Open Solutions for Libraries Gain Momentum
Paula J. Hane
Posted On February 2, 2009
Open sharing of data has often collided with issues of ownership and licensing. Nobody does more of a balancing act than librarians, who work to provide materials freely to patrons and other libraries while protecting owners’ rights. LibLime (www.liblime.com), an upstart company that has provided open source software solutions for libraries for several years (best known for its Koha ILS), has made its move to the next frontier of openness—providing open data and open library content. In 2008, LibLime introduced ‡biblios (http://biblios.org), an open source, web-based metadata tool for libraries, and it has just launched ‡biblios.net, a free, browser-based cataloging service with a data archive containing more than 30 million bibliographic and authority records. Records are licensed under the Open Data Commons (www.opendatacommons.org), making the service the world’s largest repository of freely licensed library records. Moves like this by LibLime and other open source and open data providers, such as U.K.-based Talis (www.talis.com), clearly have the potential to shake up some competitors, notably OCLC.
The ‡biblios.net database uses a similar model to Wikipedia. Catalogers can use and contribute to the database without restrictions because records in ‡biblios.net are freely licensed under the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License (https://biblios.net/open-data-commons-license).
The licensed records come from the Open Library project, which is an open source project of the nonprofit Internet Archive. (For a background on the launch, see the July 23, 2007, NewsBreak at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=37019.) Cataloging records in the project have been contributed by the Library of Congress, a number of RLG libraries (though RLG is now part of OCLC), many academic libraries, Boston Public Library, and others (see a list of libraries and their status at http://openlibrary.org/about/help). On the site (http://openlibrary.org), it explains, "A major difference between OCLC and the OpenLibrary is that OCLC is building a catalog to share among libraries, while OpenLibrary is building a catalog to share with the public, with the hope that this will get more people involved in using libraries."
However, any discussion of commitment to openness needs to acknowledge the positive steps taken by OCLC in recent years. Karen Calhoun, vice president, WorldCat and metadata services for OCLC, reminded readers in her blog (http://community.oclc.org/metalogue): "OCLC has for some time made WorldCat.org, the largest database in the world that represents library collections, freely available for searching on the Web, and that this allows people everywhere to do research and be connected to libraries." (In December 2004, OCLC launched the Open WorldCat program, which opened its master union catalog of library holdings to Google, Yahoo! Search, and other outlets. In 2006, it launched its new WorldCat.org site. See http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbReader.asp?ArticleId=16951.)
LibLime and Talis have also just announced a partnership that adds more than 5 million bibliographic records to the ‡biblios.net community. Talis is providing data from the Talis Union Catalogue, the open, shared core of records from the Talis Base service cataloged by public and academic libraries in the U.K. over the last 30 years. Talis says that the sharing principles of Talis Base, established over the years, are now being supplemented by reciprocal sharing with other open sources such as ‡biblios.net. The Talis contribution to ‡biblios.net goes beyond the data being made available to the project. The Open Data Commons license itself was originally created by Talis in collaboration with Creative Commons.
"Talis has made two important contributions to pave the way for freely-licensed, community-maintained sources of library metadata," explains Joshua Ferraro, CEO of LibLime. "We’re excited about the value that the Open Data Commons license, as well as the Talis data set bring to ‡biblios.net. We’re looking forward to future partnership opportunities with Talis."
Richard Wallis, technology evangelist at Talis adds, "The open sharing of data, the default motivation for most librarians, has often been stifled by confusion and fear about ownership and licensing. Open Data Commons helps clarify and dispel those fears, opening up data that can confidently be shared. ‡biblios.net is a great example of the innovation that results when data is really open."
‡biblios.net also includes a built-in federated search system allowing catalogers to find records from any Z39.50 target. A central Search Target Registry, seeded with more than 2,000 Z39.50 servers, makes it easy for catalogers to find, create, and share Z39.50 targets. Records can then be imported into a library’s ILS—at this point an API for Koha is available, and Ferraro says that other ILS vendors are interested in joining. LibLime plans to expand beyond libraries in the future and to connect its open data services with publishers and booksellers as well.
Jonathan Rochkind, a systems librarian at Johns Hopkins University, has praised what ‡biblios.net is doing on his blog (http://bibwild.wordpress.com). He says, "I think it has the sorts of features we need to take our cataloging infrastructure into the 21st century." He also suggests that the target market for ‡biblios.net is probably libraries with smaller collections who can’t afford to be OCLC members. He continues, "Biblios.net has the right infrastructure and business model to support the cheap, efficient, and automated sharing of metadata. It’s also designed to support multiple formats (not just MARC), and is designed from the start with web service APIs to enable to exist as one component in a larger environment—or many larger environments, which in turn collectively are our Metadata Universe. … In my ideal cataloging/metadata future, I’d see multiple shared metadata repositories, which interact with each other and with each of our institution’s metadata infrastructures, to form a larger whole. WorldCat will certainly continue to play a roll in that."
Ferraro is excited by the response so far. ‡biblios.net boasted more than 1,000 users just a few days after its launch, with many more sure to join, especially after the presentations in the exhibit hall at ALA Midwinter. The tag line for the presentations was, "Stop buying your records back!"—a clear strike at OCLC’s practices with its WorldCat records. This also comes at an opportune time for open data initiatives, as OCLC continues to discuss its proposed record use policy (www.oclc.org/worldcat/catalog/policy) with unhappy members. (The protest was enough to cause OCLC to delay implementation to allow time for member input and a review board.)
Rochkind has called OCLC the "elephant in the room." Industry observer Barbara Quint wonders whether OCLC couldn’t just ingest the holdings information from ‡biblios.net to expand and enrich the content in WorldCat.org. She asks, "Is it possible for that elephant in the room to eat the peanuts?"