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Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why the OCLC and WorldCat.org are important to genealogy


I am sure that only a very few genealogists are even aware of the OCLC or Online Computer Library Center, Inc. In operation since 1967, the OCLC is the world's largest library cooperative. The recent addition of the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah to the OCLC system has increased the organization's visibility among genealogists but the organization is far from well known outside of library circles. Here is a brief explanation of the OCLC from their website:
OCLC connects libraries in a global network to manage and share the world’s knowledge and to form a community dedicated to the values of librarianship: cooperation, resource sharing and universal access. The network links members to a powerful, cloud-based infrastructure that provides the systemwide intelligence and cooperative platform needed to collectively innovate and drive operational efficiencies in metadata creation, interlibrary loan, digitization, discovery and delivery. It also provides opportunities for cooperation and resource sharing built around a worldwide community of users—working together at the scale of the Web.
 The most visible results of the OCLC is the WorldCat.org website. Here is another description of the organization:
Founded in 1967, OCLC is 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. More than 72,000 libraries in 170 countries and territories around the world have used OCLC services for cataloging, reference, resource sharing, eContent, preservation, library management and Web services. OCLC and its worldwide member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat, making it the world’s largest and richest database of bibliographic information. OCLC publishes the Dewey Decimal Classification system, the most widely used library classification system in the world. OCLC is headquartered in Dublin, Ohio, USA and has over 1200 employees worldwide. For more information visit http://www.oclc.org/.
 WorldCat.org just recently reached the milestone of more than 2 billion catalog entries. The value of this huge catalog to genealogists cannot be overstated. I can easily include this website in my very short list of the top five websites I use for genealogy and everything else. Some of the most valuable services include providing a formatted citation for all the materials and also providing a list of libraries that have the items.

The Family History Library's inclusion in the catalog opens a whole new window to the genealogists doing research in the Family History Library. Now, if you do your search in WorldCat.org, you will see if the item you are searching is in another library, perhaps one much nearer your own location. You will also see all of the different editions for the item and whether the item is already online at some location. WorldCat.org is not perfect. It does not have everything and sometimes when an item is available in digital format, it does not yet appear in WorldCat.org. But is still a marvelous tool. I hope that gives you a little better idea as to why adding the Family History Library Catalog to WorldCat.org is such a big deal.

4 comments:

  1. I sure wish there were a way where we could do a search of the world's major archives all at once and know exactly where a record is located. We could then have our network of hundreds of professional researchers at almost 1,000 of these archives find the record and email it to us. Unfortunately, although we are now able to do this for research projects, the overhead in doing this for lookups is still cost-prohibitive. If anyone knows how to accomplish that, please sign me up.

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  2. Thanks so much James, for your kind words about OCLC and WorldCat.org! The cooperative is hard at work to make it even easier for genealogists and the librarians who assist them to find primary source materials and make them available in digital form.

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  3. OCLC Research also provides a freely available discovery system called ArchiveGrid, which includes the archival collection records found in WorldCat along with finding aids and collection guides found elsewhere on the web, with links to the archival institution's contact points. That may get closer to the single search for major archives wished for in the first comment. Try it at http://beta.worldcat.org/archivegrid

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