It is a privilege to be able to participate and contribute to various boards. It is also a way to learn new things, meet interesting people, and gain new perspectives. That has certainly been the case since I joined the board of OCLC. 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 purpose of furthering access to the world’s information and reducing information costs for libraries. More than 72,000 libraries in 170 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.
The crown jewel of OCLC is WorldCat — the world’s most comprehensive database of resources held in libraries, connecting millions of users to the collections and services of thousands of libraries around the globe. This week marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of WorldCat. On August 26, 1971, the OCLC Online Union Catalog and Shared Cataloging system (now known as WorldCat) began operation. That first day, from a single terminal connected to a mainframe computer, catalogers at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, cataloged 133 books online. Today, WorldCat comprises more than 240 million records representing more than 1.7 billion items in OCLC member libraries worldwide. WorldCat.org lets you search not just the collections of libraries in your community but thousands more around the world.
“We congratulate the thousands of librarians and catalogers around the world who have helped to build WorldCat over the past 40 years keystroke by keystroke, record by record,” said Jay Jordan, OCLC President and CEO. Jay said that Fred Kilgour, the founding director of OCLC, had a vision to improve access to information through library cooperation, and the vision is every bit as vital today as it was in 1971. WorldCat is a database of bibliographic information that is being continuously enhanced by OCLC libraries around the world. Each record in the WorldCat database contains a bibliographic description of a single item or work and a list of institutions that hold the item. The institutions share these records, using them to create local catalogs, arrange interlibrary loans and conduct reference work. With budget pressures at all levels, the OCLC cataloging, resource sharing services, and library management systems are critical tools to assist librarians to improve productivity, save money, and improve access to the collections of their libraries.
WorldCat records span more than 5,000 years of recorded knowledge, from about 3400 B.C. to the present. The unique collection of information encompasses records in a variety of formats—books, e-books, DVDs, digital resources, serials, sound recordings, musical scores, maps, visual materials, mixed materials and computer files. Like the knowledge it describes, WorldCat grows steadily. Library members add seven records to the WorldCat database every seven seconds. Take a minute and visit worldcat.org and enter the title of your favoirte book to see the breadth and depth of this great resource.