History of SCIS


Early days


ASCIS pilot project

ASCIS database

SCIS and Curriculum Corporation

Voyager and SCISWeb

SCIS and the future


Early days

In January 1969, Federal funding for school libraries was commenced by the Australian Government, generating formal discussion about the potential benefits of implementing a centralised cataloguing service for schools.

In South Australia, a feasibility study concerning the provision of automated library services for the South Australian Education Department commenced in 1972, while nation-wide, an unsuccessful pilot scheme to extend the card service already offered by the National Library of Australia operated between April - September 1973. Following the National Library pilot project, the Commonwealth Schools Commission initiated two studies by Douglas Down and Wesley Young  (in 1974 and 1977), to analyse the concept of a national schools’ cataloguing service.


Meanwhile, the feasibility study undertaken by the South Australian Education Department led to the implementation of the South Australian Education Resources Information System, SAERIS, in February 1976. The service to schools commenced in February 1977 when the first set of microfiche containing 23,500 titles was delivered, and a limited trial of a card service was started the same year. The South Australian Education Department was thus already committed to the development of an automated, central cataloguing service within the state.

ASCIS pilot project

Between April 1978 and May 1980 (by which time the SAERIS database had increased to 60,000 records),  a national pilot study, the Australian Schools Catalogue Information Service (ASCIS), based on the model suggested by Down and Young and funded by the Commonwealth Schools Commission, was approved. The ASCIS Pilot project was managed by the South Australian Education Department and successfully demonstrated that a national scheme was feasible.

A National Planning Group was officially formed in June 1982, chaired by Colin MacDonald from NSW, to sort and coordinate contributions from all sectors of education. By late 1983, staff had been appointed to form the ASCIS Secretariat and suitable premises were found in Melbourne.

Finally, after three years of detailed planning, the Australian Schools Catalogue Information Service (ASCIS) was formally established in 1984. A national cataloguing scheme for Australian schools was also agreed on during this period.

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ASCIS database

With the ASCIS office established and ASCIS incorporated as a legal entity, the first and major task to be addressed by ASCIS was the establishment of the database. To achieve this, suitable computing facilities had to be developed before the considerable task of database building could commence.

In early 1984, ACI Computer Services (later known as Ferntree Computer Corporation), operators of a national computer network, were selected from other competitive computer companies to provide technical support for the ambitious new service. They provided ASCIS with the Dortmund Bibliographic Information System/Leuven Integrated Bibliographic System (DOBIS/LIBIS) software, originally developed in Europe by IBM. At the time, DOBIS was one of the world's finest examples of library management software and was being used by more than 80 library systems in Australia and overseas. DOBIS was a powerful mainframe system and its software was menu-driven and user friendly, which would allow it to be used by a wide variety of people with different levels of skill and familiarity with online systems.

The basic processing format of the ASCIS database was AUSMARC III and the cataloguing subsystem was a mirror image of the standards agreed to by ASCIS.  The initial configuration of the system represented two years of human programming.

The heart of the ASCIS service was a database with 150,000 records contributed from the South Australian SAERIS database, plus 27,000 Western Australian and 7,000 Australian Capital Territory records.  Converting these catalogue records to the standard AUSMARC III format and loading them into a common DOBIS/LIBIS database was a difficult task that took considerable time and effort,  but one which  proved to be worthwhile – and as additional records were added to the database, the database's value to schools increased as they experienced a higher 'hit' or success rate in locating required cataloguing records.

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Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) and Curriculum Corporation

In 1989, the State/Territory education systems and the Commonwealth government agreed on a set of National Goals for Schooling and on the establishment of Curriculum Corporation to facilitate and publish developmental work. It was unique in concept, style and purpose. Curriculum Corporation subsumed the former Australian Schools Cataloguing Information Service (ASCIS), took on a selection of the Curriculum Development Centre's publication list and commenced its operational life with the appointment of its Executive Director, Mr David Francis, in May 1990.

In 1992, New Zealand joined the Board of Curriculum Corporation and the Australian Schools Catalogue Information Service (ASCIS) undertook a name change to become what we know today as SCIS.

Voyager and SCISWeb

In 1996, SCIS moved the database to the Voyager integrated library management system platform, which we are still using today. Voyager is standards-based, built on open systems technology and is used by many of the world’s leading libraries and bibliographic services.

Prior to 1995, schools had ordered catalogue records using microfiche. But an exciting new product released that year, called SCIS on DISC, allowed schools to check if resources were on the SCIS database before proceeding to order catalogue cards or MARC files. Ferntree Computer Corporation, on behalf of SCIS, delivered these to schools via post. SCIS on DISC was phased out in 1997 to make way for SCISCD in 1998.

From 1993–94 schools could also access the SCIS Database remotely, first using SCIS Dial Up, which later became SCIS Online (via SCISLINK) during 1995–98, although of course they were unable to download the records via the Internet. However, that changed in 1998 when SCISWeb was introduced, a product that allowed schools not only to search the SCIS database online, but which also allowed them to place online ‘orders’ for the records they wanted and then download them, all from the SCIS website.

By the end of 1999 most schools used SCISWeb to obtain SCIS catalogue records. This eliminated the need for dialup access and the production of microfiche and catalogue cards. SCIS continued with its commitment to online delivery. In 2004 SCISCD was phased out and SCIS Subject Headings was launched as an online product.

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SCIS and the future

In the ensuing years school subscriber numbers have continued to increase with many international schools and the majority of Australian and New Zealand schools now using SCIS as their chief source of catalogue records.

SCIS records now contain terms from the Schools Online Thesaurus (ScOT) in addition to SCIS Subject Headings. In making this alternative means of subject access available to schools, SCIS is preparing for the potential demands of changing and future systems (library management systems and other types of systems).

The inclusion of ScOT terms prepares SCIS records for integration, at least in terms of subject access, with other metadata records (e.g. those for electronic learning objects) from different types of systems such as content management systems and learning management systems.

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What's new

Professional Learning in Term 1, 2016

SCIS will run three webinars on Tuesdays from 16 February, including Introduction to SCIS (FREE); Downloading SCIS records; and Searching and Selecting on the SCIS Catalogue.

We'll also be running workshops in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in March, Melbourne in May and Brisbane in June.

Visit our professional learning page to register or find further details.

Education Lending Rights 2015

A big thank you to all participating schools in the Educational Lending Rights 2015-16 survey. We are very grateful for the participation of over 350 schools helping to support Australian book creators and publishers. Visit our ELR page to learn more about the survey and how it encourages the growth of the Australian writing and publishing industries.

Connections Issue 96

Connections Issue 96 is out now. Click here to read about how Vancouver Public Schools in the U.S. revamped their school libraries, the importance of multicultural literature in the school library's fiction collection, the skills needed to teach critical web literacy, how to teach social history in the classroom, and more. Have any feedback? Send us an email at connections@esa.edu.au.

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