About Me

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Web person at the Imperial War Museum, just completed PhD about digital sustainability in museums (the original motivation for this blog was as my research diary). Posting occasionally, and usually museum tech stuff but prone to stray. I welcome comments if you want to take anything further. These are my opinions and should not be attributed to my employer or anyone else (unless they thought of them too). Twitter: @jottevanger

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Now that's what I call sustainable. Not.

Well, I didn't realise that my PhD might have such a tragi-comic example to illustrate the need for an examination of digital sustainability in museums, which is its subject matter, but the BBC's report (and a longer one on the telly) on the situation faced by The Public in West Bromwich even before it opens does throw up a lot of questions about who makes decisions and how, and who is best placed to decide when to pull the plug. Tens of £millions spent and yet facing the possibility that it will be scrapped before it fully opens - and at the heart of it, in the interactive gallery that's not yet open, lies digital media that may be out-dated before its launch. Will it be any good, will it look exciting and cutting edge, will it break, will it be worth the money already spent, and is that important when deciding about its future - or is it only the money yet to be spent that matters, that required to keep it working or useful? Who will decide what money will be spent and on what: the Arts Council, Sandwell Council, Advantage West Midlands, the European Union? The story's not over yet, and good luck to them since they've come this far. Hopefully it will be brilliant. But there must be questions to ask.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

WorldCat/OCLC get the rough end of the Guardian's stick

Well I've always had huge admiration for OCLC and for their WorldCat service (and FindInALibrary, built upon it). My admiration has arisen in large part from the papers and reports that have come out of its distinguished personnel, and I've never known that much about its core business and how it works with libraries to make WorldCat what it is. The Guardian has a pretty critical piece (Why you can't find a library book in your search engine), which does allow OCLC's Karen Calhoun to come back but lays into a proposed rule changes that, says author Wendy Grossman, basically stops the reuse of any WorldCat data as of next month.
Now the article leaves me pretty confused about just what's to be protected. Is it the descriptive metadata about individual publications that OCLC people wrote, or data about which libraries those publications may be found in, or both? Can libraries themselves can use their own data? Does WorldCat exclude Google from its pages? Grossman would seem to imply so. I'm certainly in favour of WorldCat being truly open with a public API, and getting its stuff in all the search engines; and anything that makes it easier to know whether something is in your local library is good. AFAIK WorldCat doesn't have a really open and powerful API and this, frankly, is not sustainable. But I wonder whether Grossman is conflating metadata about books and that about copies of books in libraries in her article, in which case some of the contrasts she makes between what OCLC do and what OpenLibrary, Talis, LibraryThing etc offer may be false and unfair.

I guess I need to do some investigation myself, really. On the face of it the proposed rule change sounds unwelcome, but I'm too much of a fan of OCLC to take that criticism unquestioningly.