Saturday, March 1, 2008

Open Library set to take on WorldCat

Aaron Swartz has developed a free online book catalog that he hopes will rival subscription based WorldCat, the largest bibliographic database on earth. His approach is what is causing concerns in the library world. The difference between the two catalogs is noteworthy – anyone will be able to update Open Library, his catalog, whereas WorldCat only has records from libraries.

The new catalog project, Open Library, is set to go live in early March with records on 20 million books. The goal is to create a comprehensive Web page about any book ever published. Each page will include not just author, title, and publisher but also links that direct users to the nearest library with a copy and to related books. Other links will allow users to buy a book online or write a review of it.

The project is similar to WorldCat, which is owned by OCLC, a nonprofit group that promotes technology in libraries. But it seeks to be bigger. While WorldCat has catalog records only from libraries — including about 10,000 academic libraries — that pay to be part of OCLC, the Open Library will include records from anywhere, free of charge. And while librarians maintain WorldCat, the public would maintain Open Library.

Mr. Swartz also wants to integrate his database with Wikipedia so that a citation of a book on the popular encyclopedia links to the book's page on Open Library. Another idea is to integrate Open Library with LibraryThing, a site that helps people catalog and share their own books. Eventually, Open Library may expand to include journal articles, too.

If Open Library can convince libraries to contribute, it would be amazing. Unfortunately, librarians are known for their loyalty and many aren’t willing to share because they don’t want to offend OCLC. Not only that, it may prove a bad business move for libraries who rely on OCLC for other services.

Click here to read the whole article in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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