Message from Robin Green: Reaching Out
Europe, Middle East and Africa has been an OCLC Region for a long time, until recently it was primarily used for organisational convenience to enable an organisation that was growing its activities worldwide, and very much so in EMEA countries, to operate effectively.
Although that organisational benefit remains, the creation in 2009 of the Regional Councils, with the Americas becoming ‘just’ one of three Regional Councils rather than the main focus for OCLC reflects a radical change in OCLC thinking and in the purpose of the EMEA Region.
OCLC understands that a global cooperative has to think globally and that it has to understand the different requirements of its members and customers across the world. And they are different: it has been very interesting for me, as a Delegate to Global Council, to learn about the other Regions and that use of OCLC services is not standard across them all – or even within a single Region. For example, EMEA Members and customers are more likely to use one of OCLC’s range of library management systems than Members and customers in the other Regions. This means that the three Regions may be affected to a greater or lesser extent by a change in OCLC’s strategy - such as the move towards a single platform that we are now seeing.
One role of the Regional Council, through Delegates like me who are elected by EMEA Members, is to raise awareness at Global Council - and through it OCLC - of these differences and what is important for EMEA Members, so that EMEA Members are taken into account in OCLC planning.
That sets an immediate challenge for us. Those Members and customers who have been able to get to one or more of our Regional Member Meetings (we’ve had three so far, the last being in Birmingham, UK) will know from the list of those attending these Meetings that we attract Members from all over EMEA. Participants from 23 countries came to the Birmingham meeting meaning a wide range of languages, cultures and, of course, different interests were present. When you think that the Region as a whole comprises around 2000 Members across 60 countries you can appreciate the difficulties we have in capturing a coherent picture of EMEA requirements and representing these to Global Council.
Compounding this challenge is the fact that ‘the EMEA Region’ and its role in the OCLC Global Cooperative is still new to us all. We are working to bring the Regional Council to Members’ attention so that you will make use of Delegates as a route into Global Council and OCLC – and yes, we can and do influence OCLC – but we realise this isn’t going to be easy or quick.
So, apart from the annual Member Meetings, how do we reach out? One way is for Delegates to actually get on the plane or train and talk to Members, and Cendrella Habre also writes in the Newsletter about our very rewarding Regional Meeting in the Lebanon earlier in 2012. This was the second time we have done this – the first was in South Africa – and they’ve worked well, therefore it’s an initiative we will take forward in our Action Plans for this year and beyond.
Another route we have taken over 2011 and 2012 is for the Delegates to make personal contact, primarily by email but occasionally by phone, with a number of Members in each of the 60 countries in the Region. This was to carry out a very unscientific ‘straw poll/survey’ on questions relating to OCLC. We did this for a number of reasons, but an important one was to move beyond an anonymous survey and say ‘hello, I’m one of the Delegates you elected and I’d like to hear your views’.
The questions we asked were around these topics:
- Do you think of OCLC mainly as a vendor or as a Library cooperative that provides charged-for products (or both of these)?
- Do you understand why your library is a Member of OCLC (not just a customer)?
- What benefits do you feel you get as an OCLC Member?
- What benefits do you think Members should have?
- Do you feel you know enough about OCLC developments (does OCLC keep you informed)?
- Have you been receiving information about the Regional Council, such as the Member meeting in Birmingham and the recent elections?
- Would information on OCLC-related library activities in the EMEA region (for example, a regular informal newsletter) be of interest to you?
- What would be the best way for us to send such information - email, Twitter, links to information on the EMEARC Website, or another form?
- What issues and challenges do you face in trying to develop your library services?
- Could OCLC help you respond to any of these (‘if only OCLC would do this, I could....’)?
- OCLC is developing a service that can support Member libraries around the world sharing ideas and working together on projects. As a Member, would you find this useful?
- Are there projects you would like to find partners to take on with you? If OCLC could provide a ‘linking’ service for Members would that be useful for you, or would you find partners in other ways?
As you might imagine, there were a variety of responses to all of these questions. A number of those contacted did not get back to us – but we did expect this, especially given the newness of the Regional Council, plus the fact that we are all busy and some of these questions could take more than a few minutes to think about.
A strong theme amongst those who did reply (and I’d like to thank those who did, as you’ve provided really useful information) was the question of membership. For many Members there is a lack of clarity about what OCLC Membership means, how your organisation becomes a Member and what the benefits of Membership are. We have been feeding this message back to Global Council and OCLC, and it is an issue that is recognised and will be considered in the coming year.
Another very helpful view was support for an EMEA Newsletter to complement the more formal and official material that OCLC produces – and this is our first issue. We’d really like to hear from you what you’d like to see in it – so over to you!
As I said, we chose not to send our questions out to all EMEA Members, but if you weren’t approached and do have some thoughts we’d be very pleased to hear them – just send them to me.
I really enjoyed making new contacts through this exercise, and have one or two good email discussions as a result. I’ve not only heard views on OCLC, I’ve also learned about the very interesting – and sometimes difficult – situations in some of our Members’ countries, and I’m sure we’ll try this approach again.