“the proposed policy is legally murky…”

There’s a quotation that I like that we bat around in activist circles a lot “Never doubt that a small, group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” attributed to Margaret Mead. I like to apply this to some of my library struggles, saying that if I don’t point out things that I think are going wrong, who will? And that if I do make noise about things, maybe they will change. We’ve seen an example of this playing out over the past year with OCLCs new proposed policy and the pushback it received — starting small but gaining momentum — to the point where the general push of the old-new policy (OCLC retaining restrictive rights to records created by others) is off the table according to this post on LibraryThing. Good. Nice job team.

I have less of an opinion on OCLC entering the OPAC market because none of my libraries can afford them, still. I do believe that more sharing is a good thing, data monopolies are a bad thing, and murky policies that consolidate power anywhere other than “with the people” isn’t really solving a problem for libraries in general.

It’s time now for the library world to step back and consider what, if anything, they want to do about restricting library data in a fast-moving, digital world. Some, including some who’ve deplored OCLC’s process and the policy, want restrictions on how library data is distributed and used. Once monopoly and rapid, coerced adoption are off the table, that’s a debate worth having, and one with arguments on both sides.

why you can’t google a library book

The Guardian has a long article about what the mechanisms are that keep local library catalogs form being effectively spidered and Googleable. They dip into the complicated area that is policies around record-sharing and talk about OCLCs changed policy concerning WorldCat data. This policy, if you’ve been keeping close track, was slated to be effective in February and, thanks in no small part to the groundswell of opposition, is currently being delayed until at least third quarter 2009.

What is up with OCLC?

This all started with a little wink-wink posting about OCLC from Tim over at LibraryThing which was the first I’d heard about OCLC’s policy changes. As someone who doesn’t interact with OCLC or their data too much, I didn’t really understand this and had to wait for some clarification posts to understand both what was going on and how it affected people and projects like LibraryThing and Open Library. The upshot as I understand it is that OCLC is basically saying “Sure you can share your records, but not with people or organizations who materially compete with us” That’s my summary anyhow. Here’s the non-legalese policy on the OCLC site. Here’s the more legalese version. Here’s a wiki version of the changes between the “old” new policy and the new policy. Isn’t technology grand? Karen Calhoun a VP over at OCLC has written a defense of the new policy on her own blog; there is some lively discussion happening in the comments. There is also this podcast of Roy Tennant and Karen Calhoun talking with Richard Wallis from Talis (whose business model is also potentially affected by this policy change) about the ramifications of this change.

So, the policy OCLC has put up has been revised somewhat, doesn’t go into effect until February, and gives people a lot of time to think about what if anything they want to do about this. Tim Spalding has a business model that is compromised by OCLCs refusal to let their members share these records. The Open Library project is also possible compromised and Aaron Swartz has written two posts about the policy change: Stealing Your Library: The OCLC Powergrab and OCLC On The Run. He also directs people to the Stop OCLC Petition if you’d like to sign on to ask OCLC to repeal these changes. More community discussion taking place at MetaFilter, Inside Higher Ed, and Slashdot and code4lib is maintaining a wiki with links to more commentary. I’m still catching up on the back and forth and may write more later, but it’s interesting to watch this unfold.

why I’d try an API

A few neat announcements in libraryland concerning data or connectors being made more open and available. These two examples may not seem as linked as they are.

  • LibraryThing releases (sort of) (almost) a million book covers, free for your use, under most circumstances. You can also cache the covers locally as long as you don’t do it in such a way that you support LT competitors. While I understand why this isn’t linked with the Open Library project, I’d love to see it get there in the future sometime. update: John Miedema reminds me in the comments that I’d meant to also link to the openbook WordPress plugin for people using WordPress.
  • WorldCat released their search API over the weekend. As with many OCLC things, this is great news for their member libraries and not that great for anyone else, but it’s a real step towards letting (their) people get at their data, not just their web pages. You can get some details, in slightly dense format, on this page.

open shelves classification – a project in search of a leader

I’ve always thought that one of the troubles with librarianship was that there are always more great ideas and projects than anyone has time for or can get funding for. As a result we outsource projects to the people who have time and money and thus lose control over the end product. I have no idea if Library Thing’s open source Open Shelves Classification Project is going to wind up looking like a library product or a vendor product, but I’m curious to find out. As Tim Spalding says “You won’t be paid anything, but, hey, there’s probably a paper or two in it, right?” I haven’t seen much chatter, blog or otherwise, about this just yet but I’ll be keeping my eyes open. Whether or not this project it ultimately successful, I think it’s an interesting grass rootsy way of looking at ideas of authority and rejecting the top down let-us-have-you-contribute-and-then-sell-it-back-to-you models we’ve been working under.

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?

re: transparency

Just a “how to do it” note at the recent departure of Chris from LibraryThing. Chris posts to his blog, a little unhappy. Tim posts to the LT blog, quite professional. Space is available at LibraryThing for leaving messages about it all. Chris, you put in a lot of hard work and your dedication and skills will be missed. Tim, way to be a classy guy about it. This is a great example of how you don’t need to send out dorky “we are really looking forward to these new opportunities” press releases when something bad happens. I welcome this aspect of transparency that comes along with our new 2.0-ish world.

confessions of a bookplate junkie

Hi. I’m in the Los Feliz branch of Los Angeles Public library where the air conditioning is brisk and the wifi is fast and free. Abby has an amusing wrap-up of her impressions of the WLA conference as well as some thoughts about Library Thing. It’s fun to hang out with other moderator/administrators of library-ish social-ish sites (LibraryThing for her and MetaFilter for me). A lot of the issues we deal with concerning identity, authority and content filtering as well as the sheer volume of the bits and bytes we move around mean that even though our sites are very different, some of the cat-herding aspects of being an overseer of a social software network are very similar.

Speaking of MetaFilter, here’s a fun link from there today: Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie.

an exercise in authority control

I got my LibraryThing Author designation (like another librarian I know) and along the way, became an interesting exercise in authority control.

thing blog thing blog

Library Thing takes on the tags vs. subject headings debate in their new thing-ology blog, a complement to their other blog.