Archive for the ‘worldcat local’ Category

Friday, April 24th, 2009

OCLC news reactions

This post follows on The OCLC End Game, posted early this morning.

Library Journal‘s Josh Hadro did an excellent follow-up article. Besides citing this blog post, Hadro got responses from Carl Grant, president of Ex Libris on OCLC’s tenuous non-profit status—I’ll have another post about that soon—and a number of bloggers. Iris Jastram/Pegasus Librarian’s thoughts deserve quotation:

“I’m pleased that this is yet another competitor against the current lumbering giants in the ILS market, and I like the idea that (if I understand correctly) this will add a hosted option to the ILS market. … On the other hand, this means that that pesky new policy on the transfer and use of OCLC records really wasn’t just about protecting a bunch of member-produced data after all. There were bigger plans afoot, and these plans involved leaning even farther toward the vendor model rather than the service model. And if OCLC is a vendor rather than a service, that new policy feels even more like a land-grab rather than an effort to protect member investments.”

Ms. Jastram’s misgivings are comforting to me, at least, as her previous thoughts on the OCLC Policy were more mixed. Ultimately, the fate of OCLC’s Policy will be decided by the people in the middle—the fair-minded people, not the ones who equate OCLC with the Matrix, The Empire or the All Your Bases villain.*

The Smithsonian Libraries on the OCLC Policy. I missed this, but on April 2 the official blog of the Smithsonian Institution Libraries weighed in on the OCLC Policy and the ACRL/ARL response (PDF), “support[ing] the recommendations” emphasizing a number of points. Among these were:

  • “The policy should recognize and affirm traditional library values of cooperative cataloging and shared bibliographic information without any claim of ownership of the bibliographic records.”
  • “OCLC’s new policy should recognize, and not be in conflict with, existing legal obligations or requirements that may apply to some OCLC member libraries (such as federal libraries).”

It’s great to see a federal library making such a public statement. Having been passed by in the OCLC Policy discussion—Federal librarians have told me they were amazed OCLC thought it could unilaterally change licensing terms with government entities—and not included on the ARL/ACRL board either, at least one is lending its voice to the criticism. Hooray for them. James Smithson, who left his estate for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge”—and to a country he had never even visited!—would, I think, be proud.

*Chris Bourg left a comment to the effect that the AYBABTU reference was purely humorous, and she does not consider OCLC a villain, even if she thinks I’ve got a good argument. Now, can anyone think of a way to tape Jay Jordan saying “You have no chance to succeed make your time”? I’m thinking we could sky write it over OCLC headquarters in Dublin, OH and secretly film OCLC employees puzzling it out. Ideally, though, he’d need to wear the bionic monocle.

I will never run out of interesting Flickr chess images. This one’s by Shyald, from a series.

Labels: oclc, worldcat, worldcat local

Friday, April 24th, 2009

The OCLC End Game

Two years ago I predicted what OCLC, the library-data organization, was after with it’s WorldCat Local pilot program—”They’re trying to convert a data licensing monopoly into a services monopoly.” To illustrate, I changed the OCLC logo to the Death Star.

I was hardly alone in this speculation. But this concern was soon overtaken as OCLC brought forth it’s Revised Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records. The Policy, which turned a de facto data monopoly into a legally enforceable one, became a focus of intense debate in the library world. On the one side just about every library blogger with a keyboard, and eventually a review board at the ACRL/ARL, raised questions about the idea of anyone “owning” records meant for sharing and most frequently produced by government entities. On the other side, OCLC’s defenders (in truth, mostly employees), talked of OCLC’s “curation” of community content, of “protecting members’ investment,” of the “best interest of libraries,” “OCLC’s public purposes” and of WorldCat.com’s role as an essential “switching mechanism” to local catalog (references: 1, 2, 3).

Yesterday, OCLC unveiled the end game that brings everything together. As reported by Marshall Breeding in Library Journal:

“This new project, which OCLC calls “the first Web-scale, cooperative library management service,” will ultimately bring into WorldCat Local the full complement of functions traditionally performed by a locally installed integrated library system (ILS).”

The new service will be “free” to (paying) WorldCat First Search customers.

The move to “web scale” (OCLC-speak for “web”) catalogs was an inevitable one, and is a good one. It’s silly to have every library in the country running their own racks of servers. The economics of server architecture, equipment and systems administration make a single, hosted solution economically superior. It makes particular sense for OCLC. With a large percentage of world libraries’ data sitting in servers for copy-cataloging purposes, a locally branded and faceted web-app. catalog was the next logical step.

The move casts new light on its Policy defenses. OCLC isn’t “curating” library records; it’s leveraging them to enter a new market. It wasn’t “protecting members’ investment,” it was investing members’ money, intended to support OCLC’s core mission, to build a new service. WorldCat isn’t a “switching mechanism” to local catalogs. It will replace them.

I’d love to follow them. I’d love to make a large-scale hosted library catalog. I think LibraryThing could do a lot better. OCLC is full of smart people, but it develops slowly and has shown singular inability to produce social features that anyone would want to use. I think Talis, AquaBrowser, LibLime and Equinox could do better too. And I think, if library programmers got together, they could make truly open community-run service—something others, like LibraryThing, could provide plug-ins for.

We’d all love to try, but we aren’t allowed. According to the Policy, you can’t build the sort of truly “web scale” database that would make such a project economically viable. Anything that replicates the “function, purpose and/or size” of WorldCat is not “Reasonable Use.” Any library participating in such a venture would lose its right to OCLC-derived records, something that would literally shutter most public and all academic libraries in the country. When it comes to large-scale online catalogs, there can be no competing with OCLC.

Let me be clear: I have no problem with OCLC developing software. They do good work. I for one think WorldCat/WorldCat Local is a better product than most server-based OPACs.

But, now more than ever, OCLC must end its attempts to restrict and monopolize library data. It was ugly and unfair for OCLC to claim ownership over what is largely public data. It is obscene to leverage that data monopoly into a software monopoly.


Chess images from Flick users malias and furryscaly. Chess outside makes me think of the Deus’ song Slow. What is it with Europeans and outdoor chess sets anyway?

Labels: oclc, worldcat, worldcat local

Thursday, April 12th, 2007

WorldCat: Think locally, act globally

OCLC just announced a “pilot” of WorldCat Local. In essence, WorldCat local is OCLC providing libraries with a OPAC.

That’s the news. Here’s the opinion. Talis’ estimable Richard Wallis writes:

“Yet another clear demonstration that the library world is changing. The traditional boundaries between the ILS/LMS, and library and non-library data services are blurring. Get your circulation from here; your user-interface from there; get your global data from over there; your acquisitions from somewhere else; and blend it with data feeds from here, there and everywhere is becoming more and more a possibility.”

I think this is exactly wrong. OCLC isn’t creating a web service. They’re not contributing to the great data-service conversation. They’re trying to convert a data licensing monopoly into a services monopoly. If the OCLC OPAC plays nice with, say, the Talis Platform, I’ll eat my hat. If it allows outside Z39.50 access I’ll eat two hats.

They will, as the press release states “break down silos.” They’ll make one big silo and set the rules for access. The pattern is already clear. MIT thought that its bibliographic records were its own, but OCLC shut them down when they tried to act on that. The fact is, libraries with their data in OCLC are subject to OCLC rules. And since OCLC’s business model requires centralizing and restricting access to bibliographic data, the situation will not improve.

As a product, OCLC local will probably surpass the OPACs offered by the traditional vendors. It will be cleaner and work better. It may well be cheaper and easier to manage. There are a lot of good things about this. And—lest my revised logo be misunderstood—there are no bad people here. On the contrary, OCLC is full of wonderful people—people who’ve dedicated their lives to some of the highest ideals we can aspire. But the institution is dependent on a model that, with all the possibilities for sharing available today, must work against these ideals.

Keeping their data hidden, restricted and off the “live” web has hurt libraries more than we can ever know. Fifteen years ago, libraries were where you found out about books. One would have expected that to continue on the web–that searching for a book would turn up libraries alongside bookstores, authors and publishers.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Libraries are all-but-invisible on the web. Search for the “Da Vinci Code” and you won’t get the Library of Congress–the greatest collection of books and book data ever assembled–not even if you click through a hundred pages. You do get WorldCat, seventeen pages in!

The causes are multiple, and discussed before. But a major factor is how libraries deal with book data, and that’s largely a function of OCLC’s business model. Somehow institutions dedicated to the idea that knowledge should be freely available to all have come to the conclusion that knowledge about knowledge—book data—should not, and traditional library mottos like Boston‘s “Free to All” and Philadelphia‘s Liber Libere Omnibus (“Free books for all!”) given way to:

“No part of any Data provided in any form by WorldCat may be used, disclosed, reproduced, transferred or transmitted in any form without the prior written consent of OCLC except as expressly permitted hereunder.”

We now return you to our regularly-scheduled blogging.

Labels: library of congress, oclc, open data, worldcat local