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OCLC’s WorldCat Local: A Promising Development for Library Patrons
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Posted On April 23, 2007


In a Web-dominated world, where Amazon, Google Book Search, and other Net newbies labor hourly to identify every readable tome, all librarians face the challenge of finding copies of any or all of those books for patrons. If successful, a new pilot project from OCLC (www.oclc.org) could supply librarians everywhere with a "come hell or high water, we’re going to find that !$#@# book" service. The core of the service consists of a triple-tiered display of catalog search results from the local library, then from any consortia, and finally from the whole WorldCat. Relying on the expanding content collection in OCLC’s WorldCat.org (www.worldcat.org), the new service even reaches millions of periodical articles, plus government reports, medical scholarship, and educational material. Initially, the pilot project will include four university, four public, and two high school libraries, plus one state and one museum library and two library consortia, to provide a well-rounded test bed for the project. Plans are underway to add links to the most accessible content, i.e., open access (OA) and public domain collections.

The goal of the new effort, according to Chip Nilges, OCLC vice president of business development, is for WorldCat Local to offer "OCLC member institutions a way to leverage the ongoing investments that OCLC is making in WorldCat.org, within their local environment. As we add new features to WorldCat.org—and as OCLC member libraries add new content to WorldCat—those features and that content will also become available within WorldCat Local."

Building on WorldCat.org

Functionality in WorldCat Local will amount to the same that is available on WorldCat.org now:
  • Single search box
  • Relevancy ranking of search results within each tier
  • "Faceted browse capability" that allows searchers to limit results sets or redirect searches to other content
  • Citation formatting options
  • Additional content to help users evaluate items, e.g., cover art, reviews, etc.

Within each tier in the search results display, individual results will be relevance-ranked. The locator feature in WorldCat.org (distance from user to library holding an item) will work in the consortium and WorldCat tiers, according to Mindy Pozenel, global product manager of OCLC WorldCat Discovery Services.

Local libraries adopting WorldCat Local will have a locally branded interface presented to their patrons through the library’s Web site. Options will make it possible to integrate the services with circulation records, resource sharing, and licensed full-text collections. Cooperative efforts are already underway with three major integrated library system/OPAC vendors—Innovative Interfaces, SirsiDynix, and Ex Libris Voyager. When fully interoperable, it should allow WorldCat Local to support users’ requests for items from library collections, including interlibrary loan and accessing online resources. In time, OCLC hopes to add connections to social networking services.

To participate in WorldCat Local, libraries "must have their holdings reported properly. They must be cataloged in WorldCat," according to Pozenel. Doug Loynes, director of OCLC Content Initiatives, added that OCLC also had "another category of records for sets of collections not in WorldCat, for example, records from third-party vendors. OCLC is building a partners program so we can go to vendors and facilitate having their content added to holdings. We have made strides, but some vendors are not signed up yet. WorldCat Local helps us prioritize which copyright holders to approach. That’s one of its value-added elements."

The project will also test tapping the 30 million citations that were recently added to WorldCat.org. The bibliographic citation records come from four OCLC FirstSearch "base-package" databases—ArticleFirst, GPO (Government Printing Office), MEDLINE, and ERIC. In late March, OCLC indexed the content of all four databases and assigned control or "accession" number to enable the records to appear in search results. The records have merged into the whole WorldCat database in WorldCat.org. Users can find nearby libraries offering access to the articles through links to full text in databases licensed by the libraries or to library-maintained resolvers or even to an article delivery service. However, if searchers want to search individual databases among the four or combine them with other files or use specific index-field structures offered by each of the files, they should access the full-featured OCLC FirstSearch service. Also, Loynes noted that not all of the ArticleFirst content available from FirstSearch would appear on WorldCat.org due to some problems with clearing the rights.

Limiting search results to individual databases can be done, but it’s a little tricky. You can use the Article link under the Format heading in the Refine Your Search side of the search results page in WorldCat.org to limit results to periodicals and journals, but limiting to government reports from the GPO requires clicking on "Government Documents" under the Content subheading. In an encouraging sign, one of the options under the Format heading is for Internet Resources. Perhaps here is where we will soon see the growth of links to OA content, even that offered by the ever-more-Web-oriented GPO.

Co-Pilot Partners

Libraries and groups currently participating in the WorldCat Local pilot include the University of Washington Libraries and the Peninsula Library System in California, along with the following Illinois libraries: University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign, Glenside Public Library District, CCS (Cooperative Computer Services) Consortium, Lincoln Library, Illinois State Museum, Illinois State Library, Hoopeston Public Library, Northeastern Illinois University, Mattoon Public Library, and the Champaign Central High School and Williamsville Senior High School libraries. As for why these libraries were chosen for the pilot project, Loynes said: "The University of Washington approached us, looking for help. They were curious to see what OCLC was thinking about. It was just a coincidence, a case of good timing. They use Innovative Interfaces for their local and consortial catalog, and that is one of the better vendors for the linking we needed. In the case of Illinois, the state had a grant to investigate how to move statewide services to the next level. Again, a case of good timing." The University of Washington Libraries should launch first sometime this week or next, with the Peninsula consortium and Illinois libraries coming on board throughout the summer, according to Pozenel.

Bill Jordan, associate dean of university libraries at the University of Washington, pointed out that his organization "has purchased or licensed an amazing number of high-quality information resources for our users, but we’ve hidden them in multiple silos with little or no integration between them. Our job is to take those quality resources and make them convenient for the user to find and use—to make quality convenient. With WorldCat Local, we get enhanced search and display capabilities like faceted browse, FRBR-ized [Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records] results sets, and enhanced content like reviews and article metadata. We bring together all our fulfillment options—electronic, locally held, consortial, and remote—into one interface that still leverages all the ‘delivery smarts’ that are built into our local and consortial systems. With the addition of article metadata, we begin to see the breakdown of our discovery silos by the aggregation of indexing for book and article content. Finally, WorldCat Local provides a syndication platform so that we can meet users at their point of need. We have to complete the discovery-to-delivery chain no matter where the user starts out. It’s here, in syndication, that OCLC is uniquely positioned to work with Microsoft, Yahoo!, and Google on behalf of libraries in a way that nobody else really can."

Co-opetitors?


Putting an overlay screen as the primary user interface with a participating library’s catalog information would seem to pose a challenge—if not, a threat—to at least one module offered by the commercial OPAC/ILS vendors. As to such a competitive position, Pozenel described WorldCat Local as just an "alternative discovery experience." Loynes said, "It’s not as though libraries can drop the OPACs. They’re still one big package. We’re adding to existing local systems, not replacing them." However, he did admit that when the OPAC vendors came back to renew their contracts with clients and offer next-generation upgrades, they might find the libraries more selective in purchasing certain modules. In WorldCat Local, individual library participants can decide how deeply they want to integrate services, but Loynes indicated that they would like—some day—to be able to offer users availability information down to the "on-or-off-the-shelf" level.

Questions remain as to how deeply into the area of ILS services the giant library vendor intends to move. Last week, as OCLC announced the WorldCat Local pilot, a press release from Coutts Information Services announced that Coutts had become the first partner in OCLC’s new WorldCat Selection service. The new service streamlines selection and ordering of library materials and delivers corresponding WorldCat records. Acquisition librarians can use the system to review notification records from multiple vendors in one central system. WorldCat Selection uses software co-developed with the Cornell University Library called Integrated Tool for Selection and Ordering (ITSOCUL). Coutts will supply title information.

Commenting on the possibilities for OCLC’s entrance into the OPAC/ILS market, Marshall Breeding, library technology officer at Vanderbilt University, confirmed the comments of the OCLC executives. He noted that the new WorldCat Local "doesn’t eliminate the need for anything from the ILS vendor, except maybe its next-generation front-end catalog. Each module is optional, so maybe next time around, a library might invest less in portal products from the [ILS] vendor." However, Breeding also observed: "In the long run, OCLC has been getting less revenue from its cataloging utilities, its traditional financial mainstay. They might want to deliver other kinds of services. It’s something to watch. OCLC has acquired a great deal of library technology. How they will bring it into OCLC products and services bears watching. Lots of times their acquisitions stem from an opportunity and less from a grand plan on the commercial side, but they have technologies that give them options to work in different directions." In any case, according to Breeding, the developments at OCLC make it "more and more important for libraries to get their holdings into OCLC, even if they’re not interested in WorldCat Local."

Future Plans

The pilot project has a lot of issues to resolve. Just getting all currently participating libraries up and running will take some time and effort. Loynes indicated that they already were looking at a number of areas requiring development work, e.g., normalizing fields to ensure comprehensive retrieval across multiple files—a standard problem with any federated search system. He expected that they would start introducing additional end-user services on WorldCat.org in May or June.

When it comes to social networking services, Loynes said that they are very interested in book club-type discussion areas. WorldCat.org already accepts user-generated reviews and comments on books. For that, according to Pozenel, no library connection is necessary. "Anyone can access WorldCat.org. They don’t even have to be library-authenticated. They can just register with a username and a password to contribute. For viewing a review, users don’t even have to register, only if they want to add a review."

As for other possible areas for development, OCLC had not considered advertising options but thought it was an interesting issue. WorldCat.org already links to Amazon.com. Loynes said that the intent of the new service was to allow participating libraries to "represent their collections as broadly as possible. They can download their own search box, which would bring up a view of any page in the library site to show what’s already there." For example, libraries that wanted to emphasize local resources, such as local newspapers, might link to these sites, according to Pozenel.

Happily for users, Loynes revealed that OCLC staff is already busy working on tagging public domain and OA content. "There is a strong consensus that this is a good enhancement for WorldCat.org and, in turn, WorldCat Local."


Barbara Quint is contributing editor for NewsBreaks, senior editor of Online Searcher, and a columnist for Information Today.

Email Barbara Quint
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