My guest for this week’s ITConversations podcast is Stuart Weibel, a researcher for the OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) who’s now a scholar in residence at the University of Washington. We talked about Stu’s decade of involvement with the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative1, and about the nature and uses of the OCLC’s WorldCat database. Note: Stu speaks softly and I didn’t compensate for that as well as I should have, so parts of this podcast are hard to hear.

We share an interest in canonical names for web resources, and Stu mentioned that an OCLC identifier is arguably the most canonical way to refer to a book — more so than an ISBN, or an Amazon or other bookseller’s URL. So for example, the OCLC handle for my book is:

http://worldcat.org/oclc/43188074

If you want to refer to books that way, it’s handy to use the WorldCat search provider. When I visited that page I found a Firefox plugin but none for IE7, so I made one here, which actually turns out to work for both Firefox and IE7.

Among other things, WorldCat embodies the xISBN service that I’ve used in several versions of LibraryLookup including this RSS-based alerter. If you visit the above WorldCat URL, you’ll see that my book has two ISBNs: one for the print edition, one for the Safari Books Online edition. Using WorldCat’s advanced search you can search for either of those ISBNs and land on the canonical record for the book.

This is an example of what I’ve come to call an equivalence service, by which I mean a service that maps from various representations of a resource to a canonical representation.

Another such equivalence service is WorldCat Identities, which distinguishes between me, the Jon Udell who writes about Internet technologies:

http://orlabs.oclc.org/Identities/lccn-nb99-99357

And Jon G. Udell who writes about economics:

http://orlabs.oclc.org/Identities/lccn-n82-53290

In every domain, of course, there can be competing or overlapping equivalence services. Who gets to run them? On what authority? These are political and economic questions that will be sorted out in the usual ways. If we can make equivalence services as easy to swap in as search providers, that’ll help.


1 By the way, it’s Dublin, Ohio, the home base of OCLC, not Dublin, Ireland.