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OCLC and WLN Begin Negotiations to Merge
by
Posted On November 16, 1998
OCLC and WLN recently announced the signing of a letter of intent that could lead, following negotiations, to the merger of WLN and OCLC. The two bibliographic utilities
began extended discussions of a possible merger in late April, following the announcement of the appointment of Robert L. "Jay" Jordan as president and CEO of OCLC.

WLN, a nonprofit corporation with about $5 million in annual revenue, serves 550 libraries in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. and Canada from its office in Lacey, Washington. OCLC is a nonprofit corporation based in Dublin, Ohio, that serves over 30,000 libraries in 65 countries. Its annual revenue is about $155 million.

According to the letter of intent, "subject to satisfactory negotiations and approvals by both boards of trustees," the merger would result in the following:

WLN users would migrate to OCLC cataloging and resource sharing services, and the WLN union catalog would be merged with WorldCat, the OCLC Online union catalog.
WLN full member libraries would become OCLC general members, with the opportunity to participate in OCLC's governance through the OCLC Users Council.
WLN would continue with its MARS Authority Control, Collection Analysis and bibliographic services.
The WLN office would continue to be based in Lacey and would become an OCLC/WLN Service Center, providing support and training to libraries in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia.
WLN's Information Technology Research and Development staff would remain at the OCLC/WLN Service Center, where they would supplement OCLC's extensive research and development efforts and continue to develop authority control and collection analysis services. OCLC would make these services available to libraries worldwide through OCLC's sales offices, U.S. regional networks, and international distributors.
"The move toward a merger developed because of a growing realization by both WLN and OCLC that an increasing number of libraries were using the services of both organizations and that a carefully thought-out merger might best serve the needs of all of our libraries," said Paul McCarthy, president and CEO of WLN. A number of WLN libraries had contracts for varying levels of service from OCLC, especially for interlibrary loan purposes. The organizations had already been doing ftp file transfers between the two systems.

McCarthy continued, "A merger can ensure the delivery of a greater number of products and services to each of our memberships on a much more cost-effective basis. We are excited at the prospect of the synergy between the staffs of the two companies. We think this synergy, especially in our IT efforts, will allow us together to more effectively meet a wide range of information needs for libraries now and in the future."

McCarthy, who was at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, for 32 years, joined WLN two years ago, after serving on the WLN board of directors. He said that as a small company, WLN came to realize that they needed a larger partner to compete viably in an industry experiencing many consolidations. WLN was a fairly small and lone library services "outpost" in the West, and part of the state government of Washington until 1990. According to McCarthy, three different options were carefully considered over the last six months, looking to transform WLN into a larger player. One option was for WLN to acquire another company or companies; the second option wasn't mentioned. However, the third option, the merger with OCLC, won their support, with the forward-looking leadership of Jay Jordan mentioned as a real plus. OCLC had transitioned beyond its state link many years earlier, negotiating with many state and regional library networks, and building a strong, global member network.

"We at OCLC believe that libraries and their users have much to gain from a combined WLN/OCLC," said Jay Jordan. "WLN libraries will join OCLC's digital, global community for cataloging, resource sharing and reference services. And, OCLC member libraries will benefit from the inclusion of important libraries in the Pacific Northwest in the OCLC network. Working together, WLN and OCLC will eliminate duplicate services, introduce new integrated services, and lower costs for member libraries."

The companies hope to sign the final agreement by early 1999. McCarthy said he expected a transition period of about 6 to 9 months, starting in about February, for moving WLN libraries' data over and training staff on the OCLC system. They anticipate no significant changes in WLN staff for those months. McCarthy said the expectation for the merged company is to grow the businesses in which WLN has been involved, specifically the Automated Collection Assessment. He noted that, as libraries require more accountability, this is an important service for them to offer. They are also committed to continue offering products, like their LaserCat and LaserPac CD-ROM catalogs, which are used especially in smaller libraries.

We spoke with some WLN librarians who seem to be taking a wait and see approach to the merger. Some suspect that their costs for services might be higher with OCLC, and some were concerned about the staff training. At this point, they had not heard much more than the press release revealed. This should prove to be an advantageous merger for the libraries involved, which stand to benefit considerably from the merged catalogs, additional resources, and extended product and service offerings that will result from the enlarged network and company synergies.

For more information, see the Web sites for the two companies: http://www.oclc.org and http://www.wln.com.


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.


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