Thursday, November 13, 2008

On Open Meta-Data & Catalogs: Open Library vs. OCLC

The notion of open source content and data is a no-brainer for me. As far as I'm concerned, public institutions should make their work available to all - such is the mission of most archives and libraries anyhow. Thus, I was happy to learn about The Open Library, which seeks to combine official meta-data (e.g. MARC records) with user-contributed content (seemingly inspired by wiki software, but not as flexible). I'm pleased to see that they're working with the Berkeley iSchool too; three cheers for applied research. I'm proud to note that the Open Library is supported by the Open Content Alliance.

Contrast all of those positive developments to the closed nature of what the OCLC is doing. Essentially, the OCLC (a "non profit" organization based in Ohio, USA) provides much of the machine readable data that powers the world's library catalogues. So good, so far. However, the organization has recently revised its policies to limit the re-use of catalogue records in other non-OCLC contexts. The fantastic website, LibraryThing (very useful! I encourage everybody to have a look at this service), has a line by line comparison showing OCLC's policy changes. The changes have been amusing summarized as: This appears to be an engineered, legal virus for our bibliographic ecosystems.

As I understand it, this policy change lets OCLC claim that all data submitted to it is the property of OCLC rather than the property of the original submitting library. Not good! I gather that the organization has changed the policy a bit this month, but the biblioblogosphere is still not pleased.

1 comment:

Russell James, CA said...

This is a little scary. So we as information professionals argue for openness in providing information, but if you contribute your own info (which you contributed with blood, sweat, and tears), it now belongs to them and the library who did the work cannot use it or give it to someone else? That sounds really fishy.