March 2010 Archives

From bike to jet-pack

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At the ALA Midwinter "Presidents Panel" I told a story about taking my bike apart when I was a kid to see if I could improve it. The reason I told the story was that for much of my professional life I've been involved in taking library systems apart to see how they worked and if they could be improved. I would not have put it this way then, but what I wanted was a next-generation bike. I wanted to be cool. (Why else would I later choose a profession that combines librarianship with computers?) Later during the same event, another panelist commented that what I wanted was not a bike at all, but a Razor scooter.

My reply was, "No...what I really wanted was a jet-pack."

At some point when you put the pieces of something together to make something different, it stops being an updated version of the original, and instead becomes wholly new. There will be some familiar parts and buttons and knobs... but it won't be a bike anymore. It will be a jet-pack.

At PLA later this week I'll be talking about Web-scale Management Services [register here for the session if you'd like to join us], a truly next-generation suite of Web-based, network-based and cooperative library management tools. PLA is a great opportunity to get into some of the real nitty-gritty about what will make WMS different than the ILS systems of the past and how we hope it will positively impact library workflows and the total cost-of-ownership of library systems.

Public libraries are great at this kind of revolutionary thinking. Compared to what was available 30 years ago, users now have all kinds of access and options that sprang from the entrepreneurial and inventive natures of public librarians. We could spend a long time talking about outreach programs, digital literacy, technology centers, career counseling... But the basic point is that the public library of 2010 is very, very different than that of 1950 or even 1980. For millions of users who rely on libraries during times of financial hardship, their local library is truly a jet-pack.

What we want to do with WMS is tap into that spirit of invention and renewal... but for our automated systems and shared services. Our public libraries--vibrant, energetic, inspirational, compelling places where so much important activity takes place--deserve better than a rebuilt bicycle when it comes to the software they rely on to take care of their communities. We also want to create a more efficient platform that will free libraries of all types from the expense of maintaining local systems, thus creating the capacity for those libraries to innovate in other areas and propel their organizations forward.

It's an exciting idea, isn't it? Thinking about how you'd do things if you could start from scratch and work with a bunch of like-minded people on ways to totally revamp your workplace. That's why I came to OCLC, why I like my job and why I love being a part of harnessing the collective innovation of our member organizations all over the world.

If you can come to the session at PLA, I'd love to hear about your vision of what it would take to make our shared library systems into a jet-pack. If you can't be there, leave a comment or drop me a line. Together, we'll get this thing off the ground.

A world of information online

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Last week, Jay concluded the first post on this blog with the thought, "These are exciting and important times." I couldn't agree more, and am glad to have this venue as a place to share some thoughts behind our important announcement from earlier today about OCLC, EBSCO, NetLibrary, and FirstSearch. I won't repeat what's in the press release; you can read the details there. But as someone who's been involved with eContent for libraries for more than 15 years, I thought it was important to share with you some of what went into this decision.

OCLC members have been involved in eContent since 1991 with the original version of FirstSearch. The tag line we used for the service was, "A world of information online." In retrospect, that phrase was probably a bit premature, since in 1991 hardly anyone (outside of the library community) could have told you what "online" meant. Our goal was to make it easy for member libraries to both obtain quality content and then get it out there in front of users, and we pioneered a pricing strategy that supported this objective. That goal moved forward in 2002 when the Cooperative purchased NetLibrary. We did so to protect our member libraries' investments in NetLibrary eBook purchases and to innovate, together, in this new arena.

Since then, the "world of information online" has gone mainstream and eBooks are seeing a major surge in popularity and availability. With so much material available from so many sources, the next logical step for OCLC is to focus our efforts on making all kinds of eContent work more efficiently within our cataloging, resource sharing, discovery and delivery services.

Under our new strategy, we will discontinue our role as a reseller of vendor eContent. We will discontinue the sale of eBooks, eAudiobooks and vendor-created databases on FirstSearch. We will focus instead on relationships that increase access to library-owned content via WorldCat.org, such as our recent partnership with HathiTrust. We will also expand our partnerships with vendors and aggregators such as EBSCO, Gale, Wilson and Google to increase the accessibility of their content in WorldCat Local and WorldCat.org to enable better access to member libraries' full collections using WorldCat services.

EBSCO has the platform and reach to bring eBooks, databases and eJournals together in a mainstream discovery experience for users. And we will work with them to make sure that these eBooks continue to be discoverable on WorldCat.

We've worked closely with thousands of libraries and partners over the years to support the advancement of eContent. And we'll continue to do so. We want to continue to grow the rich WorldCat database so your users will have a simple, useful and compelling place to discover library resources. We're still very much in the eBook access business. Records for more than 2.2 million eBooks are (and will continue to be) available through WorldCat.org.

What's next? Well, in 1991 I wouldn't have predicted Google or Wikipedia or Amazon.com, so I should probably stay out of the prognostication business. I can promise, though, that OCLC will continue to help our members innovate in ways that will one day seem as mainstream as eBooks are poised to be.

The voice of our member libraries

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You may have read last week about how OCLC will be one of the founding members of the Open Identity Exchange (OIX). We'll be there along with Google, PayPal, Equifax, Verizon and others. To quote the press release, OIX is, "A non-profit organization dedicated to building trust in the exchange of online identity credentials across public and private sectors."

It's obvious why such an organization would be important to companies like Google, PayPal, etc. But why is it important to OCLC members? It's important because libraries need to have an impact when it comes to broad, industry-wide movements like this that could greatly benefit our users and our organizations.

In many ways, the OIX announcement is an appropriate one for the first post of this, the "OCLC Cooperative Blog." It is an excellent example of the kind of activities the cooperative should be involved in. As Mike Teets, VP of Innovation and representative on the OIX Board said," To remain relevant in the broadest information ecology, libraries must participate with identity management at scale.  OIX represents a great opportunity for the library community to interoperate with millions of existing identities."

That's what we want to happen in this space—discussions about topics that are fundamental to the library profession. We have many OCLC blogs and email lists you can subscribe to with specific information about products, research and services. In this forum, though, we want to address core membership, governance, partnership and industry trends, as well as OCLC organizational plans and other matters that are vital to a member-owned cooperative.

As more of our lives are spent connected by various data services, the ability for OCLC to work on behalf of libraries and users becomes more important. Our goal is to not just represent our members, but to provide leadership opportunities for the cooperative.

We invest significant effort in the standards community. OCLC staff and member librarians have worked together on MARC,  FRBR, Dublin Core, PCC (CONSER, NACO, BIBCO, SACO), and are actively involved in RDA development, giving member libraries an important voice. We were founding members of InCommon, representing the library sector. And we currently hold board seats at NISO and OIX as well as provide instructional assistance and volunteer leadership on topic committees and working groups.

This isn't just about showing up for a meeting; it's about getting projects that are important to libraries off the ground, developed and adopted. And that work will go on, of course. Moving forward, we need libraries to be more connected to other sectors and heard clearly across a much wider information landscape.

These are exciting and important times. This blog will feature posts from many different staff here at OCLC and from our membership at large. If there's a topic you think is important, let us know and we'll see what we can do to cover it.