- Alternative to OCLC cataloging already in some libraries
- Fewer records, emphasis on quality
- Copy cataloging record search and notification included
A new company called SkyRiver has launched a bibliographic utility, directly challenging long-dominant OCLC. Over the last 18 years, strategic acquisitions by OCLC have narrowed competition, but SkyRiver—founded by Jerry Kline, the owner and co-founder of Innovative Interfaces—aims to expand the market and offer an alternative bibliographic utility for cataloging that could save libraries up to 40 percent off their expenditures for bibliographic services.
SkyRiver is already fully operational, with a few libraries engaged as development partners. While the company has not disclosed the names of the participating libraries, at least one is a member of the Association of Research Libraries (ARL).
Some of the libraries are expected to go into full production with SkyRiver in mid-October, shifting away from their current bibliographic services. In January 2010, the company will begin broadly marketing its service.
Claims better quality records
SkyRiver will kick off with an initial database of about 20 million records, in contrast to some 144 million claimed by OCLC’s WorldCat bibliographic database. This seed collection includes complete record sets from the Library of Congress and the British Library, and has Library of Congress Subject Headings and NACO authority records. It will grow through the current cataloging performed by librarians, receiving newly cataloged records from both libraries that participate directly in its service and others.
According to Kline and SkyRiver president Leslie Straus, the service will compete on quality, not on the size of its bibliographic database alone. They say the initial database has been populated with high-quality MARC records, omitting substandard, skeletal records that often confound cataloging processes.
Moreover, Kline and Straus added that staffers have tried to ensure that its bibliographic database has unique records for each work without duplicate records.
In contrast to SkyRiver, OCLC’s WorldCat.org, which began as a cataloging utility, now encompasses many other functions. It serves as an interlibrary loan system, a discovery service for library patrons, and more recently as a platform for the automation of internal library operations.
As WorldCat has expanded, it has seen records added from a variety of sources with differing levels of quality and completeness. Unlike WorldCat, SkyRiver is a focused resource populated with the bibliographic records libraries need for their current cataloging operations.
Clearly, the venture is poised to take advantage of the long-standing perception in the cataloging community that there are no alternatives to many of the services that OCLC offers. With many libraries ailing from deep budget cuts, even a modest savings on cataloging may be enough to draw a significant customer base to this new product.
The service is based on a scaleable technology platform. It also will feature search technology optimized for catalogers accessed through a cataloging client that technical services personnel can master without retraining and which offers keystroke compatibility with the OCLC Connexion client.
As a full-service bibliographic utility, SkyRiver will offer a full set of relevant capabilities, including support for copy and original cataloging, record notification services, and support for libraries that acquire shelf-ready materials. It follows current library cataloging workflows and operates in conjunction with any integrated library system.
For copy cataloging, where the library identifies the record on the bibliographic utility for a newly acquired item, records can be imported from SkyRiver to the library’s local integrated library system using the same mechanisms as it does now with OCLC Connexion.
Original cataloging, where no existing record can be identified, can be performed either on the library’s local system or on SkyRiver. Locally created records automatically upload into SkyRiver. Libraries that choose to use OCLC for interlibrary loan can upload their records to set their holding symbol.
Service details and cost
SkyRiver follows a multi-level approach to its bibliographic service, and includes record delivery and notification capabilities—features it is likely to rely on heavily, at least initially, given the modest size of its initial records database.
If the cataloger’s initial query does not identify a record in the core database, SkyRiver includes both automated and manual mechanisms to identify and retrieve that record from external sources. Items for which copy cataloging cannot be identified can be placed in the original cataloging stream or deferred until records become available.
Exploiting these peer-cataloging and notification features, SkyRiver expects to fulfill records for copy cataloging in comparable proportion to those libraries that use OCLC’s cataloging services.
For deferred items, SkyRiver includes a record notification system to alert libraries when a record becomes available. Notifications can also be set to let the library know when records that they have received earlier have been enhanced.
SkyRiver will be offered to libraries through an annual subscription fee, which will be scaled according to a multi-factor formula. Subscribers gain unlimited use of the system with no per-record use fees. The subscription includes access to the SkyRiver cataloging client, the bibliographic database, and the record delivery and notification services.
Libraries that opt to use SkyRiver instead of OCLC WorldCat can continue to be OCLC members and take advantage of other OCLC services such as interlibrary loan.
With Innovative’s Kline providing financial backing, SkyRiver is untethered to venture capital or private equity interests. While it operates as a separate company from Innovative Interfaces, the two companies have deep business relationships and synergies.
Technology for the infrastructure that powers SkyRiver’s services comes from Innovative, which has expertise in technical services and has developed the supporting technologies. Finally, SkyRiver contracts with Innovative for administrative and technical support, and its offices are currently in the Innovative headquarter in Emeryville, CA. Its web site at http://theskyriver.com for now is a placeholder, and will go live Friday, October 9.
Straus, president of SkyRiver, retired from Innovative Interfaces as VP for worldwide sales and marketing in 2006.
This endeavor is not the first to establish a new bibliographic utility in recent months. In January 2009 LibLime announced biblios.net, a free cataloging service based on MARC records in the public domain and a web-based cataloging client developed by LibLime.
In July 2009 LibLime indicated that about 4000 individuals had registered on the site, and that around one-fourth of that number used it at least once per week. But few if any libraries rely on biblios.net as their primary bibliographic utility. Biblios.net functions as a cataloging database and does not offer the additional services described by SkyRiver.
Prior to this year, most competitors have been absorbed into OCLC through a series of business acquisitions. It acquired UTLAS in 1991, and WLN in 1999. In 1997 OCLC acquired the authority control services unit of Blackwell North America. That same year Bibliocentre, an organization that provided cataloging services to community colleges in Ontario, became part of OCLC.
In 2000 OCLC acquired Library Technical Services (LTS), an organization based in Winnipeg, Canada that provided cataloging services. RLG, which provided the RLIN bibliographic service, was acquired by OCLC effective July 1, 2006. PICA, which provided services in Europe, was acquired by OCLC, with full ownership completed July 3, 2007.
OCLC's absorption of organizations and companies involved in bibliographic services over a long period casts it as virtually the only show in town. From one perspective, this strengthens OCLC’s position as a cooperative to deliver services to its members. However, it also leaves the pricing of these services largely unchecked. The entry of SkyRiver into the fray disrupts that dynamic, countering a massive global organization with a new element of competition.