The library bibliographic data market: rights, responsibilities, and restrictions

Who owns your library catalogue data? And what are you allowed to do with it?

During the last few decades, many libraries have adopted a strategy where they have decreased their reliance on in-house cataloguing effort and have preferred to purchase the majority of their bibliographic records from a range of service providers. While sometimes this data might be purchased outright, more often it is licensed and reuse restricted.

Many libraries will alter or amend the data they receive to meet localised needs or to align with institutional practice, thereby subtly or sometimes significantly changing the original record. Libraries may obtain records from multiple suppliers and those suppliers often obtain an original base record from another source and then add data to the record in the same way that libraries do. So, from a library perspective, there is strong sense that assertions of ownership may not be well-founded once records begin to pass along a chain – or multiple chains – of stewardship.

And that is presuming that you know what the licensing conditions are for a particular record. Libraries who have not traditionally shared their data with union catalogues or aggregators, or for who doing so was not an option, may not have preserved the provenance data. The terms of licenses signed many years ago may have been lost. And although some libraries who create their own catalogue records are assigning licenses (such as CC0) to them, many do not.

Add to this the difficulty that data may be eligible for reuse in some formats (eg HTML) but not others (MARC), that some records may be reused singly but not in bulk, and that different bodies may have different reuse rights, and the library data ecosystem becomes extremely complicated. It’s a complexity that we have to deal with, if the NBK is to be successful in its goal of improving prospects for the sharing and reuse of bibliographic data across the library data marketplace.

To help us with this, we’re very pleased to have Ken Chad doing a consultancy project exploring the library bibliographic data ecosystem. Ken’s project is running until October, and should provide us with some direction through these thorny issues. We’re also convening a Library Data Rights working group of representatives from the library community, to guide and inform this work.

If you have any comment you’d like to make on this issue, as a library or data supplier, please contact and we’ll put you in touch with Ken.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *