This week Amy Coffin‘s 52WtBG challenge directed us to explore the online library catalog aggregator Worldcat.org. Here’s how Worldcat defines itself:
WorldCat.org lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. WorldCat grows every day thanks to the efforts of librarians and other information professionals.
I wasn’t sure what to expect here… would I find lots of historical records about my distant ancestors, or would most of the results returned in searches be modern ones?
After creating an account and a profile (you don’t need to but I was interested in the social features a personal account offered) I started out by typing ancestors’ names into the search box. My first try was Benjamin Trafford, my great-great grandfather who eventually rose to the rank of Colonel in the Civil War. I had heard he’d authored a book on military tactics, but no luck there. Instead, the following entry was second in the results list:
It’s hard to read at this resolution, but the catalog entry was quite a find: military orders issued by Benjamin Trafford to the 71st Regiment, N.G.S.N.Y., New York, February 6th 1865.
Can I View It Online?
Naturally I was hoping Worldcat actually had digitized the “book” so I could view it and download it. But alas, no. Instead, I was shown a list of repositories from which I could theoretically inter-library loan the record (or retrieve it in person if I lived near any of them.) Turns out the New York Historical Society has it.
Sounds Like a Job for Genlighten
Since Genlighten has several lookup providers who live in the New York City area, I could go create a custom lookup request and ask for a provider to retrieve this document, scan it and upload the resulting image to my account. Or, since our daughter works reasonably close to the New York Historical Society, I could ask her to make the trip. Either way, it sounds like it’d be worth it. I would have had no idea this record existed if WorldCat hadn’t found it for me.
What Else Can I Do on WorldCat?
The site offers all the Web 2.0 features you’d want in a modern online catalog. Using nearby links, I can:
- Add the record to a list of my favorite finds (I can even customize different lists with different titles)
- Tag the entry to help future searchers
- Write a review or rate the document from zero to five stars
- Share a link to the entry via email, on the usual social networks like Facebook or Twitter, or via social bookmarking sites like Digg or Delicious
- Find similar items in the WorldCat catalog (in this case, a great collection of books about the 71st Regiment, NY State National Guard.)
I promptly created a personal User List (one of the benefits of actually registering and creating an account) and added the Benjamin Trafford entry to it.
Wouldn’t it be Cool…
As I tried each of these social features out, I couldn’t help but wish that WorldCat had the Family History Library Catalog entries available with all of this functionality. But of course, that’s where Genseek is supposed to come in, right?
“Click Here to Order Digital Images of this Item”
Missing of course, was the feature we at Genlighten are particularly eager to see: the “Click Here to Order Digital Images of this Item from Genlighten.com” button. Not to worry, we’re working on that.