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RLG to Merge with OCLC
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Posted On May 8, 2006
The two leading membership-based organizations in the library world have announced that they plan to join forces. The RLG Board of Directors (http://www.rlg.org) and the OCLC Board of Trustees (http://www.oclc.org) have recommended that the two service and research organizations be combined effective July 1, 2006. The RLG member institutions will be asked to vote on and approve the decision by June 7; approval requires a two-thirds majority of those voting. Under the proposed plan, RLG's products and services will be integrated with OCLC products and services, and RLG's program initiatives will be brought forward as a new division of OCLC Programs and Research. James Michalko, president and CEO of RLG, will serve as vice president of RLG-Programs Development, working under the leadership of Lorcan Dempsey, vice president of research and OCLC chief strategist. The company name will remain OCLC Online Computer Library Center. It will be the sole remaining bibliographic utility library organization in the U.S. The organizations said that uniting would provide their members new leverage in developing services, standards, and software and would provide increased efficiencies all around.

Founded in 1974, RLG is a nonprofit organization of more than 150 research libraries, archives, museums, historical societies and other "cultural memory" institutions. Its Union Catalog of library materials provides coverage across a broad range of subjects and material types in almost 400 languages. RLG's headquarters is located in Mountain View, Calif., just a few miles from Google—seen either as an ally or a nemesis to libraries. The Mountain View office will be retained, while a 2-person New York office will be closed. Staffing decisions will be made prior to the merge.

Founded in 1967 and headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, OCLC Online Computer Library Center is a nonprofit organization that provides computer-based library cataloging, resource sharing, preservation services, and more to 54,000 libraries in 109 countries and territories.

"We know that the RLG membership shares with the OCLC membership a conviction to deliver access to the world's information," said Jay Jordan, OCLC president and CEO. "Together, we can deliver enhanced solutions that collect, organize, preserve and provide access to information, not just for today, but for future generations."

Jordan stressed the many advantages of the combined organization and sees it as a natural progression of the parallel developments of the services. The merger will serve to remove redundancies, consolidate services and programs, increase interoperability, achieve economies of scale, and combine research efforts. Jordan said: "As we shake hands with Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask, it is essential that we create a critical mass for libraries. This merger clarifies that there is one central organization representing libraries, museums, and other cultural organizations in the Web space."

"The last few years have instilled in us all an urgent need to find innovative, cost-effective, and compelling ways to bring research collections into the heart of the online environment and into the hands of those who can benefit from them," said James Neal, vice president for information services and university librarian at Columbia University and chair of the RLG Board of Directors. "It is time that RLG and OCLC take united action if we are to realize our long-held and long-shared mutual goal of providing information to people when and where they need it. New challenges demand new thinking, so after deliberation and careful thought, both RLG and OCLC came to the conclusion that the best way to serve our members' interests was to combine forces."

Jordan also commented that it was exciting for OCLC to add RLG members from other cultural heritage organizations—historical societies, archives, museums, etc. He hopes that RLG members see the proposed combination as one that offers great benefits. They will have access to a much larger, richer, and more global bibliographic utility. He pointed out that RLG members would be able to access many useful OCLC services, such as its new collection analysis tool. He also noted that many RLG members already do batch uploading into WorldCat.

Jordan said he doesn't foresee any large technical challenges in merging the two union catalogs. Current plans call for migrating the RLG Union Catalog (with 48 million records) into the OCLC WorldCat database (with 65 million records representing more than 1 billion holdings); the combined catalog will be called WorldCat. "Both organizations have high competencies in merging metadata," he said. He also said that OCLC has had "lots of experience." He pointed to the successful merger with the WLN bibliographic network, which was announced in late 1998. WLN served 550 libraries in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. and Canada. It has now become OCLC Western, a division within OCLC.

Pamela Bailey, executive director of the OCLC Western Service Center, commented that they had faced "some big cumbersome issues combining OCLC and WLN," but that it eventually was accomplished very successfully. And, she noted, that there have been many technological improvements in batch loading and other processes over the last 7 years. She also said that there were many good synergies among staff members of the two organizations—"we learned a lot from each other." Bailey expects the RLG-OCLC transition to be simpler and thinks there will be many good synergies in bringing the diverse cultural organizations of RLG together with the OCLC libraries.

Catherine De Rosa, OCLC's VP of marketing and library services, said that most library members of RLG are already in OCLC, while many of the nonlibrary institutions (archives, museums, and historical societies) are not members.

Michalko said that the percentage of shared members "is another reason that RLG members should feel confident that we'll do this right." He said that membership in RLG has remained stable and that the group's "financial outlook wasn't really a driver" of the decision to join forces. He explained that both organizations were going through strategic planning exercises and were grappling with the realization of how uncertain the roles for research organizations were going to be in the future. He spoke highly of the opportunities for RLG organizations to tap into OCLC's prototyping, research, tools, and technology transfer.

OCLC offers its library-produced WorldCat bibliographic records via Web search engines—Yahoo!, Google, and others—while RedLightGreen is a standalone site (http://www.redlightgreen.com) that offers the searchable RLG union catalog. Currently, RedLightGreen's database is the books portion of the RLG Union Catalog. RedLightGreen offers results refinement by subjects, authors, and language, plus "get it at your library," and auto-citation creation in standard bibliographic formats, like ALA, MLA, and Turabian. It also provides links to Google for book reviews and Amazon for purchasing. Results don't get lost among a sea of general Web search results.

For background on the two resources, see the article by David Mattison, "RedLightGreen and Open Worldcat: Changing the World of Academic Search," in the April 2005 issue of Searcher (available from the ITI InfoCentral archives, http://www.iti-infocentral.com).

According to De Rosa, the organizations have just started discussions about the databases offered by RLG through its Eureka Web interface. Some, like Anthropology Plus, are exclusive offerings. She said they will evaluate all of these carefully and may consider making some of the databases available through OCLC's FirstSearch service.

Because of the membership nature of the two nonprofit organizations, the proposal is characterized as a "coming together" or "combining." Given the relative sizes (RLG has just 80 employees; OCLC has more than 1,100), it appears to be an acquisition by OCLC. According to an FAQ (http://www.oclc.org/news/releases/oclcrlgfaq.htm): "The financial structure of the proposed combination is a purchase of assets and assumption of certain liabilities. Financial details of the proposed combination are not provided at this time but will be fully disclosed in the 2007 OCLC audited financial statements."

Library Journal called it a "blockbuster move, but not quite a merger." The news article commented that "it sure sounds like an absorption into OCLC, since the latter's revenues of $189 million were more than 13 times RLG's recent revenues."

A slightly different take on the news came from Tony Gill, a former RLG employee, who wrote in his blog: "This merger is big news in the library world, at least in the world of academic/research libraries. Until now, they have always had a choice of two competing utilities, and two different union catalogues (and some used both). Now, ‘there can be only one.' I'm sure there are many good and valid business reasons for this merger, many of which are set out in the press release. Still, for the library world, it feels a bit like the equivalent of Apple and Microsoft merging. And I feel bad for my friends and coworkers at RLG, who must all be facing a period of great uncertainty right now."

Other librarians also bemoaned the loss of choice and competition. One commented that choice is good for librarians, as is the availability of diverse voices in addressing issues and problems. Others expressed frustration at OCLC taking on new ventures rather than improving current products and services.

Taking a broad view, analyst Bette Brunelle of Outsell, Inc. wrote: "With traditional cataloging a dying art and OCLC's and RLG's growth stagnant, this merger has the potential to combine strengths in a very mature market and to make operations more efficient, and it makes a lot of sense. A bright spot in OCLC's operations is the WorldCat service, which has enjoyed double-digit growth in user base, thanks in part to OCLC's spot-on, innovative Open WorldCat program. Through partnerships with Google, Yahoo!, Ask, Amazon and others, this program enables users searching for books on these popular sites to get search results from World Cat that point them to the library closest to them. Integrating RLIN into WorldCat is in line with OCLC's mission to increase the breadth and reach of WorldCat, and that should serve the information community well. This is a promising merger and a smart move by both companies."


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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