Access to Information is Power

As the way we research evolves, Julie Presas ensures that the OCLC is front and center, providing the world with vital access to information

Julie Presas, VP of Legal Services and General Counsel, OCLC

Julie Presas believes having access to information is a basic human need. And though technology has dramatically changed the way we find answers to the world’s questions, one element that has remained constant: the Online Computer Library Center Inc. (OCLC).

For nearly fifty years, OCLC has opened portals of access to information for members around the world, ranging from academic institutions to governmental bodies. Its efforts include various advocacy programs to support library operations, libraries’ roles in education and community development, as well as resources like WorldCat, the world’s largest online catalog of records from public and academic libraries.

Helping support these efforts is Presas, the OCLC’s general counsel and vice president of legal services. She is quick to point out that, while libraries maintain their traditional roles as community resources for activities like career networking, they have also evolved along with new digital tools.

“Libraries provide some populations with their only access to technology. And in addition to reference services that teachers and researchers can access from anywhere in the world, books still get checked out, although often in electronic or audio formats on mobile devices,” she says.

Presas, who assumed the GC role in 2014, helps OCLC business teams support organization members facing shrinking funding and other diminishing resources. To help them address those challenges, Presas and her team strive to put sound agreements in place that help reduce the cost of library services and increase access to vital resources. For example, through an agreement with Univision Communications, OCLC is able to provide a direct link to WorldCat.

“With access to WorldCat, Univision is able to offer parents a digital platform to find resources that help with school success, like Reading Log, and direct them to the library locations that offer them,” Presas says.

With OCLC members located around the globe, the legal department must also manage a broad variety of matters, including compliance with privacy and intellectual property regulations. As part of her responsibilities overseeing OCLC’s privacy compliance program, Presas directs data privacy initiatives for the organization. She also helps the legal department work closely with internal partners to update them on its compliance efforts related to existing and emerging regulatory requirements.

“We have legal staff in the US and Europe with extensive expertise in privacy matters who also understand how to align OCLC’s strategic direction with the business impact of such regulatory requirements,” Presas says.

To address evolving challenges and demands, Presas helped guide changes within the legal department itself. One of the driving factors was a focus on improving speed, accountability and execution that was championed by Skip Prichard, OCLC’s president and CEO.

A number of foundational issues were addressed to achieve those goals. A contract management system and service level agreements were implemented to monitor and motivate accountability. Seventeen different contracts totaling more than 100 pages were transformed into a five-page customer agreement with attached schedules and user-friendly language. Individual department staff members also learned from one another through cross-training so the attorneys are positioned to handle matters for each other at any given time. In addition, the legal team created a playbook for negotiating agreements with standard terms and uniform language.

“We’re trained to be thorough, so getting a bunch of attorneys to embrace speed and efficiency was tough. But our initiative, which successfully introduced both elements, improved responsiveness and strengthened our relationships with business colleagues.”

Julie Presas

An initiative was also launched to change how attorneys approach their work. Instead of attempting to eliminate all legal risk, new emphasis has been placed on balancing good risk management. This initiative has resulted in faster turnaround times and more effective outcomes.

“We’re trained to be thorough, so getting a bunch of attorneys to embrace speed and efficiency was tough,” Presas admits. “But our initiative, which successfully introduced both elements, improved responsiveness and strengthened our relationships with business colleagues.”

She indicates that all of these changes have enabled the legal department to be more proactive and involved with conversations around various issues at their inception instead of being brought in after the fact.

To help maintain her personal and professional perspective, Presas is involved in numerous extracurricular activities in and out of the office. She oversees an intern partnership with Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law and is exposed to new tools and resources through students’ participation. Among other activities, she is also executive sponsor of OCLC’s Women’s Network, and volunteers with the Columbus Legal Aid Society to provide legal counsel at local area homeless shelters.

“Volunteering and engaging in other areas of the law helps reinvigorate my daily practice,” she says. “Contributing to the community also fits nicely with my commitment to OCLC’s mission to support libraries around the world.”