July 17, 2006 — In a move designed to reach users outside library environments, OCLC (http://www.oclc.org) is planning to launch a new destination site and downloadable search box for searching the content of libraries participating in WorldCat. Scheduled for a beta release sometime in August 2006, the new WorldCat.org site will continue OCLC's efforts begun with its Open WorldCat program (http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/open/default.htm)—to make library resources more visible to Web users and to increase awareness of libraries as a primary source of reliable information. The WorldCat.org search box will make visible all 70-plus million records in the WorldCat database—not just the smaller data subsets of 3.4 to 4.4 million currently made available by the Open WorldCat partner sites, such as Google, Yahoo!, and others. And, where Open WorldCat inserts "Find in a Library" results within regular search engine results—where they can get lost—WorldCat.org promises to provide greater visibility and accessibility of library materials.
In December 2004, OCLC launched the Open WorldCat program, which opened its master union catalog of library holdings to Google, Yahoo! Search, and other outlets. Initially, the materials accessible to the Web search engines were books and monographs. With its eSerials pilot project in mid-2005, OCLC started to expand content to electronic journal collections. In August 2005, OCLC began charging member libraries for participating in Open WorldCat through FirstSearch subscriptions. (For its records to be available via Open WorldCat, a library must be a member of the OCLC cooperative and have contributed library ownership information and/or metadata to WorldCat via OCLC cataloging or other services. It must also make the WorldCat database available to its patrons as part of a subscription to the FirstSearch reference service.)
OCLC has already posted information about the new WorldCat.org, linking from http://www.worldcat.org over to http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/dotorg/default.htm, but it has not otherwise publicized or announced the new service. There's an FAQ available at http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/dotorg/faq/default.htm.
Librarian bloggers have begun to notice the site. Excitement should start to build quickly for WorldCat.org as the early commenters have already called it a "great step" for OCLC and a powerful method for locating books and other materials in library. A number of librarians have said that they have never seen an Open WorldCat item appear in a Google search result set that wasn't intentionally limited to Open WorldCat results.
Nancy O'Neill, principal reference librarian at the Santa Monica Public Library, which was an early participant in Open WorldCat, wrote: "I was delighted with the news that OCLC [is planning] the WorldCat.org Web site. I believe it will be a great service to the public and to libraries. Go OCLC!"
According to Chip Nilges, vice president, OCLC New Services, the new WorldCat.org is designed to complement the syndication model of Open WorldCat, not replace it in any way —"There's a symbiosis," he said. "There's value in having a place to go to search the world's largest library catalog and there's also value in capturing users who may not know about libraries." He said the success of Open WorldCat validates OCLC's approach for elevating the visibility of libraries. OCLC is making WorldCat.org available now so that users can have access to searching the entire WorldCat database.
Nilges clarified that the Open WorldCat partner search engines have been offered access to the full WorldCat database. But both Yahoo! and Google currently include only about 3.5 million records in their main search indexes. (Nilges said I'd have to ask them why.) Google has the whole database, however, and uses it for links from Google Scholar. Google also provides a Find in a Library link for books that have been digitized from library collections. No word had been received at press time from the two companies on why just the subset of possible plans for adding more WorldCat records.
Nilges said that OCLC is very pleased at the growth in traffic and in the partners for Open WorldCat and considers the program a great success. The program is driving an average of 5.5 million referrals per month to the Find in a Library interface.
The main attraction of the new site is the WorldCat search box, which allows Web users to search the entire WorldCat database with simple keywords (for title, subject, or person). Just as in Open WorldCat, each linked search result leads to a Find in a Library information page for an individual item. There the user can enter geographic information, receive a list of nearby WorldCat libraries that own the item, and link right to a library's OPAC to initiate circulation activity or access electronic content directly.
Even more important, said Nilges, is that any Web user or organization can easily install a free version of the WorldCat.org search box on a personal or commercial Web page, allowing even more people to discover WorldCat library content.