de-coupling of vendor services

We talk a lot about de-coupling of software, so you are not stuck with a monolithic stack of software, but can mix and match components that meet your needs.

The same thing applies to vendor services. Apparently OCLC will not really let you share your holdings for ILL with them unless you also buy your cataloging copy from them. (How much of your cataloging copy? Few OCLC members get 100% of their copy cataloging from OCLC, despite the policy fiction to the contrary).

Okay, officially they’ll “let” you, but they’ll charge you a prohibitive enough fee to make it infeasible.

Cathy De Rosa, VP for the Americas and Global VP of Marketing for OCLC, sought to clarify the situation in a conversation with LJ….De Rosa framed MSU’s request as essentially a request for the cooperative to perform “data stewardship” duties for MSU’s records, in addition to the services provided by the resource-sharing subscription, but said “that’s not the way the cost-share model works today.”

It’s not entirely clear to me how sharing your holdings for ILL (OCLC’s original Raison d’être, right?) necessarily involves “data stewardship”, but I don’t know the details of how OCLC’s systems work.

OCLC may very well be constrained here by technical limitations of their system (their own lack of ‘decoupling’ in their in-house software), not simply by a business decision. Perhaps there is no efficient way for OCLC to load your holdings if you aren’t doing copy cataloging, it ends up costing them just the same either way.

If so, that’s unfortunate, for everyone involved. It seems to me that it’s in the interest of OCLC members, OCLC as an organization, and libraries that may be considering OCLC services — to let you share your holdings for ILL even if you aren’t buying cataloging copy from OCLC.  It means that OCLC’s holdings registry for ILL sharing (and for WorldCat API’s) remains competetive, remains the best around. Driving people away from sharing holdings only hurts OCLC, does it not?

Unless they think they can trap people into buying (some large percentage) of their cataloging from OCLC by this “coupling”.   But that ship has already left the harbor, I bet almost all OCLC members are buying non-trivial supplementary cataloging records from other vendors, and more and more will consider cheaper alternatives for larger portions of their cataloging.   If OCLC can’t compete in quality-per-dollar, they aren’t going to be able to succeed in ‘trapping’ libraries into buying cataloging anyway.    If they try, they’re just going to send their OTHER services, that libraries DO want to keep paying for, down the road to ruin too.

“We share the resources, and we share the costs,” she concluded, noting that the cooperative also invests significantly in activities such as: “data stewardship, infrastructure and standards support, FRBR, controlled vocabulary services, WorldCat Identities, crosswalks between metadata formats, record enhancement, automated record delivery from vendor partners, MARC format updates, name authorities management, audience-level data work, mapping and visual data discovery, and a growing number of WorldCat APIs for linking to Web services, to name a few of the shared services.”

That’s right, and those WorldCat API’s are really great and in my opinion significantly increase the value of an OCLC full membership.  But OCLC’s going to have to compete on service and cost, they’re not (I predict, I hope) going to succeed by ‘trapping’ their customers into paying for services whether they like them or not, using a ‘lock-in’ model very reminiscent of the same methods we don’t like when our ILS vendors do it.

De-coupling, as with software, so with vendor services, so with cooperatives.

I think OCLC ought to not only allow holdings-sharing without record-buying, but ought to be aggressively getting OCLC numbers on other vendors records, to make it as efficient as possible for libraries to share their holdings with OCLC regardless of where they get their cataloging. (And it needs to be said again for repetition, that there are probably few OCLC members left who do no copycataloging from anywhere but OCLC).  That will keep OCLC’s holdings database the best there is, and keep their services built on that holdings database (ILL, worldcat, worldcat API’s) without any competetive peer — even if their cataloging service doesn’t remain so, as it already has not.


6 thoughts on “de-coupling of vendor services

  1. From all I have learned about it, SkyRiver is not an ethical enterprise. OCLC should do what it can to not cooperate with SkyRiver’s founders. What SkyRiver does is to take OCLC records indirectly, by accessioning the records after OCLC-member libraries have paid for them, and then charging their member libraries for them. They are a sort of expensive LibraryThing. Their staff are not professional catalogers, which in and of itself is not a bad thing, but they just won’t have the expertise to help SkyRiver’s clients locate adequate records for their collections. OCLC should stall on any attempts that the SkyRiver people make; they would be operating under a very poor business model if they didn’t. You wouldn’t cooperate with a company that took the goods you created–without that 2nd company paying for them–and sold them to your own potential customers. SkyRiver wants to take away OCLC’s customers while selling those pilfered clients -OCLC’s- own records. If enough libraries defect to join with SkyRiver (and I doubt that will happen, because the services they offer are so minuscule–and, still, it’s very expensive!!), fewer libraries will be generating the records that SkyRiver grabs from OCLC for free, and the whole cooperative cataloging scheme will be degraded. SkyRiver is simply acting in bad faith. I am not affiliated with either company, but I had the chance to learn a lot about SkyRiver, and was amazed at how crazy their scheme is. I don’t blame the libraries that have joined on with them because SkyRiver does promise a savings with a modicum of service, and some library systems are in great peril financially. But, if not absolutely necessary, I would stay away from SkyRiver. If I were at a library that really wanted to save on cataloging, I would rather scrap both OCLC AND SkyRiver and just go with an application like LibraryThing (with all of its rife inadequacies) because at least LT is essentially free.

  2. Sue, I’d be interested to hear more about how you learned about SkyRiver, and more information on whether all of their records indeed come from OCLC.

    But I’m also wondering — if OCLC’s records are in fact created by member libraries, why is there anything less ethical about SkyRiver selling those records than there is with OCLC selling them? Isn’t OCLC taking the records that libraries create and then selling them back to libraries already?

    If they provide a poor service, that is of course another thing.

    One thing I am sure of, is that our cooperative cataloging system is fundamentally and horribly broken, and is not financially sustainable with or without SkyRiver, if OCLC and the general library community doesn’t seriously change things up. I do not have the confidence you seem to that if only nobody comes along to threaten OCLC’s business model, the whole cooperative cataloging enterprise is secure. It is doomed unless serious changes happen — far too much money is spent compared to what is gotten out of it, far too many catalogers spend expensive time duplicating others efforts. So I guess I’m hoping that a competition and a threat to OCLC’s monopoly (which is of course, depending on how you count, only 5 or 10 years old, a monopoly has not always been a part of the cooperative cataloging endeavor) might be enough of a kick in the pants to make something productive happen — if not that, then I don’t know what will. And I think the alternative is simply a complete collapse of any professional metadata creation at libraries. That’s what I think is going to happen if we simply continue as is.

  3. Checking out this article on SkyRiver:

    It clarifies a few interesting things. For one, that SkyRiver is not in fact “selling records”, in that they neither charge per-record, or make any IP claims over the records they distribute, which libraries are free to re-distribute or use however they like (presumably including uploading them to OCLC). They are charging for access to their services. I’m still not sure what is claimed to be unethical about this. OCLC has not always been a monopoly, has not always been the only place to get LC records etc., and I don’t see any reason to think they have some right to be such a monopoly. The article suggests that most SkyRiver records are LC records; if they are getting records from other places, I’d be curious to learn more about how that works. For instance, if a library that generated records wants to give them to SkyRiver in addition to OCLC, I fail to see why OCLC has some right to exclusive access to distribute those records.

    If I were king of the library, I’d get records from wherever the most cost effective place to get them was, ESPECIALLY if I could get them without claims of IP ownership. And then I’d make sure to share anything I got (or created with original cataloging) with OCLC if OCLC could provide me with a cost effective way to do so — and I’d share em with anyone else who wanted them too. And I’d make sure to keep listing my holdings in OCLC for ILL, again if OCLC could provide me with a cost effective way to do so. And I’d list them anywhere else that didn’t place a financial burden on me to list them too. It’s in our benefit as libraries to share this information as widely as possible.

  4. I agree that our cooperative cataloging system is on the rocks, and needs to be radically different from what it is now. It is neither economically nor practically sustainable in its current state. What I object to with SkyRiver is not at all that they want to challenge OCLC’s essential monopoly on cataloging services. That part of it sounds great to me. What I don’t like is that SkyRiver has co-opted LC’s database, and the records of the few SkyRiver member libraries, whose catalogs comprise OCLC-derived records. Those SR-member libraries “purchased” records from OCLC that match their holdings, and then SkyRiver put them in their SkyRiver database and now claims them as their own. THEN they charge other member libraries for access to/uploading of those records. What SkyRiver does is little different from what you can get using LibraryThing, except that LibraryThing is $25 to use, at most! And SkyRiver’s pricing system is a percentage of what your library CURRENTLY PAYS TO OCLC. It is not based on actual services rendered. The pricing scheme is OCLC-price-dependent. They have to price it that way because they are offering no true commodity and no real service; the pricing has to be entirely arbitrary because of it.

    I agree, if I were king of the library, I would ditch OCLC, SkyRiver, and any other utility/service/union catalog/etc. that charged me more than I could pull together using modern forms of bibliographic record harvesting, creation, editing. etc. The point is, though, that all of the non-OCLC cataloging services that are available currently draw on OCLC-member library created records. Without OCLC (or, formerly, RLIN, and others), there would be a diminished SkyRiver (reduced to LC records only), and no LibraryThing, for example.

    In my understanding, OCLC pays libraries when the libraries’ staff create a catalog record and then upload it to OCLC. So OCLC pays a small fee to the creator-library for each record that is created at that library and then uploaded. Then that record is in the OCLC database. Then, other libraries pay to download records from OCLC. In the library where I work, if I remember correctly, we used to pay OCLC for each record that we uploaded to our catalog, unless we created the record, in which case, they paid us $5 or something. Now my library pays a (HUGE) flat rate for various services, including cataloging services.

    I learned about SR because, like many other libraries, we are experiencing a tight budget and considered moving to SkyRiver. Through a presentation from an SR salesperson, my colleagues and I learned what I have been writing. We discussed the next day what we had heard and had all drawn the same conclusions–independently. We went into the SR information meeting excited about it. We were hoping that we could be pioneers and break from OCLC successfully. But SR just doesn’t have much more to offer than the records that anyone can already get from LC (public domain) without paying for them. They also offer their member’s catalog records in their service. They will also harvest records for you if a record you need is not in their database and return it to you within 48 hours or so. How do they harvest those records? They get them from an OCLC-member library who has essentially purchased a record from OCLC (purchased = uploaded to their catalog from OCLC as a member OCLC library) and put in their now-public domain catalog, just like I would from a LibraryThing grab at a record.

    What gets me is not how SkyRiver is trying to operate, by using public domain records, but that they are taking what’s out there for free anyway and then CHARGING you for it, and charging LOTS! It’s like someone getting all kinds of government leaflets and duplicate books for free and then going around -selling- them to people who don’t know they can get them for free anyway! If SkyRiver did all that BUT offered some kind of superb interface or great assistance in harvesting the free records that are out there, then I could see maybe going with them. But they just don’t offer those things. Their interface is like the old PINE E-mail system compared to gmail. Their cataloger employees have no library background.

    SkyRiver offers the very basics of what a library needs for its cataloging activities, but where it really falters is in the area of interlibrary loan. They are not able to facilitate ILL without OCLC’s cooperation, and they want OCLC to open up their database to them for purposes of facilitating ILL among SR’s member libraries. But why would OCLC cooperate with that if SR gets a financial benefit from it without pitching in financially in any way themselves? SR wants to make money on their venture (it is for-profit, OCLC is ostensibly not-for-profit), but SR does not want to pitch in money to the collective system in any way. They only want to profit.

    I would love to see a complete change in the way cataloging is done, and I would like to see the economics of it flatten out, be more directly tit-for-tat. OCLC used to have that financial model, but they clearly don’t anymore. OCLC is crazily expensive, and for what? I would like to see us catalogers get together and figure out a way to really use the public domain to do our collective work without all the greedy hands sticking in our business every which way. OCLC does wonderful things; if you are a cataloger and your library has OCLC, your work is going to be a breeze in so many ways. But they bleed you dry to have it that way. I don’t need fifteen OCLC bloggers on the payroll, as much as I enjoy reading some of their work, and don’t need shiny displays of theirs at ALA, etc. That stuff costs serious cash, and I don’t need that to do my work well. As OCLC does, and SR does not, give me an easily navigable and extensive authority system, give me millions upon millions of records to search from to exactly match the piece in hand, give me good documentation about how to use the system. SkyRiver, I am certain, is not the one who is going to slay the beast that is OCLC. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if the serfs rose up and took over the kingdom? If a few of the enterprising among us got together, we could create such a service, akin to LibraryThing–which does not have one cataloger on staff and misses so, so much.

  5. ” SkyRiver has co-opted LC’s database”

    Why does LC’s database belong to OCLC? (It does not) And how is SkyRiver taking public domain records like LC’s and charging you for them different than OCLC doing the same?

    SkyRiver does not attempt to impose any restrictions on your re-use of the public domain records you get from it; so in that sense, it seems a MORE ethical business model to me, charging you for their network services alone, but making no claim to own the public domain records you get from that service — unlike OCLC.

    In many of these arguments, I feel like people are implying that OCLC has some unique entitlement to distribute LC records. OCLC wasn’t always a monopoly, that is a fairly recent development. People used to share records on, for instance, RLIN _and_ OCLC, the same records. Why shoudln’t another vendor be able to distribute LC recorsd, and even be able to distribute non-LC cooperative cataloging records? What special entitlement does OCLC have to this, that makes it ethical when OCLC does it but unethical when someone else does it?

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