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Archive for November, 2008

A SLIC FE Day in Edinburgh

sliclogo Edinburgh’s Scottish Storytelling Centre was a great venue for the 3rd SLIC FE Conference on Friday, well organised by Catherine Kearney and chaired by Charles Sweeney. 

With such topics as LMS, Web 2.0 and IPR in digital repositories on the agenda, you might think the day might have been disjointed.  Far from it.  The day hung together very well, with yours truly setting the context of the wider waves of technology and innovation that have been and will continue wash across the wider web, influencing the world of academia and libraries.  Although this is being seen in the Library systems world with the emergence of so called Next Generation OPACs, is this only just doing the same old thing but better – we need to extend the user interface and the underlying systems and data to integrate with the systems and organisations around us. [Presentation available on SlideShare]

The theme continued with Phil Bradley taking us through Web 2.0 usage and techniques applicable to everyone in general and libraries in particular.  Next on the bill was Charles Duncan, Intrallect CEO, taking us through the way repositories should be integrated in to institutions an the wider national and international landscape – Web Services are the key.

An afternoon of presentations: NewsFilm Online – a fascinating resource introduced by Vivienne Carr from EDINA; Intellectual Property Rights issues as applied to the output of, and material used by, e-learning; drawn to a close by the inimitable Dave Pattern, sharing his experience at Huddersfield University applying Web 2.0 principles to their OPAC.

The whole day was drawn to a close with a JISC sponsored round table discussion which I was invited to join, which served to reinforce my impression that libraries and educationalists over the last few years have found themselves in the unusual position of striving to catch up with the rest of the world. 

Traditionally they have been in the role of helping to introduce new technologies & techniques to their students and the wider world.  For a whole generation the OPAC was their first interaction with publicly accessible computing.   With the web and now so called Web 2.0 the boot is on the other foot.  We are in danger of making too big a deal out of it – many of our users are already more in tune with the things we are worrying about how to introduce.

Mashed Libraries

I’m sat at the moment amongst such a collection of library UK geekdom that I’ve not experienced the like before.  I’m in the basement of Birkbeck College in London for the Mashed Libraries UK 2008 event sponsored by UKOLN and organised by Owen Stephens.

Apart from the acrobatics of trying to get on to the wifi, which I’m sure could be made more than a little simpler and less frustrating, the day has got off to a great start.  Rob Styles did a great, mostly command line driven, introduction to using Talis Platform stores.  He was followed by Tony Hurst sharing his experiences, tips, and tricks, for using online tools such as Yahoo Pipes and the spreadsheet elements of Google Docs. This was an excellent session – each time I return to Yahoo Pipes I am amazed anew and wondering why I don’t use it more.  

Next we had Timm-Martin Siewert from Ex Libris, who gave an overview of their Open Platform Strategy, and a peek in to EL Commons.  This was the subject of a recent Talking with Talis podcast with Oren Beit-Arie Ex Libris Chief Strategy Officer.  Like myself in the podcast, others today questioned why EL Commons, being  a commons, is not open to all.

A previous colleague of mine from way back, Mark Allcock  now with OCLC then gave us a brief overview of readily available APIs from them.  Finally Ashley Sanders talked about some API work at COPAC.

After an excellent lunch, small groups formed resulting in much chatting and coding.

The afternoon was punctuated by a presentation from Paul Bevan, of the National Library of Wales.  Paul took us through the issues in how they are taking their resources to the majority of visitors – online.

That brought us to the end of the afternoon and some short reports on what people had been working.  Unsurprisingly from the presentations that started the day,  there were several groups who had made great progress using Yahoo Pipes and the Talis Platform and in several cases both of these.  For example via Pipes one group were pulling book records from Amazon, adding Jacket images then augmenting them with holdings data from the Platform. Another plotted library locations for records from the Platform, on a Google Map by again using holdings data and also location data from the Silkworm Directory.

All in all an excellent day enjoyed by thirty plus people interested in using technology to improve libraries.  There is already talk of the next one.  Well done Owen for organising this one.

Update: Dave Pattern has uploaded several photos of the day to Flickr – the image above being one of them.

OCLC – Questions Answers and an Open Letter

OCLC logo During my Talking with Talis podcast conversation with Karen Calhoun and Roy Tennant about the new OCLC Record Use Policy, which has been causing such a furore in the blogosphere, Karen (Vice President WorldCat and Metadata Services) did not feel prepared enough in the legal aspects of  the issues at hand to answer a couple of the questions I posed.  She did offer to post replies on the OCLC Metalogue blog to these when she had chance to discuss them with OCLC’s legal backroom.

The first of these questions was about how OCLC can be both a not for profit and have activities which are commercial organisations.  This is the response she posted in the comments to her original Metalogue post on the subject:

In the Talking with Talis program, Richard Wallis asked me and Roy Tennant how OCLC can be a nonprofit organization that owns for-profit entities. As agreed on the show, I checked with the OCLC legal dept., and this is their answer to Richard’s question:

OCLC is a nonprofit organization that furthers access to the world’s information, and we’re going to do that by developing and delivering products and services, as well as providing research and advocacy to libraries, museums and archives. The collective ability to help libraries share resources, do more, and extend their reach — that’s our unique mission and that doesn’t change when new members join the organization. Nonprofit organizations can acquire for-profit entities as OCLC as done, provided they report the income and pay appropriate taxes due as a result of those operations within the local jurisdiction.

An expected reply from a legal person, but in my own mind it doesn’t provide much clarity on how the strategic direction of OCLC reconciles the competing needs of making, and amassing, money and running a cooperative for the benefits of it’s members .

My second question was about a clarification to help those "questioning the intellectual property rights status of an individual marc record or a collection of them". Off-air we agreed that I would phrase the question more succinctly before Karen submitted it to her back-room legal people.  I have now posted this question in the Metalogue blog comments:

What does the 1982 OCLC Copyright on WorldCat apply to – the records, schema and organization of records or the records themselves? And was that Copyright not superseded by the 1991 Feist Publications v Rural Telephone Service ruling? Does OCLC hold that individual records qualify for Copyright and if so what "originality" or "creativity" qualifies them for that Copyright protection?

Karen has acknowledged the question saying that she will continue to research it.   A clear answer will help many who have commented on the new policy clarify their own thoughts about the legal foundation upon which the new policy is based.  I am looking forward to the reply.

Larry Alford, Chair of OCLC Board of Trusties, has also weighed in to the debate with An open letter to the OCLC membership on the WorldCat [pdf].  It is basically an exercise in motherhood and apple pie – how wonderful and worthy OCLC have been over the last four decades when the WorldCat model has worked well.  Kodak’s business model worked well for far more than than four decades before they had to rethink it to stay a major player in the image market place.

Google – Good for Copyright?

David Lammy MP Google books_sm The Google Book Search agreement with group of authors and publishers along with the Authors Guild and Association of American Publishers (AAP) around copyright issues, which I posted about recently, has attracted the attention of David Lammy MP (Minister of State (Higher Education & Intellectual Property), Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills), writing in the TimesOnline, who thinks that overall this could be good for copyright law.

The agreement is one of a mounting number of recent examples where business and rights holders have taken the initiative and struck deals that have the potential to streamline the administration of copyright in the digital age.

While right holders who do not register will still be entitled to compensation for any use of their works, the mass registry should simplify the processes of rights clearance and payment and make the service viable on a scale not seen before.

He sees this as a step forward in making copyrighted works easy to get to those that want to read them.

Nobody can argue with the fact that books are meant to be read. This is what the consumers want and also what authors want.

Even in this digital age, there are many thousands of works, out of print and often out of copyright, that are locked away in library collections; unsearchable and inaccessible. The fact that this pressing need has not been addressed through changes to the legal framework is evidence of the difficulties of legislating in this area.

Nevertheless he does sound a note of caution.

There are, of course, notes of caution. It is important that rights holders are free to enter into collective agreements or to pass them by, without unduly suffering as a result of exercising that choice. There are also those international and domestic legal obligations that in many cases act as essential safeguards for rights holders and consumers

Yet it cannot be overlooked that such agreements are a practical and innovative attempt to move things forward and make copyright work.

Still early days, and it must be remembered that this is an agreement that only currently addresses the USA, but I agree with him that this could be the start of a significant change.

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New Approaches for Libraries – Jenny Levine in Conversation

online-information-logo-2008 Internet Development Specialist and Strategy Guide for the American Library Association, and prolific blogger as The Shifted Librarian, Jenny Levine’s views challenge librarians to look to the future and engage with new technology, the web, and gaming.

Jenny Levine In this thoughtful conversation, Online Information Conference Key Speaker, Jenny explores the way libraries should be more open to experimentation, despite the concerns of spending other people’s money to deliver a better service to those people.   Much can be learnt from the wider web about simplicity and planning for a changing environment.  

Jenny also throws out the challenge to those attending the conference for specific questions or topics they would like her to cover in her presentation to get in touch.

OCLC Talk with Talis about the new Record Use Policy

calhounOCLC logoRoy_tennant

I am joined in this Talking with Talis conversation by two well known OCLC names – Vice President WorldCat and Metadata Services, Karen Calhoun and Senior Programme Officer, Roy Tennant.

There has been much coverage on Panlibus and several other blogs, about the way the recently updated Record Use Policy was announced, the elements of the policy, and its ramifications for the wider library community.

Apart from the need to update and replace the current 21 year old Guidelines, the professed objectives of the new policy is to clarify and increase the possibilities for the sharing and transfer of OCLC records.  From the noise in the blogosphere, it is clear that many do not share that understanding.

Karen published an extensive post on Metalogue providing some background to the policy and its announcement.  I was delighted to share this extensive conversation with Karen and Roy to explore in more depth the intention, details and ramifications of this new policy, due to be implemented in February 2009.

In the conversation, my own questions were supplemented by some submitted by Talking with Talis listeners.  Thank you to those who took the time email me with those suggestions.

OCLC – any questions?

Following on from the recent announcements from OCLC, I will be recording a podcast in the Talking with Talis series with Karen Calhoun to discuss the hows whys and wherefores of the recent WorldCat record use policy changes.

I would be delighted to receive suggestions for questions that I might include in the conversation – no guarantees as to which I will use  – Drop me an email

Clay Shirky in Conversation – Here Comes Everybody – the social effects of the Internet

Clay Shirky online-information-logo-2008 Online Information Conference 2008 opening keynote speaker Clay Shirky, joins Richard Wallis in conversation about the way the Internet has changed the way we interact.

Clay’s latest book Here Comes Everybody identifies the way that the Internet and social software has enabled groups to interact and work together in ways that were never previously possible.  In this conversation we explore the themes that will form the basis of his presentation, and move on to issues such as the reversal of the information flow across corporate boundaries; the impacts upon academic publishing; and Clay’s thoughts on the Semantic Web.

Keeping the WorldCat in the bag

I’ve been travelling, and preparing for it, over the last couple of days so haven’t had chance to update my thoughts on the OCLC Updated Record Use Policy saga.  In my previous post I was musing that whatever OCLC were trying to do in this area they were not making a good fist of doing it.

From that point of view things have definitely got a great deal better.  They re-released their policy, with many changes from the one they previously posted and took down almost immediately.  Thingology Blog has provided a interesting comparison between the two releases.

More importantly, and usefully for those trying to get their head around this, Karen Calhoun published a helpful post on Metalogue – Notes on OCLC’s Updated Record Use Policyexploring the reasoning and intentions behind this change in policy.

I’ve been asked more than once why OCLC felt the need to update its policy and why member libraries should support the updated policy. This post is an attempt to answer those questions.

One thing I believe everyone will agree upon is Karen’s starting point:

Time for a change
In Web years, the Guidelines for Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records, last updated in 1987, are not just 21, but as old as Methuselah.  While the principles underlying the Guidelines have held up well with respect to sharing among libraries, the language and 1980s context of the document have made the Guidelines increasingly hard to understand and apply.  The Guidelines have also been frequently faulted for their ambiguity about WorldCat data sharing rights and conditions.

She then goes on to describe how the way records have been [or not] transferred around in the past is becoming less & less appropriate in this interconnected web world we are all operating in now – still not many arguments there.

Karen highlights that “in one recent five month period, 87% of the referrals to came from search engines and other Web sites; less than 13% came from a typed or bookmarked URL to itself” – as library catalogues are currently very deficient in enabling search engines to identify and hence point to individual records, this is hardly a surprising development.  She then uses this as a justification that WorldCat should increase it’s role as the global switch driving traffic from the wider web in to individual library catalogues.  This has some merit as an argument, but only as an interim solution until library catalogue software gets it’s act together and enables that access directly.

One of Karen’s justifications for the policy changes to defend the WorldCat database intrigues me. She quotes from the guidelines as to the rationale behind restrictions on record sharing:

"member libraries have made a major investment in the OCLC Online Union Catalog and expect other member libraries, member networks and OCLC to take appropriate steps to protect the database." 

That’s a bit like saying to someone offering to buy your car “it is worth more now because I invested lots of money taking it through a car wash every week to make it look good whilst I owned it”.  The value, or need to protect, something now is all to do with the comparison with the alternatives now, and very little to do with past investments.

There is much in Karen’s post about Creative Commons, GPL, Open source and other licensing models that I’m not qualified to constructively postulate upon with confidence. Fortunately Jonathan Rochkind and Rob Styles and others they quote have a far greater understanding of these things than I do.  Their very helpful forays in to the legal side of things seem to conclude, with reference to some legal precedent, that the OCLC conditions need some serious testing at best and are unenforceable at worst.

Despite the expressed good intentions behind the opening up of access to the WorldCat database it is being corrupted by an institutional fear ingrained in the OCLC DNA of letting the WorldCat [database] out of the bag – effectively giving away their traditional raison d’être and disappearing in an open access puff of smoke.

OCLC’s laudable history has been based upon providing valuable and relevant services to its membership and customers.  Things move on as Karen acknowledges, and what was is of core relevance and value changes.  In her presentation to  the Libraries and Web 2.0 Discussion Group at IFLA in August, she quotes from a post of mine, which I still believe, from about a year ago:

“OCLC is trapped in an increasingly inappropriate business model—a model based upon the value in the creation and control of data. Increasingly, in this interconnected world, the value is in making data openly available and building services upon it.  When people get charged for one thing, but gain value from another, they will become increasingly uncomfortable with the old status quo.”

Her landscape summary slide from the end of her presentation [which I hope she is OK about me reproducing here as I couldn’t see a Creative Commons, or other, license in it] provides an excellent summary.


The landscape rich in contradictions in which transitions are painful, is clearly on the button.  The key point for me is “Where the money comes from” directly impacts data sharing policy.  OCLC are building a portfolio of value added services and commercial operations which libraries benefit from and therefore should be willing to invest in – that is where ROI is visible and can be measured and justified.  In a world of commoditisation of data, and where the costs of it’s reproduction and storage are dropping like a stone, the value is moving towards the services that can be derived from analysing, interpreting, and identifying relationships within that core common record set.

So I believe that OCLC should stop worrying about letting the WorldCat out of the bag, embrace not resist this inevitable change, and have some confidence that their undeniable skills, experience, innovative drive, reputation, and resources will enable them to refocus themselves as a successful metadata value-added provider to libraries.    

Cat in bag, with scary snake outside, picture published in Flickr by Mr. T in DC.

What are OCLC playing at?

OCLC logo I usually like to cover a wide mixture of topics on this blog.  So three posts on the same subject in almost as many working days is symptomatic of something significant that is exercising our [library] world.

Fortunately slipped in to the sequence of posts to break up the wall-to-wall OCLC speculation is a podcast with JP Rangaswami, of Confused of Calcutta fame, who has some very interesting views that are actually very relevant to the things that are going on in the world of OCLC at the moment.  As he said: “Have you ever met the customer that gained value from having region coding on a DVD?” Lots of vested interests see value from DVD region coding, but the end users? – no.

Whatever is going on with with the opening up, or restricting access to, library data, we must not loose sight of who gains the most value from that data – the library user.

So what are OCLC playing at?  The last few days has witnessed leaks, rumours, assuring noises in blog comments, the launch of a whole area on the OCLC web site associated with the change in policy, then the subsequent taking down of the policy itself [captured here prior to the takedown], and now silence.   I am prepared to accept that the leak of the original proposal caught them off-guard and they were not ready to talk at that time.  The pulling of the policy almost immediately after it was posted smacks of something being got plain wrong.  I’m sure that there will be a post-mortem in Dublin, Ohio as to how this is has been handled, but that is really just a side-show for the rest of us.

The announcement itself has definitely created a clash of perspectives.  From Karen Calhoun’s posting [previously referenced], “the updated policy will be generally welcomed by the OCLC membership, as it opens WorldCat records to new, noncommercial uses by members and non-member libraries alike”   Whereas there are many who are questioning their motives and the negative viral effects of the policy as it is proposed to be applied.

The one restriction that seems to be agitating some people most is  this one [from the FAQ page]:

The Policy does not permit uses that discourage contribution to WorldCat or replicate existing functions or purposes of WorldCat.

This is being interpreted as preventing libraries transferring records to a service, commercial or not, that could become a competitor to WorldCat, such as the Open Library or LibraryThing for instance.  For one commentator, that is ringing AT&T/Microsoft style anti-competitive alarm bells.  Others are questioning the enforceability of  the perceived restrictions on record transfers, as the copyright on the vast majority of records is not owned by the organisation imposing the policy.

From my position on the side-lines, it is very difficult to come to a balanced conclusion about this as the volume of complaint is drowning out the virtual silence from 6565 Kilgour Place.

We need a balanced view on the intentions behind, practical steps involved, ramifications of, and even legal basis of, the change policy shared with the wider community so that we can all understand it and stop the rumour-mill grinding away.  I have invited Karen Calhoun, amongst others from OCLC, to join me on the Library 2.0 Gang so that we can cut through some of the FUD and get an open and balanced conversation of what this really means.  Hopefully it will not be too long before this will take place.