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Director's Column

PLSJC Director Alan Hall writes a weekly column discussing library and community news, history, and other interesting subjects.


By Alan Hall, Director, PLSJ
Publish Date - Sunday, October 29, 2006

"WorldCat" sounds like a sophisticated feline that has traveled extensively.


Actually, the "Cat" in WorldCat is short for "catalog," so you can tell it is related to libraries. is an online search tool intended to open library collections to the public.


The complete database of OCLC, Inc. is online, containing 70 million items in libraries in 112 countries.


First, let me back up and explain what OCLC is.


OCLC, Inc. is an Ohio-born library technology product.


In 1967, the Ohio College Library Center (OCLC) was formed to develop cooperative cataloging of college library materials.


The Ohio University Library, using the Columbus-based Center, did the first online cataloging in 1971.


In the early days, huge printers produced paper catalog cards for the member libraries.


As time passed, and OCLC developed, it began serving libraries around the world.


The meaning of the letters changed to Online Computer Library Center, recognizing the expansion beyond simply Ohio's college libraries.


In the library community, Ohio is known as the home of OCLC, a worldwide center for library technology.


Online cataloging of books expanded to all types of library materials, and the emerging database became a union catalog of library holdings.



In 35 years, the roots of OCLC have led to WorldCat and the ability for the public to search the libraries of the world.


For our library system and the public, WorldCat is a tool to search libraries for all kinds of materials.


That having been said, while WorldCat is a worldwide catalog, it only links to the holdings of member libraries of OCLC.


Members of OCLC tend to be academic and a larger public library system, so direct access is only to those member libraries.


Our library system is not an OCLC member, although we do have a couple of small contracts for cataloging and digital services.


I used the WorldCat search tool to look for our "Steubenville" book, and while listed, no library in our 72 library automation consortium shows on WorldCat.


Regardless, it is a great tool and will allow our library system to search for information sources beyond our own database of 5 million items in 72 libraries.


When I was attending Library School in the 1970s, the only computer in the Case Western Reserve University Library was connected to OCLC in Columbus.


At that time, only Ohio libraries were cataloging online, and the database was small.


The computer sat in a locked wire cage in the library basement.


The librarians standing around that computer knew that this resource had a future, but our 1970 experiences gave us no clue as to what would happen in 2006.