RLG and OCLC to merge

After 32 years RLG (formerly a.k.a. the Research Libraries Group), my former employer in Mountain View, California, announced yesterday that it is merging with OCLC (still a.k.a. the Online Computer Library Center).

Both RLG and OCLC are often known as “library utilities,” because they provide products and services to libraries around the World — most notably the “union catalogues,” massively aggregated bibliographic databases with hundreds of millions of records about the book holdings of libraries everywhere. Now RLG’s Union Catalog (known to librarians almost universally, albeit incorrectly, as RLIN) will be merged into OCLC’s WorldCat database.

The part of RLG that I used to work for, Member Programs, will continue as RLG-Programs, a division of OCLC Programs and Research. It’s unclear at this point what will happen to the rest of RLG.

This merger is big news in the library world, at least in the world of academic/research libraries. Until now, they have always had a choice of two competing utilities, and two different union catalogues (and some used both). Now, “there can be only one.”

I’m sure there are many good and valid business reasons for this merger, many of which are set out in the press release, “RLG to combine with OCLC.” Still, for the library world, it feels a bit like the equivalent of Apple and Microsoft merging. And I feel bad for my friends and coworkers at RLG, who must all be facing a period of great uncertainty right now.

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