What Do Teacher Librarians Need to Know about Cataloguing?

By Ashley Freeman

Ashley Freeman reflects on the role of the Teacher librarian with respect to cataloguing. With the availability of centralised services such as SCIS, do Teacher Librarians need to know how to catalogue?

The recent publication of the fourth edition of SCIS Subject Headings as a tool for use by both cataloguers in SCIS cataloguing agencies and Teacher Librarians in schools makes this an appropriate time to reflect upon the role of the Teacher Librarian with respect to cataloguing.

The roles of a Teacher Librarian

The roles of a Teacher Librarian are diverse. Foremost a Teacher Librarian is a specialist teacher with responsibilities such as the development of students' information literacy, cooperative planning and teaching with fellow teachers, advocating resource-based learning, collaborating in curriculum development including literacy, and promoting a love and appreciation of I iterature. Because of the constantly expanding use of information and communication technologies in school libraries, many Teacher Librarians have also gained technical and educational responsibilities in this field within their school. Additionally the Teacher Librarian is a librarian with the full range of duties involved in managing and developing a library. Being a Teacher Librarian is a demanding multifaceted profession.

Add to this some realities of Teacher Librarianship. The majority of school libraries have only one Teacher Librarian with limited paraprofessional or clerical assistance. Most primary school Teacher Librarian positions are part-time appointments. While increasingly Teacher Librarians hold postgraduate qualifications in their specialist field, there are some practitioners with minimal library qualifications. In this context the Teacher Librarian as cataloguer starts to appear a rather restricted role! It is important to note that not all school libraries fit into the foregoing snapshot. There are school libraries that have a number of professional and support staff. At the other end of the spectrum there are school libraries in which professional and support staff time is less than a day a week.

Cataloguing services for schools

Fortunately school libraries are generally no longer dependent on the skill of the Teacher Librarian as a cataloguer for the creation of most records within their OPACs. Centralised and/or cooperative cataloguing is as much a reality for school libraries as it is in the broader library community. The majority, over 80 per cent of school libraries in Australia, use the Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS) as their chief source of cataloguing information. SCIS cataloguers work to standards specifically designed for Australian school libraries. SCIS has a database of over 670,000 catalogue records, with approximately 3,500 records being added each month. It provides for the online retrieval of catalogue records via SCISWeb and SCISCO and provides the means to download a reference structure for the SCIS subject headings used in a school's OPAC. With the provision of such services, and the many demands upon their time, do Teacher Librarians need to know how to catalogue?

A need for knowledge of cataloguing?

There are those who would argue that Teacher Librarians do not need to know how to catalogue. They argue that the provision of centralised services has reduced the provision of the library catalogue to a routine process able to be undertaken by a paraprofessional under the supervision of the Teacher Librarian, thus freeing the Teacher Librarian to focus on other tasks. I believe such an argument to be erroneous. Certainly the Teacher Librarian has been largely relieved of the task of creating catalogue records and a reference structure for the OPAC. Assuredly this should mean more time to devote to other tasks. However, it does not mean that the Teacher Librarian has no role to play in this area and hence no need to know about cataloguing. Downloading catalogue records and a reference structure, while major aspects of providing a catalogue, do not in themselves create an efficient and effective catalogue. The input of a knowledgeable Teacher Librarian remains a key factor.

The forms this professional input takes are various. The selection of an appropriate cataloguing service and library OPAC is a professional role requiring considerable cataloguing knowledge. It needs to be noted, though, that some educational authorities do largely make such decisions for their schools. The intelligent use of these products to ensure their potential is exploited, however, remains very much the responsibility of the individual and informed Teacher Librarian. Take the simple case of the downloading of SCIS cross-references into a school library's OPAC. If the Teacher Librarian is unsure of the role of cross-references and does not understand the concept of a reference structure, then the possibility that this service will be implemented is small. Additionally, some Teacher Librarians, unfamiliar with cataloguing, add a variety of broad, and often non-allowed, words and phrases as subject headings to unconsciously compensate for this lack of a cross-reference structure. They thus use their time in an unnecessary and unproductive way, as well as unwittingly turning their subject authority files into a morass.

Most OPACs provide for the keywording of records. In some instances this is an automatic operation, in others some manual tagging of keywords is required. Again, unless Teacher Librarians understand the concepts of controlled and natural language and how they relate to the retrieval of information, they are not in a position to develop and exploit the various elements of subject access effectively. Regrettably this situation exists in many school libraries. Additionally, library software developers have created, and continue to create, enhancements for OPACs including the ability to go directly to an Internet resource from its record on the catalogue and the ability to scan text and pictures into OPAC records. The potential value of such facilities again requires cataloguing knowledge if they are to be logically and positively exploited in a timely and efficient manner.

There continue to be instances where a catalogue record for a particular item, or catalogue records for a particular type of resource, are not supplied by the cataloguing agency. Clearly the Teacher Librarian needs to have the cataloguing knowledge needed to create catalogue records for such items. SCIS has been very proactive in moving to reduce this need by providing processes for identifying and creating records for, items that have initially been missed and trialling the selective cataloguing of internet sites.

Currently, however, there remains some need for original cataloguing skills on the part of Teacher Librarians.

The modification of catalogue records to meet local needs is a further, though contentious, area where cataloguing knowledge on the part of Teacher Librarians is required if such changes are to be made in a professional manner. Many would question the need for such changes, particularly to SCIS records, which are created specifically for Australian school libraries. A key argument is that the time and effort taken could have been better expended elsewhere. This is generally true and it is my belief that the more knowledgeable a Teacher Librarian is of cataloguing, the more aware they will be of why records take the form they do and consequently will be less tempted to make changes to them. However some changes, such as the addition of location devices and the adding of a specific keyword relating to a local curriculum topic, do have value as they save the Teacher Librarian time. The time expended in making the changes is more than compensated for by the time saved in not having to repeatedly provide information that now exists on catalogue records. Obviously cataloguing knowledge is necessary to be able to make such judgements.

Teacher Librarians with cataloguing knowledge are also in a position to provide informative feedback to their cataloguing agency on changes and additions that they would like to see made to catalogue records and why such changes and additions would be beneficial. SCIS encourages this process, and many of the changes that have occurred to SCIS records have been user driven. Further, Teacher Librarians who understand cataloguing are in a far better position to teach users how to use the OPAC effectively and to set in place strategies to overcome difficulties that users encounter.


While Teacher Librarians have been relieved of much work involved by centralised cataloguing, they still need skills and knowledge in cataloguing if the catalogue is to be properly developed and maintained. To a significant degree the Teacher Librarian's informed and considered input, or lack of it, still determines if the catalogue is used and appreciated by users, or if the most noticeable feature of the catalogue is the number of users who bypass it.


SCIS Subject Headings Fourth Edition 1999, Curriculum Corporation, Carlton South, Vic.

Gove, K 1999, 'SCIS assisting schools to manage knowledge' Bytes, Books and Bollards by the Bay: Proceedings of the 16th Biennial Conference of the Australian School Library Association, pp 151-155, ASLA, Richmond, Vic.

SCIS website <http://www.curriculum.edu.au/ scis/index.htm>.

This article was commissioned by and tor Cataloguing Australia. Reprinted with permission. Copyright© ALIA 2000. Ashley Freeman is a lecturer in Teacher Librarianship at Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga. Email: <[email protected]>.

Ashley Freeman

Lecturer in Teacher Librarianship

Charles Sturt University