SCIS is more

By Ben Chadwick

Updates and news from the School Catalogue Information Service (SCIS).

Most SCISWeb subscribers obtain SCIS records by visiting the SCISWeb Orders page to download MARC data files. However, increasingly our subscribers are downloading records by searching from within their Library Management System (LMS). This method is usually referred to as 'Z39.50', 'Z cataloguing', or 'Rapid Entry', and is made possible by the Z39.50 standard. Some of our most common customer service calls are about setting up or connecting via Z39.50.

What is Z39.50?

Z39.50 is an 'application layer network protocol' covered by the ANSI/NISO Z39.50 and ISO 23950 standards and maintained by the Library of Congress. Application layer protocols provide computer programs with a common language when sharing data across networks. Some well-known application layer protocols include Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) and File Transfer Protocol (FTP). Z39.50 allows a system - usually a LMS - to search and retrieve information from bibliographic databases across the world.

The standard was developed 'pre-web,' in the 1970s, but it is still used extensively in the international library industry.

Setting Up Z39.50

Most modern LMSs support Z39.50 and using it should be fairly straightforward. The steps involved vary from system to system and may require a call to your vendor's helpdesk. For connecting to SCIS the key steps are:

  1. Contact SCIS to activate Z39.50. Our server requires you to be registered to access our database via Z39.50. Contact SCIS Customer Service at [email protected] with a request to activate Z39.50. Activation may require a few hours to take effect.
  2. Configure your LMS to access our database. Some systems come with SCIS Z39.50 configuration set up 'out of the box.' The method for manually specifying these settings depends on your LMS. Contact your vendor for help. The correct settings are on our Help page.

Z39.50 Issues

Searching via Z39.50 is implemented by your LMS. Below are a number of factors that should be supported by your LMS and may be configurable from within your system. Discuss these with your vendor if you are uncertain.

ISBN conversion

What happens if you search for a resource using its ISBN-13 but the record contains an ISBN-10? SCISWeb converts between ISBN-10 and 13 so you will still find what you are looking for. For Z39.50 this functionality must be implemented by the LMS, and not all systems do so.

Record matching and duplicates

When you bring a record in via Z39.50, your system must decide whether you already have that record. If so, it must decide how to deal with the duplication: will it reject the new record, replace your existing one, or supplement your catalogue with both records?

Record preferences

By using the My Profile page SCIS users can specify a range of record preferences. These include full or Abridged Dewey Decimal, ISBN 13 versus ISBN 10, and SCIS and/or ScOT headings. However, using Z39.50 it is not possible for SCIS to implement these preferences before sending raw MARC records off to your LMS. It is up to your LMS whether these preferences can be implemented when SCIS records are imported.

Cover images

SCISWeb supplements downloaded records with a file of cover images. Z39.50 does not retrieve cover images, but some LMSs can be configured to search our database for the cover images of records retrieved via Z39.50.


Sometimes your LMS may say something like 'Failed To Connect' when you attempt to use your SCIS Z39.50 connection. Here are some troubleshooting steps for these connection problems.

Basic checking

If you have never successfully used Z39.50 on your current LMS ensure you have contacted SCIS for Z39.50 activation, and check that your configuration settings are correct.

Network settings

Perhaps the most common reasons for connection problems are related to security settings (such as firewalls) on your local network, router, or proxy server. Communications may be disallowed via some ports or with certain domains or IP addresses. Speak to your technical support person to ensure access is available for the following IP settings:

  • Destination:
  • Protocol: TCP
  • Port: 7090

It's not you, it's me

When we get a handful of Z39.50 connection queries we ensure our server isn't misbehaving. You can check this too, by testing a connection to another Z39.50 server, such as the Library of Congress. If that works, but not SCIS, consider getting in touch with us.

Why come to the SCIS website?

If you download records using Z39.50, why should you visit the SCIS website? Our website helps you stay in touch via our blog and social media channels, keep up with our Professional Learning offerings, and browse Connections online. Visit our catalogue to browse for new resources or the Special Orders page to do a quick search of recently catalogued digital resources.

Ben Chadwick

Ben Chadwick

Manager, SCIS

Education Services Australia