5 C’s to Help You Plan for Your Next “Big thing.”

What Catalog Cards Communicate

The end of an era

Earlier today, OCLC said “goodbye” to a service that it had been performing since the early 1970’s: the printing of library catalog cards. Most of you are familiar, I’m sure, with those 3×5 cards and the drawers that housed them. There is a lot of nostalgia for those drawers among librarians—they’re beautiful pieces of furniture that can be put to many uses: as wine racks, jewelry and collectible cases, storage for tools, crafts and sewing supplies, etc.


Fact: At peak, @OCLC shipped 8 tons of cards weekly.


However, there is not as much nostalgia for the cards themselves.

You have to remember that, before the Internet, a catalog card was the closest thing to a hyperlink that most of us ever experienced. Like hyperlinks, catalog cards took us from a quick description of information to the full resource. They were, for more than a hundred years, the absolute height of information seeking technology. Those cards may seem quaint now. But the ability for patrons, on their own, to quickly identify and find one book in a building containing tens or hundreds of thousands is a remarkable testament to the genius and hard work of librarians.

But that work was tedious. Each book required, in many cases, multiple cards: one for subject, one for author, one for title. They had to be hand typed. Any small error required a complete redo.

OCLC's first catalog card; Used by Permission OCLC’s first catalog card; Used by Permission

“Your focus should be on the future not the features.”


An early example of crowdsourcing

Computerization helped, of course. That was OCLC’s original business: a centralized collection of records from which cards could be reproduced more efficiently. Rather than create the same card over-and-over at each library, members of the cooperative contributed to the shared database, which was then used to print cards for everyone. By some estimates, this process saved librarians about 90% of the time required to manually create new cards, a task that I’ve heard took around an hour.  OCLC has printed around 1.9 billion cards during the past 45 years, meaning cooperative cataloging has saved our industry about 195,000 years of administrative effort. Which is great! That’s time librarians were able to spend helping people reach their learning goals and get the information they need…

Instead of typing up billions of little cards by hand.

Which is why those cards hold so little nostalgia for many librarians. They were a necessary technology at the time. And a profoundly useful one. But the tool itself was never the point. In retrospect, that’s so much easier to see than when we’re looking at today’s newest technology.

Don’t get me wrong! I love the new stuff! It’s fun and it’s fast and it’s cool. And it’s important. But nowhere near as important as understanding the needs of the people our technology serves.

Skip Prichard with the last OCLC printed catalog card Skip Prichard with the last OCLC printed catalog card

What are your “5 C’s”?

At A Tipping Point: The Future of Education

Online Education is Changing the Game

Just over a year ago, I was named the fifth President & CEO of OCLC.  OCLC is a global technology company dedicated to connecting libraries in a global network to share the world’s knowledge.  Part of our not for profit mission includes a research division dedicated to original research on a wide range of topics involving education, libraries and technology.

Cathy DeRosa, Vice President for the Americas, recently released a fascinating market research report about online education entitled At A Tipping Point.  It is free and full of fascinating statistics.  And, online education will not only have implications for education.  It is already having a significant impact on corporate training.

In this brief five-minute interview, I talk with Cathy about the cost of higher education, online learning and the changes in the landscape ahead.

Here are a few facts from the research:


Mobile learning.  40% of adults ages 25-35 who have taken an online class have taken it on their mobile phone or tablet.


Fact: 40% of adults 25-35 who have taken an online class have taken it on a phone or tablet. @OCLC


Convenience wins.  The top benefit of online learning is convenience.  51% cited convenience compared to just 3% citing affordability.


Fact: 51% cite convenience as the top benefit of online learning. @OCLC


Satisfied learners.  91% of online learners say their goals were met.


Fact: 91% of online learners say their goals were met. @OCLC

An Exciting Leadership Challenge


This last year, I have had the privilege of exploring many opportunities and consulting with different organizations.  I’ve enjoyed the chance to study various teams and learn from a variety of leaders.  At the same time, I most enjoy operational roles where I’m responsible for driving results.

In June, I will be joining OCLC as President-elect and I will be named President & CEO on July 1.  Based in Dublin, Ohio, OCLC is a nonprofit computer library service and research organization.  Its goals include furthering access to the world’s information and reducing library costs.

During major career changes, I make a list of what I am looking for and then evaluate various opportunities against these criteria.  Here are a few I’d like to share with you in case it helps you on your own journey:

Supportive.  If you are joining a company, it is important to know whether you will have support or whether you will be fighting internally.  Most of us have experienced teams where everyone is more concerned about survival than about helping each other.  Specifically on my list is a “supportive board of directors.”  I met with the trustees numerous times throughout the process and this is one of the most engaged, thoughtful and supportive boards I have ever seen.

Engaging.  Really what this one is about is that I don’t like to be bored.  For me, I enjoy industries in transition or undergoing change.  Libraries have been at the cutting edge of technology for years and face challenges due to budget constraints.  I’m excited to help in any way possible and know that the variety of technological and economic changes will provide new challenges.

Stable.  I’ve enjoyed working in many different environments.  Working in a stable business is important to me.  My predecessor at OCLC, Jay Jordan, has done an excellent job working with the members to expand into new areas around the globe.  Note: It’s possible to be both stable and in the middle of rapid change at the same time.

Respected.  I’ve worked with libraries my entire career.  OCLC is one of the most respected names anywhere, and this is because the member libraries help to make it what it is.  The combination of fully engaged member libraries with talented OCLC employees around the world makes for a dynamic, well-respected organization.