What do you get when the 800-pound gorilla mates with the elephant in the room? Well, it looks as though you might just get the OCLC division of Google, Inc. The Mountain View, California, search giant has announced that it will acquire 100% of OCLC, the library cooperative based in Dublin, Ohio. The news was reported today on the ALA TechSource blog.
Details of the deal are sketchy, and an official press release has not been issued. The real surprise would have to be the compliance of OCLC’s Board of Trustees in making such a deal. While I could not reach any of them on a weekend, I was able to reach a few friends and colleagues in Ohio.
Ralph LeVan, senior research scientist for OCLC, expressed confidence that OCLC research staff would “rejuvenate the fledgling full-text division in Mountain View.”
Jay Jordan could not be reached for comment from his reportedly remote location somewhere in the Caribbean, but Mike Teets, vice president for Global Product Architecture said, “The staff who will remain with the OCLC division are pretty excited about moving someplace with sunshine.”
Chip Nilges, yet another V.P. at the library powerhouse, was more reflective, saying only, “I wonder what they’re gonna do with this old mausoleum.”
A source at Google who did not want to be identified said, “We’re looking forward to finally having enough librarians on staff to catalog all those web pages.” What does “tongue-in-cheek” sound like over the phone?
Frankly, I don’t know what to make of all this. The combination of Google’s full-text initiatives with OCLC’s century’s worth of metadata could make for some interesting products. Throw in the companies that OCLC has acquired over the last few years, and you could have the foundation for GoogleILS, GoogleResolver, GoogleERM, GoogleSelfcheck, or simply GoogleLibrary. Lipstick, wig, and heels on a pig.
“I suppose your father lost his job to a robot. I don’t know, maybe you would have simply banned the internet to keep the libraries open.”
—Bruce Greenwood to Will Smith in the movie I, Robot
The board has not gone public yet, but other well-known librarians are already starting to react. Susan Gibbons, associate dean at the University of Rochester Libraries, commented, “When you really stop to think about it, [the acquisition] was inevitable. Just imagine the improvements that Google will be able to make to its search algorithms by mining all of OCLC’s holdings data.”
Roy Tennant echoed Gibbons with some added impatience. “What took them so long?” he said when I reached him in California late last night. “How could any company that purports to ‘provide access to the world’s information’ do it without libraries?” added Tennant. “Or at least, how could they do it without getting all our stuff?”
Rumors and predictions of Google’s steady takeover have been around a while…I just thought it would take longer for them to go after libraries like this. One question I still have is “Where’s our cut?” I was thinking about the billion-dollar stock deal that YouTube got and felt a little jealous. A fool and his money are soon parted, but lucky to get together in the first place. A fool and his senses may never even pass each other in the hallway.
[This post originally appeared as part of American Libraries’ Hectic Pace Blog and is archived here.]