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OCLC Policy Change Radical Reference Salon Discussion

WorldCat is a great idea—libraries band together to share catalog records in a single repository. Libraries add their own records and download others, spreading the work of maintaining a library catalog across the profession while enabling services like interlibrary loan. But these good acts are in danger of being compromised by a rapacious, monopolizing OCLC that is seeking to severely restrict the ways libraries can share their own data. The new Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records is scheduled to go into effect in the third quarter of this year. What does it mean for libraries? For open access projects like LibraryThing and Open Library? What does it mean for library activists committed to freedom of information, including the freedom of data we ourselves produce? What might meaningful resistance look like, before and after the policy change?

Event Specs

Date/Time: Friday, January 23, 8pm

Place: ABC No Rio, 156 Rivington St., Manhattan

Cost: Free, but a $1-2 contribution for ABC No Rio would be nice

Organized by: The NYC Radical Reference Collective

Contact: Emily or Jenna


  1. Please add items you think people should read ahead of time.
  2. Please keep them alphabetical.
  3. Feel free, encouraged even, to provide some annotation.
  4. Please volunteer to summarize one item for the group at the salon by putting your name after it in parentheses, like this: (Farfel)

Beall writes with fervor about the problems he sees with OCLC. First, he argues that OCLC represents a monopoly that steals and consolidates the labor of catalog librarians and then sells it back to them at an exorbitant rate. Because they have no competitors--or buy them up, as they did with netLibrary--libraries have little recourse. Second, OCLC has notoriously dirty data and provides no incentive for librarians to clean that data up. Third, despite their reliance on computer science and business majors, OCLC fails to implement software well. Connexion, the cataloging client, goes down with regularity and OCLC is nonresponsive. Beall touches throughout on labor problems with OCLC including their failure to hire degreed librarians, a parochial reliance on Ohio State graduates, and the poor working conditions of temporary catalogers.

Guiding Questions

We expect the conversation to take on a shape guided by who shows up and what they're interested in. Here are some guiding questions we might keep in mind as we read and respond--feel free to add your own.

  1. Is a true cataloging cooperative possible under capitalism?
  2. Considering the reach of OCLC's power and products--could we do interlibrary loan without them?--what are strategies libraries and librarians can use to resist them?
  3. What can open access movements teach us about how to approach OCLC today?