Dublin-based OCLC is a worldwide library giant. CEO Jay Jordan has helped the organization boost both its size and visibility.
UPDATE: Jordan Staying at OCLC
Jay Jordan is usually up-to-date on international affairs, often because he recently visited countries that are making news. While giving a rundown of a week's worth of travels, Jordan touches on the challenged economy in Spain, coalition governments in the Netherlands and German elections that seemed somewhat unfavorable for Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"Then, I was in Paris the very week that Monsieur Hollande was elected president," says Jordan, president and CEO of OCLC. "It's fascinating, and yet every one of those situations is different. To get any real feeling for what's going on in one of these geographies, you really have to go there and listen, not just talk. Really try to absorb the culture and understand the traditions."
When leading a library service and research organization with offices in 10 countries and a presence in 170, that global mindset is imperative. Dublin-based OCLC is the world's largest library cooperative, aimed at improving access to information for libraries and the public. Its cataloging system, known as WorldCat, contains more than 1.8 billion holdings in 470 languages.
Since joining OCLC in 1998, colleagues say, Jordan has set goals for where the nonprofit should go, both geographically and technologically.
"OCLC has evolved significantly under his leadership. [Jordan] certainly had the right vision for the organization. It has moved forward in a number of ways, including increasing the number of libraries that are active members both in the United States and internationally," says Sandy Yee, a member of the OCLC board of trustees and dean of the Wayne State University Libraries and Library Information Science Program.
"Certainly the international increase has been a big plus, that we've grown the number of records in WorldCat. The research and development of OCLC has made a significant impact. Really, Jay's leadership and vision were all a part of making those things a reality," Yee says.
Revenue in 2011, generated by member libraries' fees to use OCLC services, amounted to $205.6 million, a decline of $22.5 million-due mostly to divestitures in 2010. In fiscal year 1998, revenue was $136.2 million. That change demonstrates the growth of OCLC under Jordan's tenure, but he says traditional business benchmarks such as revenue and return on investment don't translate well to a nonprofit library co-op.
"We try to run it at operating breakeven, so that the services we provide to libraries are as economic as we can possibly make them," Jordan says. "If I'm really efficient and I can deliver a service for less money to a library this year than I charged last year, that would be good, but I'd be driving revenue down. That's the premise here, that we need to continue to drive cost for libraries down."
Last year, OCLC provided libraries with $19.8 million in credits, incentives and subsidies to support cooperative programs for cataloging and resource sharing. Overall in 2011, OCLC posted an operating loss of $6.7 million because of a significant investment made to enhance WorldCat.
Now, with Jordan, 69, retiring at the end of June, OCLC is preparing to start its next chapter. While the transition will no doubt come with its fair share of challenges, those involved with the nonprofit expect it to stay on the cutting edge. After all, OCLC has a history of adapting to the times.
OCLC's roots date back to 1967, when the Ohio College Association hired Frederick Kilgour to establish the first computerized library network, the Ohio College Library Center, on the campus of Ohio State University. The organization introduced an online shared cataloging system in 1971 for 54 academic libraries around the state. The Online Union Catalog and Shared Cataloging was the precursor to WorldCat.
At the time, most libraries used card catalogs, which required librarians to type individual file cards for each item in the collection. Kilgour's database facilitated access to cataloged information from other libraries. For libraries in the network, an item only had to be entered once, saving both time and money. The system also facilitated interlibrary lending.
On Aug. 26, 1971, Alden Library at Ohio University became the first to join the system, cataloging 133 books online that first day. Throughout the year, the university increased the number of books cataloged by 33 percent and reduced staff by 17 positions.
In the first two months, 48 libraries became members. By June 1972, the system was extended to non-academic libraries in Ohio, and 336,307 titles were cataloged. The network continued to grow, extending to the other 49 states in 1977. In 1981, the organization moved to the Dublin site where it still operates.
Today, WorldCat includes 72,000 member libraries from 170 countries and more than 1.8 billion holdings in 470 languages. The system spans 5,000 years of recorded knowledge starting at 3400 B.C., adds a new record every 10 seconds and is searched every four seconds. In addition to books, the database catalogs e-books, DVDs, digital resources, sound recordings, music scores, maps and more.
In 2011, WorldCat's 40th anniversary, member libraries cataloged 449.9 million items, adding 38.9 million records to the database. More than 9 million interlibrary loans were made and 160.7 million click-throughs came from partner sites on the Web to www.worldcat.org.
In 2008, OCLC leveraged its scale to strike an agreement with Google that makes library collections more searchable online. OCLC members that participate in the Google Book Search program share their WorldCat records with Google, which then links from the book search to worldcat.org. In 2004, OCLC partnered with Yahoo to provide a toolbar for Internet browsers that allowed users to search both WorldCat and the search engine.
"That serves libraries by illuminating their collections out on the web through these various search engines," Jordan says. "If it's not represented in a database somewhere that can be discovered by a search engine, then it's effectively invisible."
Jordan came to OCLC after a series of high-level management positions with Information Handling Services, an international database publisher in Colorado. He spent 24 years with the organization, including as president of IHS Engineering. Previously, he worked at 3M Corp. both stateside and in Europe.
In Jordan's 14 years at the helm, the number of OCLC member libraries has increased from 30,000 to 72,000. Participating institutions outside the United States have increased from 3,200 in 64 countries to 16,215 in 170 countries. Bibliographic records have grown from 38 million to 262 million, and the number of holdings is nearing 2 billion, up from 668 million.
"[OCLC] has had an enormous impact on the ability of people, no matter where they are geographically, to be able to get research materials, whether people are authors or scientists or whatever. OCLC has really helped support research and publication and the advancement of scholarship and science in the United States," says Keith Michael Fiels, executive director of the American Library Association.
OCLC employs 1,250 people-about 800 in Central Ohio-and has offices in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Mexico, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. "Our presence in these various markets is a very important signal. Even if we don't have all of the services that we'd like to deliver in those markets today, at least we have a presence there which hopefully speaks to our intent," Jordan says.
"Jay brought a diversity of experience that I think really was quite good for OCLC. You see it in many of the activities that have occurred here," says Rick Schwieterman, executive vice president and chief financial officer of OCLC since 1992.
In 1999, the organization acquired the Western Library Network, merging its catalog with WorldCat and adding 550 member libraries in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. OCLC gained a foothold in Europe by acquiring PICA B.V., creating OCLC Europe, the Middle East and Africa in 2002. As a result of about a dozen more acquisitions and growth throughout the world, 60 percent of WorldCat is now represented by non-English languages.
"That growth is due to the globalization of OCLC, and the PICA acquisition was a real catalyst to that," Schwieterman says. "[Jordan] has traveled around the world where we have members, and that ambassadorial type of role that is a part of his responsibility has been significant in building the awareness of OCLC and building the cohesiveness of the cooperative."
"Across the world, we have brought new services to libraries. We have brought new research to libraries and new approaches. One of the things that Jay has worked hard to do is to bring folks from all over the world here to the Dublin campus, here to Central Ohio to share their innovation," says Cathy De Rosa, vice president for the Americas and global vice president of marketing at OCLC. "He's innovative in how we think about global partners and how we think about what the world is like today. He had a real insight when he came here that the future was going to be about an increasing international approach to what we do."
OCLC began providing all of its services through the Internet in 2000. WorldCat became available globally on the Web in 2006. In 2009, WorldCat became accessible through mobile devices. Downloads through 4G wireless networks are 2,500 times faster than the original 1971 system. Wired network downloads are 416,000 times faster.
David Lauer, an OCLC board member from 1999 to 2011, gives much of the credit for that progress to Jordan. "I've had the opportunity to serve on several boards, and Jay is one of the greatest visionaries as a CEO that I have witnessed. He seems to be able to know what's around the corner. He has great vision. He's moved OCLC forward in a very high-technology industry," says Lauer, former president and chief operating officer for Bank One. "Many people think of librarians as those individuals sitting behind the desk and going through the card catalog. The librarian today is a very high-technical individual, and Jay fits that pattern very well."
When Jordan first joined OCLC, he called his assistant and asked to meet with all the employees on the Dublin campus in his first week. Those sessions were the first of many all-employee meetings, which Jordan dubs open forums. Every quarter, he discusses the last three months and the priorities for the next quarter. "Then, I open it up for questions and answers and hopefully get some really compelling dialogue going in those sessions. That's about communication and engagement with employees," Jordan says.
"I think [Jordan] has changed the relationship with the employee," Schwieterman says. "He's a very personable leader. He has extended that into a relationship with employees and has done that not just here in Dublin. He recognizes that everybody in all the offices form the whole team."
In early June, OCLC was named one of the Best Employers in Ohio for the fourth consecutive year by the Best Companies Group and the Ohio Society for Human Resource Management State Council. In 2011, it was one of the Best Places to Work in IT by Computerworld for the sixth consecutive year. The organization also received the 2011 Alfred P. Sloan Award for Business Excellence in Workplace Flexibility from the national When Work Works project.
OCLC also has been involved in outreach with industry associations, awarding grants to library researchers, launching a diversity fellowship and awarding scholarships. Since 2001, the Jay Jordan Early Career Development Fellowship Program with the American Theological Library Association and the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions has educated librarians from developing nations.
"OCLC has really provided a lot of leadership in this area, and I know because we've had a chance to meet with Jay personally," Fiels says. "He is very deeply committed to this, and that is something that we've really appreciated."
Geek the Library, another outreach project, is a community awareness campaign funded through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The program, which was piloted in 2009 and 2010, received an additional $726,000 from the foundation this year to provide marketing materials to all U.S. public libraries.
Central Ohio Role
With 800 local employees, OCLC is an important part of the community. Many of the jobs are occupied by software developers, computing infrastructure operators and librarians-all high-paying occupations.
Still, many Central Ohioans don't know much about the organization, its economic impact or its global role. Yet every time they search a library's catalog or pull a book from the stacks using the Dewey Decimal Classification system (owned by OCLC since 1988), they're interacting with the nonprofit.
OCLC is not unlike Chemical Abstracts Service and Battelle-leaders in their respective fields who are often better known outside of Central Ohio. "I'd be more inclined to see OCLC as a global information force," says Bob Massie, president and CEO of Chemical Abstracts Service. "It is one of a small number of organizations that give Columbus a global reputation."
Locally, Jordan has served on the boards of the Columbus Museum of Art, Franklin University, Ohio State University Medical Center, United Way of Central Ohio, the Children's Research Institute of Nationwide Children's Hospital and-perhaps most significantly-TechColumbus. Jordan was among those who led the 2005 merger of the Columbus Technology Council, the Business Technology Center and the Science and Technology Campus Corp. He was the first chairman of the board for TechColumbus (Massie was also a member) and held the position until 2009.
"He was part of setting the vision of what TechColumbus was to become. He took a leadership role in marshaling the organization forward. Now, what we've ended up with is a really strong economic development engine in Central Ohio," says Dwight Smith, founder and CEO of Sophisticated Systems and TechColumbus board chair. "That came from people like Jay and Bob Massie saying, 'What do we want to accomplish and how do we want to do it?' "
Since its formation, TechColumbus has quadrupled membership to about 800 and now provides expanded entrepreneurial services, says interim president and CEO Tim Haynes. "Jay's leadership was instrumental in that coalescing that occurred," he says.
It hasn't been all smooth sailing for Jordan and OCLC, of course. The organization has had its share of challenges in recent years. In 2003, it reached a settlement with The Library Hotel in New York City over a well-publicized trademark infringement case. OCLC sued the hotel, located near the New York Public Library, after it themed itself around the Dewey Decimal Classification system. OCLC gave the hotel permission to use OCLC-owned trademarks in exchange for acknowledgment of ownership and a donation by the hotel to a nonprofit that promotes reading by children.
More recently, OCLC laid off 64 employees and transferred another 120 in mid-2010 in a cost-cutting move related to the sale of its NetLibrary Division to EBSCO Information Services, The Columbus Dispatch reported.
In July 2010, California-based SkyRiver Technology Solutions and Innovative Interfaces Inc. sued OCLC, accusing it of holding a monopoly on library cataloging and using tax-free profits to purchase for-profit competitors. The case is still pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.
On June 8, OCLC announced that Jack Blount would succeed Jordan as the organization's next president and CEO, effective July 1. Blount, 60, most recently served as president and CEO of Alpha Bay Corp., a technologies and service provider in Salt Lake City. From 2002 to 2005, he was president and CEO of library services organization Dynix Corp., which was acquired in 2005 by Sirsi, forming SirsiDynix.
A search committee, chaired by Yee, sought input from member libraries, staff and a community advisory group and worked with search firm Heidrick & Struggles. "We really wanted someone who knows about libraries, who values libraries and librarians and what we do, and someone who can understand and appreciate the mission of OCLC. Of course, we were looking for someone like Jay who is a visionary and can see the future and help us understand what that might look like for OCLC," Yee said prior to the announcement.
Jordan's advice for his successor? "We know that at the cycle rate of technology change, anybody running any organization that's based on technology is going to have to be really agile and make sure that their organization can move quickly enough to respond," Jordan says. "The next CEO will probably face the same set of challenges and interesting opportunities that I faced, they'll just have different names and they'll look a little different and they'll come at him a little faster."
"The biggest challenge will be to develop products that the library community needs and get them to market in a relatively short period of time," Lauer says.
As for Jordan, he plans to stay active. "I enjoy public speaking. I enjoy traveling. Hopefully someone will invite me to speak at an overseas conference or at a company meeting," he says, noting that he's also open to consulting work on strategy formulations or mergers and acquisitions. Jordan also plans to make more time for his hobbies: riding Harley-Davidsons, fly fishing, skiing and cooking.
"He's going to be missed, but he also has a really high energy level. … He's just not done. His mind and body are just too active," Smith says. "I can tell you this for sure: There is at least one more chapter to be written with Jay Jordan."
Michelle Davey is a freelance writer.
Reprinted from the July 2012 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.