Last updated

OCLC, Inc.
TypeNonprofit cooperative
Industry Information
FoundedJuly 5, 1967;54 years ago (1967-07-05) (as Ohio College Library Center)
Founder Frederick G. Kilgour
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)
Members15,637 libraries in 107 countries [3]  (2021)
Website Official website OOjs UI icon edit-ltr-progressive.svg

OCLC, Inc., doing business as OCLC, [4] is an American nonprofit cooperative organization "dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing information costs". [3] It was founded in 1967 as the Ohio College Library Center, then became the Online Computer Library Center as it expanded. In 2017, the name was formally changed to OCLC, Inc. [4] OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, the largest online public access catalog (OPAC) in the world. [5] OCLC is funded mainly by the fees that libraries pay (around $200 million annually in total as of 2016) for the many different services it offers. [1] OCLC also maintains the Dewey Decimal Classification system.



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 [6] and hired Frederick G. Kilgour, a former Yale University medical school librarian, to design the shared cataloging system. [7] 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. [6]

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. [8]

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. [9]


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

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. [5] 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 [10] 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, [11] with its principal office in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

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]


QuestionPoint, [13] an around-the-clock reference service provided to users by a cooperative of participating global libraries, was acquired by Springshare from OCLC in 2019 and migrated to Springshare's LibAnswers platform. [14] [15]


OCLC commercially sells software, such as:


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. [24] These publications, including journal articles, reports, newsletters, and presentations, are available through the organization's website.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, OCLC participated in the REopening Archives, Libraries, and Museums (REALM) project funded by the IMLS to study the surface transmission risks of SARS-CoV-2 on common library and museum materials and surfaces, [29] and published a series of reports. [30]


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". [31] [32]

WebJunction, which provides training services to librarians, [33] is a division of OCLC funded by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation beginning in 2003. [34] [35]

OCLC partnered with search engine providers in 2003 to advocate for libraries and share information across the Internet landscape. Google, Yahoo!, and Ask.com all collaborated with OCLC to make WorldCat records searchable through those search engines. [31]

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". [36]

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." [31]

OCLC has collaborated with the Wikimedia Foundation and the Wikimedia volunteer community, through integrating library metadata with Wikimedia projects, hosting a Wikipedian in residence, and doing a national training program through WebJunction called "Wikipedia + Libraries: Better Together". [37] [38] [39]

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, [40] as well as through the publicly available WorldCat.org. [41]

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. [42] The control numbers link WorldCat's records to local library system records by providing a common reference key for a record across libraries. [43]

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 book infoboxes 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." [44]

OCLC also runs the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF), an international name authority file, with oversight from the VIAF Council composed of representatives of institutions that contribute data to VIAF. [45] VIAF numbers are broadly used as standard identifiers, including in Wikipedia. [37] [46]

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. [47] 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. [48] In July 2006, the Research Libraries Group (RLG) merged with OCLC. [49] [50]

On January 11, 2008, OCLC announced [51] 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 2013, OCLC acquired the Dutch library automation company HKA [52] [53] and its integrated library system Wise, [20] which OCLC calls a "community engagement system" that "combines the power of customer relationship management, marketing, and analytics with ILS functions". [19] OCLC began offering Wise to libraries in the United States in 2019. [20]

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. [54] In 2017, OCLC acquired Relais International, a library interlibrary loan service provider based in Ottawa, Canada. [55]

A more complete list of mergers and acquisitions is available on the OCLC website. [56]


In May 2008, OCLC was criticized by Jeffrey Beall for monopolistic practices, among other faults. [57] Library blogger Rick Mason responded that although he thought Beall had some "valid criticisms" of OCLC, he demurred from some of Beall's statements and warned readers to "beware the hyperbole and the personal nature of his criticism, for they strongly overshadow that which is worth stating". [58]

In November 2008, the Board of Directors of OCLC unilaterally issued a new Policy for Use and Transfer of WorldCat Records [59] that would have required member libraries to include an OCLC policy note on their bibliographic records; the policy caused an uproar among librarian bloggers. [60] [61] Among those who protested the policy was the non-librarian activist Aaron Swartz, who believed the policy would threaten projects such as the Open Library, Zotero, and Wikipedia, and who started a petition to "Stop the OCLC powergrab". [62] [63] Swartz's petition garnered 858 signatures, but the details of his proposed actions went largely unheeded. [61] Within a few months, the library community had forced OCLC to retract its policy and to create a Review Board to consult with member libraries more transparently. [61] In August 2012, OCLC recommended that member libraries adopt the Open Data Commons Attribution (ODC-BY) license when sharing library catalog data, although some member libraries have explicit agreements with OCLC that they can publish catalog data using the CC0 Public Domain Dedication. [64] [65]

In July 2010, the company was sued by SkyRiver, a rival startup, in an antitrust suit. [66] Library automation company Innovative Interfaces joined SkyRiver in the suit. [67] The suit was dropped in March 2013, however, following the acquisition of SkyRiver by Innovative Interfaces. [68] Innovative Interfaces was later bought by ExLibris, therefore passing OCLC as the dominant supplier of ILS services in the USA (over 70% market share for academic libraries and over 50% for public libraries for ExLibris, versus OCLC's 10% market share of both types of libraries in 2019). [69]

See also

Related Research Articles

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.

New York Public Library Public library system in New York City

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is a public library system in New York City. With nearly 53 million items and 92 locations, the New York Public Library is the second largest public library in the United States and the fourth largest in the world. It is a private, non-governmental, independently managed, nonprofit corporation operating with both private and public financing.

MARCstandards are a set of digital formats for the description of items catalogued by libraries, such as books. Computerized library catalogs and library management software need to structure their catalog records as per a industry-wide standard, which is MARC, so that bibliographic information can be shared freely between computers. The structure of bibliographic records almost universally follow the MARC standard. Other standards work in conjunction with MARC, for example, Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules (AACR)/Resource Description and Access (RDA) provide guidelines on formulating bibliographic data into the MARC record structure, while the International Standard Bibliographic Description (ISBD) provides guidelines for displaying MARC records in a standard, human-readable form.

WorldCat International union library catalog

WorldCat is a union catalog that itemizes the collections of 15,637 libraries in 107 countries that participate in the OCLC global cooperative. It is operated by OCLC, Inc. The subscribing member libraries collectively maintain WorldCat's database, the world's largest bibliographic database. The database includes other information sources in addition to member library collections. OCLC makes WorldCat itself available free to libraries, but the catalog is the foundation for other subscription OCLC services. WorldCat is used by librarians for cataloging and research and by the general public.

In library science, authority control is a process that organizes bibliographic information, for example in library catalogs by using a single, distinct spelling of a name (heading) or a numeric identifier for each topic. The word authority in authority control derives from the idea that the names of people, places, things, and concepts are authorized, i.e., they are established in one particular form. These one-of-a-kind headings or identifiers are applied consistently throughout catalogs which make use of the respective authority file, and are applied for other methods of organizing data such as linkages and cross references. Each controlled entry is described in an authority record in terms of its scope and usage, and this organization helps the library staff maintain the catalog and make it user-friendly for researchers.

An OpenURL is similar to a web address, but instead of referring to a physical website, it refers to an article, book, patent, or other resource within a website.

Integrated library system

An integrated library system (ILS), also known as a library management system (LMS), is an enterprise resource planning system for a library, used to track items owned, orders made, bills paid, and patrons who have borrowed.

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.

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

The California Digital Library (CDL) was founded by the University of California in 1997. Under the leadership of then UC President Richard C. Atkinson, the CDL’s original mission was to forge a better system for scholarly information management and improved support for teaching and research. In collaboration with the ten University of California Libraries and other partners, CDL assembled one of the world's largest digital research libraries. CDL facilitates the licensing of online materials and develops shared services used throughout the UC system. Building on the foundations of the Melvyl Catalog, CDL has developed one of the largest online library catalogs in the country and works in partnership with the UC campuses to bring the treasures of California's libraries, museums, and cultural heritage organizations to the world. CDL continues to explore how services such as digital curation, scholarly publishing, archiving and preservation support research throughout the information lifecycle.

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. He was its president and executive director from 1967 to 1980.


VTLS Inc. was a global company that provided library automation software and services to a diverse customer base of more than 1900 libraries in 44 countries. The for-profit company was founded in 1985 by Dr. Vinod Chachra, who became the President and CEO of the company. VTLS originated as "Virginia Tech Library Systems", an automated circulation and cataloging system created for Virginia Tech’s Newman Library in 1975. In addition to its headquarters in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States, VTLS had five international offices in Australia, Brazil, India, Malaysia and Spain. VTLS was one of the few ISO 9001:2008 quality-certified companies within the library industry for many years. The company was acquired by Innovative Interfaces in 2014.

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 800,000 students, faculty, and staff at 88 institutions with 117 libraries, OhioLINK's membership includes 16 public universities, 23 community/technical colleges, 48 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

Lorcan Dempsey is a vice president and is Chief Strategist of OCLC.

David Ferriero American archivist

David Sean Ferriero is an American librarian, library administrator, and the 10th Archivist of the United States. He previously served as the Director of the New York Public Library, and before that, the University Librarian and Vice Provost for Library Affairs at Duke University. Prior to his Duke position, he worked for 31 years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology library. Ferriero is the first librarian to serve as Archivist of the United States.

International Standard Name Identifier 16 digit identifier for people and organisations

The International Standard Name Identifier (ISNI) is an identifier system for uniquely identifying the public identities of contributors to media content such as books, television programmes, and newspaper articles. Such an identifier consists of 16 digits. It can optionally be displayed as divided into four blocks.

‡biblios.net Free internet cataloging service

‡biblios.net is a free browser-based cataloging service with a data store containing over thirty-million records. Records are licensed under the Open Data Commons Public Domain Dedication and License, making the service the world's largest repository of freely-licensed library records. The service was created and is maintained by LibLime.

Virtual International Authority File International authority file

The Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) is an international authority file. It is a joint project of several national libraries and operated by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC).

Faceted Application of Subject Terminology (FAST) is a general use controlled vocabulary based on the Library of Congress Subject Headings (LCSH). FAST is developed as a part of WorldCat by OCLC, Inc., with the goal of making subject cataloging less costly and easier to implement in online contexts. FAST headings separate topical data from non-topical data, such as information about a document's form, chronological coverage, or geographical coverage.


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Further reading