Ed Summers made several points worth amplifying in his comment to my previous post.
I do think there's enough space here for multiple players including the
Library of Congress. Indeed one could argue that designing a
bibliographic identification system with one central point of failure
is a bad idea.
The single point of failure argument is a serious issue, but not insurmountable. We don't worry much about the Amazoogles being accessible through a single URL. Partly this is because we know we can use other search engines, but perhaps more importantly, the economic stakes for reliability, combined with their technical wherewithal, mitigate against service failures. It is fair to challenge whether OCLC can provide a similar level of service. Perhaps the better question is what is an acceptable interval of service denial, and an acceptable mean time between failure?
The other part of this question is whether there is harm in multiple authoritative links? I argue that there is harm, and in fact that this harm is partly the reason why library materials often fail to show up in the first few links on a given search. I've written about this in a previous post, and I think it is critical that the community agree on a canonical URL for a given piece of library content. To do otherwise... to promulgate many identifiers for a given resource, is to dilute the link currency of that resource, and render the resource less findable and less actionable:
- Machine comparisons of identifiers will fail to recognize two referents as the same resource
- Diluted identity leaves resources lower in linking algorithms and hence less findable on the open web
- Aggregation of given identifiers in social software systems will be similarly diluted
It is naive to imagine that we can obliterate all but a given canonical URL from use, or even that we should. It is useful to be able to, for example, hack a WorldCat identifier together from an ISBN in hand. Still, when citing (on paper or on the Web) a given identifier, it should be the canonical URL, not a transactional URL or even an ISBN URL. OCLC can go a long way towards promoting this goal by making the canonical URL -- the permalink -- a prominent part of the record in the user interface, as well as to redirect all other comparable URLs to that canonical URL so that it appears in the browser address window.
Ed goes on to say:
OCLC's vast holdings database is certainly important for resolving an identifier to the actual item. But for practical purposes of citation (identification) it's rarely necessary to talk about the item itself...normally referencing the manifestation will do fine.
I agree with this point entirely... in fact, the canonical WorldCat URL is the OCLC record number, which for practical purposes, rounds to a manifestation identifier. It is the holding data, not the manifestation identifier, that gets you that last mile.
What I believe to be Frigate birds, taken on the beach at Manzanillo, Mexico, at DC 2006