Can libraries really be effective advocates for open data?

By reeset / On / In OCLC, Open Data

This is one of those questions that I ponder ever now and again, because I wonder how effective libraries really can be as open data advocates when our current practice demonstrates that we don’t fully believe in the concept.  Well, I should qualify that – we have no problem believing that other people have a moral obligation to make their research and data open to the world using the most permissive (CC0) licenses available, but we have an extremely difficult time doing the same.  That’s right, my name is Terry Reese and I’m a hypocrite, I mean librarian.

There are a lot of places where libraries could be doing much better in terms of how we manage our own “research assets”.  This includes how we manage the release and reuse of metadata and digital objects within our special and archival collections to how we manage really mundane information like bibliographic data found in library catalogs.  In a sense, this is our research data, and as a group, libraries continue to tell other communities that for the good of libraries, this data cannot be openly shared. 

This question of how committed the library community is to open data came up again this week.  The National Library of Sweden recently announced ( that they were ending negotiations with OCLC regarding the use and reuse of WorldCat derived data within their national catalog.  The two organizations simply couldn’t come to an agreement due to the restrictions placed on the sharing and redistribution of WorldCat derived MARC data.  Essentially, the National Library of Sweden, it’s participant members and Europeana (the European Library) feel that library bibliographic data wants to be free.  OCLC (and to a large degree, many within its membership) disagree.  Hence the impasse, and the source of my dilemma. 

Within the U.S., it is nearly impossible to run a research library and not be a member of the OCLC cooperative.  And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  OCLC is doing some great things.  Just this month, they release FAST ( as linked data and they announced the WorldShare Platform (  Additionally, they continue to advocate for libraries and use their position within the library community to focus RLG on research pertinent to the library community (  Heck, I doubt most ILS vendors would be putting so many resources into networked based ILS systems had OCLC not lit a fire under them with their WMS platform development.  And yet, for all OCLC is and has done for libraries, the WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities Statement ( continues to put OCLC at odds with libraries and their missions.  For libraries that want to advocate for open data, OCLC’s position on data reuse is unfortunately making OCLC much more of a hindrance than a willing partner.

Which brings me back to my original question.  Can libraries really be effective advocates for open data, when we consider our own inability to make our most basic “research” data openly available.  I think that we can certainly try…we’ve always been a community that advocates pretty passionately for knowing what’s best for other people’s data.  And who knows, maybe if we advocate for open data long enough, we might begin to believe in it ourselves and become participants (rather than cheerleaders) in the open data community.