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OCLC Shares Its Strategic Vision
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Posted On January 19, 2004
The nation's leading library services vendor, OCLC, has released a strategic vision report based on a document originally delivered to its board for internal planning. The 2003 Environmental Scan: Pattern Recognition report reviews global issues affecting the future of libraries, museums, archives, and librarians. In breaking with tradition and releasing a version of its internal strategic thinking to members and the public at large, OCLC hopes to encourage widespread discussions, new ideas, and new action plans across the library community. The report is available in print, as an HTML document, or as seven downloadable PDF documents (http://www.oclc.org/membership/escan/default.htm). Issues covered include funding alternatives, collaboration, digital archiving, e-learning, scholarly publishing, "open source" and "open access" movements, distance learning, digital rights management, Web services, etc. Each section concludes with a set of questions as to the "Implications" for librarians, which form the basis for the feedback survey posted as an interactive section on OCLC's Web site (https://www3.oclc.org/membership/escan/feedback/default.asp).

Based on interviews with over 100 experts and information professionals from a wide variety of organizations, the Environmental Scan ties its strategic assessments of factors affecting libraries around the central perspective of service to the "Information Consumer." Sections consist of The Landscape: Overview, The Social Landscape, The Economic Landscape, Technology Landscape, The Research & Learning Landscape, The Library Landscape, and Future Frameworks. Primary authors for the publication were Cathy De Rosa, vice president of corporate marketing, Lorcan Dempsey, vice president of research, and Alane Wilson, a consultant. The original report included alternate themes needed for internal decision making. The public version of the report is actually slightly longer than the original internal document, with additional material taking the place of themes deleted.

For an "official" document from a traditionalóby dot-com standards at leastóorganization, the report has a personal, at times almost passionate, tone. Its focus sticks to a "service-ethic" path, a course some might consider perilous for an organization governed by library directors facing a threatening array of social forces. For example, one portion reads:

The question is not what should be digitized and preserved. The question is not what role will the library play in the institutional repository. The question is not MARC or METS or MODS. The question is not how will retiring librarians be replaced. The critical question is how does Fazeela in the Maldives complete her school assignment on wolf snakes? How does Adrian in England finish his family tree? How can Kofi in Ghana find scientific data on mercury levels in Volta Lake? The ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is: How do we together, as a community of libraries and allied organizations, move our trusted circle closer to information consumers at the level of their need?

De Rosa hoped that the report would help OCLC set a true course. "Are we on the right path for OCLC, the members, and the information community at large?" she asked. In selecting the key issues for coverage, she hoped that they had formulated the bases for strategic planning throughout the library profession. Although some of the perceptions of current and future trends could seem slightly apocalyptic, if seen negatively, De Rosa takes a positive view. "In times of major shifts or changes, opportunities arise. Collectively we are poised to take larger steps. It is no different for companies or organizations. They will let you take bigger steps when they are too. It can be exhilarating."

De Rosa's enthusiasm can be catching. When challenged with the notion of how the landscape seems destined to produce bigger, better, but most probably fewer libraries, she said: "consolidation will open up new niches, where we can provide real value to consumers playing more interesting roles. This is the information professional's day, but if we are not proactive, we will go away."

The campaign for feedback began with a presentation by Jay Jordan, OCLC's president and CEO, and De Rosa at the ALA Midwinter program, Jan. 12, in San Diego. Already De Rosa and other OCLC executives have begun to receive invitations to speak at various meetings and institutions around the country. As feedback develops, OCLC plans to synthesize and post comments and discussion threads on its Web site.

Another imaginative thinker taking the long view of the library scene, Steve Coffman, vice-president of product development at LSSI, saluted OCLC's report. "It's good that OCLC has made this effort to identify the problems, though I am not sure that they are the one to solve them all." With its solicitation of feedback, it would seem OCLC might agree. The closing plea of the Environmental Scan reads:

OCLC wants to hear from you. Each landscape ended with a set of implications we think are apparent from scanning the environment, as well as a set of questions that arise from those implications. Please answer these questions. Ask others. Suggest solutions.

On a personal note, as a longtime observer and commenter on matters of interest to information professionals, I recommend reading this report thoroughly and commenting extensively. With luck, this could become a watershed moment for the design of future information services. Even if that does not occur, it can only help to crystallize and share one's thinking on the future in which we all must live.


Barbara Quint is senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.

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