Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Letters Keep Coming In

Today I received a copy of a letter written by Roman Kochan, Dean and Director of Library Services at the California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). It's the perfect day for this, because today is the national day of protest in support of education. This movement has blossomed (exploded?) over the deep cuts the California state legislature has made to the education budget in the state, cuts which are having a devastating effect on the CSU system, with the libraries extremely hard hit.

The letter is addressed to "Link+™ Member Libraries and ILL Partners." The subject line on Kochan's letter reads: Threat to CSULB Library's ILL Participation. He states that faced with budget cuts, not only this year but foreseeable for many years to come, CSULB decided to move to SkyRiver™ as their cataloging utility, with anticipated significant savings.

The next three paragraphs are worth quoting in their entirety:
"We notifed OCLC of this decision, while at the same time advising them of the Library's intent to continue membership in OCLC, to continue to make use of OCLC interlibrary loan services, and to contribute records for our current and future acquisitions to OCLC for batch upload. OCLC's charge for batch upload was (until recently) popsted on the OCLC website as 23¢ per record. That is the amount I referred to in my letter to the organization. I have subsequently learned that:
  • The price schedule for batch downloading [sic, read: uploading] that contained the 23¢ charge has suddenly and mysteriously disappeared from the OCLC website
  • Another academic library that chose to displace OCLC with SkyRiver reports that OCLC has quoted a revised charge for downloading their records that amounts to about $2.85 per record; it is a charge that they report would effectively (and one might not think coincidentally) offset the savings accrued from their change to SkyRiver.
The irony in all of this is that CSULB will still be able to have up-to-date ILL services using INN-Reach and Link+, the Innovative Interfaces (III) ILL service. It's ironic because SkyRiver was founded by Jerry Kline, the owner of III. Link+ is undoubtedly of smaller reach than OCLC's ILL services, but may in the long run grow if more III libraries move to SkyRiver.

Offsetting the cost of having a library move to another vendor may make some economic sense, but this is a matter that will need to get cleared up before other libraries move to SkyRiver thinking that they'll be able to upload their records to OCLC for $.23. MSU and CSULB were caught be surprise, which is very unfortunate.


arkham said...

Makes me wonder how much longer libraries are going to tolerate OCLC's insistence on maintaining a monopoly in a world where that will become more and more untenable.

Anonymous said...

Libraries will probably tolerate the situation so long as there is no other resource sharing system on par with what OCLC offers. When an equally robust, rival system springs up, then we may witness "days of withholding." Just imagine what will happen if a Harvard or another very large library system threatens to yank all of their holdings from OCLC.

Jonathan Rochkind said...

Yeah, the frustrating thing here is that libraries ARE willing to pay a reasonable amount to SUBMIT their holdings to an ILL service.

Libraries get no DIRECT benefit from this -- submitting holdings just means other libraries can more easily request things from YOU, and I don't think fulfilling ILL requests is usually a profit center. Libraries are willing to do it just to serve the larger community, and out of "generalized reciprocity" where they realize that we all need to submit holdings so we call can request from each other.

Libraries ARE still willing to pay a reasonable fee to fulfill their community responsibilities to resource sharing. They're just not willing to pay an UNREASONABLE fee, or to be 'locked in' to buying cataloging from a service that is not the best quality-to-price point for them, in order to continue resource sharing! (MSU noted they pay tens of thousands of dollars for the reosurce sharing/ILL service, and are willing to keep paying that, just not an unreasonable per-record rate for loading)

So... you think we'll see a SkyRiver resource sharing network too?

I don't know if OCLC's actions are an intentional attempt at forcing 'lock in', or due to unfortunate lack of technical flexibility in their back-end systems.

But if the former, it's just as likely to backfire, and cause them to lose the Resource Sharing business that libraries were perfectly happy to keep with OCLC at a reasonable price!