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.
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.
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.
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.
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.