Improving Retrievability in School Libraries

By Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS)

SCIS is launching a new product, SCIS Authority Files, that will enhance retrievability in school catalogues.

All Teacher Librarians know that searching in a library catalogue is not as simple a task as it may appear at first glance. While the modern automated catalogue supplies the user with a wonderful array of searching approaches, it is nevertheless a common problem that not every relevant item in the collection on a particular topic or by a particular person or organisation is retrieved.

Given the cost of library resources, and the effort involved in putting records into the catalogue, it is a great pity if users cannot locate resources, or can locate only one of several items available, because they have searched under a variant form of a heading used in the catalogue. The use of SCIS Authority Files in a library software system is designed to deal with this problem and so improve retrievability of resources by users in school libraries.

The library software system may use the data from SCIS Authority Files to assist the user in a catalogue search by inserting two kinds of references into the catalogue:

• references that lead users who search on the non-allowed (non-used) version of a subject heading to the items they are seeking via the allowed (used) form; the library system may or may not (depending on its functionality) make this pathway obvious to the person searching the OPAC
• references that suggest to users who are searching under one subject heading (topic or name) other subject headings (topics or names) that may be more, or equally, helpful to them.

Most Teacher Librarians do not have the time to manually insert such comprehensive references into their catalogue as they add items to the collection. Adding such references through an automatic load of SCIS Authority Files should be a great boon to libraries and their users. After items have been added to the school catalogue, it will be a matter of activating the function that begins the matching process which ensures that references relating to any new headings in the catalogue are added.

Each entry in the SCIS Authority Files comprises:

• an allowed SCIS subject heading (a term, phrase or name that has been selected to represent a particular concept, person or organisation)
• the see or use references for variant ways of expressing the concept or name that direct the user to the allowed heading
• cross references from other associated (broader, narrower or otherwise related) headings used in the catalogue
• possibly one or more notes explaining how the heading is used in the catalogue and referring users to other types of heading that relate to it.

The subject authority file from the SCIS database is being released this year as SCIS Authority Files Edition 1, 2000. It consists of all the subject headings that have been assigned to the resources catalogued on the SCIS database on the Voyager system. There is a range of subject types, including: topical subjects such as Bushwalking, Ecology; geographical place names as subjects such as France - History, Perth (W.A.), Moon; and names of people, organisations, ships, television programs, motion pictures, computer programs, legendary characters etc, which are the subjects of the resource.

SCIS Authority Files is a much larger set of headings than that found in the SCIS Subject Headings Fourth Edition book. The book includes many notes instructing the catalogue to devise headings in certain categories. The SCIS Authority Files, on the other hand, contains the headings devised using those instructions.

Issues to consider when introducing SCIS Authority Files

Library system software will be required to do clever things with the SCIS Authority Files data, such as:

• taking account of existing SCIS and other subject headings
• reporting to library staff the changes made by the system from the implementation of SCIS Authority Files
• updating new headings that have been added after the initial use of SCIS Authority Files by activating the update function in the library software system which uses SCIS Authority Files.

SCIS advises schools to seek advice from, and strictly adhere to the instructions provided by, the school's library system support. Because different library automation systems handle these and other features differently, SCIS is unable to provide advice on how each specific system will use the data from the SCIS Authority Files. However, to assist schools in a generic way in considering whether SCIS Authority Files is appropriate for their system, and how best to use it, the SCIS Unit will provide FAQs on our website at <>, We will also continue to liaise with system vendors, who will provide advice to schools about the headings and I inked references attached to items.

In addition, the SCIS Unit is liaising with system vendors to identify any issues in implementing the product. Areas for schools and vendors to consider include:

• ensuring that a load of SCIS Authority Files ~ will not remove local curriculum-related references that have been inserted manually by Teacher Librarians
• the use of both old (replaced) and new versions of a heading in the catalogue; for example, if the Teacher Librarian has not yet removed all occurrences of a superseded heading such as Aborigines, and there are entries in the catalogue under both
Aborigines and Aboriginal peoples  (the new term), the insertion into the catalogue of a see reference: Aborigines See Aboriginal peoples may lead the user away from the older entries in the catalogue
• the use of two or more different subject heading vocabularies in the one catalogue, for example SCIS Subject Headings and Sears List of Subject Headings
• headings and linked references attached to items that might have been removed from the catalogue when weeding the collection because software generally operates on a character-matching process, so that even the small difference of a space or a full stop can result in a non-match, it is possible that some manual intervention and tidying up will be required to maximise the benefits of SCIS Authority Files.

With these issues in mind we strongly recommend that schools check headings in their catalogues for inconsistencies before loading SCIS Authority Files, and that superseded Third Edition subject headings be replaced with the appropriate new headings as listed on the SCIS website at <> and also found in the guidelines for using SCIS Subject Headings Fourth Edition.

A wise precaution would be to perform any system maintenance and backup procedures as advised by your library system support prior to undertaking the initial use of SCIS Authority Files. Once these issues are dealt with however, we believe that SCIS Authority Files will provide significantly improved retrievability in school libraries.

SCIS Authority Files format

The authority entries within the cataloguing module of the SCIS database are encoded according to the MARC 21 Authority Format published by the Network Development and MARC Standards Office of the Library of Congress at <>. However, to assist schools whose library systems are not MARCcompatible, the SCIS Authority Files product comes in two formats: USMARC and ASCII (the American Standard Code for Information Interchange - defined as the most basic standard character set for 'plain text' computer files). The SCIS Authority Files product contains both formats, with selection of format made when copying the product.

A name authorityii le is scheduled to &-added to the SCIS Authority Files next year, as SGIS Authority files 2001. This will contain all the names of authors, editors, illustrators, narrators, composers, film directors, agencies and organisations that have been selected by SCIS cataloguers as 'main' or 'added' entry headings w en describing those involved I the authorship and production of the resource. Thus there is an important distinction between, on the one hand, names of people and organisations viewed as subjects of a resource - these appear in the subjects file - and, on the other hand, those that appear in the names (ie of authors) file.

Schools Catalogue Information Service (SCIS)