WorldCat Policy Revision Draws Librarians’ Ire

WorldCat Policy Revision Draws Librarians’ Ire

OCLC’s proposed “Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records,” released November 2 and revised November 5 and 19 (PDF file), has been greeted with a host of critical blog postings and two online petitions opposing it.

Among the provisions that disturbed commentators were: the “reasonable use” clause, viewed as restricting their rights to use records, even ones that they themselves added; the WorldCat Record Use Form, also viewed as an attempt to restrict use by requiring OCLC permission; the requirement in the first release that each record carry notification denoting WorldCat as the source and making the record subject to the policy (later downgraded to a recommendation); and the perceived lack of openness in the policy’s development process.

“What we were trying to do was expand opportunities for the sharing of WorldCat data,” OCLC WorldCat and Metadata Services Vice-President Karen Calhoun told American Libraries. “We wanted to increase access of museums and archives to the data.” Calhoun acknowledged that OCLC’s intention has not always been clear in the process.

Calhoun explained that while the Record Use Study Group, which revised the policy, did “a rather thorough scan of information sharing policies inside and outside the library space,” the relatively short member discussion period from October 20 to November 1 was a “missed opportunity.” OCLC has received feedback from blogs, discussion lists, and e-mail, Calhoun said, but “we still don’t feel we have a representative set of reactions from members,” and OCLC plans to work with its Members Council Executive Committee to gather more. The policy is still scheduled to go into effect in February, she noted, but the continued information-gathering may warrant a delay.

The petitioners and bloggers objected to the reasonable-use-clause prohibition against anything that “discourages the contribution of bibliographic and holdings data to WorldCat” or “substantially replicates the function, purpose, and/or size of WorldCat.” Calhoun acknowledged that some people have found the clause “confusing” and that OCLC’s intent has been misunderstood. “There was never any intent to constrain the use of records among libraries,” she said. “We’re trying to encourage, not discourage, use, but reaction to the clause has obscured that.”

The WorldCat Record Use Form has “been seen as a way of saying ‘no,’” Calhoun said. She noted that it was intended to encourage communication and make it easier for someone with an idea for how to use the data.

Blog reactions to the policy, including links to both petitions in opposition, are amalgamated at the Code4Lib wiki. Librarians can send comments or questions on the policy to

Posted on December 12, 2008. Discuss.