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OCLC WorldShare Platform: OCLC Brands and Strengthens Its Webscale Strategy
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Posted On December 5, 2011
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It has been no secret that OCLC has been hard at work developing a new global technology platform to support the automation needs of libraries. “Webscale” has been OCLC’s mantra in recent years, supporting strategies that aim to leverage the collective efforts of libraries through shared information resources and technology infrastructure. OCLC has been promoting its Web-scale Management Services as an alternative to traditional library management systems, and it has created a new technology platform to support its own automation services as well as those created by library developers. Significant activity has been churning around these activities, with the initial version of the library automation services complete and 32 libraries now using it as their production platform.

OCLC has now launched a new brand around these efforts: OCLC WorldShare. The OCLC WorldShare Platform is the new name for the infrastructure the organization has created to support applications created by OCLC, member libraries, and other entities. OCLC WorldShare Management Services (WMS), previously known as Web-scale Management Services, describes the large-scale application developed by OCLC on top of the WorldShare Platform that addresses the general automation needs of libraries. Complementing OCLC’s own work, other organizations can create their own applications on top of the WorldShare Platform. For eample, WMS subscribers can create applications that extend its functionality to meet institution-specific requirements or to integrate its services into other applications. The OCLC WorldShare Platform provides a library-oriented programming environment modeled after the platform-as-a-service offerings increasingly common in today’s environment of cloud computing. The BIBSYS consortium in Norway that includes the national library and about 100 academic libraries selected WMS not only for its built-in functionality but also for a platform to support its own efforts to create customized functionality for its members as it moves from an entirely locally programmed system.

OCLC WorldCat remains as the brand for OCLC core content products and patron-facing services such as WorldCat.org and WorldCat Local.

The OCLC WorldShare Platform provides programmatic access into a rich set of resources managed by OCLC, including the WorldCat bibliographic database, the WorldCat Knowledgebase of electronic content, and the WorldCat Registry of library details. Access to the OCLC WorldShare Platform takes place through Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), a set of documented commands, usually implemented as web services, which programmers can use to address the data and functionality of the underlying platform. Library programmers can access these APIs using standard programming languages such as Java, PHP, JSON, Perl, or Ruby on Rails.

The OCLC WorldShare Platform also embraces the OpenSocial framework for web-based applications that finds common use in applications that interface with social networking applications. Applications that interface with the OCLC WorldShare Platform can reside on local servers, in any environment that supports OpenSocial containers, or directly within the platform. Although most applications built for the OCLC WorldShare Platform would naturally involve some aspect of OCLC’s resources, it is not a requirement. Some libraries might choose to use the platform to create general-purpose applications or to integrate external information into their workflows.

OCLC has been developing and enhancing what is now known as the OCLC WorldShare Platform for the last few years and is the basis of WMS. OCLC has also been promoting it as a general platform for library programmers through the OCLC Developer Network. In addition to the new branding, OCLC released a new environment to facilitate and promote external development efforts, called the OCLC WorldShare App Gallery. This environment houses applications built by partners available for testing and use. Completed applications enter the App Gallery following certification by OCLC. The OCLC WorldShare App Gallery allows even nonprogrammers to test and install applications simply by clicking through the steps in the web-based interface. While the creation of applications on the WorldShare Platform requires programming expertise, their use does not. The App Gallery aims to facilitate collaboration, allow developers to share their creations, and to provide convenient access to services beyond those created by OCLC directly. The concept resembles that of Apple’s App Store: developers create applications, finished applications are submitted for quality assurance, and certified apps then become available for installation and use.

Applications created on the OCLC WorldShare Platform gain access to all the resources to which the library is entitled, either through freely-available resources or through its OCLC subscriptions. While applications in the App Gallery can be developed and tested freely, installation into production environments will require activation keys assigned by OCLC that enable access to subscribed content and services. OCLC does not assess fees to members for access to the OCLC WorldShare Platform; it is considered an approach that enhances the value that member libraries gain from subscriptions to OCLC products and services.

OCLC is not unique in offering environments for the applications created by customers and third parties. For example, Ex Libris offers EL Commons CodeShare, which presents a similar environment for the creation of applications and utilities related to its products and services. Polaris launched its Polaris Developer’s Network in October 2011 providing a more convenient environment for libraries to build and test its APIs. SirsiDynix provides a shared code repository within its customer forums. Today, the delivery of API’s and appropriate venues for creating and sharing customer-created applications has become an important area of competition among library technology providers.

The environment that OCLC aims to support demands a globally distributed infrastructure. The initial deployment of the platform was based on two data centers in the U.S., one of which is located at the company’s headquarters in Dublin, Ohio and another in Westerville, Ohio. A third data center in the U.K. will come online in early December 2011. Additional data centers in continental Europe, Australia, and Canada will be deployed in 2012. The ability for the OCLC WorldShare Platform to address the needs of member libraries depends on both the redundancy of globally distributed infrastructure as well as computing resources proximate to the regions in which its customers reside.

With this new branding, an enhanced development environment and application gallery, and extended global technical infrastructure, OCLC seems ready for a major campaign for its webscale products and services. Efforts that were previously churning behind the scenes at OCLC now seem poised for more concerted and public marketing to libraries. It will be interesting to see how libraries respond. With this more clearly articulated vision, its worldwide member libraries and those that use the products of its acquired companies, we can anticipate that the OCLC WorldShare Platform will have an enormous impact on the technology strategies for libraries throughout the world.


Marshall Breeding is a library technology officer at Vanderbilt University and a columnist for Computers in Libraries.

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