SCIS is more

Ben Chadwick

SCIS has always sought feedback from subscribers, most recently through a handful of surveys. These are not hollow exercises: the aim is to better understand the needs of our subscribers and to provide solutions where possible. I want to overview a few ‘research projects’ we have undertaken lately, and some of the changes resulting from them.

New Zealand bank account

Results from a survey of our New Zealand subscribers strongly indicated that paying for subscriptions in Australian dollars was a real barrier to their getting payments ‘through the system’. So, on 18 May 2016, we opened a New Zealand bank account to make life just a little bit easier.

Curriculum alignment

In February 2016, we published an online survey called ‘Resourcing the Curriculum with SCIS’. We had an enormous response to this survey, and have since been spending time trying to understand if and how SCIS can assist you in identifying resources that support Australian Curriculum outcomes.

One thing is clear: Australian school libraries see the value in data that links resources to curriculum outcomes. Respondents suggest it would increase usage of those resources, benefit teaching and learning in the school, and help to promote the library and better integrate it into a whole-school approach to curriculum. This was equally true across all education jurisdictions.

Many schools are already making efforts to support the curriculum by putting together collections of relevant resources and promoting them to teaching staff; but these kinds of efforts are especially apparent in larger schools, where libraries have more staff, and where that staff includes a teacher librarian.

Implementing this kind of work has its challenges for SCIS. One of them cuts to the heart of the philosophy of library cataloguing: a principle of descriptive cataloguing is to avoid making judgments about how, by whom, or in what contexts a resource should be used. We have to balance that against the strong demand for this service, and seek out a middle road.

Respondents indicated that they would like any such alignments delivered inside the SCIS records themselves, so they will be available for staff and students to perform searches on. This means SCIS will be challenged to find a way to make this data available for those of you who want it, but not for those who don’t.

A third issue is that of data maintenance. Curriculum changes over time, and we are concerned about ‘hardcoding’ our records with data that may become irrelevant at some point in the future.

Resource classifications

Describing the ‘thingness’ of a resource is important when your staff and students are searching for an item that meets their needs, satisfies their preferences, and will work on the equipment they have at their disposal. SCIS currently puts a General Material Designation (GMD) such as ‘electronic resource’ or ‘videorecording’ with the title of all non-book resources. The current RDA cataloguing standard does not include the GMD, and SCIS is planning to conform more closely to RDA by dropping the GMD from our records. SCIS is already using RDA’s alternative to GMD: three fields referred to as ‘Content Type’, ‘Carrier Type’, and ‘Media Type’. Now, rather than the GMD ‘videorecording’, the RDA fields would describe a DVD as a ‘two-dimensional moving image’, on a ‘videodisc’, which is played using a ‘video’ device.

SCIS wants to learn how your users understand different types of resources. What types of resources are they exposed to? Will the RDA terms do the trick for making resources findable and identifiable, or is there something we can do to make these classifications more intuitive?

Genre headings

One set of questions in our survey asked about the use of genre classification in school libraries. About one-third of you indicated that your collection is organised by genre in some way.

SCIS has traditionally catalogued genre terms such as ‘Horror stories’ as a type of subject heading, in the MARC 650 field. But there is also a MARC field specifically for genre headings, the 655 field. This field enables library systems to search and display genre headings in more specific ways than placing them within the broader subject headings.

Users are now able to change the Advanced Settings in their SCIS profile to include genre headings in the 655 field instead of the 650. As with all the profile settings, these only take effect when records are downloaded from the SCISWeb Orders Page, so if you download catalogue records via z39.50, you will need to stick with the 650 field for the time being. Please see our blog post for more information.

Rhyming picture books

Traditionally, SCIS has classified children’s rhyming picture books with the Dewey Decimal notation denoting poetry. In response to feedback suggesting that users wanted these books shelved with their non-rhyming counterparts, the Information Services Standards Committee (ISSC) agreed to change practices so all rhyming picture books will be classified as fiction. We received an overwhelmingly positive response on social media, but subscribers have also questioned whether we will ‘retrofit’ this change to our backlog in the catalogue. The responses received in these surveys will be invaluable in helping us make crucial decisions. As we reach conclusions on each research project, we will let you know about them here in Connections.


Ben Chadwick 
Manager, SCIS
Education Services Australia