Thursday, April 08, 2010

WorldCat rights and responsibilites for the OCLC Cooperative: comments

OCLC has released a next draft of their WorldCat rights and responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative. Following are my comments.

First, kudos to OCLC for a more transparent process and providing the opportunity to comment. That said, while this draft is an improvement over the first one, it is nevertheless going in the wrong direction altogether. Library bibliographic records belong in the public domain.

Most elements of a library bibliographic record are simply facts. Since I am an author, for example, WorldCat contains my name, the title of my works, as well as publication details - the name of my publisher, date, and place of publication. OCLC does not own my name, or the titles of my works, and it is not appropriate to brand bibliographic records for my works with either OCLC or WorldCat.

WorldCat also contains subject headings for my work. This is the creative work of librarians; however, if attribution makes sense, it is the cataloguer who should sign the work, not WorldCat.

What I have described above is the relatively simple situation of straightforward library catalogue records. The situation becomes much more complex as libraries, and WorldCat, increasingly add other resources. For example, when records from the local institutional repository are added, they will often include metadata that is contributed by the author, and an abstract. Again, if attribution is important, then what should happen is that the person who contributed this work should be cited - not OCLC.

For example, at times I have, as an E-LIS editor, served as an editor for an entire conference, adding in all of the metadata, and not infrequently reading the works and writing abstracts when these were not supplied. I have also occasionally translated abstracts into english from other languages. This is substantive work - much more substantive work than the automated technical gathering of metadata involved in WorldCat. If it makes no sense to attribute my contributions (and I agree that it does not), then how could it make sense to credit WorldCat for relatively trivial sharing of my work?

This is a very important point. Libraries and library associations are very appropriately involved as experts in evolving public policy consultations. We need to be able to effectively advocate for the concept that those who gather and redistribute content gain no intellectual property rights, moral or otherwise, in the process. This is a part of the key battles taking place right now for public space in the realm of knowledge; what is potentially at stake is the whole of the public domain in electronic form. We should take care that do not ourselves develop policies that could be used as examples, to work against the interests of libraries and the public.

Finally, this policy appears to me to suggest that WorldCat is a global resource. From where I sit, a few minutes north of the border, it is not. OCLC is largely a U.S. organization, albeit with important partnerships outside the U.S. Have a look at the Record Use Policy Council membership to see what I mean. Of the 12 members on the Council, 10 are based in the U.S.A. This would be a representative international council only if about 90% of the world's population was based in the U.S.

In many parts of the world, libraries are few and far between, and they have little money. (This is true of many parts of the U.S., too). A library with little money could go a long way with free access to bibliographic materials for freely accessible materials. Many of the records in WorldCat were created by national libraries or public universities, with a mandate to serve the public good. It is a disservice to unnecessarily restrict these records. When the material is freely available, it is a disservice to the authors and those who make the works freely available to restrict access to the bibliographic records.

I question this statement: "As a union of union catalogs, WorldCat enables routing of requests on behalf of not just OCLC member libraries, but any organizations (e.g., Google) or end users who want to interact with participating WorldCat libraries." What does this mean? Can I, as a member of the public, or of any organization Google a book held by an OCLC library and have it sent directly to me? I suspect this is not what is meant, but that is how this statement reads to me.

In summary: my recommendation to the OCLC Record Use Policy Council is to scrap this draft policy, and start fresh with a vision of what a worldwide library catalogue should look like in a world with an internet that is as open as it possibly can be. From my perspective, this means library records that are freely and openly available for use and re-use, as part of a robust and growing public domain. If this is inconsistent with OCLC's current business model - then it is timely for OCLC for rethink their business model.