On the Role of WorldCat and -Please- Open Up the Discussion

Nearly a week after it was posted, I came across a posting by Karen Calhoun of OCLC summarizing her impressions of the ALCTS Forum at Midwinter. I thought I had been closely watching the dialog around the policy, so I was surprised when I came across it. That makes me want to write this open letter:

Dear OCLC,

Many of us care deeply about the record use policy. We know the Review Board on Shared Records is examining the commentary in blogs and mailing lists as well as the comments submitted directly to recorduse@oclc.org. This issue is too important to the cooperative, however, for a one-way dialog. We are out here, those with MLS degrees and those without, commenting in an echo chamber — uncertain of what will come out of the review board. Other than the chair, we don’t even know who is on the review board. Those of us who have a stake in the cooperative by virtue of our employment want to be part of the process that forms a new policy. Others want to advance a belief in open data. (Some of us are in both of those communities.)

The timeline is quick (an initial report due this month and a final report in May), but the stakes are high. Please create an official forum for members of the cooperative and the larger community to talk about our desires and concerns — amongst ourselves and with members of the review board.

Sincerely,

Your Court Jester

With that, onto a discussion of part of Karen’s post. Given the lack of a coherent location to discuss the topic (see above), I’m feeling a somewhat obsessive need to repost the text of a comment on Karen’s entry here on DLTJ to ensure that those who are interested in the debate know of Karen’s entry and my comments on it. Tim Spalding might be feeling the same way.

As one of the speakers, I might be the source of this summarized point:

One speaker at the Forum wondered about the need for WorldCat.org as an aggregation of information about library collections.

If that was me, the exact point I was trying to make was:

Portions of the proposed policy appear to mandate that OCLC be in the middle of any exchange of records.

I think it useful to divorce the underlying data from the services built upon it (WorldCat.org, FirstSearch, Connexion, WorldCat Resource Sharing, etc.). It is generally agreed that the copyright status of the bibliographic records leans heavily towards the no-copyright-protection answer. I have not heard that position refuted, either in the ALCTS presentation or elsewhere. It can also be generally agreed that having OCLC derive value from these records (be it through WorldCat Resource Sharing or xID services or collection development reports) greatly benefits the cooperative as well. Some of these derived value services (xID comes to mind) even have commercial benefit that can earn revenue for the cooperative.

It is also generally agreed that a broad web footprint like “worldcat.org” is useful in routing users to an appropriate library. I agree with that notion. But it does not mean that I agree with the attempt by OCLC to bring all of the data that underlies the WorldCat.org service under a license that presumes that only WorldCat.org will perform that function. Similarly, I don’t think that OCLC should insert itself in the middle of record exchanges of these factual records (as the now-tabled policy would have done with the Record Use Form).