In June 2011, Jay Jordan announced he will retire as president and CEO of the nonprofit OCLC on June 30, 2012. By that time, he will have led the 44-year-old library cooperative for 14 years, longer than any of OCLC’s four presidents.
During Jordan’s tenure, the cooperative’s portfolio has changed immensely from its beginnings in cooperative computer cataloging to include broader services, research, and support (as Jordan himself outlined in the keynote address and presentation he gave April 2 in Virginia Beach for the 12th Annual International ILLiad Conference).
OCLC now serves 72,035 libraries in 170 countries, with more than 260 million records—up from 39 million records in 1998. Its businesses have shifted radically, with an increasing proportion of its revenues derived from the library automation business rather than metadata services.
Jordan’s tenure has not been without controversy. Some in the automation field charge that OCLC has an unfair competitive advantage as a nonprofit. Its records use policy has been a point of contention, too, and OCLC is still involved in a lawsuit over members sharing of bibliographic data.
But Jordan’s track record has also been marked by innovative R&D and hires of respected librarians to facilitate that. Under his leadership, OCLC has taken a role in major surveys of customer perceptions of libraries worldwide that have impacted library service. It launched WebJunction, an online learning community that has particular value for staff in small and rural libraries, as well as the Geek the Library community awareness campaign. In addition to the WorldShare platform and WorldShare Management Services, earlier this year, it debuted the beta cloud-based Website for Small Libraries, so they can build low-cost websites with basic patron inventory management features.
In late February, Jordan visited LJ’s New York office for a frank discussion of his role at OCLC with Francine Fialkoff, LJ‘s editor in chief, and Michael Kelley, LJ‘s executive editor for news and features.
LJ: The mission of OCLC has expanded hugely. Do you see this as essential to OCLC’s future?
Jordan: I do indeed. If you look at the founding public purpose, the 501c3, and drill down in that a little bit it’s to promote the evolution of library use, of libraries themselves and of librarianship…. So it’s very clear that we should be doing everything we can to promote the profession and help libraries cope with a complicated ecosystem and rate of change. I would think we would want to continue that.
How much of the expansion is because traditional cataloging services have diminished and you’ve been obliged to explore new areas and how much of it is just mission creep?
I wouldn’t agree with the term mission creep. It’s quite explicitly…within the founding principles, and we embarked on all these activities ten years ago, long before there was any debate about whether cataloging revenues or traditional cataloging practices would be altered or flat or down.… In 1999, we wrote a strategic plan when there was a lot of hand-wringing going on about “Gee, users don’t start on library portals.” The tagline [in this strategic document] was “weaving libraries into the web and weaving the web into libraries.” In 2000 that went public, and we started aggressively to think about that and expose records to Google and explore all kinds of things along that vector. It was just part of our mission, and we’ve been pushing [that] along…for quite some time.
You are a nonprofit yet you are competing with commercial entities.
Does this give you an unfair advantage?
It’s pretty much an ongoing tension to act perfectly in the context of the 501c3 global cooperative and [not] cross any lines into what would appear to some people to be commercial activities. Again, the basic founding principles, the mission, our job, is to try to keep costs down for libraries and that’s by deploying platforms and applications and services that will help them do so. The irony is that I could say there’s a disadvantage because of the governance structure, which is totally appropriate for OCLC. If we want to make large changes, that’s got to be vetted appropriately through the entire membership…. If you are a commercial player you’re like, “Geez, I don’t have to check with 27,000 libraries around the world. I can just do stuff.” Two, you know we act as a commercial player in Europe. We’ve acquired companies there that are commercial companies…so we pay taxes in all those venues. It is a totally even playing field there so the discussion is spurious; 501c3 is a U.S. IRS classification as you know.
But have some of those companies’ products been incorporated into what you are doing here?
Not incorporated. The intellect certainly, the design teams are global, so WorldShare, the platform, the services, the applications are being built by developers around the world, many of whom came with those acquisitions or have been hired since. But the WorldShare platform is radically different from any distributed ILS, so no, technically not. We’re hoping to present a pathway. There are 5000 installed ILSes of various flavors from OCLC with a great concentration in Europe, and we are just trying to create a pathway so they can go from being locally hosted to the cloud, to the OCLC WorldShare platform, …..
People say why do you buy companies and I say “I buy companies to get really good people,” and they look at you …like “come on” and I say “no I’m dead serious.” If you know there is a great engineering team there, and a great marketing team there, and they have all this talent and you know you are buying a dated product …. So you bought it to get another ILS, no. … We’ve been very fortunate through some of these acquisitions. …and we’ve gone out and brought in people from outside the library space. You need that healthy blend inside OCLC. Some people will say “does everyone who works at OCLC have an MLS” and I’m like “no.” We’ve got a ton of MLSs that work at OCLC, appropriately, but we probably have more developers than any other class of employees. But we’ve got really good leaders in place now right across the globe and that’s so important.
You talk about your 27,000 members voting, but you have a Board of Trustees that is much smaller than that, which approves these decisions. How many of them are librarians, and what’s the framework of the board?
It’s a good question and it’s fascinating to me having arrived from a different galaxy 13 years ago. … Arthur D. Little designed this governance construct now gosh almost 30 years ago, and they said you want a supermajority of librarians around the table, you’re a library cooperative, that would make sense. But you need other expertise at the table if in fact this cooperative is going to sustain itself and thrive over time. So it is explicitly designed that there are financial experts on the board of trustees who don’t have library backgrounds, there’s legal expertise, there’s publishing expertise, there’s pure technology expertise, and so on. And it’s still constructed that way today. In general there’s at least nine library directors on the board of trustees, and the board can have up to 17 members but it usually functions at about 15. So there’s always a supermajority of library directors at the board table. And below that there’s a global council, which is the next level of governance. There’s 48 members elected from around the world, and the pool to elect members to the global council is the regional councils…. To your point, no there’s not 27,000 that have to vote on every issue but the pool is interestingly broad….
Future of legacy ILSes
So what happens to those companies OCLC acquires on the for profit side?
Do they just go away?
Let’s say, in a ridiculous notion, that all 5000 of those libraries converted from their current distributed ILSes from the various brands that OCLC has to the WorldShare platform. I think we’d keep most of those employees very busy indeed with implementation and support and training activities and additional engineering. This thing will never be done. … We’ve got a long way to go….I think we are going to be really, really busy with all hands on deck for many years to come.
If you look out five or ten years, what’s going to happen to these traditional ILS systems?
Is it an inexorable migration to cloud-based services like WorldShare?
From everything we can see at this point in time, it’s pretty compelling. But I’m sure there will be advocates and maybe for security reasons very valid advocates, for local control…. There’s already this huge issue of patron privacy, which is not just a U.S. issue as we know. It’s particularly sensitive in the E.U., and our solution to that is to deploy global data centers so we can guarantee that patron data is not passed to U.S. servers…. So I don’t think locally managed software is going away by any means…. Inexorable, no, [but] pretty compelling from a functionality and economic standpoint…at least in the next five years.
So many libraries will have to make a decision in the next five years about whether to do this or not?
Absolutely. And, there’s plenty of players out there besides OCLC, so they are going to have choices…. I think we are going to see some fascinating, complex combinations of services and partners going forward….
And the competitive juices over the next five to ten years will be circling around this area?
A lot of it will be…there is going to be a tremendous amount of effort, and people are going to have to make decisions. What are you? Are you a data company, a data aggregator, a reseller of somebody else’s content, do you own all the content that you sell? This is the Gale/ProQuest/EBSCO stuff. But EBSCO and ProQuest both have discovery layers, so EDS [EBSCO Discovery Service] and Summon are out there. So far EBSCO hasn’t announced a cloud computing platform, but ProQuest’s Serials Solutions has, so I think there’s going to be a lot of interesting shifting going on, and at the end of the day you have to hope libraries are the beneficiaries….
National Library of Sweden
How about the situation with the National Library of Sweden and the ongoing debate over the OCLC Rights and Responsibilities policy? Has the Swedish decision not to participate in OCLC because of the policy changed your thinking at all?
It’s an important issue. We’ve had cordial discussions with the National Library of Sweden for years. I know the director quite well…so there really isn’t any animus. There’s a policy disagreement. That’s a great example of where OCLC has to engage its full membership, or at least allow the full membership to engage. All 27,0000 libraries should be represented and have an intense dialog on exactly what are the implications…. We’ve had discussions with some of the large consortia; they say they want Creative Commons Zero [CC0], and we say well we’ll do Creative Commons Attribution at this point, but again that’s not an official policy until the membership gets to air that.
Why do you want the attribution license?
OCLC, literally from when the first cataloging record went into the database, has always encouraged free exchange—library to library, library to archive, library to museum, whatever—so the memory institutions have always been encouraged to share records freely among themselves. The issue is that OCLC actually encourages and incentivizes the loading of original cataloging records of esoteric [materials] from special collections. We encourage libraries to lend between and among themselves, and we do that through a credit system. Last fiscal year we paid out $19 million, which are reductions in your invoice for your use of the cooperative’s services. And if you want to multiply that out times ten years, it’s a big number.
The only issue is when it comes to a for-profit provider, then we ask for a contract. We want an agreement in place that’s explicit, and the only thing I’ve ever said publicly or privately is if you return equal value to the cooperative, we’ll do an agreement…. We did [that] with Google years ago…to harvest… records that sit in WorldCat so they’re discoverable in Google, and then they come back into WorldCat, and OCLC routes them to the appropriate library…. So the issue is why would the cooperative, after 45 years of immense investment and immense carrying costs—the infrastructure to support 72,000 libraries around the globe is immense—why would you give that away for free? I only ask that there’s a quid pro quo….
What about projects like the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) or Europeana.
Are you talking to them?
Absolutely. We’ve been to many of the DPLA meetings. We’re very much engaged with public libraries in helping them understand how they fit in that construct.
And how receptive are they to your position as far as licensing goes?
I think everybody would say give me CC0. Europeana does. So we are saying we understand that, and we understand as soon as we give you CC0 then it’s open to everyone. So why would I disadvantage the long-term sustainability of the cooperative by just handing [it over]…. Brewster [Kahle, head of the Internet Archive] and I have had many discussions. “Give me all of WorldCat for OpenLibrary,” and I said, “No, I’m not going to do that, because as soon as I give it to Open Library then it goes everywhere else in the world, to commercial providers, so I’m not going to do it.” The [March 1] announcement [that two equity firms had invested in Innovative Interfaces] was interesting. Now all three of the large ILS vendors in the world are owned by private equity, right? I don’t know exactly what share they bought, but I would be willing to bet a lot of money that it’s majority control. I don’t know that, but the point is that I think this global cooperative has worked reasonably well for lo these 45 years, and I think those are assets that belong to member libraries of the cooperative. And we should look at how we can collaborate most effectively with Europeana, with the National Library of Sweden, DPLA, HathiTrust; we are doing lots of things with lots of them. It’s a very, very important issue.
Advice for successor
What’s a short list of items you think your successor is going to have at the top of his or her list?
OCLC in its role as a cooperative has been constructively disruptive in many ways.… So my primary piece of advice to whoever comes after me is don’t lose the momentum because we really are at a tipping point here. With the web in the state it’s in today, with the advancement of technology, with the notion of cloud computing, …with 36 libraries operating today in the OCLC cloud having turned off their local library system and 180 signed up to do so at some point over the next 12 months or so, boy we’re at a really interesting point in time. So don’t lose the momentum, continue to make the investment necessary with these global engineering teams to roll out the functionality as quickly as we can get it out there…. The notion of this platform is that whatever discovery tool you choose as a librarian for your institution it will still talk to the OCLC platform. It will talk to the services through APIs, it will talk to the data wells, the registry services, WorldCat, and so on. Stay focused…we’re really at a great point in time.… Really significant change is going to get driven in the next 12 to 36 months.
Do you think your successor should have some background in a for-profit company?
Was that an advantage for you?
Yes probably. I don’t know if you have to have that….Personal[ly] it was an advantage to me. I’ve been involved in many mergers and acquisitions and negotiations around the world so I probably negotiated…with 30 or 40 different nationalities and it wasn’t the least bit intimidating. In fact, I loved it. That experience stood me in good stead. I wouldn’t discourage somebody from having a business background. Whether that’s absolutely a sine qua non I don’t know. [Before OCLC, Jordan worked 24 years for Information Handling Services, a database publisher.]
How big a cloud is the SkyRiver lawsuit for your planning?
You know I can’t comment. It’s sitting in a federal court in Columbus, OH. I think we made it quite clear in our public statement that we don’t think there is any merit to any of the allegations. So just as I would, I’d advise my successor, stay focused. I’m not an attorney. The courts will deal with this in a fair fashion. In the meantime, launch WorldShare platform and all those apps, and let’s get going.
The Website for Small Libraries program that OCLC launched in February, why did you do that? Are you going to do similar projects for smaller libraries?
We’re trying. Why did we do it? Because we could. We’ve got really smart technologists who said “You know what we can do, we can preconfigure this stuff and libraries can have a web presence like Bingo!”…If we can allow libraries to expose their collections, especially the libraries who don’t have the IT support, intellectual capital, or capital capital, that’s exactly what a cooperative with the public purpose of OCLC should do. So yes we’ll continue to do those things. …
How do you feel about other concerns, such as ebook access, which are integrally related to
the business you are in as well?
That’s all about reasonable access to content, and we know large publishers, on the academic side for the journal discussion and on the public side for the ebook discussion, that’s a very tough situation right now. If I own the intellectual property, then I can make the decision about how exactly I want to go to market.… I have faith that it will get worked out. The irony is, one of the justifications for OCLC to buy NetLibrary all those years ago was that the aggregation model made a great deal of sense…. Now to me the Balkanization has taken place again. “We’re going to have our own platform….” Well, wait until you build and maintain one of those. Have a good time. It’s nontrivial work. And what does it do to libraries? So now the patrons have to learn 450 interfaces and 450 log-on protocols….
How has the Geek the Library program been going?
The uptake’s been huge across the U.S., and some of the stories coming out now are about the results. It has not just engaged but enlivened the public in some of these communities to really get active in their support of local libraries.…. But the campaigns have been fun and…it has engendered a huge amount of interest.…
What are you most proud about and what are you most disappointed about?
I’m going to couch anything I say in terms of how I am absolutely blessed to work with 1250 really dedicated and smart people. The whole OCLC team around the world. And without the real engagement and energy invested by thousands of librarians around the world, I wouldn’t be sitting here talking to you today.
So I guess things that we’ve moved along OK, one would be that today OCLC is less U.S.–centric, and I don’t mean that as a pejorative term. We’ve managed to move the base of the membership broadly outside the United States. That we’ve been able to engage those other institutions and individuals in all these different geographies in this notion of a global cooperative…that’s been important. But it’s nowhere where we need to be. Two, I think we’ve moved a little faster as far as innovation and moving hopefully useful services out to market. Three, I would say much better at communications. OCLC was a well-kept secret even in Dublin, OH, which was really annoying to me when I got there. So we’ve been much more outward directed.
The disappointments would be some of the analog of those things. I didn’t get as far globally as I wanted to. We could have done better on communications—record use policy, National Library of Sweden, open linked data—I think we could have done much better in communicating our positions and why we took them. And sometimes we took the wrong position. So, OK, get your mea culpas out there. But I don’t have a lot of regrets. I’ve been truly fortunate…. I don’t think there’s a lot of industries…where deeply embedded in the DNA of the professionals you work with is “Gee, we want to share, gee, we want to give open access.” I came from the for-profit background. Give? What’s this give thing? So truly it’s been a huge pleasure…the engagement level has been phenomenal.