Case Study – NICEM ®

The Need:

NICEM was established on and remains committed to the principle that instructional media offer tremendous potential for improving learning. The center exists to optimize the opportunities for using media in all realms of education.

In order to fulfill its mission, the comprehensive media database reflecting products from hundreds of publishers, must be easily accessible and easily updated.


In 1958, the University of Southern California (USC) began to experiment with punch cards as a means of storing data for the preparation of printouts to produce film catalogs. The work was funded in part by a U.S. Office of Education grant to study the feasibility of establishing a center at USC for the cataloging of non-print instructional materials included in their master file. The project was named NICEM, the National Information Center for Educational Media.

Subsequently, a large master file was compiled from the materials collected by USC, report of new materials, and the cataloging of data sheets from the Library of Congress. As users, producers, and distributors of educational media became aware that USC had a computerized file of information about instructional materials, requests began pouring in for listings of materials.

In the early days of NICEM’s operation, individual computer printouts were prepared to meet this demand. However, as the volume of requests built up, this method became impractical. In 1967, NICEM contracted with McGraw-Hill to publish the first bound NICEM indexes, to provide wider, faster, and easier access to the data. In 1977, NICEM took its place in the technological revolution by going online on DIALOG Information Retrieval Service. By becoming available through computer links over the telephone lines, NICEM expanded its accessibility to an international audience.

In April of 1984, Access Innovations purchased the NICEM database. Within a year, the NICEM database became available on CD-ROM. Its computer-retrievable versions became known as A-V Online. In an aggressive development program, Access Innovations restructured the printed indexes and enhanced the master file, and added numerous bibliographic records. Up to 20,000 records per year are now added to the database.

Today, the comprehensive NICEM database of over 440,000 bibliographic records, representing over 640,000 items, is available directly from NICEM’s website ( CD-ROM versions of the database include the A-V Online on CD-Rom from Ovid (SilverPlatter) and the NICEM A-V MARC CD-ROM from The Library Corporation.

Media formats cataloged include videotape, videodisc, various audio formats, filmstrip, CD-ROM, and software, as well as slides, transparencies, streaming audio and video, and web-based audio and audiovisual materials.

All subject areas that apply to learning, from preschool through professional, are covered in the database, including vocational and technical education, management and supervisory training, health and safety, history, psychology, fine arts, engineering, literature, and drama.

The Solution:

To fulfill NICEM’s mission, our staff seeks out information about educational media and then transforms that information into an accessible and useful form. This requires editorial work employing taxonomic, abstracting, and indexing skills. For effective application of these skills, the NICEM staff at Access Innovations relies on Data Harmony taxonomic, indexing, and bibliographic database software.

Information for the NICEM bibliographic records is obtained either from printed catalogs or from data obtained by Access Innovations spiders crawling on cooperating distributors’ web sites. To process the information into searchable XML bibliographic records, NICEM editors work in Data Harmony XIS®. The screen shot below shows a typical NICEM record as it appears in the XIS editorial interface.

The Results:

The NICEM database is widely regarded as the world’s most comprehensive audiovisual database and a crucial reference tool for librarians, media specialists, training directors, teachers, university faculty, and researchers.

CHOICE Magazine has described the NICEM database as, “Indispensable for anyone trying to identify instructional media for teaching.