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CODE4LIB  February 2008

CODE4LIB February 2008

Subject:

Re: Records for Open Library

From:

"K.G. Schneider" <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 7 Feb 2008 08:04:12 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (65 lines)

> Maybe Roy will answer that one -- but I doubt its that difficult to guess.
> OCLC's primary value is its bibliographic database and the information
> about its member's holdings. Nearly all of it's services are built around
> this. If they gave that information up to the Open Library, it would most
> certainly undermine their ILL, Cataloging and Grid Services initiatives.
> However, if a handful of members in relation to their membership
> participate in the program -- its no skin off their noses.
>
> --TR
>

You know, I realize that's the going-in thinking, and OCLC has shared that
with me. I fully understand the need for OCLC to protect its services. But I
remember with a previous job that people (even some very important people)
thought our product was our data, but it really wasn't: it was the services
we wrapped around the data, including maintenance, delivery, affiliated
products, etc. It's true that the data had to be good, but that goodness
didn't come with a core dump of one-time static data. Keeping our data
closed ultimately harmed us, perhaps perniciously, and I wish I had done a
better job of championing a different path. I didn't have the skills or
vocabulary and to this day I regret that.

In fact, most of the gripes I hear about OCLC are service-based.

If OL built a database of 50 to 100 million records (as an example), it
would still need to address a lot of issues: the functionality of its
primary portal, the maintenance of the records, organizational structure,
etc. Someone recently compared my comments about ALA to Open Library: if we
set about to build a new professional association, in the end it would end
up looking an awful lot like ALA. Take the value proposition and walk it
down the road... a few billion records later, and a few years under its
belt, what would OL look like?

In fact it could help all of us, including OCLC (understanding OCLC here as
a membership organization, not as a vaguely vendorish entity) if a few
libraries gave OL some data and let them go to town with it. I'd surmise
OCLC could open its data and in the end come out ahead.

That is of course risky thinking, of which the comfortable compromise is the
middle ground of providing OL with a few big datasets (as our agreement
clearly allows... and sharing that information is GOOD for OCLC). In the
same vein, those who paw the ground and snort when pundits make valid
observations about OCLC need to chill out and study the observations, not
the source. After all, we ARE talking about the organization whose operating
philosophy seems to be "I came, I saw, I bought it" - and in some cases has
had an attitude of, "Pretty! Now I kill it." If OCLC wants to be perceived
as all cuddly and member-focused, it needs to cool its jets and train its
attention on improving its services and not acting all paranoid. Grid
Services is an example of OCLC trying hard to do that, and should be
broadened. The recent governance report which proposes members have even
LESS of a vote on the board is in the other direction. I have observed more
than once that OCLC internally is an organization with some interesting
conflicts going on; I consider the recent "privacy and sharing" report to be
in large part a roman a clef.

With no disrespect to OL, I think the impulses behind OL are worth studying
and thinking about in terms of how to improve OCLC. One of the questions is
do we understand what business OCLC (or any bib utility-as OL plans to be)
is really in? Does OCLC?

Ah, now I've probably ruffled a few feathers in various chicken coops, and
it's not even 8 a.m. I love the smell of napalm in the morning!

Karen G. "Been there, done that, got the teeshirt" Schneider
[log in to unmask]

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