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Brian Burnham and Audrey Taylor.

Toronto, Ministry of Education, c1982.
Distributed by OISE Press.
69pp, paper, $5.00.
ISBN 0-7743-7354-7.

Reviewed by John G. Wright.

Volume 12 Number 2
1984 March

The opening of a new high school library in Aurora gave its librarian, Audrey Taylor, an opportunity to experiment with an alternative to the conventional subject heading catalogue. She chose to use PRECIS (PREserved Context Indexing System), a system devised for indexing the classified catalogues of the British National Bibliography. Beginning manually with typed cards, the experiment became part of the UTLAS network in 1976 and resulted in a COM catalogue in place of the card catalogue in her library. In 1979 the Ontario Ministry of Education agreed to fund the project as a potential model for a province-wide school library network.

This report recounts the rationale for the project (primarily the shortcomings of traditional subject headings for curriculum related materials), its development into a data base of 7,412 records in the high school file and 5,746 records in the union file serving four elementary schools; it indicates the successes achieved, the problems identified, and the actions recommended. Before the project ended in 1980, ninety per cent of the printed" materials and fifty per cent of the non-print materials in the five schools were catalogued. There was a high degree of favourable acceptance from the students (much less so from the teachers) to the COM catalogue and to the specific analytical indexing of fiction, non-fiction, and audiovisual materials for general reading and school assignments.

As with most innovative projects, there were frustrating delays in delivery of computer products, countless "bugs" in the software used by UTLAS, and recurring snags in the work flow from the project office in Aurora High School, which served the five schools.

The project has been reported in library literature on both sides of the Atlantic but has not been implemented as a provincial school library network, although the data base is still accessible to UTLAS users. The chief reasons for not catching on appear to be the novelty of the indexing, which would require abandoning Sears' and Library of Congress subject headings, and the initial costs of automation. While the indexing can be used manually, its real advantages lie in automation.

For those interested in computerized cataloguing, this is a fascinating report written in clear, non-technical language. As presented by its two principal investigators, the project achieved its major objectives, but its implementation fell victim to a declining economy and the massive inertia of traditional North American cataloguing practices. For school librarians, however, the report raises many questions about cost effectiveness and program implications, and the advantages claimed for PRECIS remain untested by the library community at large.

These considerations aside, continued modifications of microcomputers make the technology used in this project a very real prototype of the future, and much closer than we may think probable. More experimentation like this is needed to explore alternatives to present practice.

John G. Wright, Faculty of Library Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB.
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