To meet the information needs of their parent organization's users, special libraries usually acquire unique materials. These libraries rely on cataloging to provide access to their collections, and many have participated in Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) to enhance their services. As the largest bibliographic network available, OCLC maintains a database of more than 31 million bibliographic records of materials in various formats. Large research and academic institutions have complained, however, that they are bearing the cost of original records while other libraries perform copy cataloging at low cost. The proliferation of local information systems has posed another challenge to OCLC. Lowell, for instance, found that many directors of academic libraries would focus more on their local systems if forced to choose between their obligations to a bibliographic utility and the needs of local users. While the potential for special librarians' contributions to the OCLC database is great because of their unique collections, little information is available regarding their cataloging practices and the relationship between their local systems and OCLC. This paper reports on a 1991 survey and a 1994 follow-up study that examined these issues. The studies focused specifically on answers to the following questions:
1) What are the cataloging practices of special libraries?
2) How do special libraries make use of OCLC for bibliographic control?
3) What are the relationships between special libraries' local systems and OCLC? To what extent are local holdings represented on OCLC? What types of materials are accessible only through local systems?
The potential benefits of OCLC for special libraries were presented in the late 1970s. Finding 65 percent of their materials in OCLC, David and Dingle-Cliff concluded that special libraries could benefit from OCLC participation. Beasley reported a lower rate of finding (21 percent), but encouraged special libraries to participate in OCLC so that their unique collections could become available to more users. Reports on the actual cataloging practices of special libraries in general, however, are scarce. Matthews reported the use of OCLC records in law libraries and Gregory described the use of OCLC in a court library. In 1992, Palmer presented findings on the cataloging practices of small special libraries. He found that the unique materials in these libraries makes them valuable to regional and national databases and that these libraries could benefit greatly from being members of bibliographic networks. However, it was not clear whether small special libraries could afford to provide standardized cataloging.
The issue of local systems has received more attention. In 1983, De Gennaro predicted that there would soon be a migration to local systems and that bibliographic utilities would have to compete with local systems. In 1987, both Martin and Hildreth analyzed the rise of bibliographic utilities and speculated on their possible downfall. Hildreth also reported the responses of bibliographic utilities to the emergence of local systems and concluded that librarians would support bibliographic utilities as well as their local systems. Molholt analyzed the impact of technology on library networking and re-affirmed the importance of network for resource sharing. However, economic pressure seemed to be the major concern in the trend Lowell reported among academic research libraries in shifting cataloging tasks to local systems. To ease the tension between local systems and bibliographic utilities, OCLC and RLG offered a seminar in 1991 on data exchange options between these systems. Although participants found no good solutions for technical and procedural problems regarding data exchange, a general consensus was that the way local systems are linked with bibliographic utilities will have serious implications for access to information and resource sharing. …