Thursday, August 9, 2012

The OCLC leadership saga takes a one-year pause. Can we afford this?

I’m sure many of you have seen the latest OCLC news abstract that tells us Jay Jordan will continue as CEO until June 2013.   With all due respect to Jay, his excellent leadership in the past and his team, this is not good news for libraries in general or OCLC membership in particular.  Furthermore, it once again raises a lot of questions about what is going on inside of OCLC at the Board level. 

The announcement says: 
OCLC Trustees will determine the succession plan and develop a time line for selecting a new leader for the cooperative during its next regularly scheduled meeting, September 9–10. The search process is expected to take several months.”
We all know we’re facing challenging times for libraries and that we’re having to rapidly redefine the future of our institutions in substantial ways.   So does OCLC.   This is going to be very difficult for OCLC to pull off with a leader in place that is only going to be there for another year.   

OCLC’s tag line is “The World’s Libraries Connected (tm)”.   To the credit of Jay and his team, they’re well along in making that happen.  But what follows?   What is the next vision that will keep the organization stretching towards the horizon and hopefully leading libraries into a vibrant new future?   The answer to that question is dependent on the next leader. And now we’re being told we have to wait a year or more before the leadership keys will be turned over to that person.  Which, for me, also raises the following questions:

1.                Surely there was a list of final candidates from which Jack Blount was selected?  Given the board decided not to proceed with Jack’s appointment, why not simply move to further consideration of other candidates on the list?
2.                We all likely agree that something went very wrong in the last appointment process and given the sequence of events, it would indicate it was in the due diligence process. Why not simply focus on that which appears to have been broken and fix it? Why redo the whole search?
3.                Does this mean we can expect the Board is, in reaction to the last process, going to become very conservative and switch to a new and different set of criteria for selection?  I hope not. This is a time for daring, not doubting.

Frankly, and I find this part very bothersome, this announcement continues the well known tradition of OCLC, i.e. that of an organization that sinks into slow, bureaucratic, committee-laden decision making processes at a time when they need to recover quickly from a bad situation.  These kinds of responses have already resulted in OCLC having a reputation as a slow, frequently unresponsive and lumbering organization.  It's not what librarians or libraries need.

I think OCLC membership should be demanding better from their Board.