Thursday, June 21, 2012

Actually, it's the same leadership at OCLC, at least for now...

In a stunning announcement yesterday, OCLC publicly announced that they weren't proceeding with Jack Blount's appointment as CEO and that Jay Jordon was staying on while a search continues. A mere 12 days after the announcement of the appointment, a reason for a reversal of this nature screams out for discovery like a person lost in the woods. However, we won't likely get one. Thanks to our litigious society and outrageous jury awards, the phrase that will likely get uttered is: "We don't comment on personnel matters" and the OCLC PR people will tell us what can be said can be found in the announcement.

Clearly something went very wrong somewhere in this process. It outwardly appears that not enough due diligence was performed by someone and that once the announcement of the appointment was made, something occurred or surfaced that caused things to quickly fall apart. Given my conversation with Jack mentioned in my last post and another I had with him again on Monday of this week, I have to personally believe this came as a surprise to him (I have no inside knowledge here and am purely speculating based on those conversations and the wording of the announcement which said: "The OCLC Board of Trustees has concluded that rather than moving forward with the appointment of Jack B. Blount as its President and CEO, it is in the best interest of OCLC to have Jay Jordan continue serving in these capacities." Emphasis is mine.). 

The timing of this announcement is terrible as it hits with thousands of librarians descending on Anaheim for ALA Annual, the largest library conference of the year. Of course the Board knew this, so whatever happened meant they truly felt they had no choice. Having formerly Chaired the Board of a non-profit organization, I know taking an action like this is a extremely measured one and therefore, the consequence of proceeding as planned were weighed to have been of far greater consequence. So, to a library conference that is already wildly unfocused, we add this. It will, unfortunately, commandeer many a conversation. 

It is further unfortunate for OCLC, who doubtless has spent a great deal of time preparing for this conference and timing many important events to it including Jay's retirement, announcements about Linked Data and I'm sure many others. They will now see many of those announcements paid significantly less attention in favor of discussions about this single event. 

One has to feel awful for everyone involved from the profession at large, to those that are members of the collaborative, to the Board and on to Jack and Jay, both who've seen their future plans changed dramatically and unexpectedly. At a time when many are looking for OCLC to define its new directions, to start charting those pathways and thereby to allow many other segments of the profession to move forward based on those new foundations, instead we get more wait-and-see. The word "mess" doesn't begin to describe the situation. It certainly isn't what is needed by OCLC or the profession of librarianship. A smooth transition was clearly the goal. Clearly, we'll be waiting for that to happen. 

But here's the thing we will have to remember. OCLC has a Board of Trustees and if you review that list, it consists of some really top notch people. We have to trust their judgement, even though there will be those that think this is cause to question it. However, knowing some of these people personally and having worked with them in various capacities, I know many of them to be of very high integrity. Something blindsided someone here and the exact reasons we'll likely never know. Rather than us wasting conference time speculating on what happened, let's accept that what was done was in the best interests of OCLC. Then let's spend our energy and conversations on moving the profession of librarianship forward at this conference. This is a very unfortunate situation but let's not make it more so by wasting resources we don't have to waste.