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‘The Future of Bibliographic Control’ and Licensing Policies for Bibliographic Data

December 6, 2007 in External, Open Data, Open/Closed

Last week the Working Group on the Future of Bibliographic Control at the Library of Congress released their Draft Report. They are soliciting for public comment until the 15th December, in good time for final submission on the 9th January.

The aim of the working group is to:

Present findings on how bibliographic control and other descriptive practices can effectively support management of and access to library materials in the evolving information and technology environment.

They will make recommendations for the library world in general, and the Library of Congress in particular. The group includes representatives from:

  • the American Association of Law Libraries
  • the American Library Association
  • the Association of Research Libraries
  • the Special Libraries Association
  • Google
  • Microsoft
  • the Coalition for Networked Information
  • OCLC

Some notes on the draft

The draft continually emphasises that our information environment is changing and that libraries must seek to keep abreast of these changes through new policies and new kinds of partnerships.
Alongside urges for libraries to take heed of nontraditional third party content (e.g. book reviews, cover images), and to work towards new kinds of shared standards, there is mention of greater sharing of bibliographic material.

Paragraphs such as the following suggest that the authors are proposing new ways of ‘opening up’ silos of bibliographic data:

“The future of bibliographic control will be collaborative, decentralized, international in scope,
and Web-based. Its realization will occur in cooperation with the private sector, and with the
active collaboration of library users. Data will be gathered from multiple sources; change will
happen quickly; and bibliographic control will be dynamic, not static. The underlying
technology that makes this future possible and necessary—the World Wide Web—is now almost
two decades old. Libraries must continue the transition to this future without delay in order to
retain their relevance as information providers.” (p.1)

“Library bibliographic data will move from the closed database model to the open Web-based
model wherein records are addressable by programs and are in formats that can be easily
integrated into Web services and computer applications. This will enable libraries to make better
use of networked data resources and to take advantage of the relationships that exist (or could
be made to exist) among various data sources on the Web.” (p.23)

“The Working Group envisions a bibliographic infrastructure wherein data about entities
of interest (e.g., works, places, people, concepts, and chronological periods) are encoded in
agreed-upon ways and made available through agreed-upon Web protocols for ready and
efficient use by other applications and services. LC and the library community need to find ways
of “releasing the value” of the rich historic investment in semantic data onto the Web.” (p.29)

Moreover, the first of the five key recommendations made by the group is to:

“Increase the efficiency of bibliographic production for all libraries through increased
cooperation and increased sharing of bibliographic records, and by maximizing the use
of data produced throughout the entire “supply chain” for information resources.” (p.1)

More particularly, recommendations include:

1.1.1.5 All: Work with resource providers to coordinate data sharing in a way that
works well for all partners. (p.12)

1.1.4.1 LC: Convene a representative group consisting of libraries (large and small),
vendors, and OCLC members to address costs, barriers to change, and the
value of potential gains arising from greater sharing of data, and to develop
recommendations for change.
1.1.4.2 LC: Promote widespread discussion of barriers to sharing data.
1.1.4.3 LC: Reevaluate the pricing of LC’s product line with a view to developing a
business model that enables more substantial cost recovery.
(p. 13)

However, there is no specific mention of licensing policies for bibliographic data per se. While there is talk of new ways of sharing bibliographic material, there is a resounding silence regarding blanket licensing of the data – particularly open licensing – which would allow anyone to re-use the data, from technology companies to individual enthusiasts. Without further clarification, the draft might imply that sharing and collaboration with regard to bibliographic material might extend only to other libraries and companies who are willing to take a more active role in adding value to the material by developing new products or services. As the authors state:

“Once considered a public good, information access is today a commodity in a rapidly-growing marketplace.” (p. 12)

While of course cost-benefit analysis will be involved in taking licensing policy decisions, and it unsurprising open licensing of bibliographic data is not outrightly recommended for all libraries – it does seem surprising that open licensing is not even mentioned in the draft. (As an aside: surely as a US government operation, material produced by the Library of Congress is exempt from copyright – and hence effectively open by default, at least in the US?)

Open bibliographic data?

While prominent bibliographic projects such as OCLC are closed (see the oclc package entry in CKAN), projects such as The Open Library (which we’ve blogged about here and here) exemplify the benefits of an open approach. (See this post on Jay Datema’s blog for an interesting view of open licensing for bibliographic data.)

Open bibliographic data could brings about significant benefits to the general public (by allowing anyone to redistribute, re-use, and build on it), as well as to other institutions and commercial developers.

The British Library has recently released a press release in which CEO Lynne Brindley declares the current balance between private rights and the public domain is “not working”. Though their bibliographic data is closed (as are the products of their digitisation efforts), Lynne’s recent statement is germane:

“I think we at the British Library, echoing the intent of the Adelphi Charter, believe that while market economics are very important, the public interest also needs to be actively protected – this can be done in many different ways but one important, if not the most important way, is through enlightened and well informed legislation balancing the conflicting public and private interests that seek to create and inform our IP regime. There is a need for real innovation in business models and for the legislation to become fit-for-purpose for the digital age.”

We hope that the working group add explicit mention of the potential benefits of open licensing to their report. It would be great if the Library of Congress got a wealth of responses to their draft from the open knowledge community!

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