Published 11/21/2019

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ARLIS/NA member libraries contribute cataloging records describing their collections and holdings to WorldCat, and they rely on public-facing WorldCat.org to broadly publicize these holdings to researchers. These holdings, many of which are unique, are selectively masked in WorldCat.org unless the contributing library pays an annual WorldCat Discovery subscription. Many of our member libraries, especially small ones, find that the cost for a WorldCat Discovery subscription is prohibitive. 

Current policy impedes access to member libraries’ holdings the following ways: 

  • A researcher using WorldCat.org, in order to see full holdings information, must be searching on a computer associated with a library with a WorldCat Discovery subscription. 
  • If a library that does not maintain a subscription to WorldCat Discovery creates a cataloging record and is the unique holding library, its holdings may be masked to a user who is searching WorldCat.org on a computer that is not associated with an institution with a WorldCat Discovery subscription. In this case, WorldCat.org ironically shows a record with no holdings listed and falsely reports, “Sorry, no libraries with the specified item were found.” 
  • WorldCat.org does not state to the user the circumstances that might limit a user’s access to holdings information. 

Primary Recommendation: ARLIS/NA asks OCLC to implement a tiered pricing model for WorldCat Discovery subscriptions that offers a more equitable rate for smaller libraries. ARLIS/NA posits that this pricing modification would be a net gain for OCLC as more small institutions would be able to subscribe. An alternative option, albeit less desirable, may be to provide a discount to the current pricing based on the number of records contributed. 

Justification: On the OCLC landing page, OCLC proclaims the shared mission to support “thousands of libraries in making information more accessible and more useful to people around the world.” Furthermore, OCLC has stated that advocating for archives, special and distinctive collections is a priority in a recent report. Finally, OCLC purports to support Open Access: “OCLC works with governing bodies, publishers, aggregators, libraries, and the communities they serve to enhance the visibility and accessibility of open content.” ARLIS/NA believes that records created by our member libraries are important research content and should be openly available to anyone, anywhere. We believe that OCLC should support all contributing libraries regardless of their size or financial resources. Archives, special, and distinctive collections play a unique role in content creation, research, and scholarship, and availability of that information should be celebrated, not stifled. ARLIS/NA asserts that there should be no circumstance that results in a library’s holdings being masked from users of WorldCat.org. 

Other recommendations

If OCLC declines to create a tiered pricing structure, ARLIS/NA urges OCLC to be more forthcoming with information on WorldCat.org. More specifically, under “What am I searching?” it should be made clear that WorldCat.org contains selective holdings of member libraries. 

ARLIS/NA also recommends that WorldCat.org be more actively developed with an updated interface that is in concert with current cataloging standards, presents a clearer representation of bibliographic data, and adopts a responsive design for mobile users. As the public face of research libraries around the world, it must do a better job representing us. Furthermore, the cost of a subscription would be more acceptable if WorldCat.org were being more actively developed. 

Final comments: This issue impacts libraries of all types, not just art libraries, and not just small ones. If OCLC decides to make this important modification to its membership pricing structure, small libraries of all types -- history centers, rural libraries, music libraries, and other special libraries -- will be able to share their content with the world, thus greatly enhancing “the visibility and accessibility” of their resources and all researchers and institutions will benefit as this impacts all of us.