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Library Hotel

September 29, 2003

Coincidentally, the organization I mentioned last Monday, OCLC Online Computer Library Center, made national news that same day in the New York Times, but in a way that must have left its marketing department bald.

(You might be happy to know that the library now receives the New York Times daily.)

OCLC owns the trademark for the Dewey Decimal Classification. The Library Hotel near the New York Public Library opened three years ago and uses, or claims to use, or appears to use, the DDC as part of its theme and marketing.

The hotel has a 6,000-volume library organized around its floors, and the floor numbers correspond to subjects in the Dewey system.

In the DDC, for example, the 500s contain Math and Science. In the Library Hotel, the fifth floor has six rooms numbered 500.001 through 500.006. Room 500.001 has books about mathematics. Room 500.006 has books about astronomy. It’s Dewey, sort of.

The seventh floor covers the arts. Room 700.002 has painting; 700.004 photography.

It’s DDC at the general “hundred level,” and there is that decimal point to consider. As well, the hotel specifically mentions the Dewey system in its literature.

But OCLC wants the hotel to acknowledge that OCLC “owns” Dewey. So far, the hotel has ignored them. Thus, we get to see a lawsuit.

A practical peculiarity of trademark law requires the holder of a trademark to vigorously defend it. Basically, it is OCLC’s responsibility to defend abuse of its trademark or else risk losing claim to it.

The Library Hotel might have a valid counter argument: the original Dewey system dates back to 1874, and at the very general level of organization used in the hotel, it seems they might be drawing on information long in the public domain.

The hotel’s position is that no one could possibly confuse their library theme in hospitality service with OCLC’s information service, which to this layman sounds reasonable.

Except for the hotel’s mention of Dewey by name, it could easily be using the Universal Decimal Classification, maintained by offices in The Hague, The Netherlands. I don’t know if they would defend the UDC as vigorously. As of press time, no one there would take my collect call.

However, the UDC does not currently use the 400s for languages, while the Library Hotel’s fourth floor does. More evidence.

What do you think has been the most popular room? Of course, it’s about sex. Room 800.001 has the theme of erotic literature.

I saw another piece of interesting news last week marginally related to libraries. It has to do with the Internet. MSN, the Microsoft Network, is closing its chat rooms in apparent response to pressure from child protection organizations.

Needless to say, people in the know are skeptical that it has anything at all to do with child protection, although it’s a nice PR card to play. Many think it’s merely a matter of closing free services and forcing people into subscription services where they belong.

A lot of people, children and adults, use chat rooms through the library’s Internet access. I couldn’t even guess how many of them might be willing to pay to chat with people they don’t know, nor could I guess how much they might pay.

I would imagine, though, that if subscriptions were too dear, online chatters might just return to local coffee shops, buy a cup, and chat in person. I endorse this change.

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