More on What Does It Mean to Be a Member of OCLC

Jay Jordan’s remarks during the OCLC Update Breakfast and the discussion at the Developers Network table at that breakfast generated further fuel for my previous philosophical thoughts on “Who is a member of the OCLC Cooperative?” In the context of things like Developer Network API keys1 this question of who is a member of OCLC the cooperative and who is not meets the on-or-off, ones-and-zeros nature of computers. One can’t “kinda” have an API Key unless that capability is programmed into the software (or a human chooses to override the established rules for who has a key).

The discussion around the table after Jay’s remarks tested some of the “edge cases” to the established hard-and fast rules. OCLC Governance, at least as I understand it, surrounds institutions who are members of the OCLC Cooperative. By implication, the benefits (and also the responsibilities) of membership in the OCLC Cooperative transfer to staff employed at those member institutions. People who work for governing (institutional) members of OCLC can get Developer Network API keys to create services for their library. And except for the fuzzy notion explored previously whether individuals are members of the OCLC cooperative, this all seems pretty clear.

But what about individuals in the employment of a library that is not a member of OCLC that want to create applications that benefit library users. Further, following Jay Jordan’s definition of partners OCLC wants to work with (as expressed during the OCLC Record Use Policy Council Update), that non-institutional-member individual can return value back to the cooperative (by contributing the ideas to the Developer’s Network Showcase, by contributing working code to a software repository, etc.). Isn’t that returning value to the cooperative? Should this person be granted a Developer Network API key even though their institution is not a member? Can we conceive of a process and guidelines by which this could happen? (Has it perhaps already happened in the human-created fuzz of OCLC-the-stewards overriding the established rules?)

I’ll state here that I would support the creating of a process by which anyone — from a member library or a consultant doing work on behalf of a member library or a 12-year-old kid) can request a Developer Network API key. What is needed is a clear understanding that those who get such keys gain some kind of adjunct membership in the OCLC-the-cooperative, and as so are expected to return value to the cooperative through their work with the API key. (There would need to be transparency from OCLC-the-steward on who in this category is getting keys, who is not, and for what reasons — at least in summary.) The area of consultants or other agents doing work on behalf of a library is an area that would need further exploration. I would offer that it is okay for one such agent to use an API key to help a particular client, but I also agree with Jay that it is not okay for that same agent to use that key to derive revenue from helping non-OCLC members with the same key. The latter fails the renumeration-back-to-the-cooperative test (either financial or intangible benefit) that Jay remarked on during Saturday’s Record Use Council session and one that the Record Use Council seems to be struggling with.

These are tough but interesting issues. We’ve left the days where the benefits of membership were tied to the delivery of shelf-ready cards and dedicated terminals for online original and copy cataloging. OCLC seems to be transforming itself from a library-used service to a world-used service. I give OCLC-the-stewards credit for listening to OCLC-the-membership about appropriate ways to make use of the shared resource that is WorldCat, and credit to OCLC-the-membership for pushing OCLC-the-stewards into creating ways to expand access to that shared resource.

The text was modified to update a link from http://dltj.org/article/alamw10-oclc-record-use to http://dltj.org/article/alamw10-record-use-policy/ on December 31st, 2010.

The text was modified to update a link from http://dltj.org/article/alamw10-oclc-record-use to http://dltj.org/article/alamw10-record-use-policy/ on December 31st, 2010.

Footnotes

  1. “API” is an acronym for Application Programming Interface. In summary, an API is the set of rules by which one program can task another program for data or to perform a service. An “API key” is the mechanism through which a requesting application establishes the right to be able to use data and services of another application. In this context, the holder of an OCLC Developer Network API key can access the wealth of data and services being offered by OCLC. []
(This post was updated on 30-Dec-2010.)