Tuesday, February 28, 2012

40.5 years of WorldCat - a great tool for digging up books, magazine articles, etc.

Many are familiar with Amazon.com as a web site for finding books and other media to buy. We need a different tool for finding what we can borrow. 

Last August WorldCat, the planetary library catalog, celebrated its fortieth anniversary. That enormous database has over 240 million records about 1.8 billion items in over 10,000 libraries. On their web site Popular Science called it one of the world's most amazing databases. There even is a web page where you can just watch WorldCat grow.

I have previously blogged about using it to find books or magazine articles, although it can also be used to locate other types of information like DVDs, CDs, etc. WorldCat can be searched by Author (au:), Title (ti:), Subject (su:), and even Genres. An exact title should be entered surrounded by quotation marks. Otherwise we may drown in results.

When we ask WorldCat to display the libraries that have an item, it will ask us for our location. Once it knows that it will display the closest libraries. For me that means that it will first show the local Boise Public Library and the Boise State University Library. If neither has an item, I might ask the public library to obtain it via interlibrary loan.

Some university libraries use WorldCat as their default online catalog. Boise State University currently does that.

The State of Idaho has many subsets of the WorldCat database that can be searched from their LiLI Unlimited web page portal. They also have options for both the Pacific Northwest and the Intermountain West. Check with the reference librarian at your local public library to find what WorldCat options there are in your state and region.

I found Livingston Taylor’s Stage Performance book in the Boise Public Library catalog under the subject of Public Speaking. On WorldCat it is listed there (among 17,128 items) and under the very broad subject of Performing Arts (74,566 items) and the much narrower one of Stage Fright (507 items). For Stage Fright, looking at the bottom of the left column under Refine Your Search would let us immediately narrow to 55 items under the Topic of Psychology.

The image of a boy with a shovel came from the Library of Congress.

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