Further Consideration of OCLC Records Use Policy

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At ALA Midwinter, ALCTS sponsored a panel discussion about sharing library-created data inside and outside the library community, with a particular focus on cataloging data. I was honored to be ask to speak on the topic from the perspective of a consortial office. This is the second and final post in a series that represents an approximation of what I said on the panel.

The first part examined the nature of surrogate records that we create as a means to get users to content. The post looked at where we get records, how humans and machines can create them, and the rights associated with component data that makes up the records.

Right to reuse records without restrictions

One way to handle the clouded nature of surrogate ownership is to follow the lead of the ‡biblios.net and the Open Library Project: publish the surrogates with a public domain dedication or with an “open data” license. This is going to become increasingly important as the variety of systems that use this kind of data evolve and in some cases move outside the library space.

The first area where is important is with discovery layers. A new generation of discovery layers are taking surrogates from a variety of sources – catalogs, publishers, index/abstract services, etc. – and performing actions such as consolidating records and building relationships between surrogates. These derived surrogates are presented to users in new interfaces or new portals into existing interfaces. Examples of these systems are the Extensible Catalog project at the University of Rochester and the newly announced Serials Solutions Summon product. OhioLINK recently solicited responses from vendors where this kind of capability is a key product of a new discovery layer. Other projects (such as subject-specific portals) also seek to re-purpose the data – mix it up with other sources of data to create new uses and views that are specific to a particular user community. Anything other than a permissive-for-all-by-default will put up roadblocks and cause builders of these systems to seek data from other services.

In addition to presenting the surrogates to users in new ways, libraries are also investigating new forms of workflow and collaborative activities surrounding the creation and maintenance of bibliographic records. One of the strong desires of many involved in the OLE Project is cooperative purchasing and cooperative technical services. OhioLINK has also recently issued an RFI seeking new options for highly collaborative workflows in the maintenance of surrogate records. Old models of charging for use of records can hinder the ability of cooperating institutions to optimize costs and efforts of back-room library options.

The elephant in the room is the recently proposed OCLC Records Use Policy. Setting aside the debatable legal framework under which OCLC asserted the right to set a usage policy on records from the cooperative, there were clauses in the proposed policy that jeopardize the usability of records, and as a consequence the viability of the cooperative as a whole. Actions that restrict use of data or create uncertainty around the use of data lessen the value of that data. I think few would argue that value can be created by aggregating services on top of the data; the activities in the WorldCat Grid and Developer’s Network point to that. Revenue could be generated in fees charged to non-cooperative members. It is conceptually important to separate the hosting of the surrogates from the layered services on top of them – WorldCat Local, mediated ILL, collection analysis, by way of example.

Parting thoughts

OCLC was created forty years ago based on the use of new technologies and relationships that technology enabled. While we all want the cooperative to exist and flourish, it should not do so by engaging in activities that solely protect it. Portions of the proposed policy appear to mandate that OCLC be in the middle of any exchange of records. While one can appreciate the ability of a large web footprint like “worldcat.org” to drive traffic to local libraries, when it comes to sharing factual and non-factual data in surrogate records, being in the middle might not always be the most efficient way to make use of bibliographic data. OhioLINK’s efforts are based on a state mandate to be more efficient and effective for the users of higher education libraries in Ohio. On balance, the rules of the cooperative cannot trump what might be in the best interests of the members. Asserting the right to impose policy restrictions on records

Post-panel Thoughts

At the end of co-panelist Karen Calhoun's remarks, she encouraged attendees to send comments to the Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship via the recorduse@oclc.org e-mail address. I certainly encourage interested parties to do that, but to also find some way to post it in a public forum. The discussion of the proposed policy has been both spirited and informative. Since this is a matter at the core of the cooperative, I don't think the discussion should be limited to a one-way feed of information into the review board. The discussion should also occur between us: the members of the OCLC cooperative and community. If you have a blog, post about it. If not, consider creating one at LISnews.org and post about it there. Or use mailing lists such as Autocat and Radcat. OCLC already has a community forum platform -- WebJunction -- and it would be good to see OCLC use that as a forum for public discussion.

Thanks to Charles Wilt, Executive Director of ALCTS, for inviting me to speak at the ALCTS Forum and to Karen Calhoun for facilitating the invitation. My appreciation also goes out to my co-panelists: Karen Calhoun (who has posted her slides online), John Mark Ockerbloom (who also posted his slides and approximate speech transcript), and Brian Schottlaender (who eloquently summarized statements from the other panelists and took point in fielding questions from the audience).

The text was modified to update a link from http://www.webjunction.org/home to http://www.webjunction.org/ on November 13th, 2012.