Thursday, June 02, 2011

What is "WorldCat" anyway?

Many of our patrons have used WorldCat to look for books and other items that may be out there in other libraries. It is a wonderful resource to browse and explore, and offers accurate, clear citations to books and other items that allow one to identify them for interlibrary loan and other purposes.

WorldCat is an interesting part of library history. It is the modern day version of a shared catalog database started way back in the late 1960s by a group of Ohio colleges. Over the years the cooperative venture grew and radically changed cataloging in libraries. What it does is that if one library gets a new book, they can look in the library side of WorldCat, download a record for the book some other library has already done, edit to suit local needs, and they have their record for their own catalog. So the need for "original" cataloging is vastly reduced; no need for multiple libraries to reinvent the wheel over and over as it were.

Today WorldCat has come to include the records of the former Research Libraries Group, and is the largest collection of bibliographic records around. It draws on the catalogs of over 70,000 institutions and provides access to almost 200 million records.

In addition to the standard library version of WorldCat, there is, a free public site which includes most of the records of the library version, and has some useful and fun features, e.g. reviews of books, search by genre etc.

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