Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2006 Issue

OCLC: Going Directly To The Public

Worldcat

Planned format of new WorldCat search page from the OCLC.


By Michael Stillman

The OCLC (Online Computer Library Center) announced that it will be making its records directly available to the public through the internet sometime during the month of August. In the past, it has been somewhat difficult and confusing, though possible, to locate records in the OCLC database. It required searches through member libraries or partners, such as Google and Yahoo. However, finding OCLC records through those sites is not intuitive or particularly easy. Now, the OCLC has done something of a reversal, making it as easy as possible for anyone with an internet connection to search through their massive database of library records.

The new search tool will use their trademarked "WorldCat" name. It is a good description. What the OCLC offers is, in effect, a massive, worldwide library card catalogue. They report the OCLC now consists of 18,000 member institutions with 70 million records (culled from over one billion entries including duplicates), primarily books, but also other related material housed in libraries. All of this will be readily searchable from the new WorldCat website, or even from your own personal search box. If going to the site is too difficult (though it is only one click and a fraction of a second away), you will even be able to download a WorldCat search box to your own webpage or site.

The OCLC also states that the new search will reach more records than those available through its partners. Google, Yahoo and others only had access to some records, not the full 70 million in the database. The new online version will offer only a keyword search, so those who prefer an advanced search format will still need to visit their local library.

The OCLC database has been used for a variety of purposes by researchers, readers, and those in the book trade. Researchers and readers have used it to locate books in libraries. Searching for a book in the OCLC database not only tells you what is there, but which libraries hold copies. Using your location, you can search to see which holding libraries are closest to you. Booksellers have also used it for writing their descriptions. Presence or absence of a title in the OCLC database is an indication of scarcity. Many dealer descriptions will indicate how many copies are found in the OCLC. If it is just a few, that is a good indication the title is scarce. If none are found, the book may well be downright rare. Collectors may well want to avail themselves of the OCLC database themselves to get a sense of whether pricing fairly reflects a book's rarity or commonality. Sellers may wish to do the same to help in setting their prices.

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