Yesterday I had a quite interesting conversation with Laura Endress of OCLC about their efforts to enhance WorldCat.org with social tools. As it is right now, they allow the creation of lists & profiles. They’re hoping to roll out other social enhancements in the near future, including:
- more social network infrastructure,
- enhancements to the review system,
- RSS feeds for lists, and
- tagging of lists.
Long term goals include user-generated content. And that’s where things get interesting.
For users to add content to WC.org will take a big shift for OCLC, who have always seemed to me to set up barriers to end-users making any sort of comment on WorldCat (there’s no “report this record” button anywhere, and my attempts as a reference librarian to report bad records have seen no response in the past).
I mentioned to Laura that a lot of the things that they’re trying to do, LibraryThing is already doing–successfully. Many LibraryThing users are librarians, and there’s nothing an altruistic librarian loves more than enhancing a record for the future benefit of others. The great thing about LibraryThing is that you can talk to other users and find out what it is that they want. LibraryThing’s blog also enhances that transparency by responding quickly to the needs/wants of users (unheard of from most traditional library vendors). If I want to email for help, I’ve got six names and addresses a single click from the homepage. It makes LibraryThing seem like they…well…care. That creates a community of users who care.
I’ve found plenty of errors in WorldCat–and that’s easy enough to do with differing interpretations of all the rules and standards that we library-folk have (and no, I’m not taking part in the RDA debate here).
I believe that if WorldCat.org:
- facilitated community in its end users,
- opened up records to those users to edit (even on a “with review” basis),
- responded quickly (or at all!) to the needs of its end users (which includes librarians),
- was transparent it what it is doing,
that we would see a quickly improved WorldCat. The days of the gatekeepers are over. Let go of the keys.
I understand that large organizations with as wide a reach as OCLC are slow to change (I work in a university for goddess’ sake!). I also understand that with that many employees, that it’s normal (although not right) for the right hand to not know what the left hand is doing. Again. University. Yet when the little guys are outrunning you and are doing so for a $25 unlimited lifetime membership, it’s a bit of a wake-up call. LibraryThing. Zotero. CiteULike. Connotea. All of these tools are in direct competition with what WorldCat.org is trying to set up. Is it hopeless? No.
WorldCat is poised in a way that no one else is to offer the greatest research tool of all time. The WorldCat database (even with its bad bib. records) is still the biggest (the last time I looked), and unlike other tools I’ve seen, it deals with the multitude of media that libraries have (from 8-tracks to archival finding aids). The lists are a great start, but imagine collaborative working spaces for different communities (an idea they’re talking about, according to Laura), such as groups or wikis. The opportunities and intellectual property concerns are mind-boggling.
So yes, I eagerly await more changes from WorldCat.org. I look forward to being able to Friend other librarians and to comment on their profiles. I look forward to adding photos to my profile and creating bib. records. I look forward to sharing my ideas with other like-minded folks. And that’s what I told Laura–more than anything else, you should be listening to your users.