SkyRiver - a(nother) Bibliographic Utility

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North America is gaining its third ((or fourth? Does Open Library count as a bibliographic utility?)) major bibliographic record utility server this month with the unveiling of SkyRiver. [caption id="attachment_1310" align="alignright" width="300" caption="SkyRiver Technology\'s Pre-launch Homepage"]SkyRiver Technology's Pre-launch Homepage[/caption] The website is sparse at the moment -- it says: "We're Skyriver, the new bibliographic utility in town. If you even know what this means and want to learn more, contact us at" -- but Marshall Breeding has an in-depth exploration of the new company in a Library Journal article. Whereas OCLC has broadened its focus recently with the acquisition of ancillary companies and development of new services (which is to say nothing about he controversy surrounding its record use policy), SkyRiver is positioning itself as a pure, fully-featured bibliographic utility. According to Breeding, SkyRiver subscribers can use bibliographic records from its service without restriction including, presumably, giving them away to non-subscribers. SkyRiver says it is also placing an emphasis on the quality, not quantity, of records. The article says it will launch in January next year with 20 million records from the Library of Congress and the British library.

SkyRiver was founded by Jerry Kline, one of the principles behind Innovative Interfaces, Inc, and its president is Leslie Straus, former vice president for worldwide sales and marketing until 2006. The Library Journal article indicates that Kline is providing the financial backing of the effort, and that it shares office space and administrative support with Innovative Interfaces. No word yet about who the development partners are (although the article says that at least one is an ARL library) or what the subscription pricing will be. The SkyRiver website, though, does encourage people to come back to for the formal launch on Friday, October 9th.

For the record, the other major North American bibliographic utilities that I'm aware of are OCLC and LibLime's ‡, with the footnote talking about the possibility of the Open Library as a bibliographic utility. As with ‡, I think it is useful to think about the introduction of SkyRiver to the bibliographic utility universe in the framework of Clayton Christensen's theory of disruptive innovations. And in that framework, I'm not sure these efforts will work -- while SkyRiver and ‡ are arguably quicker and more nimble than their OCLC counterpart -- there isn't much in the service offering that are not sustaining innovations in the field. Sure, the pricing model and the record re-use policies might be different, but the existence of SkyRiver and ‡ may just force OCLC to move in these directions as well. After that, there are no distinguishing factors. Clearly, this is going to need more thought...

The text was modified to update a link from to on February 11th, 2011.