I am pretty much unable to discern the message in these four pages of insinuations and scores of questions. The document is entirely devoid of facts or information. Still, I'm going to attempt to extract some sense out of it.
First, it's all about threats to WorldCat, in particular as libraries turn to other sources of bibliographic records. What these threats are should be easily quantifiable, but Alford doesn't provide us with any figures. Here's the information that is needed if one wants to make an assessment of the situation:
- Are member libraries adding fewer records to WorldCat? How many fewer, and what is the actual loss of revenue to OCLC? Has anyone interviewed them to ask why?
- Are former member libraries leaving WorldCat for other services? How many, and what is the actual loss of revenue to OCLC?
- What does OCLC charge for its various services? There is no information on the web site, and I've heard it said that contracts between OCLC and libraries are confidential. This makes it very hard to have a discussion about costs and how costs are affecting OCLC's services in the market. Alford makes reference to "alternate service providers" (*cough* SkyRiver) but makes no comparison of costs or services.
Should the OCLC cooperative create and support software that provides quality control and the ability to make global changes as librarians create new subject headings and revise authority records?
and ends with
I am pleased to note that the response of almost everyone to whom I have posed these questions has been a universal and enthusiastic "yes."
But let's look at those questions. He asks about "supporting" CONSER, NACO and BIBCO without saying the nature or cost of that support. Maybe there is something to think about there. He asks if OCLC should continue maintaining the Dewey classification. Well, what does it cost OCLC, and what revenue does it bring in? And would there be another venue for the community to maintain DDC if members decide that it's not a good activity for OCLC?
He also asks, rhetorically, whether it is better to have a single database for bibliographic and holdings information or
... is it preferable to sequentially search dozens or even hundreds of catalogs around the world to try to find that particular book or article that a researcher needs?
He should know that there are other options, but this document is not about facts but persuasion.
Oftentimes I am unclear at what he is alluding to. On page three he says that there are libraries who are doing their cataloging elsewhere but "still want to participate in the resource sharing made possible by WorldCat." I don't know what resource sharing he means, but as far as I know anything beyond a search in the open WorldCat database is done for a fee. Is he complaining that some libraries do not contribute records to WorldCat but subscribe to other services? That sounds like a revenue stream to me. He refers to these libraries as consuming more value than they return, but I don't know what the unit of the "value" is. As a matter of fact, throughout the document there are references to value that sometimes seem to be about OCLC's revenue, and at other times seem to be about the completeness of WorldCat. Mixing these two up in the discussion is not helpful, not at all.
The purpose of the mailing that this document was attached to was to let OCLC members know that a new, revised policy will soon be sent to OCLC's Council and Board of Trustees, and eventually to all members. If the policy was developed in the same kind of information vacuum that this document exhibits, I have little hope that it will be any better than the original policy that began this round of member dissatisfaction.