To use a prison metaphor, it’s clear that librarians dropped the soap decades ago.
The bibliotek blogosphere is abuzz with chatter about how OCLC and its evil minions are trying to "steal" our libraries. (If you want to explore the issue ad nauseum, visit this site.) When I first saw that line, I wondered if OCLC was planning to pull up a big truck out front and start packing our books into it. I’m not sure I’d have minded, because some of the areas are getting pretty tight and could use a good weeding.
Instead, it seems that OCLC is planning to change its policy on the use and transfer of WorldCat records, and we know how librarians hate change. The sticking point seems to be number four: "Reasonable Use. Use must not discourage the contribution of bibliographic and holdings data to WorldCat or substantially replicate the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat" [emphasis added]. I read this and tried unsuccessfully to suppress a yawn. Some interpret this as a move to shut down projects like Open Library. That’s how Aaron Schwartz of Open Library sees it, but then again he’d have to, wouldn’t he. He’s the one who thinks that OCLC is trying to steal your library. Karen Calhoun of OCLC responded to that post, and he responded to her response. The vitriol is flying, if that’s what vitriol does. Whatever vitriol does, it’s doing it right now.
OCLC wants to claim ownership of all the catalog records in WorldCat and control their use elsewhere. Some naive librarians are horrified that OCLC isn’t more amenable to open source projects that compete with their product. OCLC just can’t understand why anyone would be upset by this, and has an apparently highly paid VP out spin-doctoring the issue. Librarians are aghast that a company started by a librarian in a tiny office in the sixties is now a big bad corporation with a huge complex and lots of money. It’s really a fun debate, and this is the most I’ve ever managed to read about cataloging without falling asleep.
I don’t like to play prognosticator, but I have a feeling I know who’s going to win this: OCLC. Why? Because OCLC is a lot smarter than you.
Think about it. OCLC charges libraries for the privilege of uploading catalog records that librarians created. Then it charges them again if they want to download any records. OCLC charges both ways and sits back in Ohio chuckling and rolling in cash. Any company that can get away with this in the first place is obviously a lot more clever than mere librarians. The natural next step is to say that it controls all the catalog records that it never created in the first place. And why not? Perhaps it’s better to have those records in control of a smart corporation instead of libraries that paid to give away their catalog records.
OCLC is just another smart corporation that shows librarians for the suckers they are. They’re sort of like the big companies that publish scholarly science journals, like, um, you know, Reed something or other. Those companies get universities to pay people to do scientific research, then they package it up and sell it back to the university libraries. They can do this because academics are suckers, too.
Let’s face it, librarians are suckers. They pay actual money to get a "master’s" degree in librarianship that they then use to find low-paying jobs in which they go out of their way to help people who often as not treat them badly. Not exactly a testament to cleverness, if you ask me. They also have a long history of selflessly providing service for little reward. Then they get upset when they’re taken advantage of by corporations run by people smarter and more ruthless than them. Of course rapacious corporations are going to take advantage of librarians. They know the librarians like it; it allows them to appear more selfless and altruistic.
As for this OCLC "power grab," what can libraries really do? Stop using OCLC records? Unsubscribe from WorldCat? Boycott OCLC altogether? Not bloody likely.
Instead, there’s a petition to sign. Next thing you know there’ll be an ALA Council resolution and OCLC will get their way for sure.
Librarians dropped the soap decades ago, and they’ve been paying the price ever since.