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OCLC Abandons Proprietary Software for Oracle Standard, Institutes Web Document Archiving Service
Posted On July 30, 2001
OCLC (, the leading library vendor, continues building for its future as a master player in the emerging virtual library world. Getting down to basics, it has announced that it will substitute the market-standard Oracle software as its basic platform, eliminating the proprietary software used and developed over 3 decades. At the same time, OCLC announced it would launch a joint Web Document Digital Archive project designed to support long-term access to Web documents, a service sufficiently durable to allow librarians to treat Web-only documents the same way they would print.

In selecting the Oracle software for its technological platform, OCLC adopts a state-of-the-market resource. Commenting on the decision, Rich Wiggins of Michigan State University paraphrased the old IBM quote, "Nobody ever got fired for buying Oracle." Donald Muccino, OCLC's executive vice president and chief operating officer, stated, "Oracle's relational database management system will enable us to provide access to not only bibliographic information, but abstracts, full text, images, and sound files customized to the needs of libraries and users around the world."

OCLC serves some 39,000 libraries in 76 countries. Muccino also points out that the "new database system will enable us to support Unicode as well as the IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records standards. We will also be able to consolidate systems used to support our online cataloging, interlibrary loan (ILL), and reference services. This holds the promise of reducing operating costs and development time as we move forward with new services based on open systems architecture and international standards."

Despite the remarks pointing to the advantages to OCLC of using Oracle as part of international expansion efforts, one still must consider the possibility of even greater advantages on the home front. Some time ago, OCLC announced its plans for the Enhanced World Catalog, plans that could lead to the creation of a national (and possibly international) ILL system along the lines of the Amazon model, based on networked library collections. (This would amount to the implementation of Steve Coffman's "Earth's Largest Library" concept, originally published in Searcher magazine.) Technically, operating with Oracle software should not only make for a more solid basis for the sophisticated tasks required by such a complex system, but it also should be easier to partner with a wide array of outside services that are probably already Oracle-compliant or -compatible.

As time marches on and Oracle continues to develop and inaugurate new, improved features as part of its overall service, OCLC will be able to free technical staff from platform software development and maintenance tasks. For example, Oracle Corp. recently announced the Oracle9i database and application server software, which supports XML data and file-based network protocols, such as Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning and enhanced file-searching capabilities across multiple file formats in 57 languages.

Wiggins still remains curious about one point. Is this Oracle software development strictly back end (i.e., only relevant to operations in OCLC's Dublin, Ohio, headquarters), or will some or all of those 39,000 libraries in 76 countries find pieces of Oracle software coming to their desktops? Oracle has a history of using one client to reach potential new clients.

Implementation of the new Oracle technological platform is scheduled to occur in phases, starting late this year.

Web Document Digital Archive
In another development, OCLC has inaugurated a pilot project to develop a digital archiving service for tracing and preserving Web-based documents that exist solely in electronic format. The service will store the digital documents on hardware at OCLC, although OCLC management indicates that the contributors may have other copies of any documents located on other sites. Ultimately OCLC intends the service to fill the basic needs of librarians for permanent long-term access, including identification, selection, capture, description, and preservation.

The initial project involves partnering with the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO); the Connecticut State Library; and the Joint Electronic Records Repository Initiative (JERRI), a partnership of the State Library of Ohio, the Ohio Historical Society's State Archives, the Ohio Supercomputer Center, and the Ohio Department of Administrative Services. These participants either publish original documents for the public good (like the federal government) or digitize special collections of material. The initial project will not cover more commercial sources, though OCLC will open the fee-based archiving service to vendors in the future.

For the next 18 months, the pilot will test system-user requirements, develop retention policies and procedures, and test working prototypes using the soon-to-be-international Open Archival Information System (OAIS) model standard. Meg Bellinger, president of OCLC Preservation Resources, said that the "goals of the project coincide with OCLC's global strategy, which includes establishing metadata, digital collection, and preservation management, and providing Web-based services for the contribution, discovery, exchange, delivery, and presentation."

When fully developed, the service will allow owners or contributors to the archive to control access. Some may even choose "dark" archiving (i.e., no access). Fees for the new service will be set after the pilot project.

Barbara Quint was 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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