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Magazines > Searcher > November/December 2003
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Vol. 11 No. 10 — Nov/Dec 2003
Focus, Focus, Focus
by Barbara Quint
Editor, Searcher Magazine

"How 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 []. 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 city.

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!! —,

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 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
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