March 17, 2018

National Library of Sweden: “No Deal with OCLC” on WorldCat Participation [UPDATED]

[Updated 12/23 with OCLC’s response, below.]

The National Library of Sweden ended five years of negotiations with OCLC without an agreement regarding participation in WorldCat, citing issues surrounding OCLC record use policy, according to a press release posted today on the National Library’s website.

The release, entitled “No deal with OCLC,” states that negotiations centered on conditions for uploading the Swedish union catalogue Libris database into WorldCat, and “the question of license/ownership for copying bibliographic records from WorldCat for use in Libris.”

The release says that OCLC’s “conditions for how bibliographic records taken from WorldCat for cataloguing were to be used in Libris…could not be accepted by the National Library.”:

A fundamental condition for the entire Libris collaboration is voluntary participation. Libraries that catalogue in Libris can take out all their bibliographic records and incorporate them instead into another system, or use them in anyway the library finds suitable…. Bibliographic records exported from WorldCat cannot be used and further exported in just any way, according to the OCLC agreement…. [A] library that took a bibliographic record from WorldCat for cataloguing in Libris and transferred it to its own system would have to accept OCLC’s terms of use….A library that wished to leave Libris would not obviously be able to do this, since it is not self-evident that the bibliographic records could be integrated to other systems.

Such conditions are “[n]ot consistent with Libris principles,” the release says. The National Library also expressed concern about being unable to deliver bibliographic data to the European digital library project Europeana, as “Europeana aims at only obtaining data that can be made available under open license.” (Europeana program director Jill Cousins, during the Digital Public Library of America plenary meeting in Washington, DC, in October, stressed the need for open data and open licensing in digital libraries.)

The National Library and OCLC have been negotiating since 2006. They have had a continually extended “test contract” since 2007, with the National Library paying a monthly fee to OCLC since 2009, according to the release.

The current OCLC record use policy went into effect on August 1, 2010, following a year and a half of proposals, withdrawals, and revisions, which included engagement with the library community.

OCLC’s restrictions on record use have long been a point of contention. In an unrelated, ongoing antitrust lawsuit filed in July 2010 against OCLC by SkyRiver Technology Solutions and Innovative Interfaces, the plaintiffs singled out OCLC’s prohibition on members sharing bibliographic data for criticism. SkyRiver, OCLC’s competitor in bibliographic services, “imposes no restrictions on subsequent use of bibliographic metadata that its customers obtain from the SkyRiver database,” according to SkyRiver’s online FAQ.

OCLC did not immediately respond to LJ‘s request for comment.

[Update 12/23:] LJ received the following statement from OCLC today, by Jim Michalko, VP of the OCLC Research Library Partnership:

“OCLC is in discussions with the National Library of Sweden about the Library’s recent post to its website. We believe that the National Library and the Libris union catalog it supports can be made visible in WorldCat in a way that meets the library’s expectations and is consistent with the norms of the OCLC cooperative. We were disappointed that they chose to end the talks.

“While we look for other ways to work with Swedish libraries in the future, it’s important to correct the Library’s characterization of OCLC’s position regarding data contribution to the Europeana project. When we were asked by the National Library of Sweden about their participation in Europeana, we conveyed our interpretation of the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities (WCRR) guidelines that the ‘public domain dedication license’ required by all participants of Europeana would be inconsistent with the community norms identified in the guidelines. We explained our reasons for this interpretation in an earlier post to the Open Knowledge Foundation blog. In our discussions with the National Library and Europeana we characterized these guidelines, which were written and ratified by the members of the OCLC cooperative as a code of good practices. It is a discretionary guideline and ultimately the library’s decision to release WorldCat derived records to another institution. In that same blog post we suggest a licensing approach that would be consistent with the WCRR. This approach was discussed with both Europeana and the National Library of Sweden as the basis for moving forward. OCLC has since used this licensing approach in our releases of data (FAST, OhioLINK). We are working to make this a standard recommendation to OCLC members in managing their own catalog data.”

David Rapp About David Rapp

David Rapp ( was formerly Associate Editor, LJ.