The Development of OCLC

Gesterfield assumed her position as State Library Director just as the Ohio College Library Catalog, better known as OCLC, was becoming established at the State Library. It proved to be one of the hallmark programs in State Library history and consumed a great deal of attention in the mid- to late-1970s. The OCLC was an online database of cataloging information supplied by multiple libraries and was among the earliest of its kind. The information was produced on Machine-Readable Catalog (MARC) cards that came into popular usage in the late 1960s. OCLC was introduced nationally in October 1969, went online on Aug. 26, 1971, and was proposed for the State Library in a 1972-73 study examining the feasibility of a cataloging system using MARC and machine-readable files. Although the study found that such a conversion was cost-prohibitive, it recommended that any system adopted be compatible with MARC. Careful consideration of various systems followed before State Library administration, led by Trezza, chose participation in OCLC in August 1974.758

As a result, member libraries in the OCLC network enjoy much easier access to bibliographic searches, interlibrary loans, and cooperative collection development. With OCLC, the catalogs of many libraries were available at the user’s fingertips. The nature of OCLC also encouraged cooperative sharing, as any library in the system had access to the catalog of every other member of the network. The network itself offered free inclusion of public, academic, systems, and special libraries. The switch to OCLC reflected the State Library’s continuing commitment to multitype cooperation – a hallmark of the Trezza era.759

The State Library entered the OCLC with a $230,000 grant from the Library Services and Construction Act. An additional $20,000 was secured from the Illinois Board of Higher Education. The first libraries to join OCLC in Illinois were the four Reference and Research Centers. Longtime State Library staffers recall that OCLC implementation began with only one computer in the State Library. The R & R centers soon received their own computers for the required hookup. This expensive initial investment was followed by many cash outlays as the system matured. A total of $195,000 in additional federal funds was appropriated in 1976, and hundreds of thousands more were spent by the end of the decade.760

Unlike other state libraries, the Illinois State Library was willing to pick up the tab for libraries to join OCLC statewide. In other states, OCLC subscribers were charged fees to join the network. However, Illinois libraries were not subject to such burden, as the State Library absorbed the cost of the fees, allowing individual libraries to enjoy the benefits of OCLC with no administrative cost.761

The move to OCLC placed the State Library in a contractor’s role. Individual libraries and the systems contracted for use of OCLC with the State Library, which served as a training and coordinating center. Administration and management costs were paid from the State Library’s budget. The OCLC services were administered within the State Library by the establishment of the ILLINET Bibliographic Data Base Service (IBDBS), which provided services to both public and non-public libraries. Directing the OCLC program was yet another example of the State Library’s growing administrative role.762

Development of the OCLC network in Illinois moved quickly in the 1970s. After six months of operation, academic libraries were invited to join the system, a move greeted with great enthusiasm. However, while fees were taken care of, computer terminal costs prevented many academic libraries from joining. Once again, the State Library paid the bill, purchasing all terminals, with participating libraries agreeing to repay costs over one to three years. These costs were substantial. Over $259,000 was spent for terminals in fiscal year 1977 alone.763

While many libraries clamored to join the OCLC system, the adoption was by no means smooth. Some of the participating libraries came to resent the State Library’s centralized role in the switch to OCLC and the resulting bureaucracy for which the State Library was criticized. However, participants soon saw that benefits clearly outweighed the problems. By 1979, 124 institutions were participating, including 11 of the 18 systems, 13 public libraries, 74 academic libraries, and 26 special libraries. Trezza’s vision of multitype library networks was further solidified with the conversion to OCLC. By the early 1980s, OCLC had become a staple to Illinois libraries, increasing efficiency and effectiveness of service to untold numbers of Illinoisans. OCLC remains an integral part of Illinois, and national, librarianship today.764