Tuesday, November 20, 2007

OCLC and network level services

OCLC is loading up on the big names in the digital library world. Of course, they've had Lorcan Dempsey for awhile. They recently picked up Roy Tennant and most recently, they hired Andrew Pace as Executive Director of Network Level Services. That job title makes me think that Dempsey had something to do with designing the job. An old OCLC hand out here in the Pacific Northwest recently referred to him as "Lorcan our prophet." Apparently he really does have a hand at shaping company strategy.

I know Andrew Pace some from the '06 Frye institute and offer my congratulations to him. I always used to see his columns in Computers in Libraries and think he was just another dork writing about library technology. At Frye, I discovered that he's a pretty enjoyable and interesting guy to listen to and in person is always dropping this funny, sometimes southern flavored aphorisms when describing various dilemmas and situations in the library world. I guess "lipstick on a pig" might be an example. I think he'll do a bang up job in this new position. As much as he's a thinker and observer, I know he's also a doer, as the NCSU catalog demonstrates.

In my humble opinion, OCLC has a lot of work to do on their "network-level" services. Here's a few areas where they could stand to improve:
  • ILL: the current mish-mash of products for managing interlibrary loan is pretty lame and is a real time sucker for library systems people. In most situations, these include an ILL management system (Clio/Illiad) for workflow management and patron interaction, a system for sending and receiving documents (Ariel), and the OCLC resource sharing network. There's no reason that OCLC shouldn't be able to provide a comprehensive ILL management suite including document exchange, workflow, and patron interaction as an entirely web-based, hosted tool, and offer it as a basic part of their ILL service.
  • Digital collections software: ContentDM is a relic from the 1990s. It's a strange hodgepodge of C code and PHP, is clunky as hell, not to mention that it produces the ugliest looking URLs and no page titles, making it terrible for search engine crawling. Someone good at Ruby on Rails could build a better piece of software in a weekend. (Perhaps I'm just a little annoyed with it right now because I've been working on getting a Google Search Appliance to index our ContentDM collections) OCLC should be offering a fully hosted, web scale digital asset management system with web-based client software on par with somthing like Flickr. They could offer migration from ContentDM
  • Semantic web strategy: OCLC needs to follow the Talis into the semantic web space. They need to be designing systems that share data in an open fashion.
  • WorldCat Local: This is where OCLC has got it most right recently, in my opinion. If they add an API, and make the UI more customizable, and allow for localized versions of records, they'll be in business.
  • Partnerships with large-scale players: OCLC is positions to make partnerships with big players in the information space like Google. They've found ways to bring library assets into Google's space, perhaps there are ways to bring Google assets like Scholar and Books into the library space (a Google Books/WorldCat Local integration?).
  • Data exchange: if you've ever had to get your data up to OCLC in batch form, you've most likely experienced pain on par with visiting the dentist for a minor procedure. Their procedures for doing things like local data record uploading are horrendously slow and bureaucratic. WorldCat will never truly be a universal catalog for library assets if OCLC can't streamline methods for updating data in WorldCat.
The team at OCLC has their work cut out for them.

No comments: