For those of you who may not be familiar with WorldCat, it is basically your “one-stop shop” to search the holdings of more than 100 libraries, worldwide, all at once.
I can remember, back in my undergrad days, the librarians trying to get us excited about WorldCat (among other available resources), but at the time, I honestly wasn’t sure what the big deal was. What do I care that there are books on such-and-such subject at Library X hundreds (or even thousands) of miles from here? How is that supposed to help me write my 5-page “research paper” that is due in a few weeks? Honestly, if the assignment is a short paper that basically amounts to rearranging and regurgitating facts on a well-documented topic, then yeah, WorldCat is probably not really necessary.
But when I got into real historical research, such as when I began researching the 1937 Flood for what turned into a lengthy honors research project, that’s when the awesomeness that is WorldCat finally clicked. Aha! This is why I need to know that Library X has Book Y or Collection Z : because they might be the only ones that do! Now, actually traveling there to see it; that’s another story…
Back in “those days” (this was 5+ years ago), you could only search the WorldCat databases through another library that had a subscription to it. But now, anyone can search the database for free at www.worldcat.org.
I noticed recently that they have added social features to the entries and the ability for individuals to sign up for free accounts, in order to use and contribute to these social features.
WorldCat free account users can add tags, write reviews, create public or private “lists” (for any purpose you want) and add items to those lists (bookmarking, basically), create saved searches, and give items a “star” rating. These are similar functions to what you could do at a web site like LibraryThing or Amazon. However, those two sites are more limited in their holdings. WorldCat has everything cataloged by its included libraries – meaning that the WorldCat site includes (and makes available for tagging/reviewing/rating/listing/saving) such things as one-of-a-kind archival materials that have been cataloged.
My initial thought when signing up for the WorldCat account was that I might add tags to some of the manuscripts and special materials available at the Dayton Metro Library (where I work). I understand that cataloging rules place limitations on what subject headings are “appropriate” for a given item or collection. However, many times, there are a number of individual subjects that are covered in the work but are not appropriate to list in the official Library of Congress Subject Headings for an item.
Anyway, I was hoping that perhaps I could add a few tags here and there, to help with discoverability. For instance, would anyone know that our Lutzenberger photograph collection includes photos from the 1913 Flood? Or that the Miamisburg Lantern Slides show many pictures of tobacco industry and the carriage industry? Probably not, because these specifics are not included in the catalog record — as they probably shouldn’t be! But tags…ah, tags. Tags could be the answer. Obviously I wasn’t planning to go through every item and make every possible tag, but just a few here and there: the “big” things that subject entries ending in “Pictorial Works” just didn’t do justice to.
But before I went to any trouble, I wanted to make sure that tags would be searchable. Failing to find the answer to my question in the online Help, I contacted OCLC directly.
Unfortunately, OCLC Support burst my bubble by informing me that no, tags are not searchable. Apparently they are only good for individual use only. Drat! I was really hoping WorldCat had taken a leaf out of Flickr‘s book, where pretty much all user-added metadata is searchable.
Oh well. There are still other useful, interesting things I can do. So far, I have made a few Lists:
- Things I have written – my 1937 flood paper, as well as finding aids and indexes I created that happen to have been cataloged. (This list is kind of short and sad, actually, but hopefully someday, it won’t be. I will be linking this on my “digital CV.”)
- Collections I have processed – this list is not exhaustive since some collections I processed have never been added to the library’s catalog (most of these are at other institutions – I am working on getting catalog entries for all processed manuscript/special collections at Dayton Metro). (Another good “digital CV” item!)
- Manuscript & special collections at the Dayton Metro Library – most of these were processed before I got here, but I thought this list might be helpful to those wondering what we have; it’s not exhaustive either and collections that are unprocessed or otherwise not yet ready for use do not have catalog entries and so thus are not on WorldCat.
You can make your lists public or private. All three of mine are public. If an item is included on a public list, that information is listed at the very bottom of the page. For instance, take a look at the WorldCat record for the Bickham Collection of archival materials. If you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see that the item is included on 2 lists (both mine): Collections Processed by Lisa Pasquinelli Rickey (that’s me!) and Dayton Metro Library Manuscripts and Special Collections. Next to the title, it lists the number of items on each list, and you can click on the hyperlinked title to view the complete list.
Although I am disappointed about the non-searchable Tags, I am excited about these lists. I might explore writing a few Reviews, too. I have read journal articles that complained about how un-useful a “reviews” feature is for one-of-a-kind collections because so few people have seen the items, let alone bother to review them. Ah, but if someone familiar with these collections did bother to review them, wouldn’t that be a great help for other potential researchers? Something to think about.