OCLC EMERC 2012, linked data in mind, heads in clouds and hand in pockets?

This week saw a flying visit to Birmingham to attend one day of the excellent OCLC Europe, Middle East and Africa Regional Council Annual meeting at the fantastic Town Hall.

The morning was given to optional plenaries, which meant I missed a lot other exciting talks as I was busy giving a brief overview of the COMET project some of its follow-on work:

Much of the afternoon was given over to Birminghams’ Public library development, namely the amazing looking new building and central service being constructed. Everything about this service will be new, from the catalogue records to the windows. Public libraries are outside my realm of alleged expertise, so this was really exciting. Of particular note was the announcement that the library will be seeking commercial sponsorship and partners to run services.

In cultural heritage, especially galleries, big commercial names such as Tate and Sainsburys have historically and recently been associated with large buildings and collections, so why not public libraries?

I had a brief twitter exchange with library advocate and human dynamo Lauren Smith. Lauren is clearly opposed to such a development and rightly concerned about the influence corporate sponsorship may have on public services, given the vital democratic importance of libraries. Does this make them more ‘sacred’ than galleries and museums as services to be ‘protected’ from corporate investment?

The argument also affects academia. My employers went through such a media wringer a few years ago when the media realized that Cambridge University Library itself would not be adverse to such a sponsorship, if the right match could be found. To my eyes, that whole non-event was largely down to a couple of bored academics stoking the media furnace. After all, Thomas Bodley was a merchant who popularised the ‘book of benefactors’ …

Back in library techy news:

  • Much of the conference focus was on WorldCat, which continues to grow into a truly international service with 60+% of records now non-english!
  • OCLC are proceeding apace with WorldShare, a cloud based service platform which increasingly marks them as a top tier commercial competitor to Ex Libris and Serials Solutions
  • Apparently OCLC are considering licensing WorldCat under an ODC-By license, the license we applied to the OCLC records released under COMET. They are pursuing a set of community norms that seem non-commerical in aspect, which is not a good fit for data sharing. Like many others in contributing libraries, I would like to see greater sharing of Worldcat data, although I realise the arguments against are complex and legally technical. Economically, at least it must surely be viable for them. After all, if OCLC is releasing and developing top level cloud based services such as Worldcat Local and Worldshare, it can arguably afford to seek new revenue streams rather than just (re)selling data…
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