The topic sparking the most buzz in library tech circles at ALA's Annual Conference was the unfortunate turn of events surrounding OCLC leadership. OCLC had named Jack Blount as its new President and Chief Executive Officer on June 8, 2012 and then rescinded the appointment with a subsequent and surprising announcement. A letter from Larry Alford, chair of the OCLC Board of Trustees, to the organization's membership dated June 20, 2012, gave the first public statement of this dramatic change of course. Jay Jordan will continue at the helm. The expected duration of Jordan's extended tenure as President and CEO of OCLC was not immediately announced as the organization defines a new executive selection process.
The appointment of Blount and its rescission 12 days later followed an extensive and thoroughly vetted search process involving the executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, an Executive Search Committee, as well as the Board of Trustees, which was responsible for the final decision. A Community Advisory Group provided additional input. This year-long process was initiated following OCLC's announcement on June 29, 2011 that Jay Jordan planned to retire on June 20, 2012, giving the organization ample time to plan a transition. The selection and appointment of a new CEO for the world's largest library organization represented an incredible investment of time and resources among a very broad group of stakeholders. That process will now be reprised, inevitably with extreme caution and vigilance.
While speculation abounds regarding the circumstances of these decisions, no information has been officially released nor is any reliable informal or background information available. It is not even known which party withdrew. As can be expected with the conclusion of an employment relationship at this level, all parties have apparently executed contracts that include non-disclosure terms.
It is not likely that additional information will be forthcoming. That some kind of show-stopping issue arose following the public announcement despite careful vetting was truly unfortunate and will have an impact on the next round of the executive search. While it might be understood that difficult choices were made and that prompt action was taken before rather than after the new President-elect was handed the reins, it would have been infinitely better if all the multiple layers of scrutiny had managed to avoid this public reversal, even if it meant a delay in leadership transition. That said, I do believe that the selection process was carried out with the utmost care and that there is no reason to cast dispersions. The many individuals who were involved in the process have likely gone through an enormously stressful period as the arrangement unraveled.
Yet it also isn't quite right to say that this reversal is without significance. Had the appointment not been withdrawn, a major theme of the 2012 Annual ALA Conference for OCLC would have surrounded this transition of leadership. Major announcements are often tied to this largest of library conferences to gain maximum exposure in the library community. Going into the conference with leadership news story reverberating, OCLC representatives naturally downplayed its significance and instead gave great emphasis to its positive accomplishments, especially those surrounding its efforts in implementing linked data.
In the perspective of the long history of OCLC, this event is but a bump in the road, but one that cannot easily be erased from the memory of the community. We can anticipate that a new President and CEO will be appointed within a reasonable period, that Jay Jordan will actually get to enjoy his retirement, and that the mantle of leadership will then pass to another wellqualified individual. As a global organization with several layers of governance, the trajectory of OCLC is influenced, but not unilaterally set by its President and CEO. Each of the presidents has made a personal impact on the shape of the organization and its activities. Jack Blount would have brought his experience and perspective as a technologist and entrepreneur. In an editorial essay that I prepared for Smart Libraries Newsletter following the announcement, which appropriately was preempted for publication, I mentioned some of my thoughts on Blount's background relative to the challenges at hand. Those points are now moot, and I will wait with great interest as OCLC works its way through the eventual appointment of its next CEO.
It's natural to expect that for now OCLC will continue with the strategic directions that have been put in place under Jay Jordan as he extends his tenure of leadership. It has been a course of expansion, including ever increasing global involvement and participation along with a widening of the scope of its services, especially into the area of library management systems with the launch of WorldShare Management Services as a major strategic initiative. New leadership will come to the organization in due course. In the meantime, OCLC continues to make ambitious progress on a slate of new initiatives, including building out new products based on the WorldShare Platform and WorldCat.org; making forays into the realm of linked data; and continuing and strengthening its many longstanding products and services built around the basis of library cooperation.