Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Open data and the Future of Bibliographic Control

We've got until December 15th to submit comments on the draft report produced by the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control.

No—keep reading! This is important. People in the library profession need to be involved in this stuff. Further, people outside the profession need to be involved too. As the report notices, library data is used by many outside the library world, starting with library patrons, and extending even to Amazon.com. It shouldn't go unnoticed, for example, that draft report mentions LibraryThing four times. For while LibraryThing uses library data, it was invented by and is mostly used by non-librarians.

Aaron Swartz, the dynamo behind Open Library, sent me a note about one important aspect of the draft report, namely what it's missing: It doesn't mention open data. There is serious discussion about sharing, but also the alarming proposal that the LC attempt to recoup more money from the sale of it's data. That's a shame. I'm not alone in believing that open access to library data is the future. A report about the future should confront the future.

The economy of library records is a complex one but not primarily a free one. By and large libraries pay the Dublin, Ohio-based OCLC for their records, even if the records were created at government expense. That model looks increasingly dated. And it is killing innovation.

It hasn't killed LibraryThing yet, but the specter has always hung over our head. It's why LibraryThing has—so far—not pitched itself to small libraries. OCLC doesn't care about personal cataloging, and the libraries we use are—in every conversation I've had—enthusiastic about what we do. They want their data out there; they're libraries for Pete's sake! But if we offered data to public libraries we'd be cutting into the OCLC profit model. That could be dangerous.

Aaron invited me to sign onto a list of people interested in the issue. I did so. I invite you—any of you—to do so as well. The text says it perfectly:
"Bibliographic records are part of our shared cultural heritage and should be made available to the public for re-use without restriction. This will allow libraries to share records more efficiently, but will also make possible more advanced online sites for book-lovers, easier analysis by social scientists, interesting visualizations and summary statistics by journalists and others, as well as many other possibilities we cannot predict in advance."

"Government agencies and public institutions are increasingly making data open. We strongly encourage the Library of Congress to join this movement by recommending that more bibliographic data is made available for access, re-use and re-distribution without restriction."
The petition is here: http://www.okfn.org/wiki/OpenBibliographicData .

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Blogger Diane said...

Yes, absolutely. I made similar comments to the WG, urging the exploration of alternative distribution mechanisms. I think libraries are at a crossroads and this issue can make or break our future.

Diane Hillmann

12/12/2007 8:33 AM  
Blogger Alison said...

"There is serious discussion about sharing, but also the alarming proposal that the LC attempt to recoup more money from the sale of it's data"

I noticed this as well when reading the report. On the one hand cooperation and sharing etc. and removing barriers to sharing but on the other hand the possibility of increasing prices!

12/12/2007 8:38 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Is there a way to sign the petition without registering for the wiki site? (I'm not against the wiki site, I'd just prefer not to have to register for yet another website every time I turn around.)

12/12/2007 8:58 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Where are we supposed to sign? I signed at the link but then wondered...

Anyway, glad this issue is being raised. It's such a no-brainer.

12/12/2007 2:01 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Never mind ... it's much clearer now, though you probably still have to register. It also seems as if you have to have some library or techie credentials, but I don't think that's really necessary - just possibly daunting to people who might say "Jane Smith - bookaholic" or whatever. (But hey, cui bono?)

12/12/2007 7:52 PM  
Blogger Tina Shrader said...

I don't disagree about the importance of open data.

But I will point out that *creating* good bibliographic description is expensive, and unless it's going to be a completely government-funded/taxpayer subsidized activity undertaken for the public good (ha! fat chance!), there has to be some economic motivation to do it in the first place. I agree that the current economic model is broken, but I don't think we can ignore the reality that there are costs involved in creating bibliographic data.

Saying the data has to be free and open is all well and good, but if there's no economic benefit to creating it, who's going to do it?

12/13/2007 8:46 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

So, there are two replies:

First, the LC is a working library. It needs bibliographic records to run itself. In fact, the LC is the only US library that even makes an effort. Most catalog because they need to catalog, although the more they catalog the better a deal they can get from OCLC, or so I understand. Meanwhile, in the case of LC, selling the data through Cataloging and Distibution recoups an infinitesimal part of that now—you can buy all the work every done by an LC person for $50k. And since the government cannot actually copyright its work—that pesky thing called "it being your government and therefore yours"—there's a limit to this route. People will pay for the newest batch, but once it's out there, its resold.

With those restrictions, the difference between paid and free isn't going to mean much to the LC. For book data to actually get out on the web? That means a lot.


12/13/2007 10:53 AM  
Blogger K.G. Schneider said...

I'm madly composing a response, but let me pause to point out the irony that the LC document itself is yet another PDF soliciting responses into a barrel. Thank goodness for teh interweb. I hope everyone kibitzing on this, and it's a great discussion, is also formally submitting their input.

12/13/2007 11:19 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Deleting no-content comment that I think is link spam.

12/14/2007 2:40 PM  

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