3 thoughts on “Will OCLC move to a service-oriented business model for bibliographic data?”

  1. John,

    i wonder if you couldn’t provide some details or examples of the thoughtful arguments you’ve been hearing?


  2. Patti,

    I’ll let those who make the arguments reply into detail if they want, but generally speaking, I take seriously concerns I’ve heard some of the defenders of the proposed OCLC policy express that we need to have a serious discussion about sustainability: both sustaining covering the cost of coordinating a large, group-edited catalog that meets library requirements, and sustaining incentives to contribute to that catalog.

    Some of the things now sustaining those activities assume a pay-for-data model. So it’s reasonable to have some concerns about whether moving away from that model will keep the shared catalog sustainable. I personally don’t think this is a show-stopping concern myself; there are other possible ways one can imagine sustaining such activities, some of which I’ve alluded to above or earlier– and it’s also not clear that the current business model for WorldCat is going to continue to be sustainable indefinitely.

    But it is something we need to address, especially since it’s rather hard to go back once you’ve opened up your data and folks have grabbed it. And a useful discussion needs to move past just saying “They Just Don’t Get It” (whether that’s phrased as “stuck in the old paradigm” or as “a gap problem”).

    It’ll help if we lay some more of our cards on the table. For instamce, what *does* it actually cost to coordinate catalog sharing, and how does that cost break down? Where do libraries spend on catalog services (both their own and others’), and what prompts them put bibliographic data into WorldCat instead of waiting for someone else to do the work? What costs could be recovered by alternative means in an open-data model, and how? And, conversely, what costs might be reduced, or made up for, if we go to shared catalogs based on open data?

    I can’t give the definitive answer to all these questions on my own. But I’d like to contribute to such a discussion to the extent that I can usefully. Now that the review board has recommended that the proposed policy be withdrawn, perhaps it’ll be easier to hold discussions like this.

  3. I’ve also been pushing the notion that OCLC needs to move more towards charging for services rather than data, and I think your points about bringing the sustainability questions into the open make good sense. I suspect, though, that this will be even more difficult to do as OCLC moves into direct competition with ILS vendors and further away from its roots as a primarily membership organization.

    But I think the best thing that could happen is if OCLC had more competition in the services arena and gave up its attempts to control all our data. This should require them to be faster on their feet, more flexible, and less ponderously monolithic in their approach to R & D. We’d all be better off in that kind of environment, in my opinion.

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