Big news. As you may have heard, OCLC has reversed itself and delayed its new Policy due to take effect in February. They will be setting up a “Review Board of Shared Data Creation and Stewardship”*, with broad member consultation promised. At best, they’ve heard the message and may end up embracing truly free and open library data. (A man can dream!) At worst their strategic retreat gives free-and-open data proponents time to articulate and broaden their case.
For people like me who have been pluging away at this for months and feeling increasingly depressed about what seemed the library world’s inevitable slide into data monopoly, it was a big, big win. The LibraryThing team went out to Silly’s. That’s a party.
Social media won. Content aside, however, it was a big win for library “social media,” particularly the “biblioblogosphere.”* OCLC’s new Policy was rushed through so quickly that it effectively bypassed traditional library-world tools, like professional conference. Press coverage too was minimal, late and mostly dependent on the blogosphere. Even the hastily-convened ARL/ASERL panel hadn’t spoken yet when OCLC felt the need to reverse course. The blogosphere was running ten- or twenty-to-one against the Policy.
Other social media also played their part. From the trendy, excitable Twitter to the cliquish Facebook to that forgotten workhorse of professional communication, the Listserv. Even AUTOCAT, which many of the Library 2.0 types I hang out with consider past hope, showed little support for the policy and much criticism. And over them all, the Code4Lib wiki was pressed into action tracking and aggregating what everyone was saying, allowing arguments to build on each other and makin it crystal clear to everyone that they were not alone.
Of course, we don’t know why OCLC changed course. There’s a rumor going around that important library director or two said they wouldn’t abide by it. It’s also possible that ARL/ASERL is going to come out solidly against it, and OCLC saw it coming. But even if the ultimate decision rested with some powerful people, they must have drawn on the blogosphere for information and support. Maybe the payoff from all those library-sponsored professional development courses won’t come from helping patrons get on the MySpace bus, but from getting the library world off a train to nowhere.
So, open-data people. You’re not alone. You have power. The library world is listening. What do you have to say?