One of the major sponsors of the 82nd General Conference of the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) in Columbus, Ohio, August 13–19, was OCLC, the nonprofit library service and research organization headquartered in the suburb of Dublin.
OCLC made use of the occasion to showcase its services at its “Industry Symposium” on August 14. President and CEO Skip Prichard compared the work of OCLC with the Disneyland attraction It’s a Small World, saying that “Making the big world of information small enough to manage is what we do.” Prichard added that OCLC and its member libraries get the best results by focusing on three attributes: purpose, place, and people.
OCLC’s purpose can be summed up in its tagline, “Because what is known must be shared.” By collectively organizing and sharing information, Prichard said, libraries perform a public service that can transform society. OCLC’s online union catalog, WorldCat, is celebrating its 45th anniversary on August 26 to commemorate the date in 1971 when Ohio University’s Alden Library cataloged the first book in the system. Since then, WorldCat has amassed 379 million bibliographic records in 482 languages, representing 2.4 billion library holdings and including 49 million digital items.
Regarding place, Prichard said that “we bring our communities together, physically and virtually.” To illustrate this, he called on OCLC Portfolio Director for Delivery Services Katie Birch, who said she had discovered that Johnson County (Kans.) Library was requesting an unusual number of items from a library in Hertford in the UK. It turned out that a student wanted to read the full set of the difficult-to-find graphic novel series, Transformers: Beast Wars—The Gathering. She contacted the holding library and speeded up the interlibrary loan process so the student could read all 78 issues.
People are the primary benefactors of library services, and Prichard said that “OCLC members and library users bring our shared purpose to life.” In 2016, for the first time, OCLC Member Forums—in which libraries discuss ways to serve their communities more efficiently with OCLC’s WorldShare platform—are being held outside the United States, in Canada, Denmark, Sweden, and the UK.
The OCLC symposium also featured a panel composed of current and former members of the OCLC board of trustees, who offered their comments on technological change and the shared purpose of OCLC and libraries.
Current board chair Sandra Yee (Wayne State University, Detroit) commented that the technology now available in libraries offers “power, access, and convenience’ unimaginable to students who conducted research in the 1970s and 1980s. Former board chair Larry Alford (University of Toronto) said that OCLC founder Fred Kilgour once told him that cataloging was never OCLC’s primary purpose; rather, it was about “research and discovery,” and that libraries still have a long way to go in building precision discovery tools, especially ones that facilitate serendipitous discovery. Trustee Barbara Lison (Bremen Public Library, Germany) emphasized that librarians must “go out into the community” to reach people and “think beyond the walls.”
Trustee Ellen Tise, a past president of IFLA, remarked that the core function and purpose of OCLC and libraries are one and the same—to “provide existing information” for all. “You don’t have to identify yourself or pay any money before you are served,” she said. “If we are purposeful and steadfast in that effort, we can make a real difference in the world.”