From the catalogs of babes

{January 15, 2009}   more about OCLC and nipples

I’ve been meaning to rant about the proposed new OCLC policy for Use and Transfer for WorldCat(R) Recordsfor a while. In fact, it’s actually one of the (many) motivating factors for starting this blog in the first place, since people kept telling me the best action I could take against the policy was to blog about it.

It took me a long time, and I won’t lie–it’s mainly because I’ve been pretty pessimistic and hopeless about the whole situation. I didn’t see much chance for impacting or changing the policy or its implementation at all, and I didn’t know what could be done to change that. Not to be a Debbie Downer, but adding one more tiny little random blog voice didn’t seem like it would do much good.

But then I saw OCLC’s announcement Tuesday of a Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship, seemingly on the heels of Tim Spalding’s nipples (coincidence? I think not). And I’ve been listening to the discussion on last night’s episode of Uncontrolled Vocabulary (#67)and having a small bit of hope. All those little random blog posts did make a difference, to a certain extent.

It’s still very small, though, and I’ll tell you why. I have two main reasons why I think, at this point, OCLC’s attempt at implementing this policy will remain unchecked.

1. Catalogers are not managers.

No offense.  We’re the people who are passionate about data management, not people management. As much as we all decry the stereotype of the antisocial cataloger in the back corner of the basement surrounded by dusty books and covered with ink smudges, never interacting with the public, stereotypes do have distant origins in truth. Catalogers, despite whether it’s true on any individual level, are perceived as distant, secret, loners, with their alien MARC tags and their uncanny ability to recite obscure rules. Like I said, no offense–heck, I’m a cataloger, too. But how many catalogers are managers? How many are in charge of a branch, or a library system, or administer at the level of management it would take to make a substantive decision about implementing or rejecting the OCLC policy?

Of course there are some out there (and I would love to meet them and talk to them about their paths and philosophies!), and some catalogers, if not managers themselves, have enough clout that they can advocate for what’s best for their libraries in terms of cataloging and policies. But I think there’s a major issue when library management has little to no cataloging background or practice. My boss, the head librarian, had not even heard of the new OCLC policy when I first brought it up to her, much less our library director, who I’m not even sure knows what cataloging is. Until upper management and administration understand the impact of such policy implementations, there will be no support for change.

2. There are no other choices.

OCLC is a monopoly. Okay, not “techncially,” but they are the only organization providing the type of service they do, especially since they assumed RLG. Where else can libraries go? OCLC has no competition, and in a market where we vote with our dollars, where is our dark horse third-party candidate to patronize? I of course support Open Library, but because OCLC intends its policy to be retroactive and Open Library has records contributed from OCLC member libraries, who knows what will happen? My understanding is the same for Z39.50, if those records originated with or passed through OCLC. But no one can move away from OCLC until there’s a legitimate, comparable option to move to.

So it would seem hopeless. So what do we do?

We get catalogers into management positions and we create a new union database for bibliographic records.

Hey, I didn’t say it was going to be easy. If I thought nipples would solve the problem, believe me, mine would be out there. In fashion, that sort of thing works. But in this case, that’s not going to be enough. So we’d better get to work.

Just stopping in to say thanks for listening to the show!

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