It is a privilege to be able to participate and contribute to various boards. It is also a way to learn a lot, meet great people and gain new perspectives. That has certainly been the case since I joined the board of OCLC (see press release). Fifteen years ago some pundits — myself not included — were saying that libraries were history — as in toast — they were not long for the emerging digital world. Been to a local or college library lately? They are full of people and many are expanding their facilities. Library use has doubled over the past decade. What happened to the digital “vision”? It turns out that the digital and physical can get along together quite well.
The month after I graduated from Lehigh University in 1967, OCLC — Online Computer Library Center, Inc. — was founded in Dublin, Ohio as a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing information costs for libraries. More than 72,000 libraries in 171 countries and territories around the world use OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend and preserve library materials. Each of these five verbs has special and profound meaning to a very large number of librarians and library visitors.
Over the months ahead, as I learn more about OCLC, some stories about the various services of OCLC will appear in follow-on postings. For now I will just highlight one of them — the crown jewel — WorldCat. WorldCat is the world’s largest network of library content and services, connecting millions of users to the collections and services of more than 10,000 libraries around the world. WorldCat.org lets you search not just the collections of libraries in your community but thousands more around the world. Thirty-one million new records were added to WorldCat in the past year bringing the total to 139 million. How does WorldCat differ from other web resources?
Suppose you are doing some research on the origins of a town where you live and specifically you want to learn more about the history of Connecticut’s Golden Hill Paugussett tribe. You might find a book for sale at Barnes & Noble or Amazon about the subject, but not necessarily. Using the web site or your iPhone you visit WorldCat and do the search. WorldCat tells you that A history of Connecticut’s Golden Hill Paugussett tribe is not available in the local library but it is available at the Fairfield University library just fifteen miles away. If you are not in a hurry you could stop at your local library and ask them to arrange an interlibrary loan for you. In the past the lending process was manual and costly but using WorldCat tools, the libraries can handle book loans quite easily. If you are not sure the book you found is exactly what you are looking for you might use WorldCat’s “Ask a Librarian” service.
WorldCat allows you to search for books, music CDs and videos — all of the physical items you’re used to getting from libraries — but you can also discover downloadable audiobooks, article citations with links to their full text, authoritative research materials, and digital versions of rare items that aren’t available to the public. Some libraries allow you to join a waiting list, reserve the item, check it out or even have it shipped or delivered. WorldCat also leverages the social computing model by allowing you to enter ratings and reviews and contribute factual notes. The more people enter the more useful WorldCat becomes. That is their model — enhancing the sharing of information on a global basis. The vision is “The world’s libraries. Connected.”.