February 17, 2018

As ‡biblios.net Emerges, a New Opportunity for Catalogers (and Competition with OCLC)?

As OCLC and its central role in the library cataloging world has become a subject of much discussion, LibLime has brought an open source approach to cataloging, debuting ‡biblios, an open-source, web-based metadata tool for libraries and ‡biblios.net, a hosted version of ‡biblios with social cataloging features such as forums, private messaging, and chat.

After beta testing since November, with 200 testers, it was unveiled just before the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. More than 1000 people have signed up in a week. A presentation Monday by LibLime CEO Joshua Ferraro drew a curious audience.

OpenLibrary records

The ‡biblios.net record database is licensed under the Open Data Commons license, with some 35 million records, most from OpenLibrary, which aims to build one web page for every book ever published and has drawn on major universities and the Boston Public Library. Ferraro acknowledged to LJ that OCLC’s WorldCat has some 135 million records, “though I suspect a lot are foreign materials.”

Users of LibLime’s product, he suggested, “have a lot to gain, because of social cataloging built in.” Also, the opportunity for all users to have publishing rights makes the process of maintaining the database much simpler, he said, calling it a “Wikipedia approach to maintenance.” (OCLC is testing a Wikipedia approach, too.)

Ferraro said ‡biblios.net grew out of an idea he had “when I came to libraries in 1999, that libraries should have a free repository of metadata—it really just meshes with the whole philosophy of libraries, access to open ideas and information. It doesn’t make sense that we’re freely making materials available, but the stuff we’re creating ourselves is not available freely.” 

Conflict with OCLC?

Does LibLime face legal constraints? “There are records that were donated by libraries to the OpenLibrary project that are also in OCLC. Those records were uploaded to the Internet Archive in MARC format, forever placing them into the public domain according to U.S. law,” Ferraro said.

Jonathan Rochkind, a systems librarian at Johns Hopkins University, recently praised ‡biblios.net as having the “sorts of features we need to take our cataloging infrastructure into the 21st century,” given its open access principles. 

Noting that the service “clearly provides some of the same functionality as OCLC WorldCat,” he suggested the target market is lower-budget customers with smaller collections than OCLC members. “If I were an administrator with control over a library’s cataloging practices (which I am not), I would not be looking to leave OCLC,” he observed, citing metadata, access to interlibrary loan infrastructure, and the opportunity to be in worldcat.org for discoverability. But he suggested that using ‡biblios.net in concert with OCLC might be useful, involving a “re-thinking what our standards are for cataloging records.”

Business models

Ferraro was more circumspect, telling LJ “that it remains to be seen which segment of the library industry will latch on to this idea.” But he suggested that OCLC’s didn’t understand its business model. “They’re not in the business of providing data, they’re in business of providing services.”

Asked the relationship with LibLime’s open source Koha system, Ferraro said that both are services the company offers, and that Koha is currently the only integrated library system (ILS) that supports this API.

He noted that representatives of ExLibris said they were interested in having customers add plug-ins or perhaps adding it to the company’s systems.