Turning out the lights on MissingMaterials.org

It’s always sad to say goodbye, but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. I want to alert you that the MissingMaterials.org experiment will close at the end of 2012. The blog is now read-only.

OCLC Research developed MissingMaterials.org with the guidance of the rare book and law enforcement community, in order to provide a long-desired venue for transparency about theft and loss in libraries and archives. However, the service never achieved the broad usage and adoption we all hoped for: only 10 institutions registered WorldCat Lists and few items were tagged. And although there were 188 posts to the blog, it is not clear if MissingMaterials.org contributed to recovery of any materials.

While the decision to close MissingMaterials.org is disappointing, there have been many positive outcomes from this project. The Working Group has ensured that the community paid greater attention to transparency about theft and loss, and the project promoted collaboration with booksellers and law enforcement. For example, the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of American (ABAA) has adopted social media to broadcast news of thefts.

This project also did much to promote ideas about how to manage loss in a transparent manner. We held two webinars and published an article in Archival Outlook about the outcomes of the Working Group. I also spoke about MissingMaterials.org at a panel at ALA with an attorney, an FBI agent and Mark Dimunation from the Library of Congress.

In addition, the concept of using a light touch to alert the community has resonated in many quarters. Development of the free Missing Materials procedure helped OCLC Research staff learn to build services quickly and inexpensively, to meet functional requirements scoped by the Working Group and to repurpose “good-enough” low-overhead components, such as blog software. This has helped to inspire other experimental systems that made greater use of off-the-shelf software, such as the new ArchiveGrid and Website for Small Libraries.

I’m very proud of our efforts — we were approached by the rare book community to “do something” about the shared problem of stolen materials. We showed up, put forward our best foot, put creative thought into a difficult problem. So despite the fact that MissingMaterials.org is closing, we’d like to thank and congratulate everyone who participated in this great experiment!

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