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All of OCLC’s WorldCat Heading Toward the Open Web
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Posted On October 11, 2004


Excited by the "resounding success" of the Open WorldCat pilot program, the management of OCLC, the world's largest library vendor, has decided to open the entire collection of 53.3 million items connected to 928.6 million library holdings for "harvesting" by Google and Yahoo! Search. A letter from Jay Jordan, president and CEO of OCLC, went out to members on Oct. 8. Currently, the Open WorldCat subset database contains about 2 million records, all items held by 100 or more academic, public, or school libraries—some 12,000 libraries all told. The new upgraded Open WorldCat program will automatically include all of the 15,000-plus OCLC libraries that contribute ownership information (holdings) to WorldCat, unless the library asks to have its holdings excluded. In January 2005, Open WorldCat will officially graduate from a pilot program to a permanent "ongoing program"; however, the database will be open for "harvesting" to Google and Yahoo! Search as early as late November 2004. During a transition period extending through June 2005, all libraries with holdings in WorldCat will participate in the Web search engine referrals. Starting in July 2005, libraries participating in Open WorldCat must have subscriptions in place to OCLC's FirstSearch WorldCat or OCLC will remove their holdings from Open WorldCat reports.

[For background information on the Open WorldCat pilot, see "OCLC Project Opens WorldCat Records to Google" at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16592 and "Yahoo! Search Joins OCLC Open WorldCat Project" at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16417.]

The euphoria over the success of the Open WorldCat project stems from the burst of usage statistics. September 2004 saw 3 million clicks to WorldCat records from search engine partners Google and Yahoo! Search. Online bookstore partners—Abebooks, Alibris, Antiquarian Booksellers of America, BookPage, and HCI Bibliography—totaled only 50,000 clicks. In August 2004, about 8 percent of the users that clicked to a WorldCat record—around 200,000—clicked through to local library resources, i.e., specific listings in local OPACs, an information page, or a variety of IP-authenticated FirstSearch fulfillment services. OCLC expects linking to continue to grow.

Throughout the project phase, libraries outside the initial pilot group of 12,000 libraries asked to join, including 21 state libraries. According to Andrew Boyer, project manager for Open WorldCat, the "opt-in" request rate for libraries during the project phase was 1 percent, while the "opt-out" rate from libraries requesting exclusion was 1.5 percent. Presently, and for the future as well, libraries that want to exclude their listings from the Open WorldCat database may request removal using an online feedback form (http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/open). The same feedback site works for adding or altering URLs linking to library catalogs and Web sites.

Saluting the cooperation of member libraries in opening their collections to Web access, Jordan's letter states, "I would like to thank you and your staff for your support and trust during this experiment. Together, we have taken library cooperation not only to the Web, but also to new heights. This cooperation is bringing users from the Web into the library. We hope that you will continue to update your holdings in WorldCat in order to maximize the benefit that your library will reap from the Open WorldCat program. We at OCLC look forward to continuing to serve you as we pursue our strategy of weaving libraries into the Web."

Library Participation
Open WorldCat records remain as abbreviated MARC format listings, insufficient to use for "copy cataloging," one of OCLC's basic services to its member libraries and a major source of revenue. Nor do the linked look-ups on the OCLC system include all library holdings, sufficient to substitute Google or Yahoo! look-ups for interlibrary loan in most cases. For full service, libraries must still buy OCLC WorldCat services. On the other hand, even librarians who find Google or Yahoo! access sufficient for their patrons or some staff functions will have to subscribe to OCLC FirstSearch by July 2005 to guarantee referrals back to their collections.

Libraries that do not contribute holdings information and subscribe to WorldCat on FirstSearch will have their holdings removed from the Open WorldCat data beginning in July 2005. Currently, some 2,100 libraries out of a total of 20,000-plus FirstSearch libraries use the transactional pricing option of buying blocks of search coupons, according to OCLC. Users of FirstSearch coupons can range from small public libraries to large university research libraries. No information was available on pricing for new FirstSearch subscribers. OCLC usually lets its regional service providers work out customized prices using formulas based on population served and library type.

Besides expanding the Open WorldCat content to the entire WorldCat collection, OCLC has modified the interface. According to Boyer, the new interface lets the user choose to expand holdings information to regional or even a worldwide view. It also provides a clustering of fulfillment options from individual libraries. OCLC also plans to open a usage-statistics site for library staff monitoring the number of times referrals from Open WorldCat sent potential users to their catalogs or Web sites.

If Google and Yahoo! choose to harvest the entire WorldCat database, several advantages should occur. Currency should improve significantly. At present, before a bibliographic record appears in Open WorldCat, at least 100 libraries must have acquired the source and reported their holdings to OCLC, which updates WorldCat nightly. After that, another waiting period occurs depending on the scheduled visits of Google's and Yahoo!'s spiders. With all WorldCat records available, the OCLC waiting period vanishes and only the spider lag time remains. Second, the likelihood of libraries holding an item being nearby drops. Boyer said that "if only one or two libraries in the country hold an item, we will list them, even if it's nowhere near you."

Last, but most obvious, the leap in coverage from 2 million records to 53.3 million records represents a tremendous value surge to and through the Web. Larry Alford, deputy university librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and member of OCLC's executive board, saluted the move to a full Open WorldCat as offering "an extraordinary, definitive, and largest bibliographic database in the world with an incredible amount of information on material and [with] its location now made available to users all over the world. It brings people to the record of human achievement, culture, and research contained in print collections of libraries around the world."

Does the new expansion pose any problems? All the librarians with whom I spoke seemed sure that Open WorldCat would lead to a major increase in interlibrary loan requests. One librarian pointed out that over the last 10 years or more, interlibrary loan had focused primarily on copies of periodical articles, where the "loan" did not deplete the sender's collection, only the sender's toner cartridges. But what would happen when the objects sought became mainly books? Would libraries have to start taking credit card numbers for deposit assurance? Would they turn to OCLC for that service? The librarian mused, "I wonder if OCLC is planning on starting a new business."

One way or another, the questions which Open WorldCat has information professionals asking are "good" questions. As Alford said, "It must increase interlibrary loan as people start to understand what is available in public and university libraries. It will absolutely increase direct borrowing and interlibrary loan. But librarians have built these collections over the last century and a half specifically to make information available to people, and anything that furthers that goal is a great opportunity. That is what libraries are there for."


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

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