Tuesday, November 17, 2009

OCLC article in Radical Cataloging

I'm reading a book called Radical Cataloging: Essays at the Front edited by K.R. Roberto. It's readable enough that I think even non-catalogers could get something out of it without necessarily having to consult dusty old notes from their Intro to Cataloging class.

I just finished reading Jeffrey Beall's contribution, "OCLC: A Review." It's a very critical look at OCLC, its products, its practices, etc. There are some things in the article that I agree with, and there are some criticisms of OCLC that have been made on AUTOCAT that I agree with that aren't mentioned in this article (OCLC's attempted and much-protested Record Use Policy came up, and died, after this book was published - it would have been perfect fodder for this article).

So, here's my brief critical paragraph. Criticisms of WorldCat's attempts at FRBRization are ignored or dismissed as being the complaints of too few for OCLC to take serious notice (see Lorcan Dempsey's blog post - I'm surprised there aren't more comments, particularly from people who have noticed serious problems in the way music materials are FRBRized). Like Beall, I, too, hate it when Connexion (OCLC cataloging software) goes down, although I'm not as crippled by that at DSL as I was at my previous library - at my previous library, pretty much all I could do during the downtime was clean my desk and twiddle my thumbs. I think OCLC pricing it outrageous, particularly when products like WorldCat depend upon catalogers at member libraries to edit and add records. True, OCLC has catalogers, too, (I interviewed for a job with them, and have even met some of those catalogers in person) but I doubt WorldCat would be worth anything if most of OCLC's customers decided they could no longer afford its services and left. I hate that OCLC has a monopoly as a bibliographic utility for cataloging (SkyRiver may change that, but I imagine it faces an uphill battle).

Beall's article bashes OCLC, and it's true that OCLC isn't all sunshine and flowers. However, it's not completely evil either.
  1. They at least communicate with their customers more than some companies do (Janie would know which company I'm thinking of...).
  2. Beall is extremely critical of Connexion, and one statement I found particularly interesting was "Libraries choose instead to download the records directly into their online catalog and fix up the records there, where the editing process is easier and generally quicker" (p. 88). This statement wasn't made in the Connexion section (it was in a section commenting about the horrible quality records with which WorldCat is riddled, aka the dreaded Level 3 records), but, lacking an explanation for what is meant by "easier and generally quicker," I can only assume that it's a criticism of Connexion. I'm unfamiliar with the bibliographic record editing capabilities of most ILSs, but the capabilities of our ILS are dismal. Say what you like about Connexion, I can edit a record far more quickly with it than with our ILS, and the results are generally less likely to have errors. Connexion gives me the ability to use macros (I don't have the skills to create a macro more complicated than the one that adds my 949 field at the end of my records, but several talented people have made their wonderful macros available to the OCLC cataloging community, for which I am very grateful), it has spell check, it has record validation, and I can use my keyboard to do most of my record editing. Our ILS has no macro capabilities, no spell check, no record validation (not entirely true, but what it does have is almost worthless for my purposes), and I'm forced to use my mouse to even add a new field to the record.
  3. Connexion has batch processing options which save me lots of time. In the past few days, I've done work using Connexion's batch searching and processing that would have taken me years to do one at a time.
I could probably come up with more (and I'm only looking at this from a cataloger's perspective), but it's late and I'm tired. Basically, yes, there are lots of things one can criticize OCLC for, but I'd still be sad if we could no longer afford their services. If I had better alternative options for single-record editing (as opposed to batch record editing, which MarcEdit accomplishes nicely) and record-finding (the Library of Congress would probably be a great alternative source for most of our book records, but cataloging music, audiobooks, and DVDs would get a lot harder if I couldn't access OCLC's pool of records), I'd be a lot less sad.

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