Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Another tool in the cataloger's trusty toolbelt?

I stumbled upon OCLC'S Classify by way of The FRBR blog's post about it.

Using any number of identifying characteristics (UPC, OCLC no., ISBN, ISSN or Author and/or Title), a user can identify the most frequent and most recent call numbers for both Dewey and LC Classification for a (for lack of a better word) work.

I got really excited thinking about the implications of a tool like this. I couldn't help but think that, sitting next to Worldcat Identities, that this might be the Next Big Thing for catalogers.

Upon further consideration, I wondered what exactly one might do with Classify and the use I kept coming up with was certainly not what OCLC had in mind.

Imagine being a small library without the funding or resources to purchase a copy of DDC. Imagine being able to use a freely available web resources to assign a call number to something you own.

Given the stranglehold that OCLC seems to have on DDC, this was certainly not the intended use for this technology.

But what if it had been?

In light of this argument for setting classification free, Tim Spalding's idea about Open Shelves Classification doesn't seem so radical after all.

A library's ability to catalog it's collections shouldn't be tied to how much money it has. Period. End of story.

It's one thing to choose not to catalog a collection. It's quite another to not be able to because you don't have the means to do it.

Spalding's OCS (well, our OCS, if you take adhere to the truly open nature of "open" anything) puts part of that decision back into the hands of libraries.

I still think OCLC's Classify is a neat and potentially useful tool. And it has the ability to do a lot of good if it remains freely available. But, if it goes behind the wall of subscription services, it doesn't give us a whole lot more than what we've already got or what we can get by way of worldcat.org.

OCLC's Classify: shiny toy or useful tool?