Tuesday, 18 November 2008

OCLC Round Up

Wow, there's been a lot of talk about OCLC's change in policy (which they had a few goes at - here's some the policy differences wikified). A fair amount of the reaction from librarians has been anger that the new policy might impede the work of LibraryThing and similar projects. It's strong to refer to records passed through WorldCat as 'infected' but you can see how an unfriendly policy can poison the viral spread of information.

As of February next, OCLC's new policy kicks in and - in essence - the rights of libraries over records contributed to WorldCat will change, and sharing (particularly for commercial reasons) will be more tightly controlled. Knock on effects are likely to be felt by both the open library community (deliberate non-caps there) and even organisations like Talis.

There's been an 'interesting' response from OCLC in the form of an open letter [pdf] - which seems to reflect many people's fear that OCLC is essentially circling the wagons and not trying to engage with the community.

For libraries, there are some key questions which need to be answered before February:
  • What do we get from our arrangement with OCLC? Is it worth it?
  • What are our plans for data which might be affected? How are the affected?
(ok, big gulp... and)
  • Does OCLC represent the future or the past?
For me, it's the attitude that might be worrying. Take, for example, how Karen Calhoun (OCLC) refers to the idea of Commons:
OCLC's and the members' central asset is the WorldCat database that we share. It is our common investment, our "commons." I believe it is the right course to protect the commons.* Thus, as Garrett Hardin has suggested in his writings about the "tragedy of the commons," it is appropriate to regulate the use of the commons. OCLC needs to manage WorldCat data sharing to assure that benefit accrues back to the members who have invested in WorldCat, and that the WorldCat commons is not exhausted through over-exploitation. Protecting the commons means adopting "some rights reserved" as the data sharing model.  While a data sharing model based on "no rights reserved" is a laudable ideal, if OCLC were to adopt such a policy, it is possible, if not likely, that the WorldCat commons and the OCLC cooperative would not survive. 
If OCLC really want to engage with librarians (as opposed to Library managers) they need to quickly realise that WorldCat represents part of a wider metadata commons - and decide whether they want to fence off 'their' part with over-the-top guidelines or play and active role.
In case you need more, here's a good synopsis of the situation and there's a good page on the code4lib wiki - here.

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