This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

November 3, 2005 - libraries are going global

Recently, I was elected to something called the OCLC Membership Council. OCLC is a company that has been around for over 30 years, since the dawn of library automation.

Nonetheless, OCLC is a little hard to define. It is...

* A world-wide libary catalog. OCLC is used by librarians in 109 countries to describe over a billion books, music and film recordings, theses, photographs, and other documents.

* A purveyor of "e-books." These are electronic texts, readable, searchable, and even downloadable to your PC or handheld. OCLC, through something called netLibrary (and available through our website at www.douglascountylibraries.org) now boasts over 100,000 titles -- about the stock of Cherry Creek's Tattered Cover store or a medium sized public library.

* A supplier of various professional tools for librarians. For instance, librarians might pay for a service to compare local holdings to those of another library, and thereby discover "holes" in various subjects.

* The developer of various new tools for library staff and users. OCLC recently answered its 1 millionth online reference question. That's a service that puts a real librarian online, 24/7. (We use a similar service, although not from OCLC.)

* A researcher. At the OCLC meeting I just attended, I saw presentations concerning attitudes about libraries by savvy computer users around the world. (And I learned that even technically savvy users still aren't aware of all kinds of library services available locally.) I also saw an analysis of the five big libraries recently targeted for "digitization" (copying from print to electronic image) by Google.

* A "collaborative." That's library jargon for "people, sharing." There is a pooling of information, expertise, and materials among members.

* A for-profit company trying to solve a puzzle: how to grow from a national to an international company.

In Colorado, OCLC services are brokered -- along with various other services -- by yet another company, BCR. OCLC services are also sold in those 109 countries around the world.

On the one hand, national sales are flat. International sales are growing.

On the other hand, the base of sales is some 6-8 times greater in the U.S.

It's a conundrum. Is ANY company truly local these days? Look at the labels of your clothing. Consider the origin of any piece of equipment you use, from computers to car parts.

I'd read a great deal about companies moving off shore to take advantage of cheaper labor, and I've wondered about the effect of all that. But if other countries can sell to us, surely we can sell to them.

Many of our speakers were from other lands. They talked about a dual truth: many people turn their backs when they see an American passport. On the other hand, libraries are credible, neutral, even in other countries.

Most of our speakers agreed that there may be no one right way to do business globally. It takes local knowledge, cultural sensitivity, and a far greater familiarity with multiple languages than is possessed by most Americans.

OCLC has made extraordinary progress in establishing a planetary library catalog -- of materials using the Roman alphabet. But that just scratches the surface of humanity's works.

Can OCLC live up to the promise of one of its premier products, WorldCat? It will take some doing. But I like the idea of libraries being at the forefront of international bridge-building.

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