Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Digital Rivers, Paper Lakes

All this time,
The river flowed,
To the sea.” (“All This Time” – Sting)

We’re delighted to have guests in Dublin, all the more so when the guests aren’t so much guests as us we haven’t properly met yet – in this case new faces in the OCLC family: Eric Hellman, and several other new colleagues from Openly Informatics -- now OCLC Openly Informatics -- from Bloomfield, New Jersey. Openly’s substantial collection(s) of data about e-serials, specialized software to support linking, extensive OpenURL knowledge/experience, and a very talented staff advance OCLC a significant step forward towards OCLC’s objective to be as good at helping libraries provide services for their electronic resources as we’ve been at helping libraries leverage their physical holdings. That said, it’s not so easy to explain what Openly does. When I mentioned the visit to some non-librarian relatives, I put aside the jargon and simply described Openly as a company that helps make getting to e-resources through your library seamless.

Yesterday, Eric Hellman presented an overview of Openly’s various products and services which include a range of linking/identifier-related offerings (including link calculation engines, link resolvers, and more) for OCLC staff here in Dublin. I found Eric’s metaphor of a digital river (e-content -- esp. e-serials -- which constantly shift and flow and aren’t necessarily physically hosted by a library) versus a paper lake (physical resources are typically held in library collections and display a different dynamic) quite useful, and it led me to reflect on some of my nearly-forgotten undergraduate ecology/geography coursework – perhaps some lake and river ecological concepts could be used to build on the image? Hmm...

Long and short of it: Openly has very valuable expertise and data to help libraries do what they do best, help users find information. And the value of Openly to the OCLC cooperative was made especially clear when Q&A in the overview session brought out the excellence of fit of Openly with OCLC’s e-serials pilot work.

Today, at our invitation, the Openly folks kindly joined several of us in OCLC Research, and gave us a chance to show off several projects including WikiD and xISBN. The conversation went very well, but the time quickly ran out, and we have a lot more to share with them (and vice-versa). This, no doubt, will be the first of what promises to be many conversations about matters of mutual interest.

So a hearty welcome to our new colleagues at Openly, and fair notice – we promise to overbook you with meetings on every trip. It’s an honor we accord all our non-Dublin-based staff. But as recompense we also promise to introduce you to the finer dining establishments in historic Dublin, perched on the river bank, where the river flows endlessly to the sea.

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