November 14, 2008

OCLC Powergrab?

I have not been following this, but apparently OCLC has issued proposed new policy guidelines that would allow it to claim ownership of its catalog records, with serious consequences for libraries and other organizations that use information about books. Aaron Swartz (of Open Library) puts it in context on his blog in a post from yesterday.

I have a feeling many people reading this know more about it than I do. Please comment and link to bring me and readers up to speed. This seems like an important development.

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3 Comments »

  1. To help with that understanding I have recorded a podcast with OCLC’s Karen Calhoun & Roy Tennant to discuss the new policy. It is published on the Panlibus blog.

    It makes an interesting complement and contrast to some of the other coverage. How many minds it will change I couldn’t guess at.

    Comment by Richard Wallis — November 14, 2008 @ 3:28 pm

  2. Thanks, Richard. That’s helpful.

    Comment by Rory Litwin — November 14, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

  3. This move was predicted, somewhat, by Jeffrey Beall in his essay “OCLC: A Review”, published in RADICAL CATALOGING: ESSAYS AT THE FRONT (2008) ed. by K.R. Roberto. The impression I get of OCLC reading Beall is that they are rather like the Microsoft of the Library world, buying up all the competition, trying to make everyone in Libraryland use their brand at inflated prices (like any good monopoly). Judging by AUTOCAT traffic trying to make sense of, and come to terms with the new policy direction, it seems to me this is an attempt by OCLC to get around issues of ownership and copyright (which clearly come down on the side of the original catalogers who did the grunt work to create the records) by means of the legal tool of licensing. It is an apparent act of bibliographic “eminent domain”. A property grab, in layman’s terms. Beall’s essay asserts OCLC is not the cuddly non-profit library collective it purports itself to be, but is rather (in Beall’s words) an “information sweatshop” using heavily exploited contract labor, very little by way of quality control, etc, and an emphasis on hiring MBAs rather than MLSes.
    In other quarters I’ve heard that this move could potentially compel member libraries to block Z39.50 queries from (often poorer) nonmember libraries, which totally goes against the spirit of library cooperation. Beall argues that sharing of raw bibliographic data between libraries should be no different or unusual than ILL transactions that really are none of OCLC’s business (double entendre very much intended). The “non-profit” status of OCLC shouldn’t fool anyone. They still care about cash flow and are eager to engage in commodification of information like any other for-profit entity.

    Of course the fact that they also employ Karen Calhoun (of the infamous “Calhoun Report”, ripped to shreds by LC Reference Librarian Thomas Mann; reading that review of his is sheer glee for a cataloger like me) and Roy Tennant should have been a tip off to me that OCLC works for the “Dark side”. I didn’t know just how dark until I read Beall’s polemic.

    I’ve not yet read Calhoun and Tennant’s spin on it that you link to above but i’ll check it out. If I were a more experienced cataloger I would almost say OCLC’s actions are worthy of censure from SRRT or PLG, but I don’t have the cataloging chops* to write a concise, correct rebuke. I’m still getting a handle on the issue myself.

    (*for example, my basic understanding of RDA [as it now stands] from AUTOCAT traffic by far wiser heads than mine tells me that RDA = unusable, unmitigated clusterf*ck, but I can’t yet reproduce their concise critiques or contribute much to them).

    Comment by JJR — December 5, 2008 @ 9:01 am

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