Friday, October 29th, 2010

Better German cataloging from open data

University of Konstanz (Wikimedia Commons)

Casey has just finished loading 1.38 million library MARC records from Konstanz University into LibraryThing’s search index, Overcat.

While Overcat isn’t the only way to find German items–you can search libraries directly–it has become many members’ first source. At 35.2 million items, it’s now considerably larger than any remote source, as well as faster and more diverse. The Konstanz University records jump it up significantly as a German-language source.

Adding the records was possible because Konstanz chose to release the records as “CC-0,” essentially “public domain.” In as much as OCLC has convinced (or intimidated) much of the library world into acting as if library records were private property, this was a brave move.(1) You can read more about the release on the Open Knowledge foundation blog. It’s notable they originally opted for a more restricted, non-commercial license, but, under prompting from German librarians, opened it up all the way.

And what will we do with these records? Evil things! Hardly. LibraryThing has never sold library records and we never will. But the records will make a small percentage of members happy, as their German books suddenly got easier to catalog. These records, in turn, will serve as a scaffold to add other cataloging-like data—what we call Common Knowledge (CK)—all of which is released under a Creative Commons Attribution license. In this way open data improves open data, and everyone is the richer.

1. Their action is especially notable in that German governmental agencies aren’t required to disclaim copyright, as US ones are. Locking up free US government or government-funded library data, as OCLC does, is obnoxious and legally dubious, but Germany has different rules–including a true “database copyright” the United States lacks.

Labels: cataloging, open data, openness


  1. elenchus says:

    Good news, both in the strategic sense as well as specifically adding new titles auf Deutsch to Overcat. Here’s hoping it’s not the last set of data made available to the public from libraries, foreign and domestic.

  2. Nathaniel C. says:

    If only this had happened 2 years ago when I first catalogued (mostly by manual entry) my bookcase of German books! Na ja, so geht’s.