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Towards a Discovery System for Harvested Open Bibliographic Records March 7, 2010

Posted by michaelpawlus in Uncategorized.
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Recently, there was a good thread that appeared on the NGC4LIB mailing list.  It started by referencing the impasse between Michigan State University and OCLC over the cost of uploading records to OCLC even after cancelling other services with them.  MSU decided to go with SkyRiver in an effort to save costs and expected to pay $0.23 for each record they would upload to OCLC but then that price disappeared from their website and they were quoted a price of $2.85 a record which would effectively eliminate all their savings.

It got the posters on the thread to start thinking if now was the time to start looking at ways to get bibliographic records shared via an open source discovery system which could harvest records dumped onto OAI-PMH servers.  It is interesting that OCLC, who have done so much for the library community, should take this very business-like tactic to ward of competitors and try to maintain its monopoly.  It is especially strange to hear of drastic rate hikes like this from a non-profit.

I think one of the issues is that OCLC has there hand in so many projects right now and that might mean that they lose out on specialising really well in any one in particular.  The SkyRiver incident does bring up an interesting issue about who owns bibliographic records.  It also brings up an interesting issue about who is best suited to handle the sharing of bibliographic records in an environement with standards that are constantly being changed, modified, and superceded.  It appears that OCLC still relies heavily on Z39.50 for record sharing when it would be much more beneficial to use MARCXML so that the sharing process can be further autmoated and handled largely by a library’s ILS.

One of the last significant points from the thread had to deal with libraries feelings toward OCLC.  It seems that libraries are cautious to do anything that may upset OCLC and MSU are proving good examples of possible reprcussions for those that do.  However, whilst OCLC is meant to be a library’s friend one poster made the excellent comment that when your relationship with your friend is one predicated on fear something is seriously wrong.

I think OCLC offers great service for the library sector but like any business they could benefit from some competition.  Clearly, having a system that allows for the free sharing of bibliographic information would be beneficial for the library community.  If it provides a better service than that offered by OCLC than I think that is one of the issues that an organisation runs into when it tries to do too many things.  However, it seems it will be difficult to even move towards any other type of system when any move invokes such high levels of retribution from OCLC.  In a time, when all libraries are stuggling it seems really inapproriate that OCLC would take a price-gouging approach as a way to try and ward of competitors.  In the current economic climate, all libraries are trying to make their budget stretch as far as possible and OCLC ought to focus on making better services when they are threatened by a competitor rather than engaging in tactics that hurt libraries and hurt the ability to access and share knowlsedge.

Postscript:  Apparently, Open Knowledge Foundation has started a working group on open bibliographic data.  So, hopefully this can provide us with some steps for moving forward.