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Online Computer Library Center (OCLC)
Nonprofit cooperative
Industry Information
FoundedJuly 5, 1967;51 years ago (1967-07-05) (as Ohio College Library Center)
Dublin, Ohio
Area served
Key people
Skip Prichard, President and CEO
Revenue$203 million [1]  (2015–16)
Total assets $425 million [2]  (2015–16)
Total equity $239 million [2]  (2015–16)
Members16,964 libraries in 122 countries [1]  (2015–16)
Website www.oclc.org OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Incorporated d/b/a OCLC [3] is an American nonprofit cooperative organization "dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing information costs". [4] It was founded in 1967 as the Ohio College Library Center. OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the largest online public access catalog (OPAC) in the world. OCLC is funded mainly by the fees that libraries have to pay for its services (around $200 million annually as of 2016). [1] OCLC also maintains the Dewey Decimal Classification system.

Cooperative autonomous association of persons or organizations

A cooperative is "an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise". Cooperatives may include:

WorldCat is a union catalog that itemizes the collections of 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories that participate in the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) global cooperative. It is operated by OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc. The subscribing member libraries collectively maintain WorldCat's database, the world's largest bibliographic database. OCLC makes WorldCat itself available free to libraries, but the catalog is the foundation for other subscription OCLC services. WorldCat is used by the general public and by librarians for cataloging and research.

An online public access catalog is an online database of materials held by a library or group of libraries. Users search in library catalog principally to locate books and other material available at a library. In simple language it is an electronic version of the card catalog. OPAC is the gateway to library's collection.



OCLC began in 1967, as the Ohio College Library Center, through a collaboration of university presidents, vice presidents, and library directors who wanted to create a cooperative computerized network for libraries in the state of Ohio. The group first met on July 5, 1967 on the campus of the Ohio State University to sign the articles of incorporation for the nonprofit organization, [5] and hired Frederick G. Kilgour, a former Yale University medical school librarian, to design the shared cataloging system. [6] Kilgour wished to merge the latest information storage and retrieval system of the time, the computer, with the oldest, the library. The plan was to merge the catalogs of Ohio libraries electronically through a computer network and database to streamline operations, control costs, and increase efficiency in library management, bringing libraries together to cooperatively keep track of the world's information in order to best serve researchers and scholars. The first library to do online cataloging through OCLC was the Alden Library at Ohio University on August 26, 1971. This was the first online cataloging by any library worldwide. [5]

Ohio State of the United States of America

Ohio is a Midwestern state in the Great Lakes region of the United States. Of the fifty states, it is the 34th largest by area, the seventh most populous, and the tenth most densely populated. The state's capital and largest city is Columbus.

Yale University private research university in New Haven, Connecticut, United States

Yale University is a private Ivy League research university in New Haven, Connecticut. Founded in 1701, it is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States and one of the nine Colonial Colleges chartered before the American Revolution.

Ohio University public university in Athens, Ohio, United States

Ohio University is a public research university in Athens, Ohio. The first university chartered by an Act of Congress and the first to be chartered in Ohio, it was chartered in 1787 by the Congress of the Confederation and subsequently approved for the territory in 1802 and state in 1804, opening for students in 1809. Ohio University is the oldest university in Ohio, the eighth oldest public university in the United States and the 30th oldest among public and private universities. As of fall 2018, the university's total enrollment at Athens was 20,000, while the all- campus enrollment was just under 35,000.

Membership in OCLC is based on use of services and contribution of data. Between 1967 and 1977, OCLC membership was limited to institutions in Ohio, but in 1978, a new governance structure was established that allowed institutions from other states to join. In 2002, the governance structure was again modified to accommodate participation from outside the United States. [7]

As OCLC expanded services in the United States outside Ohio, it relied on establishing strategic partnerships with "networks", organizations that provided training, support and marketing services. By 2008, there were 15 independent United States regional service providers. OCLC networks played a key role in OCLC governance, with networks electing delegates to serve on the OCLC Members Council. During 2008, OCLC commissioned two studies to look at distribution channels; at the same time, the council approved governance changes that had been recommended by the Board of Trustees severing the tie between the networks and governance. In early 2009, OCLC negotiated new contracts with the former networks and opened a centralized support center. [8]


OCLC provides bibliographic, abstract and full-text information to anyone.

An abstract is a brief summary of a research article, thesis, review, conference proceeding, or any in-depth analysis of a particular subject and is often used to help the reader quickly ascertain the paper's purpose. When used, an abstract always appears at the beginning of a manuscript or typescript, acting as the point-of-entry for any given academic paper or patent application. Abstracting and indexing services for various academic disciplines are aimed at compiling a body of literature for that particular subject.

OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat—the OCLC Online Union Catalog, the largest online public access catalog (OPAC) in the world. WorldCat has holding records from public and private libraries worldwide.

The Online Computer Library Center acquired the trademark and copyrights associated with the Dewey Decimal Classification System when it bought Forest Press in 1988. A browser [9] for books with their Dewey Decimal Classifications was available until July 2013; it was replaced by the Classify Service.

Until August 2009, when it was sold to Backstage Library Works, OCLC owned a preservation microfilm and digitization operation called the OCLC Preservation Service Center, [10] with its principal office in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

The reference management service QuestionPoint [11] provides libraries with tools to communicate with users. This around-the-clock reference service is provided by a cooperative of participating global libraries.

Starting in 1971, OCLC produced catalog cards for members alongside its shared online catalog; the company printed its last catalog cards on October 1, 2015. [12]


OCLC commercially sells software, such as CONTENTdm for managing digital collections. [13] It also offers the bibliographic discovery system WorldCat Discovery, which allows for library patrons to use a single search interface to access an institution's catalog, ebooks, database subscriptions and more. [14]


OCLC has been conducting research for the library community for more than 30 years. In accordance with its mission, OCLC makes its research outcomes known through various publications. [15] These publications, including journal articles, reports, newsletters, and presentations, are available through the organization's website.


Advocacy has been a part of OCLC's mission since its founding in 1967. OCLC staff members meet and work regularly with library leaders, information professionals, researchers, entrepreneurs, political leaders, trustees, students and patrons to advocate "advancing research, scholarship, education, community development, information access, and global cooperation." [20] [21]

WebJunction [22] is a division of OCLC funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which provides training services to librarians.

OCLC's advocacy campaign "Geek the Library", started in 2009, highlights the role of public libraries. The campaign, funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, uses a strategy based on the findings of the 2008 OCLC report, "From Awareness to Funding: A study of library support in America". [23]

Other past advocacy campaigns have focused on sharing the knowledge gained from library and information research. Such projects have included communities such as the Society of American Archivists, the Open Archives Initiative, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, the International Organization for Standardization, the National Information Standards Organization, the World Wide Web Consortium, the Internet Engineering Task Force, and Internet2. One of the most successful contributions to this effort was the Dublin Core Metadata Initiative, "an open forum of libraries, archives, museums, technology organizations, and software companies who work together to develop interoperable online metadata standards that support a broad range of purposes and business models." [20]

OCLC partnered with search engine providers in 2003 to advocate for libraries and share information across the broadest possible Internet landscape. Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com have all collaborated with OCLC to make the WorldCat records searchable through those search engines. [20]

Online database: WorldCat

OCLC's WorldCat database is used by the general public, and by librarians for cataloging and research. WorldCat is available to the public for searching via a subscription web-based service called FirstSearch, [24] as well as through the publicly available WorldCat.org. [25]

Identifiers and linked data

OCLC assigns a unique control number (referred to as an "OCN" for "OCLC Control Number") to each new bibliographic record in the WorldCat. Numbers are assigned serially, and as of mid-2013 over a billion OCNs had been created. In September 2013, the OCLC declared these numbers to be in the public domain, removing a perceived barrier to widespread use of OCNs outside OCLC itself. [26] The control numbers link WorldCat's records to local library system records by providing a common reference key for a record across libraries. [27]

OCNs are particularly useful as identifiers for books and other bibliographic materials that do not have ISBNs (e.g., books published before 1970). OCNs are used as identifiers often in Wikipedia and Wikidata. In October 2013, it was reported that out of 29,673 instances of Infobox Book in Wikipedia, "there were 23,304 ISBNs and 15,226 OCNs"; and regarding Wikidata: "of around 14 million Wikidata items, 28,741 were books. 5403 Wikidata items have an ISBN associated with them, and 12,262 have OCNs." [28]

OCLC also runs the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), an international name authority file. VIAF numbers are broadly used as standard idenfitiers.

Company acquisitions

OCLC offices in Leiden (the Netherlands) Schipholweg 99, Leiden.JPG
OCLC offices in Leiden (the Netherlands)

OCLC acquired NetLibrary, a provider of electronic books and textbooks, in 2002 and sold it in 2010 to EBSCO Industries. [29] OCLC owns 100% of the shares of OCLC PICA, a library automation systems and services company which has its headquarters in Leiden in the Netherlands and which was renamed "OCLC" at the end of 2007. [30] In July 2006, the Research Libraries Group (RLG) merged with OCLC. [31] [32] On January 11, 2008, OCLC announced [33] that it had purchased EZproxy. It has also acquired OAIster. The process started in January 2009 and from October 31, 2009, OAIster records are freely available via WorldCat.org. In January 2015, OCLC acquired Sustainable Collection Services (SCS). SCS offered consulting services based on analyzing library print collection data to help libraries manage and share materials. [34] In 2017, OCLC acquired Relais International, a library interlibrary loan service provider based in Ottawa, Canada. [35]


OCLC has been criticized for monopolistic practices. [36] In July 2010, the company was sued by SkyRiver, a rival startup, in an antitrust suit. [37] Library automation company Innovative Interfaces joined SkyRiver in the suit. [38] The suit was dropped in March 2013, however, following the acquisition of SkyRiver by Innovative Interfaces. [39]

See also

Related Research Articles

Dewey Decimal Classification library classification system

The Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), colloquially the Dewey Decimal System, is a proprietary library classification system first published in the United States by Melvil Dewey in 1876. Originally described in a four-page pamphlet, it has been expanded to multiple volumes and revised through 23 major editions, the latest printed in 2011. It is also available in an abridged version suitable for smaller libraries. OCLC, a non-profit cooperative that serves libraries, currently maintains the system and licenses online access to WebDewey, a continuously updated version for catalogers.

Interlibrary loan is a service whereby a patron of one library can borrow books, DVDs, music, etc. and/or receive photocopies of documents that are owned by another library. The user makes a request with their home library; which, acting as an intermediary, identifies libraries with the desired item, places the request, receives the item, makes it available to the user, as well as arranges for its return. The lending library usually sets a due date and overdue fees of the material borrowed. Although books and journal articles are the most frequently requested items, some libraries will lend audio recordings, video recordings, maps, sheet music, and microforms of all kinds. In some cases, nominal fees accompany the interlibrary loan services.

Library catalog Register of bibliographic items

A library catalog or library catalogue is a register of all bibliographic items found in a library or group of libraries, such as a network of libraries at several locations. A bibliographic item can be any information entity that is considered library material, or a group of library materials, or linked from the catalog as far as it is relevant to the catalog and to the users (patrons) of the library.

RedLightGreen was a database of bibliographic descriptions on the Web created by Research Libraries Group (RLG). It used a set of four million records extracted from OCLC's WorldCat database, and was designed to help novice users make selections from the vast bibliographic resources they would encounter in such a large set. RedLightGreen also allowed users to create citations for works found.

The Research Libraries Group (RLG) was a U.S.-based library consortium that existed from 1974 until its merger with the OCLC library consortium in 2006. RLG developed the Eureka interlibrary search engine, the RedLightGreen database of bibliographic descriptions, and ArchiveGrid, a database containing descriptions of archival collections. It also developed a framework known as the "RLG Conspectus" for evaluating research library collections, which evolved into a set of descriptors used in library collection policy statements, last updated in 1997. The Library of Congress used the conspectus in 2015 in the revision of its own collection policy statement, and decided to retain this resource on its website, as a helpful scale for judging an academic collection's depth.

Eureka was the user interface for general users of the Research Library Information Network (RLIN), a bibliographic resource containing records from libraries that were members of Research Libraries Group (RLG). Eureka had the capacity to search among approximately 45 million different titles. Most of the catalog was from major research libraries and museums in the United States. Despite the OPAC formulation, Eureka technically was not a public access search engine. It was generally accessible only from networks connected to research institutions such as universities.

Melvyl is the name of the online catalog of the University of California's library system. The Melvyl union catalog is produced by the California Digital Library — a unit within the department of Academic Planning, Programs, and Coordination at the UC Office of the President in downtown Oakland, California. Melvyl is named after Melvil Dewey, the library pioneer who invented the Dewey Decimal System. Melvyl is now supported by the OCLC's WorldCat Local platform.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to library science:

ArchiveGrid is a collection of over five million archival material descriptions, including MARC records from WorldCat and finding aids harvested from the web. It contains archival collections held by thousands of libraries, museums, historical societies, and archives. Contribution to the system is available to any institution. Most of the contributions are from United States based institutions, but many other countries are represented, including Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. ArchiveGrid is associated with OCLC Research and helps to advance their goals of making archival collections and materials easier to find. ArchiveGrid is described as "the ultimate destination for searching through family histories, political papers, and historical records held in archives around the world."

LibraryThing is a social cataloging web application for storing and sharing book catalogs and various types of book metadata. It is used by authors, individuals, libraries, and publishers.

Fred Kilgour American librarian

Frederick "Fred" Gridley Kilgour was an American librarian and educator known as the founding director of OCLC, an international computer library network and database that changed the way people use libraries. He was its president and executive director from 1967 to 1980.

The Missouri Library Network Corporation (MLNC) was a library consortium founded on October 19, 1981 by the representatives of thirty-one Missouri libraries. In July 2012, MLNC merged with Amigos Library Services of Dallas Texas.

The International Coalition of Library Consortia (ICOLC) is an informal, self-organized group of library consortia from around the world; it exists for strategic and practical discussion of issues of common interest among the consortia members. The ICOLC first met informally as the Consortium of Consortia (COC) in 1997. Over time, its name was adjusted to reflect its increasingly global character.

The Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK) is a consortium of Ohio's college and university libraries and the State Library of Ohio. Serving more than 540,000 students, faculty, and staff at 90 institutions with 118 libraries, OhioLINK's membership includes 16 public universities, 24 community/technical colleges, 50 private colleges and the State Library of Ohio. OhioLINK serves faculty, students, staff and other researchers via campus-based integrated library systems, the OhioLINK central site, and Internet resources.

Lorcan Dempsey Irish librarian and academic

Lorcan Dempsey is the Vice-President and Chief Strategist of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC).

Faceted search is a technique which involves augmenting traditional search techniques with a faceted navigation system, allowing users to narrow down search results by applying multiple filters based on faceted classification of the items. A faceted classification system classifies each information element along multiple explicit dimensions, called facets, enabling the classifications to be accessed and ordered in multiple ways rather than in a single, pre-determined, taxonomic order.

James G. Neal American librarian

James G. Neal is an American librarian, library administrator, and a prominent figure in American and international library associations.

The New York Art Resources Consortium (NYARC) consists of the research libraries of three leading art museums in New York City: The Brooklyn Museum, The Frick Collection, and The Museum of Modern Art. With funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, NYARC was formed in 2006 to facilitate collaboration that results in enhanced resources for research communities. Called a groundbreaking partnership, NYARC also provides a framework for collaboration among art research libraries.

Walt Crawford is a US American writer specializing in libraries. He is primarily concerned with technology-related issues in the library sector. He has also written extensively on open access, publishing detailed surveys of gold open access journals based on data in the Directory of Open Access Journals.


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Further reading