Science Addiction

A dormant blog by Devanshu Mehta

Tag: Libraries

I Can Haz Worldcats??!

icanhazworldcat

For context, read the continuing adventures of OCLC, WorldCat and the intricate scandals of the librarian community. It’s fascinating stuff– librarians fighting back against a monster of their own creation. Copyright, fair use, creative commons, an old behemoth trying to change with the times, it has all the ingredients of a magnificent geek activism tale.

Credits:
Above image is based on “Cute cat” by Per Ola Wiberg (former ponanwi and Powi) and was generated using the lolcats generator.

The Continuing Adventures of WorldCat: Conditions, not Restrictions

I won’t blame you if you haven’t been following the librarian/blogosphere coverage of the new OCLC/WorldCat use policy. Long story short: OCLC, the non-profit that controls the database of books that most libraries use and contribute to just released a new policy that makes reuse a lot more restrictive. There has already been a lot of Orwellian, corporation-like and pre-Internet thinking from the OCLC. Now for some more.

The OCLC released the newest version of the policy, but only as a PDF. Library-bloggers had already run ‘diff’s on previous HTML versions to see how each successive version changed, but now with the differently formatted (and harder to manipulate) PDF, the OCLC must be clicking their telegraphs in joy at how they foiled the new-age blogger librarians. Not so fast.

There’s already a ‘diff’ with the new version– and it gets more Orwellian. Instead of any change in actual policy, the newest version simply replaces every occurrence of the word ‘restriction’ with ‘condition’. Oh, that makes it so much better.

ALSO: the OCLC policy is nothing like Creative Commons, so I would advise them to stop making that comparison. CC does not require approval for reuse.

icanhazworldcat

UPDATE: I can haz Worldcat?!?

On Community-Based Collaboration: Lesson From the OCLC Debacle

Community-based collaboration or “Crowdsourcing” has become the buzzword in many industries- the idea that by fostering a community, you can solve many major problems through their collective wisdom without actually hiring people with… wisdom. Linux, Wikipedia, the recent Twitter Vote Report and many other projects are often cited as successful examples of this.

The nonprofit OCLC has a membership of over 69,000 libraries around the world. These libraries collaborate to create a database– WorldCat— of bibliographies that all the member libraries can use. It is a great system– or at least it was, until the recent introduction of their upcoming use policy. The two major concerns- via Terry’s Worklog– were:

  1. OCLC would require the license to be placed within the record. This takes the ownership of records away from the library and since it is only a link to the license, the license could be changed at any time without the knowledge of the linking library.
  2. WordCat data could not be used for creation of services– even non-profit– that may compete with it.

The first concern has been largely alleviated in a recent version of the OCLC FAQ, but the second one remains. Who really owns the database? Since it only applies to libraries who are members of OCLC (in contract), what prevents someone else from creating a competing service? And finally, can you really copyright a database?

There are many projects out there, like OpenLibrary, that are trying to create a truly open, non-commercial database of books that would run afoul of this clause. In reality, the problem is not in whether it will be enforced but in that this organization believes it is more than the sum of its parts. That OCLC– not its members– controls how and where the data should be used- data that was created by its members.

This is where OCLC is different from free and open source projects like Linux, Wikipedia and every Creative Commons or GPL licensed copyrighted work. There is no right to fork.

To everyone who contributes to community projects:

Always reserve the right to fork.

That is to say, you should always be able to take the marbles and go home. To fork, in open source projects, means to take all the code/data and create another project. This is made possible by the inherent “free”ness of GPL, CC, GFDL and other licenses. Many open source projects have been forked in the past because a sufficient chunk of the community didn’t like the rules they were being asked to comply with. Nobody controlled the code, so everyone controlled the code.

However, in the case of the OCLC debacle, via Annoyed Librarian:

To use a prison metaphor, it’s clear that librarians dropped the soap decades ago.

Or Stefano’s Linotype:

Basically, by using OCLC’s data you agree to protect their existence. And their monopoly (nobody else in the world does what they do, at the scale they do it). And with data that they didn’t even create.

In a time when everyone is using search engines as their first stop in finding answers, closing WorldCat further is a major step backwards. Like many other old-world companies, the OCLC is trying to remain relevant in the face of major paradigm shifts- in this regard, it is much like the Associated Press, which is losing relevance and support from member libraries (thanks Edward Vielmetti). If this was a commercial enterprise built by a million highly paid employees, it would make no difference what they did with their data. But this is a non-profit built on the backs of its members contributions.

As Princess Leia said:

The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.

Resources:

Google Books Vs. OCLC and WorldCat

Slashdot has a story about the non-profit OCLC trying to tighten its control over the database that libraries around the world use:

“The main source of the bibliographic records that are carried in library databases is a non-profit organization called OCLC. Over the weekend OCLC “leaked” its new policy that claims contractual rights in the subsequent uses of the data, uses such as downloading book information into Zotero or other bibliographic software. The policy explicitly forbids any use that would compete with OCLC. This would essentially rule out the creation of free and open databases of library content, such as the Open Library and LibraryThing. The library blogosphere is up in arms . But can our right to say: “Twain, Mark. The adventures of Tom Sawyer” be saved?”

Of course, the real story here might be the recent resurgence of Google Books as a force to be reckoned with; how they might start competing with OCLC by collaborating with libraries. From the OCLC FAQ about the new policy:

My library has been contacted by a commercial search engine company about contributing our catalog for use in the search engine’s system. Does the Policy permit the transfer of WorldCat-derived records from our catalog to the search engine company?

Since the search engine company is a commercial organization, there must be an agreement in place between OCLC and the search engine company prior to the transfer of WorldCat-derived records. OCLC can let you know if it has an agreement with the search engine company in question. Please submit a WorldCat Record Use Form to OCLC or ask the search engine company to submit a WorldCat Record Use Form to OCLC and we will reply within five business days.

UPDATE: It seems I am not the only one who had this thought. Here at the Disruptive Library Technology Jester blog there is some parsing of the new policy to reach the same conclusion. Also, here is a set of reactions from the librarian community. They’re a passionate bunch.