I’m in the process of weeding through the issues and blog topics I saved in the past few months and haven’t had a chance to ponder or research thoroughly. Thanks to a (rather dated) post by Jessamyn West at librarian.net, I was reminded of the Open Library project. As this is an idea still in demo form, it may still be somewhere below the radar. In any case, it’s a fascinating project. A little idealistic for sure (going so far as to make the statement that “the ultimate goal of the Open Library is to make all the published works of humankind available to everyone in the world.” And declare peace on earth. And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Uh huh.).

Despite its high-flung goals, Open Library does combine several important elements of the best of Library 2.0 brainstorming. It seeks to create an entirely open-source and collaborative universal catalog on a wiki model. In other words, “Imagine a library that collected all the world’s information about all the world’s books and made it available for everyone to view and update.” “It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded.” Unlike most current cataloging models, they seek content contribution from the user community (building upon the ideas of progressive libraries that are now implementing tools on their websites that enable blogging, tagging, etc.). This is a powerful dynamic. Power to the people, indeed.

But what about standards? We all know the dystopian fantasies surrounding folksonomy run amock. The proponents of Open Library propose a schema developed on the MARC model called “futurelib“, which is viewable in draft form. Of course, content contributors could not be forced to follow the standards, but I suppose we’re going on the wiki-ish assumption that everyone has the same good intentions.

The main question I have is how this project is going to come anywhere close to its goal of making available the world’s entire published works. The only material available for freely accessible digitization would be work out of copyright, which is a very limited amount of material. At this point, I don’t see how they can go much further than attempting to aggregate all the world’s bibliographic records in one place. Kind of like a universal WorldCat. Still noble, but falling short of the ultimate goal. The availability of a catalog record certainly does not equate with access to the “published works of humankind.” Of course, they do say “bought, borrowed or downloaded.” But how much of a contribution to literacy is it to provide an Amazon link, particularly for the citizens of Third World countries who presumably are the primary focus of this project? Am I missing something?

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