October 2010 Archives

While earning my MLIS, I was a Project Archivist at the Minnesota Historical Society. Since then--and for the last couple years especially--I've been very interested in the challenges of creating metadata for unique local collections. I was excited, then, to learn that my OCLC colleague, Jackie Dooley, assisted by research intern Katherine Luce, had assembled a landmark survey [pdf] of special collections and archives in academic research libraries in the U.S. and Canada. Following 12 years after a similar ARL survey [pdf], the results and analysis Dooley and Luce have assembled will likely be used to help guide planning and implementation over a period of several years.

The report will inform OCLC activities in several areas. In addition to OCLC Research's work with the RLG Partnership, OCLC's Metadata Services and End User Services divisions will use the report to guide strategy for enhancing discovery and utilization of special collections and archives. Several trends identified in the survey are of great import to the broader community engaged in using and promoting the use of special collections and archives. Among them:

  • Only 44% of archival finding aids are available online.
  • Special collections are growing quickly: ARL libraries show a 50% increase in the last decade in print materials, more than 300% in audio-visual formats.
  • 67% of institutions use off-site storage for rare and unique materials, yet space was the most-cited challenging issue.

  • The ability to deal with born-digital archival materials continues to be low.
Jackie has presented preliminary results of the survey at professional events over the last few months, to great interest in the special collections, archives, and rare book communities. The survey and its report should also be of interest to the broader library community as it seeks to maximize the visibility of the materials that help distinguish and define its institutions.

You can find the study here: Taking Our Pulse: The OCLC Research Survey of Special Collections and Archives [pdf]. Watch the OCLC Research blog, hangingtogether.org, for Jackie's forthcoming postings on particular aspects of the survey.

40 for the Next 40

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Thumbnail image for future_shock.jpgAlvin Toffler made a huge impact with his 1970 book Future Shock. His ideas about how people and institutions would be affected by technological and cultural change have reverberated through the decades, influencing the thinking of politicians, business people, military leaders and not-for-profit organization directors.

Toffler and his wife and fellow futurist Heidi Toffler recently hosted a conference in Washington DC to note the 40th anniversary of Future Shock. In preparation for that conference they released a document titled "40 for the Next 40: A Sampling of the Drivers of Change that Will Shape Our World Between Now and 2050." The drivers are grouped into five categories: politics, technology, social, economics, and environment.

Among the drivers of great interest to libraries are:

  • The emergence of open networks for innovation will allow rapid access to specialists across the globe.
  • Valuable information risks collecting "cyberdust."
  • Migration, urbanization, and population growth will change reliance upon local infrastructure.
  • When it comes to work, "where" will matter less and less.
  • As environmental awareness grows, so does individual and collective action.
This short (11 pages of text) report is available for free download, and would make a great centerpiece for discussion at your next staff meeting.

On August 1, 2010, the new WorldCat Rights and Responsibilities for the OCLC Cooperative went into effect. As the work of the Record Use Policy Council is concluded, I want to take a moment to thank everyone who participated in the process of creating this important document.

First, I'd like to thank the Council members who spent many months grappling with complex issues and listening to wide-ranging input. I'd also like to thank the community for all the comments, ideas and feedback. Those of us on the Council gratefully acknowledge the many deliberative insights that came to us from the OCLC membership and the library community at large.

Along with its final report, the Council also conveyed to the OCLC Board of Trustees the importance of a continued and robust dialogue with members on this and other important issues. As co-chair of the Policy Council, I was impressed by the thoughtfulness of everyone involved and by the positive outcomes that arose from the discussions. As president of the OCLC Global Council, I expect that the things we learned will guide us as we move forward together.

The power of cooperative problem-solving is enhanced by many voices. During our upcoming Global Council meetings, we'll be keeping that ideal front-and-center.

Jennifer Younger 
Chair, Board of Directors, Catholic Research Resources Alliance
President, OCLC Global Council
Co-chair, OCLC Record Use Policy Council

Watching Trends

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How do we know what's coming down the road for libraries? One way is to look at what's happening in the consumer world. My favorite site for getting early alerts on the consumer world is Trendwatching.com. Trendwatching.com offers a free monthly newsletter that provides a global look at how the consumer marketplace is changing.

Although it can get too cutesy occasionally, the newsletter provides useful insights into how people make their choices. Among the trends they have identified in the past are "Curated Consumption," the idea that with so much choice descending on people, there is a need for specialists who can help define taste and quality; and "Generation C," the concept that everyone creates and shares their creations, be that blog posts, photos, or video.

The October 2010 briefing covers 15 tips and tricks for beginning trend watchers, and is available as a pdf here.

Sharing by all possible means

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I've just returned from the Montana Shared Catalog semiannual meeting. Seeing librarians working collaboratively to find new ways to deliver the best possible service was a great experience. I had the opportunity to discuss OCLC's new Web-scale Management Services alongside Sarah McHugh, Web-scale Management Services Advisory Council member from the Montana State Library, and Al Cornish, pilot library participant from Washington State University. We had a great discussion that showed a lot of creative thinking in Montana about what the future needs to look like for libraries.

But what I really want to share is how impressed I was by the drive that librarians in Montana have to share resources by all possible means. The State Library has been working over the last three years to find a feasible method for a courier service between libraries. With such great distances and so many small communities, none of the standard options works. Too many areas of the state simply do not have access to these services. Tenacity paid off, though, and they found a medical delivery company that moves medical supplies and lab work around the state to even the smallest communities. A successful proposal was put before the Montana legislature and funding was given for a pilot project using this service. They are not just moving books and other library materials but also supplies for story hours.

It is witnessing innovation like this that makes my job so terrific-getting the opportunity to learn, first-hand, from librarians who find great new ways to "deliver" better services to their users.
We are in the final stages of planning for our upcoming Innovation Symposium co-hosted by OCLC and Library Journal.

Mark your calendar now! This free virtual symposium is being held on Wednesday, November 17 from 1-3 pm (Eastern), and you can register here.

The topic is "Innovation Ethics: navigating privacy, policy and service issues." We had a lot of feedback from the previous Innovation Symposium event on what topics you want to explore in future events. One of the most often-mentioned topics was how ethical considerations affect innovation, privacy issues and how libraries deliver services.

I am excited to announce that we have assembled a great group of speakers. Three experts will be joining us for a lively, interactive discussion:

  • Liza Barry-Kessler, Managing Partner, Privacy Counsel, LLC
  • Gary Price, Founder and Editor of ResourceShelf and former Director of Online Information Resources for Ask.com
  • Wayne Bivens-Tatum, Philosophy and Religion Librarian, Princeton University Library

And we're going to continue the online discussion after 3 pm with a 1-hour Twitter forum moderated by Joe Murphy (@libraryfuture), Science Librarian for the Kline Science Library at Yale University. Several other Library Journal and OCLC folks will be reading/responding to Tweets during that time as well.

The hashtag for the event is #ethicsIQ.

I hope you can join us.

Financial update for FY2010

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As a global library cooperative, OCLC strives to match sources of revenue with the costs of providing services to members, funding strategic development activities, and providing for the long-term health of the cooperative. The last year was very challenging for the cooperative, as it was for most libraries and businesses the world over. Despite the challenges, I'm pleased to say that our financial fundamentals remain strong.

OCLC is a nonprofit cooperative, owned and funded by the membership. Being a nonprofit does not mean that we don't charge for services. It means that our financial goal, every year, is to receive just a bit more (2 to 4%) cost-sharing revenue than we spend to provide services, research, advocacy and standards work on behalf of our members.. Why don't we budget to break precisely even? Because that extra 2 to 4% allows us to invest in the future of the cooperative, make major strategic improvements and guard against "lean times" (like now), when freezing prices for member libraries is the right thing to do.

Because a member cooperative is owned, governed and sustained cooperatively, transparency in our finances is essential. Every year, we communicate economic information about the cooperative in a number of ways, including audited financial statements and annual reports. The audited financial statements for fiscal 2010 (July 1, 2009 - June 30, 2010), including the independent auditors' report of Deloitte and Touche LLP, are now available online.

I want to take this opportunity to briefly go over a few of the most significant portions of last year's financial results. You're welcome to go through the full financials for more details.

OCLC's financial results year-to-year are affected by the economy and the strategic decisions made on behalf of member libraries. Consolidated revenues of OCLC totaled $228.1M (million) for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010, as compared to $240.5M for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2009. The decline in revenue is primarily attributed to the sale of certain product lines, including NetLibrary. The gain on the sale of these product lines is reflected in the net contribution of $23.4M for fiscal 2010, as compared to a loss of $31.2M for fiscal 2009. The 2009 loss can be attributed to significant losses in the long-term investment portfolio.

A brief review of the key financial activities for FY2010 follows (all in USD):

  • Operating activities include cost-sharing revenues and the cost to provide products and services for libraries, research and development, and other support services for the cooperative. Cost-share revenues fell short of the cost to operate in fiscal 2010, resulting in an operating loss of $13.7M (before investment income and other gains). This operating loss can be explained mainly by the continuing harsh economic climate, the decision to freeze prices for member libraries, and the significant investment in new products and services.

  • Long-term investment activities provide interest and dividend income to support operating activities similar to an endowment. Long-term investment portfolio gains support strategic investment and the sustainability of the cooperative:

    • Interest and dividend income of $5.2M: OCLC applies interest and dividends from the investment portfolio to augment yearly operating revenue, lower/freeze pricing or offset losses. Thus, net of interest and dividends income, our operating loss for the year was $8.5M (-$13.7 + $5.2M).

    • Portfolio gains of $9.4M: This gain is a major component of the positive change in the value of the cooperative's long-term investment portfolio, exclusive of the interest and dividend income. For comparison, last year the portfolio took a $37.2M loss. Just about everyone's investments did very poorly in 2009, but overall investments are looking a bit better in 2010.
  • Gain on sale of product lines was $22.5M. This represents, largely, the sale of the NetLibrary division to EBSCO in March 2010. The proceeds from these sales improved the cooperative's financial position and funded the following major initiatives:

    • $1.4M restructuring of operations during fiscal 2010
    • $2.8M retirement of debt in June 2010
    • $12M to retire additional debt in FY2011
    • And the balance was committed to offsetting operating losses and to funding strategic investments in new services, including new Web-scale management services.
There is, of course, much more detail in the financial statements, but the above represents an overview of significant transactions and activity of your cooperative last year.

Last year wasn't easy for anyone who manages finances. But I believe OCLC members can take pride in being part of a cooperative that has grown--and thrived--for more than four decades! We do this by listening to our members, putting member needs and goals first, and adapting to changes in the environment. And, most importantly, by remembering that, with every transaction, it is our members' resources we're managing on their behalf.

Rick J. Schwieterman

OCLC Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer

Games as pedagogy

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I recently read a New York Times article about the "Quest to Learn" public school in NYC. The school is one in which games play (pun intended) a major role in education. We're not talking about the use of educational games, per se, or the idea that you can teach concepts through getting kids involved in game design and programming... though those two activities do enter into the curriculum.

Nope. Not games as tools, adjunct activities or different containers for the same material. It's "games as pedagogy." As the author asks:

What if we blurred the lines between academic subjects and reimagined the typical American classroom so that, at least in theory, it came to resemble a typical American living room or a child's bedroom or even a child's pocket, circa 2010 -- if, in other words, the slipstream of broadband and always-on technology that fuels our world became the source and organizing principle of our children's learning? What if, instead of seeing school the way we've known it, we saw it for what our children dreamed it might be: a big, delicious video game?

Now... that's an interesting enough topic, and one that has all kinds of implications for libraries:

  • How would you support a school like that?
  • What kinds of materials would it need?
  • What literacies would you need to manage to --- and learn for yourself?
  • What does discovery look like in a school built around gaming? Do you make it easy for kids to find resources? Or do you make it intentionally challenging?
  • What kinds of "leveling up" could kids do in a library? What rewards could they earn?
But the lines that really reached out and smacked me were:

And while students at the school are put through the usual rigors of studying pre-algebra, basic physics, ancient civilizations and writing, they do it inside interdisciplinary classes with names like Codeworlds --- a hybrid of math and English class --- where the quests blend skills from different subject areas.


The traditional school structure strikes Salen [school founder] as "weird." "You go to a math class, and that is the only place math is happening, and you are supposed to learn math just in that one space," she told me one day.

Wow. That's so... true. In the "real world," you don't just "do math" for the sake of doing math. We rarely write (or read) just... because. There's usually a reason, and it usually involves other disciplines. We study biology and apply the knowledge to medicine, health, sociology... even cooking. We break out our old algebra skills in order to plot a trend line in a graph for work, or to figure out budget gaps. We use geometry to plan remodeling projects, gardens and seating arrangements. This is as true for college level academic work as it is for grade school and high school. While the subjects may be more specific to an eventual career goal, they are often taught in a very strict "vertical" fashion.

What does it say about education when games are more like (and maybe more applicable) to real life than classrooms? Not sure I have an answer, but it's a question worth asking. Along with the related question: What would the "library game" look like?