Not Your Mother’s OCLC

OCLC entry.Last week I spent three days getting oriented at OCLC Headquarters, in Dublin, Ohio. This was not my first visit, but it was my first as an OCLC employee. One of the biggest changes I noticed since my last visit several years ago was the Silicon Valley-style growth of the area. Large office complexes for Verizon, Qwest, and others have sprung up in area that was formerly dominated by the multi-story OCLC Kilgour building.

This is all to the good, as it has fostered the kind of development that follows business: hotels, restaurants, and housing stock. I was struck, when visiting the rather large plot of land OCLC occupies, about how valuable this real estate has become.

Part of the OCLC campus.Meanwhile, given the move to take the cooperative global in a big way as well as acquisitions and mergers, more staff are distributed around the globe and fewer are housed in Dublin. These facts have not escaped OCLC management, as various parts of the campus are now, or will be, rented out to others. This brings additional resources into our coffers so we can keep the books balanced without resorting to less desirable tactics.

The three days of orientation were a whirlwind of information, from projects that have been ongoing for years to things that are so new I can’t share them yet. But my overall impression is one of awe, based on these trends I see:

  • The push to go global is well underway and is totally the right thing to do.
  • Work to recast the mission, objectives, governance, branding, and strategies is well underway and is totally the right thing to do.
  • Efforts to become more efficient through enterprise-level service integration and the rationalization of product and service offerings is well underway and totally the right thing to do.
  • We have already begun to see (e.g., WorldCat.org, WorldCat Local, etc.), and will soon see many more, specific results of the above trends that will enable our members to be more effective than ever before. This is well underway and totally the right thing to do.

Just one of the amazing tidbits I will share relates to the technical underpinnings of WorldCat.org and WorldCat Local, and I think serves as an object lesson in just how much OCLC has changed. WorldCat.org runs on a multi-processor system (32 machine nodes, 4 identical processors per node) using commodity hardware and running completely in RAM. This is of course the technique perfected by Google in order to maximize performance while minimizing cost. The search engine itself was written in-house over the last three years (dubbed FIND) and when records are displayed they are pulled from an Oracle database.

The technical architecture of the system is a clear departure from the kind of monolithic big iron systems still in favor with most large business operations. OCLC is acting more like a Silicon Valley startup than the kind of hidebound, ossified organization it has the credentials to be.

This is but one amazing tidbit I discovered on this trip. There are others, some of which will be revealed soon (this year) and over time.

I realize that OCLC has for so long been a major part of our professional landscape that everyone has already formed an opinion about it. But I urge you to take a fresh look at where your cooperative is going. I think you’ll agree it’s definitely not your mother’s OCLC.

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About Roy Tennant

Roy Tennant works on projects related to improving the technological infrastructure of libraries, museums, and archives.

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