How WorldCat solves some problems and creates others

Tim has a post on the Thingology blog about OCLCs new announcement that they are creating something they call WorldCat Local, further blurring the boundaries between book data and end users services using that data.

There are a lot of good things about this. And—lest my revised logo be misunderstood—there are no bad people here. On the contrary, OCLC is full of wonderful people—people who’ve dedicated their lives to some of the highest ideals we can aspire. But the institution is dependent on a model that, with all the possibilities for sharing available today, must work against these ideals.

Keeping their data hidden, restricted and off the “live” web has hurt libraries more than we can ever know. Fifteen years ago, libraries were where you found out about books. One would have expected that to continue on the web–that searching for a book would turn up libraries alongside bookstores, authors and publishers.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Libraries are all-but-invisible on the web. Search for the “Da Vinci Code” and you won’t get the Library of Congress–the greatest collection of books and book data ever assembled–not even if you click through a hundred pages. You do get WorldCat, but only if you go sixteen pages in!

Meanwhile WorldCat still tells me that I have to drive 21 miles — to a library I don’t even have borrowing privileges at (Dartmouth) — to get a copy of the Da Vinci Code when I know that I can get a copy less than half a mile down the street, and another copy eight miles away, and another copy if I go another two miles, and then another copy eight miles beyond that. I can get maybe eleven copies of the Da Vinco Code before I hit a WorldCat library.

There may be a future world where teeny libraries like the ones in my area and other rural areas become part of this great giant catalog that is supposedly so beneficial to library users everywhere, but for now they can’t afford it. And every press release that says that this sort of thing helps everyone is like another tiny paper cut added to the big chasm that is the digital divide out here. How is this problem getting solved? Who is trying to solve it?

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