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CODE4LIB  February 2008

CODE4LIB February 2008

Subject:

Re: Records for Open Library

From:

Jonathan Rochkind <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Code for Libraries <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 7 Feb 2008 10:31:49 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (116 lines)

I get the distinct impression that the OCLC organization is indeed
expending lots of energy thinking about exactly what business they're
in, and exactly what business they will be in in 10 years if they are to
be successful. Gears are definitely moving at OCLC, but of course it's a
pretty gigantic organization, and we know how change goes at such
organizations. But I see change happening. Unfortunately (from some
perspectives), I think that OCLC has decided that their successful
business plan will rely on having data nobody else has--which means
keeping a tight lid on that data.  From a strict business perspective,
that actually makes sense---you've got a unique resource nobody else
has, and OCLC does, that's something you can capitalize on.

But here's the thing about OCLC. Yes, it's a library vendor, in the
sense that it's an entity in the business of selling goods and services
to libraries.  But it's also a cooperative--meaning it's _owned_ by it's
member/customers.  OCLC keeps reminding us they're not an ordinary
vendor, they're owned by us---that means that their strict business
interests _can not_ come at the expense of it's members interests. If
it's members are clear about what their interests are, and exersize
their control of OCLC. If OCLC's owners (that is, many of our employers)
start insisting that our interests demand open sharing of this data, and
they keep pushing it and insisting upon it---eventually it will happen.
OCLC's mission is to serve it's members interests, OCLC is owned by it's
members.

Now, for that to happen, the administrators at our employers would have
to recognize the importance and correctness of this issue. OCLC as an
organization no doubt honestly believes that for it to survive and
thrive, it needs to keep a tight handle on it's database, and that OCLC
surviving and thriving is certainly in the interests of it's
member/owners.  OCLC staff will persuasively communicate this point of
view to administrators of members that start pushing OCLC to behave
otherwise. I personally certainly agree that a strong and thriving OCLC
is in the interests of it's member owners, but not at the expense of
open data.  If enough administrators of OCLC members really understand
this, and understand it's importance---then OCLC will change. We own OCLC.

Jonathan

K.G. Schneider wrote:
>> 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]
>
>

--
Jonathan Rochkind
Digital Services Software Engineer
The Sheridan Libraries
Johns Hopkins University
410.516.8886
rochkind (at) jhu.edu

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