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OCLC Expands Linking Resources with Acquisition of Openly Informatics
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Posted On January 9, 2006
OCLC (http://www.oclc.org), the leading library vendor, has acquired Openly Informatics (http://www.openly.com), a service that supplies linking software and services to libraries through direct arrangements and, especially, through platform services provided to library vendors. According to Eric Hellman, founder and president of Openly Informatics, the company "was not looking to be acquired and had not been configured as an acquisition target," but when OCLC approached it, it "sounded like a good idea." As OCLC Openly Informatics, the new division of OCLC will remain in Bloomfield, N.J., and will report to OCLC's product architecture and development division. All staff members have agreed to remain as OCLC employees, and Hellman will continue to head the operation.

Immediate plans for the integration of the Openly operation into OCLC focus on following current business models and maintaining stable relationships with Openly's existing customers, while improving the knowledgebases to serve both OCLC's member libraries and Openly's clients. Future plans include enriching OCLC WorldCat, the world's largest union catalog of library holdings and bibliographic records, with the linking information within Openly's 1.2 million-record database of metadata for linking electronic resources. OCLC plans to feed the enhanced records to FirstSearch WorldCat, WorldCat Resource Sharing, WorldCat Collection Analysis, and the Open WorldCat available via Google, Yahoo! Search, and other open Web outlets.

OCLC Openly Informatics' clients will have the benefit of an expanded knowledgebase that includes metadata for electronic books, digital audio books, digital theses and dissertations, and other electronic formats built on content already in OCLC's WorldCat. According to Mike Teets, vice president of OCLC global product architecture, the acquisition "is a fundamental component in our effort to build a union catalog of electronic content in WorldCat." He hopes that the new division will "engage in collaborative efforts that cross with initiatives by the Dublin [Ohio, OCLC's headquarters] staff and vice versa."

Hellman explained the strategy: "Openly Informatics and OCLC have shared a mission—to link people to information more efficiently. Openly accomplishes this by working with library automation vendors, subscription agents, publishers, content aggregators, and libraries, while OCLC pursues its public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing library costs. We believe that by joining together, Openly and OCLC will be better able to help the organizations we serve."

Openly Informatics offers a range of services to link e-journal listings and currently claims to serve more than 10 million individual users through arrangements with publishers, aggregators, library automation companies, and libraries. The 1Cate hosted link-server product provides Open URL linking and listings directly for libraries. The JournalSeek and UHF holding tables, which exist as components of 1Cate, can assist libraries building their own linking services. A full-service targeted at library vendors adds Link.Openly to all the services mentioned, reaching more than 10,000 e-journals.

According to both Teets and Hellman, reactions among Openly's vendor partners have been enthusiastic. I asked Teets whether some of Openly's current vendor clients might see OCLC's takeover as dangerous, since OCLC competes with vendors on some levels—e.g., through licensing its Electronic Collections Online (ECO), which aggregates some 5,000 titles from some 70 publishers. This issue came up in 2004 when ProQuest acquired Serials Solutions, another leading linking service. According to Jill Grogg, Electronic Resources Librarian for the University of Alabama libraries, librarians who link believe that since that move, EBSCO electronic holdings work better with Ex Libris' SFX linking. Teets saw no conflict. "On the large corporate level, many services supply data to organizations that compete in other areas. It's no problem." Doug Loynes, director of OCLC content initiatives and who has been involved in this project with Openly from the start, added: "Eric has been in touch with the clients. They are overwhelmingly supportive. It's a positive to have a company like OCLC to help guide a business, rather than a direct competitor."

The Openly architecture follows XML, Java, and OpenURL standards. Like OCLC's Open WorldCat, Openly has linking arrangements with Google. In Openly's case, Google uses its Open URL links in the Google Scholar service. It even offers an Open Source browser plug-in extension called OpenURL Referrer to the Firefox browser that links to Google Scholar. OCLC already has a strong commitment to OpenURL through its resolver registry, open to any institution, and related gateway services. Teets enthused: "We have had a seat at the table on the OpenURL standards committee [NISO AX Committee for the OpenURL] from the early days. If you want to see our OpenURL gateway work, check out our Web site [http://www.oclc.org/research/projects/openurl/default.htm]."

OCLC's grand goal in all of this, according to Teets, is "to build our ability to represent the electronic collections of our member libraries as we have with Open WorldCat. It is fundamental to us to enrich what is coming out through Google and Yahoo! Search."


Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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