Data Sharing, Libraries, and the Landscape of the Web
On Monday I had the opportunity to speak in
I found the panel presentations and discussion with attendees constructive and helpful. I took quite a few notes so there is much to ponder. Besides sharing the URL of the slides, I thought I would also offer some thoughts about one of the topics that occupied the speakers and audience briefly, the role and significance of WorldCat.org.
One speaker at the Forum wondered about the need for WorldCat.org as an aggregation of information about library collections. From a different source this past week, I have heard OCLC's commitment to comprehensiveness in WorldCat.org misrepresented as an aspiration to monopoly standing in the library world. While the OCLC database is the largest of its type and in some way serves around 69,000 libraries in 112 countries, considering the number of libraries in the world and the number of cooperative services/catalogs they use, such a notion about OCLC's purpose for WorldCat ranges from the misinformed (in
I would argue that WorldCat.org is a good thing for OCLC member libraries already, and it has the potential to become a great thing. It brings eyeballs to library collections both collectively and individually--attention that otherwise will remain monopolized by the most successful Websites. For an interesting perspective on the landscape of the Web, see the map that Information Architects Japan has created. IA's map overlays influential Web sites on the Tokyo-area train map.
What IA's map tells us about libraries on the Web is not new. The loss of information seekers' attention to traditional libraries became painfully obvious four years ago when the Perceptions of Libraries survey report was released, revealing how much more likely respondents were to begin a search for information with a search engine (84%) than on a local library Web site (1%) (see page 17 of 34).
WorldCat.org, introduced in 2006, is a response to brick-and-mortar libraries' loss of attention in the Web landscape. The strategy is to make library collections everywhere much more visible in the main stations on the Web. Today, WorldCat.org is a destination on the Web, yes. More importantly it's a "switch," driving traffic from popular Web sites like Google Book Search to 10,000 OCLC member libraries' collections.** Very recently, a switching mechanism from the Web to many OCLC member libraries has begun to work from mobile phones, as described in the announcement of the WorldCat Mobile pilot.
While there is plenty of work remaining to be done to consistently and reliably connect searchers from popular sites to library collections via WorldCat.org, the first hard steps have been taken, and OCLC is committed to making WorldCat.org work better for more libraries. The switching mechanism does work: a few months ago, a Hitwise commentator, reporting on downstream websites from Google Book Search, noted that 22% of visits from Google Book Search go to an Education website, with WorldCat.org the #1 Education website. There is reason for optimism that the connections to library catalogs from the Google search engine via WorldCat.org will improve, based on recent exchanges between Google and OCLC.
Going forward, for WorldCat.org to be an effective switch to libraries, it needs to be more comprehensive and connected. To achieve its potential to help libraries, it needs to be a "point of concentration"--a large store of information about the content and whereabouts of library collections around the world. Its links need to be embedded and more visible on more of the Web's busiest sites. In these ways, WorldCat.org can help online travelers pass through the main stations of the Web and disembark at their local libraries, wherever those libraries are, from
*Outsell's 2008 report estimates there are 484,990 libraries worldwide--109,795 in North America.
**To try it out, go to Google Books and search "everything is miscellaneous," then click "find this book in a library" on the book description page.