The Colgate Scene
January 2000
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Knowledge access in the 21st century

OCLC Online Computer Library Center, with Jay Jordan '65 as president and CEO, is looking into your library's future

Jay Jordan '65 presides over the OCLC Online Computer Library Center, a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization that links the resources of more than 35,000 libraries (Colgate's libraries among them) in 72 countries and territories.

     When he visited campus in October to address students, faculty and staff about "Knowledge, Access, and Scholarship in the 21st Century," Jordan also made time for the following Scene interview with Colgate Librarian Judy Noyes:

The web makes it possible to bring the best professors in the world to almost any location, or to many locations simultaneously. What are the implications for liberal arts colleges that are distinguished, at least in part, by the opportunities they offer for close interaction between students and faculty?

Is the so-called "virtual university" going to replace the bricks-and-mortar model for university education that has been in place since the Middle Ages? Some, like Peter Drucker, say that the university won't survive as a residential institution. Others, like Nancy Dye, the president of Oberlin College, make the very strong case for the persistence of the "actual university" with its face-to-human relationships.

     It is now possible to get degrees by attending class online. There is this tremendous push on the web toward creating communities and affinity groups. People are setting up chat rooms and list serves and virtual smaller communities where they can interact, at least electronically. It's a cultural trend.

     I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we'll padlock the liberal arts colleges and no one will want to come here. Instead, there will be a new hybrid model where colleges like Colgate can take advantage of the opportunities presented by this global web community and blend that with their core values and strengths. It will create a much more compelling model in the future. The actual university will use the best of the virtual university. We'll be hearing more talk about "clicks and mortar."

Does the web community have a responsibility for providing some order for the huge volume of information that is flowing down the line?

Responsibility might not be the right word. The web community is incredibly diverse. The agenda for the dot.coms is obviously different from the dot.orgs and the dot.edus. The dot.coms have very compelling economic drivers. If they don't provide a service to distill information into a useful form, and then create some level of knowledge, they will be overtaken by their direct competitors. The best search engine indexes only 19 percent of the web. Much of the information on the web isn't indexed on any search engine at all. This is why all of the search engine companies are making huge investments in employing librarians and professional catalogers. They need to improve access, and the only way to do so is by the practical application of classic cataloging or indexing. So do they have a responsibility? To their stockholders, I guess, because they won't thrive in that competitive commercial world unless they can provide greater relevance than the competition.

     As a and a respectively, Colgate and OCLC have some responsibilities to bring order to the web that go beyond the quarterly earning reports of the dot.coms. We're talking about advancing research and education, about organizing and preserving knowledge and passing it on to the next generation. That's why, for example, libraries and OCLC are putting together the CORC (Cooperative Online Resource Catalog) initiative, which is a global collaborative effort to organize web resources and to provide people with authoritative, high-quality information about those resources.

Does OCLC consider libraries its stockholders?

I believe that Colgate and each of our other 35,000 participating libraries would consider themselves to be stakeholders in OCLC. Through various user groups and advisory committees, these stakeholder libraries are able to exert greater influence on OCLC management and governance than the shareholders of publicly owned, for-profit corporations.

Colgate Librarian Judy Noyes with OCLC President Jay Jordan '65
How does OCLC, as a nonprofit company that operates for the benefit of its members, fit into an Internet environment that is increasingly motivated by profit?

That question is at least as complex for us as it is for libraries, universities and commercial firms. In OCLC's case, we were founded by university presidents who were interested in using the then-emerging computer and networking technology to increase availability of library resources among academic libraries as well as to reduce library costs. Those goals have transcended huge changes in computer and telecommunications technology.

     I think we need to view the web as a new means to pursue our traditional public purposes rather than as a new end in and of itself. The cooperative cataloging model on which OCLC was founded has been of tremendous value for libraries and their users. Working together over the past 27 years, libraries have created a new reference tool -- WorldCat, which is now the most consulted database in higher education. They did this not out of any drive for profit, but because they wanted to advance research and education. WorldCat contains more than 42 million bibliographic records and more than 720 million location listings for the materials described in the catalog. It supports interlibrary lending among institutions. It makes it possible for scholars and researchers to obtain library resources from around the world without leaving their campuses or institutions. We need to enhance and protect that highly valuable asset and globalize it. For example, Australia and South Africa are loading their catalogs on our WorldCat database as a result of agreements we've made in the past year. This extends the value of the central online catalog for all participating libraries.

     We've also extended to smaller institutions the ability to do simple copy cataloging for the first time, and developed software to provide adjunct services, such as interlibrary loan fee management, which greatly reduces the number of checks and invoices that libraries have to cut to keep track of their interlibrary lending activity.

     OCLC has been moving beyond providing bibliographic information to include abstracts, indexes, and the full text itself. In 1991, we introduced the FirstSearch service, which was the first online service to provide end-user searching of electronic databases. FirstSearch is part of our vision to help libraries provide information to people when and where they need it, in a form they want, at a cost they can afford.

     In the last three years, however, the World Wide Web and various commercial search engines have changed the landscape for libraries and OCLC. Our roles in cataloging and resource sharing are clearer than they are as an aggregator and pro-vider of actual content -- that is, full text information in digital form beyond the bibliographic record. That's where it gets complex. There are only a given number of ways to obtain content:

  • We can create it originally.
  • We can license it from the author.
  • We can license it from other intermediaries in the classic aggregator model.
  • We can buy the rights to content through outright purchase.
     The real question is, "While this certainly fits the public purpose of extending access, can we control the cost of access in that model?" The answer is, "Not always."

     So wherever possible, we must create content. That is what we are doing in CORC. OCLC's NetFirst database is a catalog of web resources that our own editorial team creates. We are engaged in a merger today with an organization that produces abstract and indexing services. If we are successful in that merger, OCLC will control that intellectual property and, ergo, if we are efficient as an enterprise, we can control costs for our member libraries.

     I think we are eventually going to end up with a blended model where certain intellectual property owners will look at the distribution model that OCLC offers to reach 35,000 libraries in 72 countries and want to license their data so that it is part of FirstSearch. We are examining what we can do effectively, where we can truly add value for libraries.

What is the crisis in scholarly publishing and how does it affect libraries?

Over the last several decades there has been a significant increase both in the number of journal titles published and the cost of the individual journal subscriptions. This means that academic libraries are spending more to acquire fewer journals from an ever-growing pool of increasingly specialized titles. Libraries have not even been able to afford to maintain their current subscriptions, much less add new titles, and some have been cannibalizing their book budgets to maintain their journal lists.

What are libraries doing to address this problem?

This is a complex problem and really rests in the very nature of how scholars communicate. It is predominately a problem for the scholarly publishing community. Scholarly publishers, both societies and for-profit, are the primary source of journals. Scholarly publishers provide a number of value-added services that enhance the communication process among scholars: selecting a journal with the focus needed by the reader; managing the peer review process to ensure the quality of the scholarship; quality control on the copy editing and production of the journal; and distribution, marketing and sales of the print product. A number of initiatives are under way to look at alternate models of scholarly communication.

What is OCLC doing to help libraries?

OCLC is committed to working with libraries and publishers of scholarly material to assure that library patrons continue to have access to high-quality journal content at reasonable costs. OCLC has been actively involved in developing electronic publishing solutions that will help libraries make the content that they subscribe to more accessible to students and faculty; that is, make it possible for students and faculty to access the content from their dorms and offices 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Entire collections of electronic content can be searched quickly, easily and efficiently, eliminating hours of searching for printed volumes and checking indexes for topics of interest. OCLC loads all of the electronic content on its own servers, so that libraries are not burdened with local storage and development of search engines. OCLC is also working with libraries to develop a cooperative electronic archive that will eliminate the concern regarding long-term access to electronic materials. OCLC, as a nonprofit library cooperative, can assist libraries in providing services that would be difficult for individual libraries to undertake. Archiving is a good example of a service for which OCLC can provide the economies of scale and technical expertise.

What attracted you from the corporate world to a nonprofit company?

There were many attractions. The people, the mission, the technology, and the member institutions. OCLC stands at the confluence of some forces that are shaping the digital age. I saw an enormous amount of potential to be an important contributor to providing even more intelligent access to knowledge than we do today. I was impressed by the quality of people I met during the search process and by OCLC's magnificent accomplishments long before my arrival there. And I think that in the next five to ten years, OCLC can become a tremendously valuable global cooperative.

You came from a career in the private sector. What are the comparisons with the nonprofit world?

Since I joined OCLC in May 1998, I am frequently asked how someone like me, who has spent nearly 30 years working in the for-profit sector -- on the dark side, to use a Star Wars metaphor -- can adapt to life on the nonprofit side. First, my previous business experience wasn't all for naught. Sound business principles apply, whether you are in a nonprofit or for-profit environment. And secondly, I sincerely believe in OCLC's mission, its public purposes and the importance of its collaborative enterprise. As a recent convert to the OCLC "religion," I am probably more fervent about it than some of the old-timers.

How do you reconcile profit with access?

It's not an either/or situation. Free information won't work and shouldn't, because at some point you will start getting garbage. But the access/use model is key. If the academy produces intellectual property and the particular faculty member who published the information was on the payroll when that work was done, then that institution and hypothetically other academic institutions should have some reasonably priced access to it while still protecting the rights of the author.

What is the role of the librarian in the new order?

I believe that this is a great time for libraries. Librarians have an important role to play in the emerging digital, global community. They will bring their skills in selecting, organizing, providing access to, and preserving information to the new challenges posed by the web. The past strengths of librarianship are proving to be a prelude to a very exciting future. These traditional strengths are that much more important as we look at this new information explosion no matter how we measure it -- whether it's by the increasing numbers of books in print, or digital resources or journal articles. If somebody isn't doing intelligent selection and codification at the front end, the patron will be doomed to accessing a lot of non-relevant information at the retrieval end. These will be continuing vital roles for information professionals, and the information professionals I know in the academic environment are the librarians.

     I also think it's important -- and I know you've done it here -- to try to create an intelligent convergence between the library and the information technology staff. These groups can't be contending for resources. They must work as a team to provide the greatest access for faculty and students.

What's the future of the printed book?

Not all knowledge will ever exist in the digital form. Will we digitize every piece of printed matter produced since Gutenberg and before, all the scrolls, literally back to papyrus? That's not going to happen. We still have to be custodians -- conservationists, preservationists of these incredible cultural objects. That won't ever change. But from now on, more works will be published, originally, as digital objects. The same notions of copyright will apply, and libraries will still need to be able to provide library patrons with authorized access. A student will be able to check out a digital book from the dorm room, but the library will have to have negotiated the intellectual property rights and some kind of a central licensing agreement to afford the student the right to do so.

     Presumably a student could go to a website -- say the author's website -- to get that book. But let's assume that consortial purchasing agreements will result in a more reasonable usage fee for the student. In that case the consortial agent may be the library.

     Books won't disappear. But digital publishing changes some of the dynamics. And what about libraries? We have a huge investment in bricks and mortar -- which takes us to the discussion of clicks and mortar.

     The library is a focus or gathering point and will be, perhaps even more so, in the future. It is a place for affinity groups to meet, a crossroads, a commons for knowledge access, and for collegial activities. It will continue to offer traditional materials in print, as well as access to digital resources. While a student hypothetically will never have to leave home to get information from the library, that's just not going to happen. A college student's cultural and learning experiences are greatly enhanced by on-campus matriculation, and I believe that is going to continue for a very long time.

     So, since students will continue to be on campus, how are we going to enhance the learning experience and provide very facile access to knowledge? I contend the library will be a keystone in that process.

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