Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Google, OCLC, and the Future of Cataloging

It's been a few months since I wrote, the reason being that I haven't seen anything really exciting that I wanted to write about that hadn't already been around the block a few times in the library blogosphere. But today I read a couple of blog posts and an email that all seem to relate in my mind so I just had to comment.

First, the email: Today the CIC (Committee on Institutional Cooperation) announced that they are joining the Google Books scanning project. This is huge news considering the size of these 12 libraries. Granted, that 2 of the member libraries (University of Michigan and University of Wisconsin-Madison) were already members. But the addition of these 10 additional libraries with their huge collections boosts the library partners on this project from 15 to 25 and will exponentially increase the number of books scanned. This makes Ohio State as the first Ohio university to take part in this and I'll be very interested to hear their views as the project proceeds.

I'm all for the increased accessibility of information and if Google is leading the charge, more power to them. But it got me thinking as to where OCLC is in all of this. We already know that their mission statements are a tad overlapping (Google's & OCLC's) although Google makes no specific mention of libraries. I think OCLC is finally understanding that Google is not only quickly becoming competition, they are in fact way ahead in the game. OCLC seems to be considering moves toward more openness and coming out of its proprietary shell. Paul Miller over at Panlibus highlights some of OCLC's more recent podcast discussions of not only future possibilities but also how that may effect their current business model. My hope is that OCLC is sincere about being more open to third parties and getting the information out there. I think that this openness would spur desperately needed innovation in library technologies. While Open WorldCat is move in the right direction, it isn't even a baby step in comparison to where libraries should be on the Web at this point.

This leads me to the other blog post (that I was pointed to by Nicole at What I Learned Today) at Cataloging Futures. The discussion began by talking about how to upgrade catalogers' skill sets and the question was raised as to whether or not catalogers need to have programming skills. I read this post (and comments) just after the aforementioned email and Panlibus post and I have to tell you, my immediate instinct was an emphatic yes. MARC was wonderful and necessary when it was created. But its time has passed and as a standard it isolates the rich information libraries have in their catalogs from the rest of the world who use XML, SQL, etc. After more reflection, I don't think that all catalogers need to be programmers, but many more of them need to develop an understanding at very least. We need more people programming in and for our profession before we render ourselves irrelevant in the information industry.

Before, I really anger too many catalogers, I have to say I don't see catalogers as irrelevant or disappearing anytime soon; even without programming skills. Catalogers have (in my view) 2 distinct areas in their work: classifying/organizing information and coding that into MARC format when necessary. The first part is the most valuable part of their job and something that will continue to be crucially valuable to all information (not just in libraries). The second area however needs to be simplified, streamlined, and made relevant for todays world. My hope is that it will be a librarian who can bridge this gap to make the transition not only possible but preferably seamless to patrons.

Why lump all three of these topics together? Well, because it all seems to be vicious circle. A lot of librarians see the disconnect that libraries are having with patrons who are seeking information in a much more immediate fashion and are at a loss of how to address this disconnect. They look to their vendors and OCLC to give them products that will solve these problems. Most of the vendors and OCLC realize that things need to change and so they study and discuss the problems and test potential products in committees and focus groups over months and years. Meanwhile, Google is actually delivering more and more information and services to our patrons which in turn makes them less satisfied and more frustrated with the services and perceived value we provide. This cannot continue and at some point libraries and our services will either catch up or fall irrevocably behind.

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