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President’s Report
A word from Skip Prichard

Trends and tipping points

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Many of us are interested in new and emerging technology trends. We speculate about which advancements will be big hits, changing how we live or work—and which will surge, but then fall quickly, ending up in the dust bin of invention.


Exploring the trends that will impact the work of libraries is a vitally important part of what OCLC does.

We have seen many innovations that were emerging trends just a few years ago really start to take hold. The shift from locally installed hardware and software to Web platforms and cloud services is well underway, and the rapid adoption of tablets and smartphones has finally moved e-books from a novelty to a mainstream service for libraries.

Innovations emerging in online learning have the potential to dramatically alter how we think about—and how libraries will support—education in the future.

Trends like these impact how we manage the daily business of libraries. But other trends, taken together, represent true cultural tipping points, shaping how we think about long-term strategies. Innovations now emerging in online learning have the potential to dramatically alter how we think about—and how libraries will support—education in the future.

MOOCs—Massive Open Online Courses—are just such an advancement and are definitely worth taking the time to explore and consider. In June 2014, OCLC released a new membership report, At a Tipping Point: Education, Learning and Libraries, that explores the factors that are giving rise to MOOCs and the adoption of online education in the United States. Half (48%) of Americans who use the Internet—whether for shopping, banking, social networking or any other reason—now report that they have also taken an online class. A shift is underway, and it is important that we explore what this means for libraries.

Libraries have a stake in that future, and we all need to keep a close eye on trends like MOOCs that have the potential to become truly momentous tipping points.

Our cover story, “The Hope and Hype of MOOCs,” presents the thoughts of experts on each side of a debate about the role of online learning in education. They came together at an OCLC symposium to discuss the potential benefits and pitfalls of MOOCs. They shared, among other ideas:

  • the hope that technology will drastically reduce the cost of higher education;
  • concern that traditional educational models and roles are in jeopardy;
  • optimism about opportunities for global learning and sharing; and
  • skepticism about authority and accreditation in distance learning programs.

They made it clear that while the success of specific MOOC platforms or business models may still be evolving, the tipping point that they represent is very real.

Any new technology may fail and be forgotten. Ten years from now, we may look back and see that MOOCs were the major innovation that changed the educational landscape. Or they may have been a short-lived stepping stone in the evolution of online learning. Either way, libraries have a stake in that future, and we all need to keep a close eye on trends like MOOCs that have the potential to become truly momentous tipping points.

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Skip Prichard
OCLC President and Chief Executive Officer

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About the Author

  • Skip Prichard

    Skip Prichard

    Skip is the fifth president in OCLC’s 46-year history. He joined OCLC in July 2013 after serving as President and CEO of Ingram Content Group Inc., where he expanded Ingram’s international operations, strengthened its digital offerings, and repositioned the company as a services provider.