In a move that has stirred some controversy in the library automation industry, OCLC has announced that it will extend World Cat Local, initially positioned primarily as a discovery tool, to provide a complete suite of services for the automation of libraries. Work is now underway to create services associated with WorldCat Local that perform circulation, resource fulfillment, acquisitions, and license management. Taken together, these services will obviate the need for a library to operate its own integrated library system.
The basic concept of the WorldCat Local library system involves extending the bibliographic records in WorldCat.org with item-specific data, such as barcodes, for each library participating in the service. The idea of using WorldCat for cataloging is well established, and WorldCat Local has been in testing as an end-user discovery environment to replace local online catalogs since April 2007. This current effort extends the WorldCat Local platform to take on the automation of internal library workflows.
OCLC has gone through various exercises in scaling to ensure that its technology will be able to keep up with the massive volume of transactions involved as large numbers of libraries subscribe to these services. For libraries to adopt this approach, they must have a high degree of confidence in its reliability and performance. Engineers at OCLC calculated that combined, the estimated total of 1.2 million libraries in the world sustain an average about 5,000 circulation transactions per second. Part of the design of the WorldCat Local-based library system involves reengineering its technical infrastructure to support that level of use.
In addition to circulation, the WorldCat Local library system will offer functionality for the automation of the procurement and management of library materials, including print and electronic formats. The services will include components for acquisitions and license management. The scope of the product extends beyond the ILS into the realm of electronic resource management systems.
OCLC positions this model of library automation as offering much more efficiency than possible through the traditional ILS, whether hosted by an individual library, a consortium, or offered by a vendor through software-as-a-service. Linking these operations with WorldCat Local will leverage a global, cooperatively built database rather than having each library or consortium maintain its own set of automation components. OCLC aims to shift library automaton away from individual library implementations to a globally shared, cooperative platform.
News of OCLC's strategy for library automation came as part of its announcement regarding WorldCat Local quick start, an offering of its discovery product to existing subscribers to its FirstSearch service without additional cost. This offer will give many thousands of libraries a taste of using WorldCat Local as a discovery tool without making a large financial investment. The quick start program has limitations. Only libraries that use one of the currently supported ILS products will be able to take advantage of the components of WorldCat Local that involve integrating with the ILS,such as real-time display of circulation status. This version also does not involve synchronizing the library's holdings on WorldCat with the representation of its collection from its ILS, a process called reclamation. Libraries that implement the full version of WorldCat Local carry out the reclamation process to ensure better accuracy and thoroughness for their users.
This work has been continually under the guidance of Andrew Pace, who joined OCLC as Director, Network Library Services in January 2008. As of April 2008, OCLC was in the process of finalizing agreements with libraries that will serve as pilot sites for the WorldCat Local automation services. OCLC anticipates general availability of these services sometime in 2010.
This product did not come out of thin air--OCLC has been increasingly involved in the library automation industry for a number of years. SLN has chronicled OCLC's acquisitions of commercial companies and products related to library automation, including PICA, Sisis Informationssysteme, Fretwell-Downing, Openly Informatics, and EZproxy. Much of the research and development of OCLC's new automation services taps into the talent and technologies of these acquired assets in addition to the involvement of OCLC personnel in its Dublin, OH headquarters and former RLG facilities.
The announcement that OCLC plans to deliver a radically new approach for the automation of libraries stands as a large milestone in the evolution of library automation. While significant, it's one of many new efforts that aim to provide more effective or innovative tools to libraries. Up until now, much of the creative energies were applied to the development of next-generation library catalogs or discovery interfaces. SLN has covered the many major developments in this genre, including AquaBrowser, Endeca, Primo, Encore, Summon, LSC PAC, and VUfind. Now the battleground expands from front-end products to those that automate back-room library processes.
OCLC will not stand alone in offering alternatives to the existing products. The OLE Project (described in SLN October 2008) and Ex Libris URM initiative provide examples of alternate approaches. We can also expect the existing ILS products to continue to evolve and prosper. It will be more than a year until OCLC's new services become available to libraries. It's much too early to speculate on the number of libraries that might adopt this approach, but OCLC is well positioned to make a major impact on the industry. It appears that the next couple of years will provide an interesting competition among non-profit and commercial organizations, proprietary and open source software, as well as evolutionary and revolutionary models of library automation.