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Disruption in the library bibliographic services arena

Library Technology Newsletter [June 2022]

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Bibliographic services represent a critical component of the library information ecosystem. Since the earlies phases of library automation, many vendors and organizations have developed processes to enable libraries to create records to describe items in their collections and to share them among peer institutions to avoid redundant efforts. OCLC's WorldCat and its Cataloging and Metadata Services represent the culmination of many of efforts into a global ecosystem for bibliographic records and authority control. Though OCLC ranks as the dominant provider, other services are available and new initiatives are underway.

How libraries create and share the records that describe collection items has recently erupted into controversy. Two major industry giants are now pitted against each other in a legal dispute over accusations of anti-competitive business practices and on the extent to which bibliographic records can be shared among libraries.

Ex Libris expands into the bibliographic services arena

Ex Libris has followed a development course where its products increasingly extend into additional areas of the library ecosystem. Its Aleph integrated library system addressed the traditional aspects of library management, including cataloging, circulation, acquisitions, and a public catalog. The introduction of SFX moved the company into the electronic resources arena, providing context-sensitive linking to journal articles based on an expansive knowledgebase of e-resource holdings. Primo provides broad discovery of scholarly content, based on a massive index of scholarly content. Alma, the company's most successful product, manages print and electronic resources, often displacing multiple incumbent products a library may have implemented. Leganto extends Alma into the course list management arena and Esploro reaches into the academic research sector. With Rapido and RapidILL, Ex Libris also sets its sites on resource sharing.

It does not come as a surprise that Ex Libris would make a play in bibliographic services. This expansion of scope of the Ex Libris product suite, however, has raised the ire of its competitors and has sparked a lawsuit, with enormous implications for the industry.

Legal battle ensues

The launch of Ex Libris MetaDoor, a new bibliographic exchange service, with the potential to enable the sharing of records beyond OCLC members, triggered OCLC to launch a lawsuit against its parent company Clarivate. OCLC maintains that its policies and subscription terms preclude a library from releasing records derived from WorldCat to organizations that do not subscribe to OCLC services. In the lawsuit, OCLC asserts that Ex Libris has been encouraging OCLC member libraries to share WorldCat records outside these policies and contract terms.

Tolerance of Leakage from OCLC?

OCLC has tolerated the leakage of records from WorldCat to non-member institutions at certain levels. Many libraries, many of which are not OCLC members, use Z39.50 clients to download records from library systems associated with OCLC members. This activity cumulatively represents a large volume of record transfers that may be inconsistent OCLC policies but has not sparked a requirement for libraries to limit or terminate peer-to-peer cataloging practices.

Even larger-scale release of data sets that include records derived from WorldCat have been tolerated, such as when the Harvard Library released its catalog records in 2012. OCLC Navigates the Realm of Open Linked Data in the June 2012 issue of Smart Libraries addressed this topic, including these relevant excepts:

WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities Guidelines and Open Data Licenses

Currently, WorldCat, the organization's top strategic asset, remains governed by the Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative that outlines the policies regarding the use of records in WorldCat. OCLC's policies regarding the ability to share WorldCat records have long been controversial. OCLC constituted a Record Use Policy Council in September 2009. The council created the current Rights and Responsibilities guidelines through a process that included opportunities for the broader OCLC community to provide input. Among other issues, the Rights and Responsibilities document, which took effect in August 2010, aims to advise libraries on sharing records outside of the OCLC membership. OCLC positions the Rights and Responsibilities document as reflecting the norms for its membership rather than as binding contractual terms. Yet, in a time when the library community resonates with the principles of open data, the guidelines of use stated in the Rights and Responsibilities policies remain a source of creative tension.

One action not necessarily endorsed under the Rights and Responsibilities policies is representing a library's collection as a public release of WorldCat records that it did not create. A library has claim to original records it produces directly. However, WorldCat records that represent its holdings but were created by other OCLC members are subject to the Rights and Responsibilities guidelines.

Jim Michalko, Vice President, OCLC Research Library Partnership, wrote a subsequent blog post addressing this issue, stating that while the free public release of records would be inconsistent with the guidelines of the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities, libraries ultimately can follow their own discretion in how they release their records to other organizations. It mentioned that licensing options that OCLC has followed for FAST, the Open Data Commons Attribution License, could be applied to how libraries release their own cataloging data that involves WorldCat. According to a comment on a blog posting by Eric van Lubeek, OCLC's Managing Director EMEA: “…on 18 April the OCLC Global Council in order to advise the OCLC Board of Trustees passed a resolution endorsing the Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-BY) as consistent with the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative.”

(See also: OCLC recommends Open Data Commons Attribution License (ODC-BY) for WorldCat data)

Harvard University Releases Complete Bibliographic Database

In April 2012, Harvard University exercised its discretion and released its entire bibliographic database, including over 12 million catalog records from its 73 libraries under the CC0 public domain license. This action, consistent with Harvard's mandates regarding open access to its creative output, goes beyond the Open Data Commons Attribution License that OCLC mentions as consistent with WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities. Harvard did work with OCLC as they considered the terms in which the data would be released and agreed to recommend to those that use the data to give attribution and to follow the community norms consistent with OCLC's guidelines, even though the CC0 does not require those actions. Harvard released its bibliographic records as a simple repository of MARC records, not as linked data.

EBSCO Makes Commercial Use of Harvard University Bibliographic Records

Less than two weeks after Harvard's release of its catalog records, in May 2012, EBSCO announced that these records had been incorporated into the base index of EBSCO Discovery Service. Libraries that subscribe to EDS would have access to these records, an example of the commercial use allowed under the CC0 public domain license.

Ex Libris to Incorporate Harvard records into Alma

Ex Libris has also announced its intentions to make commercial use of Harvard's bibliographic records. The company will incorporate these records into the Alma Community Catalog, a repository of data shared by all of the organizations that use the company's next-generation automation platform. Alma follows a hybrid data model. Its Community Zone includes resources such as the Alma Community Catalog, where participants can associate their holdings with shared records. Its Local Zone is for resources managed separately by an institution. Ex Libris will also index Harvard's Digital Access to Scholarship (, an open access repository of articles based on the institution's research. Harvard University makes the metadata associated with DASH available under CC0, though it restricts the articles themselves to noncommercial personal, teaching, and research use. Harvard requests, but does not legally require, attribution for use of the DASH metadata. It also requests that any derivative works be made available under the same terms.

The potential exposure of WorldCat records through MetaDoor poses a greater threat due to its enormous scale. Even the release of the entire Harvard catalog pales in comparison to a platform able to address a broad swath of WorldCat records.

Library investment in WorldCat

OCLC notes in its lawsuit that it has invested $162 million over the last five years in WorldCat and that its 522 million records come from member libraries, publishers, vendors, and national libraries. The 2017 OCLC Annual Report noted that WorldCat held 397 million records, so that 125 million records were added in this same period.

Determining the value contributed by libraries to WorldCat would be a complex exercise. Estimates could be calculated based on factors such as the average time to create a MARC record and hourly rates of a catalogers. The time to create a MARC record by a library cataloger varies from more than an hour for a complex description of an item to as low as 20 minutes. Cataloger salaries likewise cover a wide range, especially when job titles span roles including salaried catalog librarians, to library assistants working at hourly rates. We might posit an average hourly rate for cataloging at $25, including benefits. Based on these assumptions, the value contributed by libraries for the creation of 125 million records would be in the order of $1 billion or $4.3 billion for the full 522 million WorldCat records. The record counts may include vendor records produced at much lower costs and those produced by national libraries at higher costs. Even if these estimates are off by half, the value of the efforts of libraries to contribute records to WorldCat is substantial.

Libraries have a great deal invested in the creation of metadata and the outcome of this legal battle will have implications on how they distribute or share the fruits of their efforts.

BTCat: a new competitor in Bibliographic services.

The bibliographic services arena saw yet another twist as Baker & Taylor jumps in with a major new cataloging service based on new technology it has created and on its large-scale bibliographic database amassed through its long involvement with creating records for libraries. This issue of Library Technology Newsletter gives an overview of this new product.

PALNI launches initiative in open bibliographic data management

IMLS has awarded the Private Academic Library Network of Indiana (PALNI) a $225,000 grant to investigate "expanding current infrastructure to support open bibliographic data management tools, which library staff use to manage and share collections. The project aims to significantly enhance financial sustainability and access to information, allowing libraries to further deliver on their critical role in student success." The press release further states:

Academic and public libraries need the flexibility to address evolving needs around data created to manage and share library collections. Over the past few years, efforts to create community-owned software solutions have emerged to reduce the dependence on closed systems. However, there is a gap in tools and data sources focused on bibliographic record creation, management and workflows.

PALNI's project will explore innovative alternatives that promote open infrastructure — using open systems to encourage new ways of understanding collections through community building, sharing staff and metadata about library materials to meet the evolving needs of library patrons. The future-focused system, which will model tenets of other successful projects, will be supported by stakeholders in Indiana and from other library groups to ensure its continued success.

(see: PALNI awarded an ARPA grant to launch an initiative in open bibliographic data management)


Bibliographic services has been a fairly stable part of the library business environment, though not completely free from controversy. Concerns regarding the ownership of records produced by libraries have been brewing for over a decade. The legal action SkyRiver initiated against OCLC brought no resolution to these issues. This new lawsuit that OCLC brings against Clarivate raises the stakes to the highest level. The launch of a new bibliographic service from Baker & Taylor and the investigation of ways to achieve an open bibliographic ecosystem, such as through the PALNI project add additional disruptive elements. How these initiatives play out over the next year or so may reshape the arena of library bibliographic services.

[Return to issue: June 2022]
View Citation
Publication Year:2022
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Library Technology Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 1 Number 06
Issue:June 2022
Publisher:Library Technology Guides
Place of Publication:Nashville, TN
Subject: OCLC vs Clarivate
Record Number:27429
Last Update:2024-05-30 02:37:36
Date Created:2022-06-21 17:02:16