November 23, 2017

OCLC Updating Records Use Guidelines; Confusion Over Effective Date

By Josh Hadro

  • After 21 years, OCLC updating records use guidelines
  • Concerns emerge about shrink-wrap licensing
  • No such license, effective date to be 90 days after announcement

Quietly, OCLC has been preparing to update its “Guidelines for the Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records,” easing noncommercial use of those records, set for release on Sunday, November 2. However, as concerns about the update emerged on cataloging listservs and blogs, OCLC announced that, while the policy would be released, its effective date would be postponed.

According to Karen Calhoun, OCLC’s VP of WorldCat and Metadata Services, “[t]he updated policy is scheduled to become effective about 90 days after next week’s announcement, to give OCLC member libraries and other organizations time to implement any changes resulting from the update. Until the effective date, the existing ‘Guidelines for the Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records’ will remain in force.”

Controversy emerges
Outcry from certain sectors of the cataloging world initially arose after a message was shared on the AUTOCAT electronic mailing list, claiming that the effective date of the revised guidelines for records use would be concurrent with the release of the guidelines themselves. 

The main sentence causing the initial uproar, which is no longer accurate, said that “access and use of OCLC online systems by any institution after November 2nd will be taken as acceptance of the new policy.” This was denounced as an unfair example of what is known as shrink-wrap licensing or contracting, where consent is required before a user is given the chance to review the terms of agreement.

Calhoun quickly responded, issuing a statement in which she said the clause in question had been revised and removed. In fact, as she told LJ, the sentence had been addressed and removed even prior to the discussion thread, in response to concerns brought up at the OCLC Members Council that met October 19-21.

Change needed, whether welcome or not
Calhoun added that she regretted the way in which many people were learning about the updated guidelines, and that she anticipated it would be “generally welcomed by the OCLC membership, as it opens WorldCat records to new, noncommercial uses by members and non-member libraries alike.”

Whether it will be welcomed by all members of the cataloging community remains to be seen, but a revision of some sort to the existing guidelines was widely seen as necessary. The original version appeared on November 16, 1987, and uses what Calhoun calls “charmingly antique language,” outmoded wording reflective of a cataloging era that hasn’t existed for more than two decades. 

Perhaps more importantly, the language of the original guidelines is relatively dense and inaccessible, and proves difficult to interpret in light of records usage online today and the growing accessibility to the data held within online catalogs.