Investing in a long-term future for libraries

Investing in a long-term future for libraries

Evaluating progress is complicated when the pace of change is accelerating. Move too quickly? Your choice may be made obsolete by tomorrow’s changes. Move too slowly? You can be overtaken and find your relevance diminished. So, how do we tell if we’re on the right path?

At OCLC, we measure where we are and where we’re going against this question: Are we helping libraries better connect the people they serve to the resources they need?

This approach holds when we assess annual accomplishments, set new goals, and make plans for much further down the road.

Positive impact today

We’ve built and continue to improve infrastructure to connect and enrich a growing global network of libraries that powers collaboration, learning, and innovation at scale. These combined data resources and library expertise help all libraries achieve significant efficiencies while having greater impact.

So, are OCLC and its member libraries making an impact today? Absolutely. Take a quick look at our 2021/2022 annual report for some examples, including:

  • A complete re-architecture of the WorldCat knowledge base
  • The launch of a new streamlined holdings update service
  • The implementation of smart fulfillment capabilities for resource sharing
  • An increase in participation for membership and research activities

There’s a lot more there to celebrate, and I’m confident that the investments we’ve made reflect our values for today. But how are we planning for tomorrow?

Supporting libraries online

For more than 15 years, we’ve helped improve libraries’ visibility online. We know that’s necessary because although libraries do incredible work to represent specific, local constituencies, they are all in competition with monolithic, well-funded, commercial alternatives.

WorldCat is at the core of this work as the world’s largest representation of library collections. I encourage you to read Gina Winkler’s thoughts on what that means for our members and the library world at large. When we cooperate on a common source of data—not just for records and holdings but for a wide variety of library activities—it provides many opportunities for constructive sharing.

Our recent work on and our other web visibility programs prove that point. By investing in this unique, collective resource, every participating library helps every other library attract users to specific, relevant, and unique items. This is hugely important. While every library must do what’s right for its local users, cooperation lifts all libraries and allows all to equitably share in the benefits.

Ask yourself this: If OCLC and its member libraries weren’t doing this, who would? There’s no other organization able to represent and promote library relevance at this scale. Together, we improve visibility and relevance for all libraries and attract users back to their local libraries.

Improving experiences for library users

After people discover libraries and their resources online, they want a positive experience with delivery and fulfillment. That means improving the tools that enable libraries to catalog, update, share, and maintain the most relevant materials. WorldCat helps here, too. By providing a shared registry of library holdings and interlending policies, we facilitate the flow of materials between libraries and into people’s hands around the world. This information also provides valuable decision support to libraries, so they can acquire, manage, and preserve the resources most relevant to local needs.

We improve the efficiency of local management activities when we cooperate globally to create and share high-quality data. One excellent example of this efficiency and cooperation is the Express digital delivery program. It uses smart fulfillment functionality combined with a commitment to work together to help get items to users at tremendous speed. It’s simple: every individual worker gets more done when they can rely on tens of thousands of colleagues.

Committed to the long term

To ensure a brighter future for libraries worldwide, our ongoing investments in WorldCat address critical priorities:

  • Improving data that can inform global library relevance and local efficiency
  • Creating services that capture, refine, and utilize that data
  • Providing tools to support DEI initiatives in collection decisions, and with terms used to describe materials
  • Implementing programs that leverage our shared commitment to each other

We believe working together improves both the global presence for all libraries and each library’s ability to deliver amazing service locally. It’s a virtuous cycle that has been successful for more than 50 years. We’ve invested heavily in our core infrastructure and membership activities. And we’re staying firm on this path. At the same time, we’re focused on giving more libraries the chance to participate while working to draw many millions more people to the critical resources and programs that libraries offer.

Will it serve us for 50 more? I believe it will—if we’re bold in our plans and commitments to each other. Many organizations and technology companies say they have an eye on the future. Usually, that’s a slice of time related to next quarter’s profits or next year’s revenue. But the future that we aspire to is one that lasts much longer. And it’s one we can achieve only working with and on behalf of libraries. Because our highest goals aren’t measured in quarters or years, but in lifetimes and generations.