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Running head: OCLC VS.



OCLC vs. Open Source Alternatives Jason W. Dean Syracuse University



Founded in 1967 as the Ohio College Library Center, OCLC was the world’s first highly successful version of a computerized network to share bibliographic data between libraries. Today, OCLC stands for Online Computer Library Center, reflecting its global reach and mission. According to its website, the databases of OCLC hold “173 million bibliographic records that represent more than 1 billion individual items held by participating institutions.” These records are shared by the approximately 72,000 member libraries of OCLC, spread throughout the world. Why then would a library not want to be a member of this bibliographic juggernaut? This paper provides a broad survey of the positive and negative implications of using OCLC for bibliographic data sharing, as well as examining alternatives to OCLC, and their strengths and weaknesses. As stated in the introduction, OCLC is the largest network in the world for sharing bibliographic data. As the largest network, OCLC is broadly supported by book vendors producing bibliographic records for new library acquisitions. Another benefit of the size and widespread membership in OCLC is the compatibility of OCLC’s cataloging interface, named Connexion, with a wide array of integrated library systems (ILSs). The large nature of OCLC also allows OCLC to have a large and well-trained support staff to assist libraries with difficulties associated with the use and integration of OCLC services into the library. Beyond the support team of OCLC, the large membership provides a good informal problem-solving network of libraries, meaning that there will usually be another similar library who has met with a similar problem and can help you through it if you do not want to, or cannot contact OCLC’s official support team. Finally, the large membership also helps to ensure that bibliographic records not created by a national bibliographic institution in the OCLC database are improved upon, allowing for a situation for the constant improvement of many bibliographic records. Many national libraries use OCLC for sharing their bibliographic data, including the Library of Congress. This is a very important point for many libraries governed by their respective national bibliographic institutions. For example, for libraries in the United States, membership in OCLC by the Library of Congress ensures that all of that institution’s extensive bibliographic records are included in the database. These records produced by national



bibliographic institutions ensure that typically there are records of the highest quality from which to copy catalog. Bibliographic records stored in the OCLC database are compliant with a number of metadata standards. In the metadata record format, the most commonly used format in OCLC is the MARC format, as this is a very common format for metadata worldwide, and its dominance of the records in OCLC (as well as the default display in the Connexion interface) points to the widespread acceptance of this standard worldwide. The metadata itself in these records is generated according to widely followed rules, such as the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, or AACR2. However, there are negative aspects to a library’s membership in OCLC. Many libraries cannot afford membership in OCLC, fees which can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars. These fees vary from just being able to view the records in the database, to fees for record creation and improvement. Furthermore, OCLC claims ownership of all the bibliographic records held on its servers, and requires member libraries to sign a “do not compete” agreement so that bibliographic records, even those generated solely by the library that are uploaded to a service which “substantially replicates the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat.” is a violation of the membership agreement, as the OCLC Power Grab reference highlights. Another issue many libraries have with OCLC’s tight controls on the bibliographic data it holds is that the very act of controlling access to the records, e.g., the data is not viewable or useable by everyone, for free, runs counter to one of the central purposes of libraries, as pointed out in Tim Spalding’s presentation about social cataloging. Namely, the free and efficient dissemination of information to all people. Open source alternatives to OCLC are better equipped to deal with some of the issues associated with that large consortial membership body. Initial licensing and startup fees are either lower than the same fees from OCLC, or do not exist at all. Also, the library retains all rights associated with the bibliographic records they create and as such are able to share or otherwise dispose of those records in any manner they see fit. These smaller open sourced alternatives benefit from a much more active and loyal support network than the larger OCLC support



system. This smaller and more active group can potentially lead to better innovations and improvements for the system, as well as better adapted support for issues that might arise. Overall, some of the strengths of the open source system can also be seen as weaknesses. The lack of a full-time, professional support staff means that problems generally get solved on a volunteer’s time, or if the small staff is able to address it, there might be a considerable backlog of other problems to correct. The open source services are also generally not well-supported among the major ILS’s leading to conflicts between the generation and storage of bibliographic data, and the connection of that data to the catalog, as well as circulation. Finally, though the initial costs might be low, there is a potential for skyrocketing costs associated with the implementation and maintenance of these open source alternatives. If the files are stored locally, server space must be allocated, the software itself much also be installed on the server and continually maintained to ensure optimum performance. This alone could potentially add a staff position to the library. These, though are general trends in the open source alternatives. There are three major open source bibliographic services: Open Library, Biblios, and LibraryThing, which each have their individual strengths and weaknesses. Open Library is one open source alternative available to libraries to use for the generation of bibliographic data. As pointed out by the Kniffel article, Open Library is a subsidiary project of the Internet Archive, and according to their website, Open Library aims to create “one web page for every book ever published. It's a lofty, but achievable, goal.” Due to the open source nature of the project, the staff and volunteers associated with Open Library are examining metadata formats and schema best suited for the changing nature of bibliographic data, resulting in an improved format for the presentation of that data. In addition, the records of major bibliographic institutions, such as the Library of Congress have already been added to the database. The large number of records, support from external organizations, and an eye to the future of metadata are all strengths associated with this service. However, there is no clear way for libraries to interface with these records in the database, preventing the widespread and convenient usage of Open Library for the creation storage, and editing of bibliographic data. Biblios is another open source alternative worthy of note. As the Hane article points out, Biblios is a product of the LibLime corporation, and the service has greater potential as a



replacement for the services of OCLC. According to their website, their bibliographic records can be transferred out of the database, much like OCLC, so that libraries might import these records into their own ILS. This is facilitated by Biblios’ compliance with the Z39.50 standard. There is some integration with authority files and the service uses the MARC record format. Finally, the Biblios service is free to use for both libraries, and individuals. The records are hosted externally, meaning that the library is not required to maintain a server with their bibliographic data on it, separate from their catalog. However, the bibliographic records stored in the Biblios service are not as extensive, nor as numerous as the records in OCLC. Among the three services discussed in this paper, the Biblios service has the potential to be the best, and easiest replacement of the bibliographic services that OCLC provides. LibraryThing for Libraries is the final open source alternative discussed in this paper, and brings a different array of tools and options to the world of open source bibliographic services. This service is not a complete replacement for OCLC, but simply a service providing additional services supplanting the library’s catalog from the large amount of social cataloging data held by LibraryThing. These include reviews, user generated tags, and ISBN enhancements. If a library finds the data produced by OCLC and their local catalog to be insufficient for the needs of their users, LibraryThing for Libraries might be a good solution. Overall, an open source alternative to OCLC might be best suited to a large library that could be, but chooses not to be, a member of the service. This large library (or consortium) could then, in turn, serve smaller libraries who could not afford an OCLC membership, nor the increased maintenance fees associated with a hosted database of bibliographic records. However, this set up might not be feasible in all settings and more independent situations must be examined. Perhaps the best overall solution, as well as solution for independent deployment, is Biblios as a replacement for OCLC. The service is free, and without hosting requirements on the part of the library, promises the lowest total cost for the library. However, Open Library and LibraryThing for Libraries also possess different strengths, leaving the library making the choice to use OCLC and all its services a variety of options.



References (2008). homepage. Available from Hane, P. (2009). LibTech highlights from ALA. Computers in Libraries. 29, (4), 43-45. Kniffel, L. (2008). Backed by Internet Archive, entrepreneur takes on OCLC. American Libraries. 39 (4), 27. LibraryThing. (n. d.). LibraryThing for Libraries. Available from forlibraries/ Online Computer Library Center. (2009). In the beginning [OCLC - Heritage]. Available from Online Computer Library Center. (2009). A global catalog [OCLC - WorldCat]. Available from Open Library. (2008). About us (Open Library). Available from Spalding, T. (2009). What is social cataloging? [Video presentation]. Retrieved from http:// Swartz, A. (2008, November 13). Stealing Your Library: The OCLC Powergrab Message posted to