WorldCat: One Library Catalog to Rule Them All?

WorldCat_LogoLess than ten miles from my home is the campus of the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), just off of I-270 in Dublin, Ohio, a suburb of Columbus. Many who drive past may not be aware that OCLC hosts WorldCat, an online hub helping people find libraries near and far with resources for which they are searching. WorldCat may be accessed directly after setting up a free online account that takes only a few minutes to create. Many local libraries also provide access through their websites, usually requiring a library membership. OCLC reports that over 2 billion holdings are cataloged from 72,000 member libraries, archives, and museums around the world.

Here are some of the things you can do from the WorldCat site::

  • Find a library. Based on your postal code, it will find a library near you.
  • Help you find a book, DVD, CD, or article from a magazine or journal and the nearest library that holds it. It also connects with Google books.
  • Find research articles and digital items like e- and audiobooks that may be downloaded (subject to library policies).
  • Allows you to create lists of books and other resources and export them in various standard bibliography formats, an asset to researchers.
  • Links that allow you to “ask a librarian” at a library you are searching.
  • You can also contribute content in the forms of ratings and reviews.

Searches are likely the primary use for WorldCat, along with keeping lists related to research topics. I tried the search function for a new book by artist Makoto Fujimura, titled Silence and Beauty.  The entry does not yet have an image of the book, in contrast to LibraryThing and GoodReads. It shows all the libraries in my area that have the book (only one so far, otherwise I’d have to get it from Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Fort Wayne.) It lists sellers including Barnes and Noble and Google but not Amazon. It also provides additional publication and cataloging data like ISBN numbers. It allows you to contribute a review and shows GoodReads reviews. All this is in a clean, functional but graphically sparse environment.

You can create a profile including your favorite libraries (which WorldCat searches first), lists you are maintaining, other lists you are watching, searches you have saved, your reviews, interests, and tags. All of this can be set to public or private.

This strikes me as a boon to researchers, or those trying to locate a copy of a hard-to-find book. In terms of library resources, it is probably the best thing out there, although only as good as the resources cataloged by each library. I probably won’t tend to use it much. I have enough other places where I post reviews, and my GoodReads reviews might end up here anyway! Usually, I borrow books through my own library’s site, and let librarians do the WorldCat search if there is something I want not in their system since they handle inter-library loans.

What is amazing though is that there is literally the ability to explore the libraries of the world through this one portal, with capabilities that will only grow in the coming years. And the home of this service is in my own backyard. Pretty cool, I’d say.


2 thoughts on “WorldCat: One Library Catalog to Rule Them All?

  1. WorldCat has been great for me resource! I regularly catalogue books in Asian languages that I may not have reading knowledge of and it really helps clarify transliteration of non-Romanised script. The only problem is there can be variation in catalogue records probably based on local cataloguing rules or cataloguer error. So it can be said that a record listed for each library on WorldCat is only as good as the cataloguer.

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