Friday, January 23, 2009

OCLC vs. Everyone

Firstly, I'm no cataloger. And the C I got in Doris Clack's Bibliographic Organization class in library school is definite proof. So what I have to say about cataloging records should be understood as coming from one who ain't got a clue.

But I've been a librarian for over 15 years, and I've seen people do original cataloging and I've seen them do copy cataloging. I've seen them do the actual work or pay to get the catalog record. And either way, I would guess that the record for that item belongs to the library that paid for the work to get done or paid for someone to download it. But now I guess I would be wrong because OCLC is taking the stand that all your record are belong to us.

Now, I'm busy getting all the cream filling out of this here package of Oreos so I can dunk the chocolate cookie part into my bourbon that I don't have the time to read the OCLC position, but I was just reading this article and it says a few things about the situation, but not enough to make me an expert. So I still have lots of questions:
  • What I want to know is, at what point do libraries own the records in their catalogs?
  • Is there a point where OCLC "sold" records to libraries in bad faith (since libraries were not informed that the records belonged to OCLC in perpetuity)?
  • Is there anti-monopoly legislation that applies to an organization like OCLC that attempts to control a commodity too tightly?
  • How can OCLC claim intellectual property to something which is already widely known such as a MARC record?
  • Can't someone say they cataloged the same item identically independently? How could OCLC prove otherwise?
And where does the Library of Congress fit into this? Don't they have a database of records? Can libraries use these?

Now I believe OCLC has rights. But I'm not sure what they are or should be. Should all records "sold" to libraries before 2009 become public domain records since OCLC policy was not clearly established? And then should libraries decide whether to continue their relationship with OCLC for their future cataloging needs?

This is the problem I've always had with electronic product: what are we really paying for, and what do we own? For example, now that Apple is making their content DRM-free, iPod customers need to repurchase music they already owned in order to own it again for real. I always ask this about our library databases that we purchase and then discard our print resources that are now available electronically. What do we own? Can we download the database and keep it on our server and then cancel our subscription? What if you change the content and remove something we value and put that content into another database that we now need to buy (again)? Why the hell did we dump all those perfectly good books?

Sites like Wikipedia and LibraryThing and Facebook have proven that lots of people have a lot of free time to create content. And maybe libraries need to tap into this pool of free labor to create all new records from scratch. Lord knows, I don't have nearly enough to do during the day so that I could probably help. But thank goodness, I'm so nearly completely incompetent that I'm really only qualified to supervise.