OCLC Research Library Partnership – a word about intent

I’m just returning from an OCLC board meeting and the Global Council meeting that followed it. OCLC Research was given some nice support by the board in the launch of the OCLC Research Library Partnership (all of the trustees representing libraries have already affiliated or are positively inclined) and there was a recognition that it fit with OCLC’s other investments in fostering and renewing our channels of engagement with OCLC members. There was also some discussion among the Global Council delegates about the launch. Some of it favorable, some not and some confused.

Some of the confusion came from delegates who had received invitations but not had any follow-up. Others wondered why they’d been approached. And others wondered why they hadn’t. Some of this confusion comes from timing – our follow-on to the invitations hadn’t yet caught up with all the invitees while our broader outreach and announcements hadn’t yet begun.

The unfavorable comments converged around a few key concerns.

The Partnership represented an opportunity and outreach to a particular sector of OCLC members that isn’t duplicated for others.

The Partnership by reaching out to research libraries and requiring dues is a vehicle for large institutions to buy influence.

The Partnership by requiring dues represents the only member activity that has a separate fee for participation. (Of course, products and services are always priced but membership in the cooperative is not.)

Lorcan and I were able to talk to many of the delegates about these concerns during the breaks. I thought some of what we said might be of broader interest given that I blogged about the Partnership here just a few days ago.

Basically I tried to unpack the phrase

    OCLC Research Library Partnership.

This is OCLC Research Partnering with Libraries
The work of OCLC Research needs to be focused on genuine library concerns and issues. A lot of that work can be done most effectively and with the most impact if it is done collaboratively with libraries that have the capacities, interests, and resources to invest in this work. We welcome any library that wants to work in this way. Often larger institutions have the capacity and will but there are many smaller libraries as well as specialized institutions that have comparable capacities.

This is Libraries Partnering with OCLC Research
Libraries investing in solutions to problems, in approaches to new issues and in the development of possible future library services want to leverage the capacities of OCLC Research as well as work collaboratively with other similarly motivated institutions.

This is OCLC Partnering with Research Libraries
Research libraries are one of OCLC’s most important constituencies both as contributors to the cooperative and as consumers of its services. We need and want to understand their working issues and challenges. Often these are experienced earlier and with degrees of complexity that ultimately became broadly felt in the library community. Our ability to reflect those issues and challenges in our strategy as well as the products and services that support libraries is good for the cooperative.

There are dues associated with the OCLC Research Library Partnership because working collaboratively requires dedicated resources to make it happen effectively. Partnering demands issue identification, community building, working group support, and the synthesis and socialization of outcomes. OCLC Research has some staff effort dedicated to that kind of support and leadership. The dues supplement the OCLC funding and partially offset what would otherwise be incremental spending.

Dues buys that type of support. It doesn’t buy influence over direction of products or library support services. The future of the library community drives product strategy and then customers influence the product directions. Given that you might want to watch out for the Norwegians. ;) OCLC was fortunate enough to win a tender by BIBSYS , the national library system for Norway.

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About Jim Michalko

Jim coordinates the OCLC Research office in San Mateo, CA, focuses on relationships with research libraries and work that renovates the library value proposition in the current information environment.