As OCLC re-invents itself from a staid bibliographic utility to a company that can provide "next generation" library services, it's funny how that old fashioned term "utility" takes on a new meaning.
I was at the Orbis Cascade Alliance Council meeting last week as the group was discussing the possiblity of a partnership with OCLC for a group catalog on the WorldCat.org platform. As I reflected on the consortium's potential move from an isolated, server based union catalog, to one that lives in the cloud I thought about how this decision parallels those that many organizations will be making in the next few years as they make what Nick Carr has dubbed, The Big Switch to utility style computing. OCLC likes to call this "moving to the network level," but I think it's also just as much a move to "cloud" or utility style computing.
I'd heard most of what the OCLC sales force had to say at the meeting before. But one thing that struck me was how they explained the point of worldcat.org. OCLC believes that libraries need a "presence" on the web like EBay, Amazon, or Google. And that presence needs to be two-way, meaning users interact with the site and their interaction improves it.
If WorldCat is able to become a real "presence", maybe more database vendors will be open to representing their content in it and it will become a federated search killer. Maybe libraries can have more control over the digital content they give their users vs. just sending them off to an external, commercial website.
Where does local customization and control play in this potential juggernaut? Hopefully OCLC will keep opening up their APIs, and let libraries still have the ability to customize their own records in various ways.