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A Cataloger’s Choice

By Judy Janes

I’m sure you are familiar with OCLC’s cataloging services. What about Skyriver’s? Both supply MARC catalog records to libraries. OCLC was formed in 1967 as an Ohio-based nonprofit organization called the Ohio College Library Center, becoming OCLC, Inc., in 1981 when it branded the name, Online Computer Library Center, Inc. Skyriver, on the other hand, was founded in 2009 by Jerry Kline, one of the principles behind Innovative Interfaces, Inc.

How do the two companies compare? OCLC has a bibliographic record database of more than 200 million records. OCLC acquired the Research Libraries Group database, RLIN, in 2006, and the Washington Legal Network, WLN, in 2009. OCLC is a member-based organization that has products and services for nearly every aspect of library management. Skyriver, on the other hand, offers a growing database with 32 million bibliographic records and a business plan to serve libraries primarily as a cataloging utility. How can these two diverse companies with different business models co-exist and compete for a market share of the library cataloging business? And, what business plan should libraries use to evaluate which utility can best provide the services they need, at a cost they can afford?

Below is a list of questions and findings that were used to compare the two organizations:
  • Do each provide a source for clean, full, Marc cataloging records?
  • What percentage of records sought are found in each database?
  • What are the relative costs for the services?
  • What are the notable efficiencies of each system? Principles to be weighed include intuitive functionality, integration with existing ILS, start-up costs, training, customer service, and support availability.
  • Does the system accommodate file downloads of vendor cataloging records?
  • Do the databases provide full name authority records and Library of Congress subject headings?
  • What vital services, if any, are not provided?
1. Both systems were found to provide a source for full Marc cataloging records. OCLC, the larger database, covers a broader spectrum of legal and non-legal titles but also contains many duplicate records for the same title. The cataloger must decide which record to use, judging and selecting amongst the various records. Skyriver delivers one discrete record for each title, which the cataloger identifies, edits, and prepares for export. Both Skyriver’s cataloging client and OCLC’s cataloging client allow complete searching, importing, exporting, and editing capabilities compatible with local ILS systems.

2. An initial test of 167 new monographic scholarly titles in August 2011 was used to compare the availability of records on each system. Skyriver’s hit rate was 92 percent, with derivative records available for the remainder. All 167 MARC records were found in OCLC. A second sample resulted in a 98 percent hit rate in Skyriver, with 100 percent in OCLC. Updated results demonstrate a consistent hit-rate of at least 98 percent in Skyriver, which seems to indicate the database is becoming more robust.

3. The costs for using each system were found to be based on slightly different pricing models. OCLC’s subscription operates on a base subscription that is adjusted monthly with credited transactions. Skyriver operates on a flat fee regardless of transactions. Total cataloging costs can vary substantially from library to library, depending on usage, transactions, credits, etc., but it was generally found that Skyriver offers savings in the range of 0-35 percent.

4. University of California Davis Mabie Law Library catalogers were asked to compare the efficiencies of using OCLC’s Connexion software versus the Skyriver software. The group concluded that Skyriver was easier to learn, required less training, and its operations were much faster using Skyriver with the Innovative Millennium catalog system. Connexion required off-site staff training for a full day with a second day optional. Skyriver provided in-house training consisting of a couple of hours with Skyriver technical staff. Skyriver trainers sat with staff as catalogers performed full cataloging functions and were operational within a couple of hours.

5. It was determined that both systems provide authority records and full subject heading records. And, both accommodate downloads of vendor catalog record files.

6. In addition to cataloging services, OCLC serves as a resource sharing database for libraries. Many libraries subscribe to both OCLC’s cataloging services as well as resource sharing services and other products. Skyriver only offers cataloging services and is not available as a public access database. OCLC cataloging members benefit from holdings links from Worldcat directly to local ILS systems, sometimes at the record level. Skyriver catalogers do not have a direct link to catalog records of other libraries, although Skyriver staff report that this is a feature currently under development. Skyriver customers may upload their records to OCLC, however, there is presently a substantial per record charge.

The overall vision, mission, and operational needs of every library will dictate the choices made between these two competing operational environments. Cost alone cannot readily dictate the decision but is one element among many that will impact management’s choice of which utility to use for cataloging services. There are apparent benefits and burdens on each side, and librarians will continue to explore and compare their options in making decisions that are best for their particular environments. It is especially beneficial to consumers to now have more than one option available.

Judy C. Janes ( is interim director of the University of California at Davis Law Library.