Open Access News

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Friday, May 15, 2009

ICOLC opposes OCLC data policy

International Coalition of Library Consortia, Statement on the Proposed OCLC Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records, May 11, 2009. (Thanks to Jeremy Dibbell.)

The “OCLC Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records” has been widely commented on since its release on November 4, 2008. Both the content of the policy and the process by which it was formulated have been challenged. ...

The member consortia endorsing this ICOLC statement add our recommendation to others in the library community calling for OCLC to withdraw the proposed policy and start anew to formulate a record use policy. Most notably we add our support to the January 30, 2009 Final Report to the ARL Board by the Ad Hoc Task Force to Review the Proposed OCLC Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records. It includes an extended review of the policy and six recommendations. We concur with the ARL report that OCLC develop a new policy based on widespread member library participation with a clear set of goals and explanations as to how the policy will achieve these goals and how member libraries will be affected operationally and legally.

We urge the OCLC Review Board to consider the issues raised in the ARL report and by others in the community. The concerns are substantial and broad and individual ICOLC member consortia will find different concerns most compelling. Underpinning these concerns are several broad issues that we ask the Review Board to consider.

  1. The proposed policy appears to freeze OCLC’s role in the library community based on historical and current relationships. We share the concern, voiced by many, that the policy hinders rather than encourages innovation, and we urge the Review Board to carefully examine this issue. ...
  2. The scope of the proposed policy goes well beyond any concerns about inappropriate commercial exploitation of WorldCat records. It applies as well to non-commercial uses. ...
  3. The proposed policy is legally murky. There is no mechanism for negotiation of terms and conditions nor is it clear what constitutes acceptance by member libraries. A new policy must address these problems. ...
See also: Tim Spalding, OCLC Policy, Good night, Thingology (LibraryThing's ideas blog), May 12, 2009.

...For a while there it looked like OCLC was going to succeed in locking down the world's library data, converting a wonderful sharing and coordination tool into an unbreakable data monopoly. But, together with OCLC's recent, revealing decision to enter the library systems market, the ICOLC statement effectively ends that possibility. OCLC isn't getting its new Policy, or anything like it. Good night, OCLC Policy. ...

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.

From my perspective, restrictions on the use and transfer of cataloging data—which is not usually copyrightable and is most frequently created by bodies responsible to the public good—is legally dubious and ethically stingy.

Instead, libraries should embrace "radical openness," a commitment to sharing what they know freely, something that looks less radical in light of the library's historic dedication to the free exchange of information. Selling other people's library records isn't a real threat, but, if it were, the answer would be more openness, not less. ... And in a world that's looking less and less friendly to the long-term success of libraries, an unwavering commitment to sharing and openness may well be libraries' saving grace. ...