of the new records added to the SCIS database have had extra subject terms added to them. Until this date all subject headings used in SCIS records were selected from SCIS Subject Headings,

SCIS OPAC screen dump

SCIS OPAC screen dump © Endeavor Information Systems Incorporated.

The new subjects have been selected from Schools Online Thesaurus, or ScOT, The birth of ScOT was announced in Connections 38, 2001. Over five years ScOT has grown into a substantial list of subject descriptors. It is used to provide subject access to the learning objects and digital resources that The Le@rning Federation makes available to Australian and New Zealand schools. The basis of the terminology of ScOT is the content of the learning areas in Australian and New Zealand school curriculums.

Will these new terms appear in your catalogues?

If you order your catalogue records through the SCISWeb Create orders function you will not be downloading the ScOT terms into your library's catalogue. There will be no change at all to what you now receive when you download a SCIS record.

If you use a Z39.50 connection or the Save function at the bottom of the SCIS OPAC screen to get MARC records for your catalogue and you happen to select a ScOT-enhanced record, you will get the ScOT terms in your catalogue along with the SCIS Subject Headings. This will mean that you have subject headings from two controlled vocabularies which may cause some conflict among headings and their references in your catalogue. Your records may also have some further subject keywords for which there is no term in ScOT but which may be useful for retrieving that resource in your library catalogue.

To begin with, only about 50 per cent of new records will have ScOT terms, although we hope to increase this steadily to 100 per cent of new records. When the proportion of the whole SCIS database with ScOT terms has built up and we have evaluated their potential to support subject searching in school library catalogues, we will be able to offer customers choices in the subject terminology they use in their catalogues. Watch this space for more news about those choices!

What has ScOT got that SCIS Subject Headings does not?

SCIS Subject Headings is a classic example of the type of controlled vocabulary that has been used to provide subject access in library catalogues for a very long time. It has served school libraries extremely well, providing terminology that matches the topics covered by the types of resources that are described in a school library catalogue. ScOT terminology, as stated above, is based on the content of school curriculums, so there is a lot of similarity between ScOT terms and SCIS Subject Headings. The differences between the two lie in the way that the terms are applied in subject cataloguing and the way that they work in information retrieval systems. You will be thoroughly familiar with the strings that appear as subject headings in SCIS records. Something about coal mining in New Zealand will have the subject heading Coal mining - New Zealand. In a ScOT-enhanced record for the same resource three separate terms - Coal, Mining and New Zealand - will capture the subject.

Presenting the subject terms in this uncoordinated way may seem at odds with the way that library management systems handle subject access. It is, however, much more closely aligned to the way that subject terms are provided in the metadata of the many information retrieval systems that are emerging in schools - content management systems, learning object repository systems, learning management systems. In aligning SCIS records in this way, we are responding to emerging needs in schools: the need to adjust computer systems in schools so that they can exchange content with each other more easily and the need to support moves towards more seamless searching across multiplying systems in schools. To use the words of the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) ICT in Schools Taskforce: 'It is highly desirable that the system that enables teachers to plan lessons or units of work online also enables them to seamlessly discover resources from a local educational repository or from school library collections ...' (MCEETYA, 2003).

The impact of the Internet on the way that people interact with information sources has been widely studied. Familiarity with using search engines, such as Google, has built widespread confidence and reliance in self-taught, unmediated information-seeking habits. It is acknowledged that these habits do not always extract the best results from online information sources. However, it is appropriate that we structure SCIS catalogue records in ways that support the building of systems that respond to the readiness to seek information independently that Google has instilled in our users. Adding ScOT terms to SCIS records is a step in that direction.

Rachel Salmond
SCIS Investment Project Manager


MCEETYA 2003, Learning Architecture Framework: Learning in an Online World, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton South, Victoria, pp 20-21. Available at: