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OCLC in the headlights

A brief update before heading to Apple HQ for the first-ever meetup of NorCal  SCELC members. I have more to say about OCLC (including that I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the OCLC board of trustees–I don’t know how anyone got that idea), but not much time to do it in.

Yesterday I met with a group of writers who at the end of our informal lunch asked me, so what do I think about what’s happening in libraries? And a heartbeat later began talking about their Kindles and iPads. So when we talk about OCLC, III, and Skyriver, we need awareness that the crisis moment extends far beyond a dustup between two companies and a nonprofit; we are in a moment, or perhaps a series of moments, that are decisive for librarianship.

To write a little more about OCLC’s growing edges and its unique opportunities, I have been trying to wrap my head around how to phrase my comments. As usual, Joe Lucia, library director at Villanova University, offered a succinct perspective: “The key development we need to see within OCLC to get past this is a sustainable business framework that positions OCLC as a non-proprietary partner in support of common resources and the intellectual commons that is at the heart of the library mission. Perhaps this is a teachable moment in which we can re-activate a serious conversation about how that might happen.”

I’ve said before that OCLC sometimes acts as if it doesn’t understand the work it’s in. It’s the services, not the data. It’s also true that librarians too often undervalue OCLC’s services and too often do not understand that an organization’s bottom line is an equation that needs to include the resources (as in money and people) for innovation. The cost of an ILL transaction, for example, includes the past, present, and future costs of the future of ILL. It cannot stay as it was in the beginning, because our services have changed. It needs a “sustainable business framework.”

But simultaneously, we do need — and now is the moment — to have a “serious conversation.” A conversation about the composition of OCLC’s governance, engagement of membership, transparency, and future directions. For example, I am less bothered by the simple fact of trustee compensation than I am by what the compensation suggests, which is a lack of trust in member engagement.

OCLC members can at any time have these conversations. We don’t need to wait for OCLC. We ARE OCLC. If we choose not to have these conversations, then don’t blame OCLC.

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