Friday, May 17, 2013

A new CEO for OCLC. Or is it really more of the same?

No doubt, you've all heard that OCLC has named Jay Jordon's replacement with their announcement yesterday that they've hired Skip Prichard to fill this post.  Since then I've been contacted by a lot of people asking my thoughts on this.  

I have to admit I do not know Mr. Prichard and therefore have no personal knowledge to use here. However, as with previous announcements concerning this post, I wish him the very best and I hope he turns out to be all that our profession needs today.

Sadly, I will have to admit that I was hopeful that the person they hired this time would offer us two things different from the past.  

First, I was hoping the new person would have a much stronger background in librarianship rather than in business.  I've stated before in a blog post that I think OCLC is on the wrong track.  So it's not news that I think OCLC's position in the profession has been greatly compromised in effectiveness by its continual blurring of the line between being a for-profit vendor and being a non-profit library cooperative.  I'm in Europe as I write this, speaking at a couple of library conferences. It is clear from my conversations with librarians at these conferences that many here consider them purely a vendor.  I also know from my consulting work with academic libraries in the U.S. that younger library professionals feel quite differently from older library staff about OCLC.  Many long-time librarians feel that it was through their personal efforts and contributions of records, that OCLC became the organization it is today.   Yet as they retire, the younger staff who are replacing them, and who really never had any personal investment in making OCLC successful, feel it is a slow, bureaucratic and unresponsive organization. They can't wait until they're in positions of power so they can replace or remove OCLC from their library.  That spells trouble for OCLC down the road.

So I was hoping the Board would return to hiring a person that would help realign the organization around the principles of a strong, totally non-profit library collaborative focused on reestablishing and strengthening the value of librarianship in the field. 

Secondly, given the makeup of the profession of librarianship, I was really hoping they would find a strong, talented female leader to fill this post.  Given Mr. Prichard's background, I'm certain they could have found a female equivalent had they tried.  Naming a woman to this post is already long overdue.   

Instead, it is clear that the Board feels OCLC is more of a business operation than a library collaborative and so they've decided to stay the present course, even though it's with a new person.  

I hope I'm wrong but reading Mr. Prichard's resume, that was my gut reaction.