Library and Archives Canada: Planning for a new union catalogue

Posted on Tue 03 March 2015 in Libraries

Update 2015-03-03: Clarified (in the Privacy section) that only NRCan runs Evergreen.

I attended a meeting with Library and Archives Canada today in my role as an Ontario Library Association board member to discuss the plans around a new Canadian union catalogue based on OCLC's hosted services. Following are some of the thoughts I prepared in advance of the meeting, based on the relatively limited materials to which I had access. (I will update this post once those materials have been shared openly; they include rough implementation timelines, perhaps the most interesting of which being that it the replacement system is not expected to be in production until August 2016.) Let me say at the outset that there were no solid answers on potential costs to participating libraries, other than that LAC is striving to keep the costs as low as possible.

Basic question: What form does LAC envision the solution taking?

Will it be:

The answer was "yes, we will be adding records and holdings to WorldCat, and yes, you will be able to search a WorldCat Local instance for both LAC-specific and AMICUS as a whole" - but they're still working out the exact details. Later we determined that it will actually be WorldCat Discovery--essentially a rewrite of WorldCat Local--which assuaged some of my concerns about the current examples we can see of other OCLC-based union catalogues.

Privacy of Canadian citizens

The "Canadian office and data centre locations" requirement does not mean that usage data is exempt from Patriot Act concerns. Specifically, OCLC is an American company and thus the USA Patriot Act "allows US authorities to obtain records from any US-linked company operating in Canada" (per a 2004 brief submitted to the BC Privacy Commissioner by CIPPIC). Canadians should not be subject to this invasion of their privacy by the agents of another nation simply to use their own national union catalogue.

The response: The Justice, Agricultural, and NRCan agencies use US-hosted library systems (the latter running the open-source Evergreen, by Equinox). However, one of the other participants from a federal agency reported that they had been trying to update to Sierra from their Millenium instance but have been stalled for two years because whatever policy allowed them to go live with US-hosted Millenium is not being allowed now.

LAC claimed that, due to NAFTA, they are not allowed to insist that data be held in Canada unless it is for national security reasons. They noted that any usage data collected wouldn't be the same volume of patron data that would be seen in public libraries. They did point out that Netherlands sends anonymized data to OCLC, but that costs money and impacts response time. Apparently the OCLC web site, they claim not to have had a request under Patriot Act.

Privacy of Canadian citizens, part 2

I didn't get the chance to bring this up during the call...

LAC noted in their background that modern systems have links to social media, and apparently want this as part of a new AMICUS. This would also open up potential privacy leaks; see Eric Hellman on this topic, for example; it is also an area of interest for the recently launched ALA Patron Privacy Technologies Interest Group.

Open data

Opening up access to data is part of the federal government's stated mission.

Canada's Action Plan on Open Government 2014-16 says "Open Government Foundation - Open By Default" is a keystone of its plan; "Eligible data and information will be released in standardized, open formats, free of charge, and without restrictions on reuse" under the Open Government Licence - Canada 2.0. I therefore asserted:

  • A relaunched National Union Catalogue should therefore support open data per the federal initiative from launch.
  • The open data should include bibliographic, authority, and holdings records. Guy Berthiaume's reply to CLA and CAPAL that libraries can use the Z39.50 protocol to try to access records from individual library's Z39.50 servers ignores one of the primary purposes of a union catalogue, which is to avoid that time-consuming search across the various Z39.50 servers of the institutions that contributed their data to the union catalogue in the first place.

The response: The ACAN requirements document indicated a requirement that the data be made available under an ODC-BY license (matching OCLC's general WorldCat license); and LAC needs to get the data back to support their federated search tool.

I asked if they had checked to see if ODC-BY and Open Government License - Canada 2.0 licenses are compatible; they responded that that was something they would need to look into.

Happily, the CLIPol tool indicates that the ODB-BY 1.0 and Open Government License - Canada 2.0 licenses are mostly compatible.

Contemporary features: are we achieving the stated goals?

The backgrounder benefits/objectives section stated: "In the current AMICUS?based context, the NUC has not kept pace with new technological functions, capabilities, and client needs. Contemporary features such as a user?oriented display and navigation, user customization, links to social media, and linked open data output were not available when AMICUS was implemented in the 1990s."

Canadian resource visibility

To preserve and promote our unique national culture, we want Canadian library resources to be as visible as possible on the web. This is generally accomplished by publishing a sitemap (a list of the web pages for a given web site, along with when each page was last updated) and allowing search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo to crawl those web pages and index their data.

To maximize the visibility of Canadian library resources on the open web, we need our union catalogue to generate a sitemap that points to only the actual records with holdings for Canadian libraries, not just in general. For example, simply points to the generic, not a specific sitemap for the Dutch union catalogue.

Our union catalogue should publish metadata to improve the discoverability of our resources in search engines (which initiated the standard for that purpose). WorldCat includes metadata, but WorldCat Local instances do not.

The response: There was some confusion about, and they asked if I didn't think that OCLC's syndication program was sufficient for enabling web discoverability. I replied in the negative.

Standards support (MARC21, RDA, ISO etc.)

I didn't get a chance to raise these questions.

What standards, exactly, are meant by this?

"Technical requirements including volumetrics and W3C compliance" is also very broad and vague. With respect to "W3C compliance", W3C Standards is just the start of many standards.

  • Presumably there will be WCAG compliance for accessibility - but to what extent?
  • Both the adamnet and fablibraries instances landing pages state that their canonical URL is, which effectively hides them from search engines.

Mobile support

The W3C Standards page mentions mobile friendliness as part of its standards. itself is not mobile friendly. It uses a separate website with different URLs to serve up mobile web pages, and does not automatically detect mobile browsers; the onus is on the user to find the "WorldCat Mobile" page, and that has been in a "Beta" state since 2009. The "beta" contravenes the stated requirements for the AMICUS replacement service to not be an alpha or beta, unless you choose to ignore the massive adoption of mobile devices for searching and browsing purposes, and the beta mobile experience lacks functionality compared to the desktop version.

The adamnet and fablibraries WorldCat Local instances don't advertise the mobile option, which is slightly different than the standard WorldCat Mobile version (for example, it offers record detail pages), but the navigation between desktop and mobile is sub-par. If you have bookmarked a page on the desktop, then open that bookmark on your synchronized browser on a mobile device, you can only get the desktop view.

Linked open data

Linked open data around records, holdings, and participating libraries has arguably been a standard since the W3 Library Linked Data working group issued its final report in 2011.

  • Data--including library holdings--should be available both as bulk downloads and as linked open data
  • Records need to be linked to libraries and holdings. For humans, that missing link in WorldCat is supplied by a JavaScript lookup based on geographic location info that the human supplies. This prevents other automated services from aggregating the data and creating new services based on it (including entirely Canadian-built and hosted services which would then protect Canadians from USA Patriot Act concerns).
  • MARC records should be one of the directly downloadable formats via the web. Currently download options are limited to experimental & incomplete ntriple, turtle, JSON-LD, and RDF-XML formats.

Application programming interface (API)

I didn't get the chance to bring this up during the call...

OCLC offers the xID API in a very limited fashion to non-members, which is one of the only ways to match ISBN, LCCN, and OCLC numbers. LAC should ensure that Canadian libraries have access to some similarly efficient means of finding matching records without having to become full OCLC Cataloguing members.

Updating the NUC

I didn't get the chance to bring this up during the call...

In an ideal world, the NUC would adopt the standard web indexing practice of checking sitemaps (for those libraries that produce them) on a regular (daily or weekly basis) and add/replace any new/modified records & holdings from the contributing libraries accordingly, rather than requiring libraries to upload their own records & holdings on an irregular basis.