WorldCat’s meme requests

The funny thing about memes is you can’t force them. I mentioned this particular issue on Twitter a little bit ago but I find WorldCat’s Meme Request [update: link suddenly broken, see comments for text. another update: the post is now back. Huh.] post to be a little sketchy-seeming.

Maybe this is because of my particular perspective of not feeling that I get a lot of value for me or my library from WorldCat. Here’s the thing with this request. If this is a legitimate and okay use of Wikipedia — to add links to WC identities to applicable pages — Wikipedia has an open API, just go build a bot and do it, on the level. If it’s not okay, and my reading of the Wikipedia guidelines seems to indicate that it may not be, trying to end-run this by faking a grassroots movement seems to not be in the best interests of either Wikipedia or WorldCat. I don’t think WorldCat is trying to be shifty or sneaky here, I just don’t think their approach is as helpful as they may think it would be.

Also, let me state for the record, that I think the WorldCat identities project is really smoking hot. However there is still a huge difference between “all libraries” and “OCLC member libraries” and I’ll continue to raise these polite objections to the willful blurring of the line between the two until the point at which WorldCat can direct me to the actual nearest copy of Jane Eyre to my house.

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.

OCLC – “from awareness to funding…”

Dear OCLC,

I’m sure you do this for some very important reason, but spending $16 to express mail me a copy of a report that I didn’t ask for (though it does look quite interesting) seems wasteful. I go to the post office once a week and all express mail does is makes my postmistress agitated. While WorldCat is closer to being useful for me — showing one copy of Jane Eyre shown that is actually in my state before the ones one state over; the closest copy actually being about a quarter mile from here — I’d love it if you could apply this money to some sort of teeny-library scholarship fund so that we could benefit from WorldCat in Vermont instead of just hearing about how we can raise more money to pay you with.

Thanks.
Jessamyn

watch worldcat grow

I’ve been watching WorldCat grow, but I’m a little confused. When I fist looked, the “title” I saw was Americana, cinema and dramatic arts, cookbooks, erotica, fine, decorative and graphic arts, illustrated books, literary first editions, metaphysics and the occult, science fiction, juvenalia, investment rarities. Now it just says List #2. These are not book titles. What am I watching?

speaking of Worldcat

Slow reading points me to the Not in WorldCat blog, showcasing weird funky and obscure books that you can’t find in one of the many libraries Worldcat covers.

Worldcat.org is the public face of the largest combined (or “union”) library catalog in the world. Library folks usually refer to it as OCLC (Online Computer Library Center). Currently OCLC/WorldCat catalogs over 1 billion items from over 60,000 libraries around the world. This blog is not affiliated with OCLC/Worldcat in any way. It’s just an outlet for one bookseller/librarian (me) to feature unusual, rare and interesting items that exist outside of WorldCat’s vast reach.

Open Library, really open. Aaron Swartz discusses.

David Weinberger blogs about Aaron Swartz talking at the Berkman Center about the Open Library project. Pay close attention to the Q and A and think about this in terms of the Google Books post/article from yesterday. Who is really in faveor of openness? Who talks the most about openness? Want to help? They still need programmers. And book lovers.

Q: Why won’t OCLC give you the data?
A: We’d take it in any form. We’d be willing to pay. Getting through the library bureaucracy is difficult…
A: (terry) You need to find the right person at OCLC
A: We’ve talked with them at a high level and they won’t give us any information. Too bad since they’re a non-profit. Library records are not copyrightable. OCLC contractually binds libraries.

OCLC Top 1000 on del.icio.us

OCLC, in the quest for total brand domination, has taken their OCLC Top 1000 to del.icio.us. While I applaud their use of social tools, this fills up the feed of the toread tag (which I’ve often used to see what other people have on their reading list) with OCLC WorldCat entries. Of course this happened last month so no harm no foul, but I’ve always liked del.icio.us because it was full of humans sharing links to content, not vendors pushing links to products. [web4lib]

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?

open records and open cataloging data

Keep in mind that while it is in the best interests of librarians to access to bibliographic records be as open as possible — to facilitate record-sharing, search and retrieval of items in a library and just our collective knowledgebase generally — it is often NOT in the interests of library companies, or libraries who act like companies, to share their data such that other people or libraries can use it to do what they want with it. So goes the saga of NYPL vs ibiblio, a long and not at all complicated tale concerning their records and what is or is not copyrightable about them. Special appearance by OCLC and their revised policies about records sharing.

quirky worldcat and what it teaches us about openness & libraries

I can get frustrated reading It’s All Good when they e-roll their eyes at some of the backwards-seeming things that libraries do, or have to do, such as fines, ILL fees and card fees. I love reading all the smart stuff they talk about, and reading about the high tech world of R&D that goes along with the fancy things they produce and share. However, I think it’s very very different working in a huge non-profit-ish company (that does charge for services) than being in a small taxpayer-supported public institution that tries hard not to charge for things. We’re not just dots on a continuum where institutions like ours are striving to become institutions like theirs. Just like Amazon.com is not a bookstore, OCLC is not a library.

OCLC gives a lot back to the communities they serve, and also the communities they don’t serve. Now that Worldcat is really open to the public, albeit in beta, we don’t have to use Google haxies to check it. Worldcat is really the only thing close to a union catalog that we have in the US and it does some amazing things.

And yet, Worldcat’s greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. The fact that it seems comprehensive obscures the fact that it’s not. A search for Wuthering Heights in my area says I only have to go 21 miles to get it, to Dartmouth in the next state over. But I can’t check out books from Dartmouth. I can, however, check out books from any of the five smaller libraries that are closer to me than Dartmouth, and which probably all have Wuthering Heights on the shelf. If I went to Dartmouth, they’d either say I couldn’t get it, or try to charge me for a card, I’m not even certain. We can talk back and forth about what sort of user experience OCLC is trying to offer and people can sadly shake their heads at me when I say that we don’t have local library consortia in Vermont and so lack the purchasing clout that many other regions have. We do have NELINET which provides some great service, but again the “what does it cost” question remains murky. I’ve been meaning to ask someone at the Vermont Department of Libraries about this, but they’re a little busy with the email upgrade they did, putting everyone on an Exchange server that doesn’t work so well for those libraries on dial-up.

So, an example I was using last week, searching for a book in Washington DC will usually get you the Library of Congress as a top result. Clicking through to the record would, until recently, get you an error message and a “buy it from Amazon” button. Clicking on the “library information” link takes you to the library’s website in a Worldcat frame. They don’t even have a “remove this frame” link. Now it takes you to a page that explains “The Library of Congress serves as a source for materials not available through local, state, or regional libraries, via interlibrary loan. Consult your local library for details, or view the LC interlibrary loan policies.” So while it’s no longer broken, I’m not sure I’d consider this “fixed”.

Going down the top ten results lists gets me similar odd results

  • Ft Meyer Library – error page
  • Arlington County Dept of Library – waited for minutes while it was transferring data from www.assoc-amazon.com and then a “We’re Sorry Your Find in a Library search found no records. Please try again with new search terms or return to the referring site.” from Worldcat itself.
  • Prince George’s County Memorial Library System – no link to item, but a link to their QuestionPoint service, odd…
  • Alexandria Library – “Firefox can’t establish a connection to the server at geoweb.alexandria.lib.va.us:8000″
  • Montgomery County Dept of Public Library – link to login screen
  • Prince William Public Library – item record (hooray!)
  • Howard County Library – item record (hooray!)
  • Southern Maryland Regional Library – blank screen
  • Loudoun County Public Library – “this page cannot be displayed” error

So that’s, what a 20% success rate? And I still don’t know if I can even borrow the book. Every time I go back to the Find in a Library page, the Amazon ad is telling me I can buy the book for 60 cents. Though to be fair, when I click on the “buy from Amazon.com” I get to a page on Amazon where it tells me my shopping cart is entry. Hint to shoppers: click the book cover instead, it works.

So what do we walk away with here? That libraries are hard, and bookstores are easy? That big libraries are more worth a trip than little libraries? A larger concern of mine — consolidation of resources into big enclaves where ‘haves’ have access and ‘have nots’ are restricted geographically, technologically or simply culturally — comes into play here. When the computer tells you that you can’t get your book in town, how relevant does your library seem? When the higher-ups in your local systems don’t see the advantages of being part of larger systems, what’s the next step? What are the obligations of larger systems to be inclusive at some cost to them rather than just providing services with “attractive pricing”? Gary Price suggested “As a public service for the good of the entire library community, OCLC should offer a list of any libraries in the given area that are not available in Worldcat.org” which seems like a nice idea, but what is OCLCs responsibility towards “the public” as opposed to their responsibility towards their customers? How do we get to a place where something that is designed theoretically to benefit everyone, reallly does work for each and every one?