How do you measure the value of cooperation?

OCLC Next blog header image: How do you measure the value of cooperation?

As the new Executive Director of Metadata and Digital Services, I’m honored to have the chance to work alongside a community of library professionals who believe strongly in improving access to information for all. I’m also thrilled to work with our robust, networked services and proven technology across a global footprint. And I’m proud to join an organization that has supported richer discovery experiences for decades by creating, maintaining, and promoting cooperative and trusted data.

One thing I’ve learned over the course of my career is that our fundamental needs for information don’t change. How we use technology to improve information access, though, must evolve. Similarly, the OCLC vision for how to best improve access to library resources has not changed over many decades. And while technology has undergone radical change during that time, we have always moved forward by prioritizing the collective, long-term welfare of libraries and their users.

This unique stewardship role, especially in the area of metadata services, requires a focus on the true value of cooperative information management. And by “value” I mean real, measurable increases in quality, efficiency, and visibility for all our member libraries.

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Three ways to measure the value of cooperation


In order for people to access library content that meets their needs, data about materials has to be as accurate and current as possible. The WorldCat Quality Team reviews, merges, and enriches about four million records a month. And by using data science models, recent quality efforts have enhanced more than 40 million bib records and assigned OCLC control numbers to more than 3.5 million knowledge base records. What’s amazing is that these enhancements happen collaboratively and continuously each day, both by OCLC staff and through member libraries’ contributions.

Working together unlocks this value for all participants, allowing our information sharing ecosystem to succeed. In fact, we’ve found that in the US, more than 90 percent of the records in WorldCat are the result of several libraries, publishers, and OCLC coming together to add and refine metadata in each record.


A cooperative commitment to quality drives efficiency, too, because each individual library and worker need not replicate efforts made across the network. In calendar year 2020, OCLC member libraries were able to copy catalog 95 percent of their items from WorldCat, saving an average of 10 minutes per title. The 17 million+ titles copy cataloged that year resulted in around three million hours of recovered time.

Another example of efficiency is that we can provide access to state-of-the-art technology that would otherwise be unavailable to individual libraries. Our new streamlined holdings update service is a perfect example. We began offering it for a limited time in January, and over the last four months we’ve added 16.3 million holdings, reset 62.2 million others, and removed 25.7 million inactive ones. The stats behind this trial were so impressive that we’re making the streamlined holdings service available ongoing, at no additional charge for libraries with an OCLC cataloging subscription.


Gains in quality and efficiency, though, don’t matter if they don’t also provide value for library users. Updated holdings not only connect users to the newest, most up-to-date materials, they also benefit discovery through resource sharing. Based on recent data, we know that “Not Owned” is the second most used response when responding to an interlibrary loan request. Libraries that participated in the streamlined holdings update trial saw up to a 99 percent reduction in “Not Owned” responses compared to historical averages. This means library workers aren’t spending time searching for and responding to requests for titles they don’t own, and users can discover and connect to updated resource sharing options in a timely way.

Lastly, updated holdings mean that participating libraries’ materials show up more accurately in partnership programs such as the recently announced “direct links from Google Search.” That’s just one of many examples of how cooperative data in WorldCat can help libraries compete on the web through our combined presence and visibility.

Planning for the future

We know we’ll need to support our institutions and communities for many decades to come. What we do together should impact long-term developments and evolve with changing organization and end user needs. The completion of a WorldCat Entities project is, to put it mildly, a big deal in terms of future value. It’s the next step toward a shared entity management infrastructure for library linked data initiatives, and we’ve already added more than 150 million openly searchable entities.

From here, we’ll collaborate with development partners to investigate ways to integrate these data and tools into library workflows. Because we define value across decades, we study new technology like linked data carefully, and then move forward to make sure that libraries will be able to make use of it in long-term, planful, and efficient ways. We know that library linked data will improve the discoverability of scholarly materials on the web, and I’m excited to help move this technology forward.

A unique value proposition, just like your library

Our staff and staff at member libraries have decades of experience and abilities that combine to support the network as a whole and each institution’s unique identity. Together, we represent all types and sizes of libraries across all geographic boundaries. Together, we work with industry and governmental standards bodies to improve quality and control standards for metadata. Together, we create value that respects library interests, without concern for private profit or shareholder returns. And together, we ensure the future of the world’s shared scholarly and cultural heritage, while also getting students the best access to information for their late-night homework.

It’s a value proposition like no other: thousands of libraries cooperating through shared technology and data so that they can better achieve unique, local goals. I’m proud to be a part of that and excited to help increase the value we provide to your library.