In a bold move that could reshape the library automation landscape, OCLC has expanded WorldCat Local's existing cataloging and discovery tools with new circulation, delivery, and acquisitions features. This new project, which OCLC calls "the first Web-scale, cooperative library management service," will ultimately bring into WorldCat Local the full complement of functions traditionally performed by a locally installed integrated library system (ILS).
"Today, we are extending that strategy of cooperation to reduce the costs of library management functions such as circulation and acquisitions," said OCLC president and CEO Jay Jordan, in a news release. "Our goal is to lower the total cost of managing library collections while enhancing the library user's experience. (Also see Hectic Pace, in which OCLC's Andrew Pace adds some background.)
Libraries that subscribe to FirstSearch WorldCat will get, for no additional charge, the WorldCat Local “quick start” service: a locally branded catalog interface and simple search box that presents localized search results for print and electronic content along with the ability to search the entire WorldCat database and other resources via the Web. Further automation support would come next year.
Going to the network
OCLC's vision involves shifting increasing portions of activity managed library-by-library through locally or consortially implemented automation systems to the network level, subsumed under the global WorldCat infrastructure.
In this era where cloud computing gains an increasing portion of business automation, OCLC sees WorldCat Local as a platform that offers libraries an opportunity to achieve similar efficiency, leveraging the power of the cooperative. The massive WorldCat.org database lies at the core of each of these new services. OCLC said it will work with the more than 1,000 libraries and partners that are currently using OCLC library management systems in Europe and Asia Pacific to help build the new service.
Discovery interface comes first
WorldCat Local was introduced in 2007, but, up to now, relatively few libraries have subscribed to it. OCLC will offer libraries that already subscribe to FirstSearch and use a supported ILS the ability to begin using WorldCat Local as a discovery interface with no additional charge.
In July 2009 OCLC will expand WorldCat Local to include a broader scope of content both through an integrated metasearch capability and through large collections of articles and other content indexed directly in WorldCat.org.
OCLC's recent agreement with EBSCO to provide EBSCOhost subscribers integrated searching of its vast resource of article content through WorldCat Local represents the first of many such planned partnerships that will enable WorldCat to serve as the single starting point for search.
A challenge to traditional ILS
The advances of WorldCat Local on the discovery front pave the way for an even more ambitious program to deliver through the WorldCat Local platform the automation support that libraries now gain through their integrated library systems.
Work is already underway at OCLC to add circulation and delivery, print and electronic acquisitions, and license management functionality to WorldCat Local that will allow libraries to phase out their ILS and take advantage of these business automation services provided in a cloud computing model based on the representation of their collection in WorldCat.org.
These new functions will not be available to libraries until some time next year. OCLC is currently finalizing agreements with selected public and academic libraries to test and pilot the circulation, acquisition, and license management services. Pricing has not been announced.
Building on acquisitions
Through business acquisitions executed over the last few years, OCLC has placed itself firmly in the library automation industry. It has acquired a number of companies that offer key library automation products, including PICA, Fretwell-Downing Informatics, Sisis Informationssysteme, Openly Informatics, EZproxy, and Amlib.
The development of OCLC's new automation services based on the WorldCat Local platform taps into resources from each of these acquired companies. Like many of the commercial library automation companies, OCLC as a nonprofit cooperative of member libraries, faces the daunting task of maintaining a set of established library automation systems that have significant market share in Europe as it creates its next-generation product.
New model challenges industry
The concept of delivering library automation functionality in a cloud computing model represents a radical departure from the models currently available. OCLC has its share of supporters as well as detractors. Some of the latter include for-profit vendors that view the giant nonprofit cooperative as an unfair competitor.
While it's too early to predict the numbers of libraries that will shift from traditional ILS products to services offered through WorldCat Local, the dynamics of the library automation industry will inevitably change.
Pace, OCLC executive director for Networked Library Services and leader of this project, told LJ that OCLC views these new services as increasing the value of the subscriptions it offers to its members. It eliminates many of the redundancies inherent in the current patterns of library automation and allows libraries to take advantage of Web-scale efficiencies.
While OCLC will offer these services at some level of annual subscription cost, it would displace large expenditures that libraries make in hardware, software, and personnel for their current ILS infrastructure. OCLC's general approach is consistent with an emerging current IT trend for business automation services offered through diffusely distributed Web-accessible computing environments.
OCLC now will compete with such companies as SirsiDynix, Ex Libris, Innovative Interfaces, Polaris, The Library Corporation, Serials Solutions, and a myriad of other companies that offer ILS products, electronic resource management systems, link resolvers, federated search platforms and discovery interfaces.