Economic Psychosis

Reflections upon an LJ story

It could be reasonably asked why this is in text when it could have been on the podcast. There are reasons for such. Unfortunately I cannot let loose with spoilers at this time.

Norman Oder reports at LJ online about Karen Calhoun speaking at ALA. I wish I could have been there. I do not relish the thought of asking on AUTOCAT how acrimonious the session was or was not.

The OCLC data policy has created quite a bit of consternation. This is understandable. When I was last working in libraries, my specialty is as a cataloger. I have worked at an OCLC member and at a non-member that relied heavily on Z39.50. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. I've cataloged under both and have real-world experience in the past three years.

In this age of community, WorldCat is not the appropriate mechanism. There is plenty of utter crap in WorldCat that libraries freely share. The structure of cooperative cataloging now more closely resembles a command-and-control economy rather than a community. Outside AUTOCAT, catalogers cannot interact. WorldCat's structure already makes it quite difficult to remove errors. This new data policy has the practical effect of making mistakes immortal.

Z39.50 by itself does not allow interaction either. Used in conjunction with a listserv, though, collaboration can be possible. Z39.50 also allows for quality control by voting between differing record versions to find the one that fits best. Working this way would force the fostering of community as trust in records would be built on the reputations of those creating them. There would be no red tape to hide behind if you were not able to catalog materials up to par.

I am torn. In some respects, OCLC really is not fit for purpose as presently constituted. Years of mission creep have resulted in an agglomeration of functions that are not completely connected. Stripping away functions to where OCLC's only purpose is resource sharing would be a good step. The research office as well as the offices of Roy Tennant, Karen Calhoun, and Lorcan Dempsey are nice but are more appropriate in an academic setting or think-tank than where they are now. The contract services portions could just as easily be sold off to an established commercial vendor or two. OCLC is already going madly off in many directions while focus on core functionality is lacking.

My favored solution that few would likely agree with would involve a dismembering of OCLC and an expansion of the Program for Cooperative Cataloging. The PCC already offers some means for communication and interaction. As an umbrella to more local community networks it would allow for potentially simpler structure of a community. Similar organizations already exist with such structures like the American Radio Relay League and the International Amateur Radio Union. This would not be an earth-shattering kaboom but something that has precedents elsewhere.

If memory serves, there is nothing internal to WorldCat in MARC21 but in Dublin Core instead. For the purposes of inter-library resource sharing, minimal-level records would conceivably be sufficient. Full records would only be necessary at the local level. The minimal-level records in would make such a topological shift fairly simple to implement with minimal records linking to more full local records.

The data policy revisions are not a case of cranky catalogers grumbling at other folks in the cataloging realm. The policy instead relates to the topology of the knowledge ecology all librarians care for. OCLC's changes have implications not only for catalogers but also front-line reference librarians. If OCLC owns the data and provides its own discovery tools like, what manager in this economy could justify the outlay of a salary for a degreed professional that would seem to be duplicating a "free" web tool?

I have thrown some ideas out in this post of ways things could adapt to our changing economy. I do not doubt somebody might feel such to be wrong or ill-informed. Hopefully some discussion can result from this.

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Financial thoughts

"God watches out for fools and little children," an old proverb states. Times are interesting for LISTen: The Podcast. The production engineer has been at risk since last Saturday of being unemployed. As of last Saturday he has been a "grey market" employee with no known direction as to his continued employment. Every day has been such that one of the first questions asked was: "Were your termination papers sent into processing today?" Jobs results yesterday put Nevada at 9.1% unemployment which for the measurement period year-on-year is 3.9% higher. The national average is 7.2%. The only places worse off than Nevada in terms of unemployment are South Carolina, Michigan, Rhode Island, and California. See: I've been working on the podcast full-time since the end of July 2008. We've had a variety of interesting guests. Landing guests is not a simple matter and takes time. A single day's turnaround is highly unusual. Taking up a whole week is more average. Spending a month pursuing an interview, such as the recent one with Felicia Day, happens from time to time. While it seems that only mediocrity is expected of the crew here, I try to exceed that expectation. My work has been subsidized at some cost to the production engineer, my father. LISTen apparently serves an audience. LISTen's audience is hard to quantify for an agency like PodTrac or Blubrry so that we could start pursuing advertising revenue. If anything, average American librarian behavior prevents that. Today on LISNews we saw that Reed Business Information has been consolidating operations fairly harshly. Layoffs are common in today's news. If anything, the crew here in Las Vegas has nowhere to go but up. Here are our minimum operating budget needs:
Item Monthly Annually Notes
Production Staff Compensation $3,485.00 $41,820.00 Includes compensation for both presenter and engineer
Broadband $75.00 $900.00 Monopoly provider locally
Other Telecommunications $40.00 $480.00 Cover cost of fallback systems
Outside Freelancer Compensation Pool $50.00 $600.00 Unused balance to carry-over month to month
Equipment Repair/Purchase/Evaluation Pool $75.00 $900.00 Unused balance to carry-over month to month
Shortwave Broadcast $75.00 $900.00 To be negotiated with WBCQ
Facilities Cost/Contingencies $1,200.00 $14,400.00 Contingency in case need arises to relocate production operations

Sub-total $5,000.00 $60,000.00
Tax Burden $1,500.00 $18,000.00 Currently estimated at 30% due to uncertainty in possible tax law changes

Total $6,500.00 $78,000.00
Now it may be best to explain further some of the line items. For the staff compensation line, you need to split that a minimum of two ways. If split evenly, that would result in USD$20,910 per year. That is hardly living high on the hog and would only be considered well-to-do in one place in the US: American Samoa. Such would only be a little over twice the average annual income there. If individuals who happened to not be family were engaged for engineering tasks, the overall staff compensation line would easiily balloon to a minimum of USD$80,000 per year with a more likely point of USD$100,000 with compensation being divided in an asymmetric fashion. This is the cheapest this line item would get, in case anybody was wondering. There is no broadband competition really in the Las Vegas Valley so that cost is fixed. Other telecommunications refers to the backup cell we use when broadband malfunctions. There is a need to commission freelancers in other realms to report on stories that we lack the ability to cover and, unfortunately, people will not do such original reporting for free. Equipment repair refers to the reality that things do break and while we can undertake repairs, we do not have funds to pay for replacement parts now. Shortwave broadcast is for a small low-tech expansion of program coverage that we want to start. The facilities cost/contingencies line refers to the possible need to outright lease space so that we have greater ease in recording compared to our cramped, ad hoc facility that doubles as a dwelling space. For us to qualify as a media entity, we cannot take money directly. If somebody wanted to contribute to costs so that we have a firm foundation and not have to worry about people's day jobs disappearing, send the money to Blake. Blake is effectively the fiscal agent for this. Consulting the details at might be worthwhile, I presume, for reaching Blake. This would allow for an appropriate paperwork chain that would indicate that the funds went for media purposes with all the intervening W-9 and 1099-MISC forms required. Don't ask me why, I don't write tax laws or the definitions of "media organization" in statutes. Not-for-profit entities always ask for money. I get letters from my religiously-affiliated undergraduate institution asking for money to keep going. A post like this is much like a Salvation Army bell-ringer or an American Red Cross funds appeal. To say a post like this is something different is intellectual dishonesty. We've tried to wage commerce instead of war by offering materials for sale that nobody has bought. We've tried to secure advertising but found that librarians are too flighty of a demographic for that to happen. We've sought sponsorship in the Las Vegas Valley and after five inquiries we've come up with nothing as they did not want to touch the demographic of librarians. All other avenues are exhausted and this is what we are left with relative to stabilizing the money side of production for the podcast.
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