press release: librarians now helping people get information

"That's wrong information"

Two things to mention here

1. I finally saw Desk Set. I have no idea how I not only managed not to see it before but also how I even missed the theme which is whether computers will ever really effectively (and cost-effectively) be able to do our jobs.

2. ALA is going on right now and I’m not there. Each year there is usually some sort of “Librarians, they are really great!” press release around this time which often winds up in my various mailboxes by various sources. This year it’s this one: APNewsBreak: Librarians to help with health law. Which, hey great, librarians they’re still there doing their jobs. Good for them. The thing that is so weird about this, to me, is it’s basically implying though not outright stating that librarians will be doing this work 1. officially and 2. as part of some nationwide project. Neither is true as near as I can tell. I asked over at ALA Think Tank for people to give me an update on what was happening at ALA (at this program) which further confused me.

The only real fact we got from that article is that OCLC got an IMLS grant to create training materials to help librarians do this. Today I got this press release from Meredith (thank you!) that seems to say that OCLC got $286,000 from IMLS to create training content on WebJunction to help libraries help patrons with the new heath care law. And then, amusingly as I was driving from Massachusetts to Vermont trying to find a radio station, I heard some right wing talk show radio host who was MAD that librarians were going to have a part in the “indoctrination” by the “regime” that was doing the health care stuff. Sheesh.

In summary: librarians are still doing their jobs. OCLC/WebJunction are getting money to (maybe) help us to do them, lots of people get the wrong idea about libraries’ role in helping the people who have been digitally divided.

what does it mean to call OCLC a monopoly?

Karen Coyle has a new blog post detailing what Sky River’s specific allegations against OCLC are.

[O]ne could look on WorldCat as a shared community resource, not the property of OCLC. In fact, OCLC uses this kind of argument in its record use policy, but somehow leads to the conclusion that WorldCat should not be used to foster non-OCLC library services. It seems easy to make the opposite argument, which would be that WorldCat could be the basis for a wide range of services that would benefit libraries, even if they do not come from OCLC.

SkyRiver vs. OCLC antitrust lawsuit

“In a move that could have far-reaching implications for competition in the library software and technology services industry, SkyRiver Technology Solutions, LLC has filed suit in federal court in San Francisco against OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. The suit alleges that OCLC, a purported non-profit with a membership of 72,000 libraries worldwide, is unlawfully monopolizing the markets for cataloging services, interlibrary lending, and bibliographic data, and attempting to monopolize the market for integrated library systems, by anticompetitive and exclusionary practices. ” Karen Coyle has a great series of posts explaining what is really going on

The article quotes Karen Coyle as saying

As the representative of a major ILS company explained to me a few years ago, the library market is a zero-sum game: every time one vendor wins, others must lose, because the number of customers is not growing. The library market is a pie that can be divided into any number of slices, but the pie remains the same. This makes the rise of any one company a threat to all. In the commercial marketplace, the vendors compete over functionality and price. With its non-profit status OCLC has a distinct advantage: it doesn’t pay federal income tax on the revenues it brings in. That said, given its size and depth of its involvement in day-to-day library operations, it is plausible that even without its non-profit status OCLC would be a formidable competitor for ILS vendors.

Interesting times indeed. Follow the conversation on Twitter by looking for the skyoclc tag or read posts to the autocat mailing list that mention SkyRiver and OCLC. [via openlibrary]

Igeek open standards

From LISNews: “Geek the Library is a community-based public awareness campaign designed to highlight the vital role of public libraries for individuals and communities, and raise awareness about the critical funding issues they (we) face.” What do you think about it?

my librarian friend : i’m waiting for you to weigh in on the new OCLC thing that looks pretty but i don’t get.
me : which? OCLC is so barely relevant to me
my librarian friend : ha! http://geekthelibrary.org/
me : did you know that George from Flickr [who was doing the commons stuff] is now running Open Library?
my librarian friend : i did not know that
me : if OCLC has so much money why aren’t they giving grants or donations to smaller libraries so they can truly be a union catalog?
me : that’s how I’d like them to show their support for the library community
my librarian friend : yeah but then they couldn’t sell things to those libraries in the future, silly.
me : “Igeekopen standards”
me : wow, I did not know about this though
my librarian friend : make a badge for your site.
me : is the Igeek thing supposed to be evocative of like iPod?
me : do they know they’re doin it wrong?
my librarian friend : dunno why they decidedtoerasespaces
me : man this is annoying. Slick site, very functional and still this is where BMGF decides to put their cash?
my librarian friend : yeah, i want to like it just because a library “org” actually put out a nice site, but…
my librarian friend : plus? lou reed
me : and geek isn’t a verb, I mean I know that’s pedantic but this is totally advocacy from the outside
my librarian friend : is lou reed the only famous face?
my librarian friend : if so, odd.
me : I assume he’s someone’s friend
me : and where are, you know the ACTUAL LIBRARIES on that site
me : srsly
me : it’s all about bypassing the institutions to get at the readers/users, sort of? awareness capaign of the future libraries while ignoring the current ones?
me : I mean it’s easy to poke fun at
my librarian friend : what i don’t understand is how people declaring their interests on this site will lead to support for libraries.
me : there’s a page that tells you to call your mayor
my librarian friend : yeah
me : I see some more famous people
me : and a survery which is more data for them
my librarian friend : for the next report!
me : yep
me : it’s really graphically appealing

“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.

give OCLC some feedback?

I’ve been following the OCLC policy change stuff from the position of a vaguely interested observer. My local public libraries aren’t members and aren’t affected terribly much, but of course I think the policy changes are a step in the wrong direction, a big and bold one. From a friend’s twitter stream [which I read via LiveJournal] comes this comment which I agree with.

Wow. A research company hired by OCLC seems to be unclear on the difference between a survey and a push poll.

If you haven’t given your feedback yet, even if you’re not an OCLC member, please do.

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.

Applying for a grant….

firefox users go fuck yourselves, love OCLC & WebJunction & the Gates Foundation

So today my task at the library where I am employed as the nominal “systems” librarian (a very part time job mostly concerned with the eventual automation of the card catalog) was to decipher the procedure for using WebJunction’s TechAtlas (© Powered by OCLC) to do an inventory of our four public access computers. This inventory is mandatory for those applying for funds from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Here is how my day went.

Our library had gotten a letter from our state librarian including a letter from the TechAtlas people explaining the steps we needed to take to do this. The first step which was strongly suggested but not required was to sign up for a webinar that explained, I suppose, how to do the inventory. My boss wanted to arrange a time where she and I could both be present for the webinar. I got as far as the Wimba set-up asking me to disable my pop-up blocker (do not get me started on the 2.2 MB door card again) and then said I thought we could figure out the process (for our FOUR computers) without it.

The letter had a space where our login and password were provided for us. Unfortunately our letter only had our password and not our login. I called the help number at the bottom of the sheet and talked to a nice lady at NELINET who gave me my login (which was just the password as a techatlas.org email address). She wasn’t sure if it was supposed to be upper or lower case. When I logged in, I had to set up my profile [and choose our own login and password] which included a library name that was not ours. [Note: I fixed this problem, but our "network" still displays a library that is nowhere near us and not related to us]. This occasioned another telephone call to NELINET where they actually had to call the TechAtlas people and get back to me. I had to enter our library’s information — actually my information — on a page with no privacy policy or terms of use. Every time I update an item on my profile page, TechAtlas sends me an email. I have seven emails from them now.

I did track down the privacy policy, not because I’m worried I’ll be spammed but because I think it’s a good idea generally to read them and see what they’re about. Oddly, the privacy policy page in the TechAtlas universe ended prematurely, halfway through the word “statement.” Of course I took a screen capture, but they have since fixed this, making the privacy policy a downloadable pdf, which doesn’t seem super user friendly to me (and hey isn’t that what OCLC just did with another policy…?). Here are the Terms of Service which aren’t in a pdf. There are also the terms of use linked from this About Us page which are a LOT more legalistic. Please keep in mind that if I do not agree with any of these, I am welcome to not use the site and I can not apply for funding in this round of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funding.

So, on to the mandatory inventory. This was the first thing that greeted me, a browser incompatibility message (some language nsfw there). What this means, in a more polite fashion is that TechAtlas has some nifty IE tools that can make the inventory process a lot simpler. Firefox users need to do more of the process by hand. You know, that’s fine with me. I don’t like it, but that’s okay. However, acting like this isn’t a series of choices that were made by designers and program managers seems somehow odd. Odder still, when I went home this evening to grab some screenshots, the site now gives me a similar “Browser Incompatibility” message and yet displays that I am using a compatible browser. Apparently Firefox got compatible within the last few hours. I guess this is good news? The part they left out is that my browser is incompatible because I’m on a Mac, not because I’m using Firefox.

So we have four computers and it’s not that difficult to fill in the blanks. For each computer, there are twenty-two fields to fill out, but only five of them are mandatory. We have four identical computers so this was actually pretty simple and you can edit the entries if you get anything wrong. Oddly, one of the questions: “Opportunity Online Grant Funds?” which is asking whether you used this certain grant to get the money to buy the computers originally (a question our librarian wasn’t totally sure about, but was pretty sure) isn’t actually editable after the fact. I hope I chose correctly!

So, it didn’t take terribly long. Most of my time at work today was spent cursing at Overdrive and having to do Windows Media Player updates on computers that are locked down via Centurion guard. What I told the librarian — who is a very nice lady, and sympathetic to my muttering in a “There but for the grace of god go I” sort of way — is that this time around, if they let us, maybe we should get Macs.

OCLC kerfuffle, summarized in a way I agree with

Stefano Mazzocchi has a summary of the issues in the new OCLC policy dispute. Worth reading, mostly free of handwaving. [thanks peter]

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.