WorldCat is Open for Searching

WorldCat has launched its freely-accessible beta, a move that will give the public access to our library holdings without having to go through a library’s subscription version. It has the simple interface of Google, the look of Amazon without the ads, and an easy way to see which libraries in your neighborhood have the book you’re looking for. It also has code you can put on your own page to offer a search right there – handy for bloggers and anyone else who wants a library search handy on their site.

This seems to me a stunningly smart move – finally. Making the “find in your library” link available (for some books) through search engines was a good move, but for the casual searcher the link tended to be buried, not on the first page of search results. Linking it from Google Book Search was also a good move, though publishers who submit their work generally only have booksellers linked from their content and last I checked Google will only say they’re considering adding the library link. (It’s quite likely publishers don’t care for the idea.)

But here’s a question for academic librarians: how do we use this? It doesn’t have the advanced search options of our subscription WorldCat, and the free site points this out.

Many of our member libraries let you search WorldCat from their own Web sites or from inside the library using the FirstSearch reference service. Although the basic identifying information you’ll find on this Web site can fulfill most needs, WorldCat at your library includes extra features such as advanced search and “similar items” capabilities, as well as published reviews and excerpts to help you better evaluate an item.

But it is a version our students will be able to use anywhere after graduation. What will you do?

Author: Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

4 thoughts on “WorldCat is Open for Searching”

  1. Hold on, there’s fine print that’s not printed.

    One of my colleagues pointed out that he saw this on a listserv:

    Libraries must have an unlimited subscription to WorldCat in FirstSearch
    to take advantage of this service to make their holdings visible to the
    public through Open WorldCat and

    Hence, my library’s holdings, and any library that does not have the unlimited subscription will not show up. This gives the impression that you searched and didn’t find when this may not be true.

  2. Good point – I’m a little fuzzy on this. According to OCLC’s Website you must contribute you holdings to OCLC (natch) but subscribing to WorldCat via FirstSearch is optional – but then it says “Required for Web exposure of your holdings via Open WorldCat and” So is it optional or not? I’m confused.

  3. While we eagerly await an answer, here’s a fascinating development. Penn State University Press, bless their innovative hearts, have added the search to their catalog. To see what it looks like, see the page for Houses from Books. How cool is that? (And gee, it looks good; another book I need to order…)

  4. Barbara and Marc, I’ve checked with the right people and here’s an answer. In order for a library’s holdings to appear in Open WorldCat (the version available on the open web), that library must have a subscription to WorldCat on FirstSearch. Unlimited search access is the only “flavour” of subscription available and has been for a while. And of course, libraries pay to catalog their collections and add records to WorldCat.

    The fine print is actually available–there’s an FAQ here: Based on feedback, the FAQ is being amended to be clearer on some points.

    Probably one of the most frequent questions we’ve had is why libraries must pay to participate in Open WorldCat considering they have paid to contribute records to WorldCat. This paragraph from the FAQ provides the answer in a nutshell: “The Open WorldCat program has been developed by OCLC to increase the visibility of libraries on the open Web, and obviously there are costs associated with building and maintaining the many systems that deliver this capability. Just as subscription access helps libraries with cost control and planning, aligning the Open WorldCat program benefit with subscription access to WorldCat on FirstSearch helps ensure a revenue level for OCLC sufficient to maintain and improve the Open WorldCat program over time.”

    I hope this helps!

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