by Barbara Quint
does she do it? Month after month, year after year,
such breezily profound thought couched in such superbly
readable terminology. Amazing!"
Ah, yes, it's a wonder alright. But, like the late,
great Will Rogers, all I have to do is keep reading
the newspapers...or, in this digital age, keep scanning
news and trade press Web sites. Life seems to arrive
with its own lesson material attached.
For example, the other day I ran across a "Special
Report" in The Wall Street Journal [September
15, 2003] urging all readers to rely on them for finding
the best sources on the Web. To quote one category
entry, "...with a little patience and some old-fashioned
horse sense, the Internet will yield its secrets." The
collection of advice extended from finding information
to setting Internet policies and services inside institutions
to starting blogs to whatever.
Now this is the kind of promise of wisdom and glory
that we information professionals should make. Our
clients should turn to us to locate the best advice
on what they need to do and how to do it. Instead,
some clients and probably the bulk of the universe
of potential clients known as the public still
think of librarians and information professionals as
people who only know where to find a back copy of The
Wall Street Journal.
Why don't people turn to us first for the latest
and best in information as delivered by the latest
and best in information technology? Well, not 10 days
after I scanned that Wall Street Journal article,
another story hit my eye. Apparently, OCLC has sued
the Library Hotel in New York City for trademark infringement.
The hotel had dared to use the Dewey Decimal System
in identifying its 60-some rooms and even advertised
this barefaced piracy on its Web site [http://www.libraryhotel.com].
Some of the hotel's promotional language is even identical
to the language OCLC uses to promote sales of DDC.
Fortunately, statements on the Library Hotel's Web
site indicate that this ugly practice has not spread yet!
("The Library Hotel in New York City is the first hotel
ever to offer its guests over 6,000 volumes organized
throughout the hotel by the DDC. Each of the 10 guestrooms
floors honors one of the 10 categories of the DDC and
each of the 60 rooms is uniquely adorned with a collection
of books and art exploring a distinctive topic within
the category or floor it belongs to.")
But who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of trademark
infringers? How long before DDC-classified hotel suites
start filling the landscape? Think how confused potential
library patrons will become! Some poor single mother
with two young children in tow sets off for the children's
first visit to the magic of Libraryland and, the next
thing they know, she and her bairns find themselves
sitting mystified in some hotel room in a yet unnamed
Here's one alerting criterion for OCLC librarians
everywhere. If the Library Hotel in New York is any
guide, the phenomenon will only occur when a hotel
opens opposite a city's main public library building.
So as librarians get out of their cars each morning,
before leaving the parking lot, they should probably
glance around and check to see if any hotel construction
has commenced. When spotted, place a quick call to
Columbus, Ohio, where, I assume, a flying squad of
crack investigators stands waiting.
Or perhaps OCLC could focus on something else that
could clarify and enhance the image of libraries and
librarians everywhere. Perhaps it could find some way
of bringing the content of all its member collections
into the line of sight of the Web users of the world.
Instead of offering access only to people who already
patronize libraries, perhaps OCLC could find a way
to leverage the mammoth expenditures of time, talent,
and money represented in the listings of its WorldCat
database into a tool for acquiring new library patrons
and increasing the visibility of services librarians
offer the world. Instead of having librarians carry
its system to the world, maybe OCLC could find a way
to have its system carry librarians into the future.
First off, OCLC might want to consider getting Google-compliant.
Since bibliographic records are so lean and mean, lacking
the searchable richness of full text, OCLC might want
to negotiate a deal with Google for getting sponsored
services. Though the bibliographic citations would
have to be available free for Google to use them, an
add-on service might charge for locating the library
nearest the searcher holding the item. It might even
form the basis for a charging service pay-per-use
and subscription to initiate loans with material
either delivered directly to patrons or to patrons'
local libraries for pick-up. (Finally, Steve Coffman's
Earth's Largest Library arrives!! http://www.infotoday.com/searcher/mar99/coffman.hm,
Of course, such a move on OCLC's part would represent
considerable risk financially speaking though
it might relieve member libraries from the expense
of loading each of their own collections onto the Web
or making their holdings accessible through legacy
databases on their own Web sites.
Well, such is the challenge of technology. The future
isn't free, as they say. Decades ago, when OCLC began,
the cataloger portion of the library profession was
a lot larger than it is now. Every library had a staff
of catalogers to handle their inventory. But OCLC and
other library-based consortia challenged the wisdom
of that policy. Why catalog each and every copy of
a book going into a library? Catalog the title once
and circulate the catalog records to every library
acquiring the book. Economical, efficient, technologically
feasible, and the right thing to do. And a lot of catalogers
had to find other work.
Now the time has come for OCLC itself to make some
hard decisions and do the right thing for the interests
of members, the library profession, and the patrons
of the world especially those who believe the
Web and the Great God Google constitute the only venue
needed for any kind of research. Will it hurt? Probably,
but those catalogers took the hit without too much
screaming and shouting.
Like they say in "the bigs," sometimes you've just
got to take one for the team. And if you don't think
any library utility could afford to take such a risk,
you might take a look at http://www.redlightgreen.com.
The world's second-largest online union catalog service,
Research Libraries Group (RLG), has opened its catalog
to the World Wide Web with full searching features
and full records of library holdings. If things go
well, if business models hold up, RLG may even expand
to Google compliancy. Speaking of "the bigs," that's
a major development in anyone's league.
Barbara Quint's e-mail address is email@example.com.