Open Library Data and OCLC

OCLC has announced that it is moving forward with a strategy to provide most if not all of the services that current integrated library systems provide (i.e. circulation, acquisitions, license management, etc.). I won’t go into the details (you can read them yourself), but for a little more information beyond the official announcement, see Andrew Pace’s blog as well as Marshall Breeding’s.

As Marshall Breeding relates in his blog post, some will view this announcement with great applause, and others will be worried that OCLC may be moving into such a leveraged position within the library community that they will wield too much power and control. I happen to feel a bit of both; the timing is right for providing our traditional ILS functions as “Software as a Service” (SaaS) – this in essence is what OCLC is meaning when they talk about providing library management functions at the network level. OCLC and others should be moving in this direction, and it is to OCLC’s credit that they are indeed doing so. I will be interested to see how the current players in the ILS arena respond to OCLC’s intentions.

While I have many thoughts about the actual services OCLC proposes, the approach they are taking, and other bits related to technology (pun fully intended), I believe it is critical to come back to the issues surrounding OCLC’s proposed changes to its record use and transfer policy. There has already been much discussion and concern around the proposed changes; OCLC has slowed done the process of implementing what it originally proposed, and has now formed a review board to gather feedback as part of the process. My concern here is that this latest OCLC strategic announcement adds some very important context to how the proposed record use and transfer policy changes could affect the library community, and that a great deal of feedback has been provided to OCLC prior to this news. The prohibition in the latest record use policy on “commercial” transfer is broad and ill-defined; now that OCLC is extending its range of services into library management functions, the current records use / transfer policy could prohibit others from providing ILS functions that directly compete with OCLC’s offerings. If another company wants to provide network-level ILS functions, this could be interpreted as a commercial use of WorldCat records as per the new policy, as in essence a library would need to transfer their catalog records to that company’s network-level ILS services.

I am all for OCLC providing network-level services that support libraries, but I don’t believe it is in the library community’s best interests to relinquish control of our data to OCLC or any other single institution. We cannot afford an environment where our future is defined or controlled by a single entity. We need a robust technology ecosystem. To ensure a balanced playing field, we as a community need to not let OCLC dictate the policies of use of our catalog records; we need to let OCLC know that we believe it is our best interests for these records to be openly accessible and usable by all. And if OCLC decides to pursue a policy that does not reflect the wishes of the library community, then the library community should pursue appropriate legal actions if necessary to protect our interests and our data. While OCLC has been and continues to be a great steward of our records, these are not OCLC’s records, these are our records.

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