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Spring is in the air, making me want to climb out of my hibernation and attend some conferences.  Unfortunately, as I’m not actively job-hunting, funded by my job, or spurred on by the student rates, I’m limiting my conference attendance to one day at the New Mexico Library Association in April. I really wanted to go to ARLIS this year (in Denver), but it just isn’t feasible. I’m in that career spot between discounted student and successful career librarian – right now I’m just impoverished early career librarian who can’t afford to go to conferences.

Now I’m brainstorming new ways to fill in the gaps.  Online library training and programming is becoming more common, even though I haven’t attended any lately (combination of time and utility – and my computer at work is ancient and largely useless for such things).  I finally broke down and bought an MP3 player, so free downloads are now a mobile opportunity for whiling away the long park-n-ride hours.  Library Journal is offering podcasts from the “Library 2.0 Gang” that sound interesting, including lots of info on Open Library. According to the Library Journal article, “Each month, the Library Gang will focus on a technology topic at issue in the library world.”

The thing is, I miss the conference networking the most.  I miss the librarians! These days that aspect of my identity is only validated when someone at work asks “Heather, you’re a librarian – you must know how to spell ‘cantankerous’.”  I’m not sure where the spelling/librarian corollary comes from, but as a matter of fact I DO know how to spell “cantankerous” and I’m proud of it. But I’m also looking forward to chatting with some fellow bibliophiles in a couple weeks.

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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?