Friday, August 17, 2012

Questions concerning OCLC’s WorldShare...

Two recently announced decisions are drawing attention to OCLC’s WorldShare offering. Unfortunately, the announcements are cause for more questions than answers.

The first decision is the announcement by the Orbis Casacade Alliance that they are entering into negotiations with Ex Libris for Alma.  While not yet widely announced, presumably because a final agreement has not been signed, the news can be found on a Orbis Cascade webage.  It's important to note two things about this announcement.  
  • First, the Orbis Cascade Alliance is not a small system.  According to their webpage, they are comprised of 37 universities, colleges, and community colleges in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.   They serve over a quarter million students and run a union catalog and borrowing system with over 9.2 million titles representing 28.7 million items.  
  • Second, and more important, Orbis Cascade was, as reported on this OCLC webpage, a pilot library for WorldShare. 
The second decision is that we now have the announcement that BIBSYS, a Norway organization supporting over 100 libraries, is terminating their agreement with OCLC for WorldShare.   Again, this is a large organization that, per the original announcement “provides library and information systems to Norway's university libraries, college libraries, a number of research libraries and the National Library”.  This agreement was initially announced back in November of 2010, and now with nearly two years of effort invested, this seems a very unfortunate outcome.  The press release announcing the discontinuation of the efforts says: "Since November 2010, OCLC and BIBSYS have been working together on an innovative online library platform/infrastructure for the Norwegian library community. Regrettably we announce jointly that our agreement will be discontinued, due to differences in timing and interpretation of what the solution would entail for BIBSYS, as a system integrator."

Now lets be fair, system evaluations and selections are a routine part of library management and librarians are always trying to best match products to the needs of their members and organizations, as they should.  So, this is part of life in libraries and the organizations serving them.  

Still, these two announcements together raise some questions; although it seems unlikely either organization will provide any more detail on what happened behind-the-scenes.  Particularly since they haven't signed contracts with alternate suppliers and they may wish to continue working with OCLC and/or WorldShare at some point in the future.

However, for those of us observing from the outside, and with these two organizations bearing some similarities, one must ask the following questions:
  1. Did these organizations encounter problems of scaling with the WorldShare solution across a large number of organizations?   For a library management system that is supposed to handle the "world's libraries interconnected", this could be a real cause for concern.
  2. Since both organizations serve a number of largely, independent institutions and are clearly trying to do so with a shared system: Did they not find the needed flexibility or functionality in the offering to meet the unique needs of their respective members?
  3. The statement due to differences in timing and interpretation of what the solution would entail seems to imply that at least BIBSYS may have found OCLC unresponsive, slow or otherwise unable to meet in a timely manner their unique needs.  If so, this certainly wouldnt be the first time weve heard this concern voiced about OCLC.  This continues to be an area for concern in dealing with OCLC.
  4. One must also note that it is unusual for a pilot library to back away from a solution, particularly when they clearly should have had major input early in the product lifecycle.  Their needs should have taken some priority.  Furthermore, one has to assume that they were likely running the software in at least a test mode within their libraries. In other words, these were librarians that were looking closely under the hood and clearly felt that what they were seeing was less promising in meeting their needs than other solutions available to them. When that happens, it is always noticeable and always concerning. 

Clearly we dont know the answer to the questions I've posed here.  However, it is important to note that OCLC reported at the time of the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, that there were some 200 libraries having signed contracts for WorldShare with 46 libraries actually operating on it.  So, clearly there are plenty of libraries who believe, and are showing, this solution will work for them.  Yet, these two announced decisions from similar organizations might indicate areas deserving extra due diligence by prospective buyers.

I also want to point out, as I have in a previous post about these new cloud-based library management systems, that there are plenty of important reasons for libraries to be involved with these products early in their life lifecycles.  So I applaud both of these library systems for their investments and efforts with WorldShare, even though the outcome probably wasn't what was expected.

Hopefully, these are only indications of libraries heeding the call for participation and identifying early on that their needs and this particular solution werent a good match, i.e. a normal process.  However, we owe it to our profession to watch and carefully try to interpret any further announced and similar decisions.   

As always, if CARE Affiliates can be of help to your organization in making such interpretations or finding answers in light of your library's unique needs, please contact us.

P.S. - Please be sure to read the comments attached to this post.  Andrew Pace of OCLC has promptly responded to this post and has provided some clarifications/answers.  Please be sure to read them to have OCLC's view of the situation.  Thanks to Andrew for sharing this information.