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OCLC’s Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records

The Smithsonian Institution Libraries' response.


On November 4, 2008, OCLC announced the release of its new Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records as a replacement for the Guidelines for the Use and Transfer of OCLC-Derived Records (November 16, 1987).  The new policy has elicited concern and generated much discussion in the library community. 
In response to the largely negative reaction on the part of the library community,  OCLC withdrew the policy and on January 13, 2009, announced the creation of a Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship whose charge is to  “Consult with librarians and member representatives as appropriate; review reports, letters and comments including blog and listserv messages from the global library community regarding the revised Policy; and recommend principles of shared data creation and changes in the Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records that will preserve the community around WorldCat infrastructure and services, and strengthen libraries.”   A final report is due at the May Members Council meeting. The implementation of a new policy is not set to occur prior to the third quarter of 2009.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) created an Ad Hoc Task Force to Review the Proposed OCLC Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records.  Its final report to the ARL Board, calls on OCLC to develop a new policy to replace the one released in November 2008.

Smithsonian Institution Libraries supports the recommendations of the ARL task force and wishes to emphasize the following points:

  • The proposed OCLC policy is flawed; OCLC should develop a new policy with broad consultation and input from OCLC members.  The implementation and timing of the new policy should be done in consultation with OCLC members.
  • OCLC should clarify the intent of the new policy, in discussions with OCLC members, and provide examples of abuses that the new policy is designed to prevent.  As the task force points out, OCLC has not made clear to its members the connections between the ‘positive objectives as stated by the Chair of the OCLC Board of Trustees, and the limitations on record use specified within the policy.’
  • The new policy needs to be written so that it can be understood and accepted by the member-community.  The policy should recognize and affirm traditional library values of cooperative cataloging and shared bibliographic information without any claim of ownership of the bibliographic records.
  • Libraries should be free to use (share, distribute, copy, transfer, make available for harvesting) their own data (regardless of the source of certain data elements in individual records) in any legal manner they may deem appropriate.  OCLC should not seek to claim or assert any rights with regard to individual libraries’ data or require members to obtain approval from OCLC to use their own data for purposes they see fit. 
  • OCLC’s new policy should recognize, and not be in conflict with, existing legal obligations or requirements that may apply to some OCLC member libraries (such as federal libraries).—Marcia Adams

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