Friday, November 28, 2008

OCLC Use Policy Details: Use and Transparency

An interesting aspect of this policy is that it is entirely about the use of WorldCat records. That may seem obvious from its title, but what I am interpreting from the policy language is that the policy covers all WorldCat records currently in existence, regardless of when they were created or the policy in force at the time that were first used. Creation or update of records take place at a particular time, while use is an ongoing activity. I'd like to cover some possible consequences of that.

Agreement to the policy

OCLC has stated that the Policy will go into effect in mid-February. It appears that current Members will be "grandfathered" in under the policy, their continued use of OCLC being their agreement to the terms. The Policy also covers Non-OCLC Members, who will not have made any agreement with OCLC, and I am hard pressed to understand why those organizations would abide by the terms of the Policy. 

Versioning and records already "in play"

Section E.7 says that OCLC can make changes to the policy, and that those changes will apply to use from that point on, essentially what is happening now with this Policy. Although they have agreed to place a version indication in the policy statement field in the WorldCat MARC records, I'm unclear as to what role that version would play. Instead, it seems to me that the policy implies that all WorldCat records will be covered by the current policy, whatever version that is. If this is not the case, then it isn't clear how the new policy can apply to records obtained from WorldCat before the Policy was in force. Yet this is exactly what is implied in the section on adding 996 fields on page 8 of the FAQ:
B. Retrospectively. For records that already exist in your local system, we encourage you to add the 996 field to WorldCat records transferred to others. Should you choose to use it, the field should have an explicit note like the examples below:

996 $aOCLCWCRUP $iUse and transfer of this record is governed by the OCLC® Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat® Records. $u
"Retrospectively" in this case means for records that were created before OCLC began adding 996 fields, and thus before the Policy goes into effect.

With this control over the use of all WorldCat records in existence, OCLC could become a highly disruptive force for anyone with ongoing relationships around bibliographic records. Because the policy could change again regarding records that have already been transmitted, anyone developing applications around use of WorldCat records is left with great uncertainty. Absent a good survey of the OCLC record use landscape, it is hard to know how many organizations and uses could be affected by this because we don't know all of the many ways that organizations are transmitting, receiving and using WorldCat records. However, with a policy based on use, possession of WorldCat records is like having a ticking time bomb since you have no assurance that your use will be permitted in the future.


The "out" for all of these areas where it isn't clear what use is or is not allowed is to file a WorldCat Record Use Form with OCLC.  OCLC will then determine if the use is allowed. Section E.6 says:
OCLC has the sole discretion to determine whether any Use and/or Transfer of WorldCat Records complies with this Policy.
If I were an OCLC Member organization, I would want this process to be as clearly defined and as transparent as possible, if for no other reason than to avoid any semblance of discrimination against parties making requests. For publicly funded libraries, participation in a process that even appears to some to exhibit prejudices could be a public relations disaster. The only way to demonstrate fairness is to have a process that is open and auditable. The same section says:
In the event OCLC identifies a Use and/or Transfer which does not comply with this Policy, OCLC shall notify the relevant OCLC Member(s) and/or Non-OCLC Member(s) and such parties agree to work with OCLC to resolve the noncompliance.
I would go further and ask for the development of a publicly available set of guidelines for use of the records, and a formal appeals process that has member input. 

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