Thursday, 22 January 2009

Why you can't find a library book in your search engine

This is an interesting article in the Guardian about searching for books online and finding your nearest library that has the one you want. I was surprised to read that OCLC are quite resistant to this idea. Their WorldCat is a great tool, but not everyone knows it's there, so why not make it possible for search engines to access WorldCat and make sure it's well badged in search results?

Despite the internet's origins as an academic network, when it comes to finding a book, e-commerce rules. Put any book title into your favourite search engine, and the hits will be dominated by commercial sites run by retailers, publishers, even authors. But even with your postcode, you won't find the nearest library where you can borrow that book. (The exception is Google Books, and even that is limited.)

That's strange, because almost every library has an electronic database of its books - searchable either at the library's own website or via its local council. The wrinkle is that at the book level, those databases aren't accessible to the search engines; and you may not be able to search all the libraries in your area at once.

Yet there is an alternative that few people seem aware of: Worldcat (, which offers web access to the largest repository of bibliographic data in the world - from the 40-year-old Ohio-based non-profit Online Computer Library Center ( But Worldcat suffers from the same problem on a larger scale. OCLC shares only 3m of its 125m records with Google Books; none of them show up in an ordinary search.

Apparently OCLC are considering making WorldCat records easier to search, though, according to this post: OCLC, Record Usage, Copyright, Contracts and the Law

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