OCLC took another step in its growth as a global organization by gaining complete ownership of OCLC PICA, the integrated library system based in the Netherlands and used by libraries and library consortia in Europe and elsewhere. While this move represents a solidification of OCLC's European holdings, it does not reflect a major change in strategy. OCLC already owned the majority of the shares of OCLC PICA through combined investments of $8.7 million made in December 1999 and September 2000. OCLC has not yet revealed the amount paid for the remaining 40 percent of the shares.
The completion of the purchase of PICA represents the latest step in OCLC's growth into a global entity. The organization has a longstanding pattern of growth and expansion. Founded in 1967 as the Ohio College Library Center to serve the colleges and universities in Ohio, the organization expanded to the national level in the U.S. in 1977 when its board of directors approved changes to allow libraries outside Ohio to become members and participate in its governance. Since that time OCLC has attracted member libraries from throughout the U.S. and internationally.
Governance Study on Fast Track
One of the key recent activities for OCLC as an organization lies in aligning its governance to reflect its global activities. Toward this end, the OCLC Board of Trustees appointed a Governance Study Committee and engaged a consulting firm in April 2007. According to OCLC's press release, the Governance Study Committee will make its recommendations in November 2007. Any approved modifications to OCLC governance should take effect on July 1, 2008.
The Roots of PICA
OCLC PICA traces its roots to 1969 when the Royal National Library and other Dutch university and college libraries initiated a project called the Project for Integrated Catalogue Automation as a research project to create a system for shared cataloging and automation. In 1986 the project became an independent organization named Stichting Centre for Library Automation, Pica. The organization expanded over time to provide library automation products and resource sharing services to libraries throughout Europe. In 1996, the organization was renamed to Stichting Pica. In 1999, Stichting Pica spun off its automation and resource sharing activities into a wholly owned Dutch Limited Liability Company named PICA BV. By September 2000, OCLC had acquired 60 percent ownership in PICA BV. OCLC PICA was formed in January 2002 when OCLC consolidated its own OCLC Europe, Middle East and Africa division with PICA BV. Now that OCLC has acquired the remaining 40 percent from Stichting Pica, it gains additional flexibility to integrate OCLC PICA within the governance of its global organization.
According to the press release, OCLC and PICA have been collaborating for 30 years. “Cooperation between OCLC and PICA began in 1977 when the organizations began sharing data.” As OCLC's primary presence in Europe, OCLC PICA has been involved in business acquisitions including the July 2005 purchase of Sisis Informationssysteme for $4.5 million and the November 2005 acquisition of Fretwell- Downing Informatics for $8.9 million. In April 2006 both Sisis Informationssysteme and Fretwell-Downing Informatics changed their name to OCLC PICA. Rein van Charldorp, Managing Director of OCLC PICA since April 2002, leads the combined companies and serves as part of the senior management of OCLC.
No corporate acquisition such as this is devoid of some controversy. This latest move highlights the complexities between the non-profit and for-profit activities within OCLC, which do not go without challenge from their commercial competitors.