Friday, February 01, 2013

WorldCat and FamilySearch--Enhancing Our Discovery Systems

The following is from the Fort Wayne Library Genealogy Gems Newsletter.

WorldCat and FamilySearch--Enhancing Our Discovery Systems
by Curt B. Witcher

Exciting news! The nearly three million catalog records in the Family History Library (FHL) Catalog soon will appear in WorldCat, a free, online database currently listing more than 1.6 billion catalog records for more than 10,000 libraries worldwide. This is being made possible through collaboration between FamilySearch, the world’s largest genealogical operation, and OCLC, the world’s largest cooperative. FamilySearch and OCLC signed an agreement for the project at the American Library Association’s midwinter meeting in Seattle, Washington. What this means for genealogists is that anyone searching WorldCat for a surname, geographic location, ethnic group or organization will now have access to the bibliographic information FamilySearch has been compiling for years on its collection of family and local history materials from around the world.

>From the press release: “Under this new partnership, OCLC will incorporate data from FamilySearch’s catalog of genealogical materials into WorldCat, and FamilySearch will use OCLC cataloging services to continue to catalog its collections in WorldCat. FamilySearch will also use the WorldCat Search API to incorporate WorldCat results into search results returned by FamilySearch genealogy services.”

For those tempted to think this really isn’t that big of a deal, it is important to recall the old adage that “next to knowing, is knowing where to find out.” In our Google-dominated world, many born-on-the-web genealogists (which are the overwhelming majority of those actively engaged in family history pursuits) are content to
almost exclusively engage in surname searching. “Key a surname and explore the many thousands of hits I get!” is the approach that typically carries the day. That strategy can leave one overwhelmed with results, often not knowing how to value or evaluate those results.

Because of WorldCat’s work with Google and other search engines, though, one more frequently finds books and other research resources listed in search results. Soon web searchers will find citations for FamilySearch resources, resources that include their immense collection of original microfilmed and digitized records. As
FamilySearch increasingly has its microfilmed resources digitized, finding these bibliographic records in WorldCat will increasingly mean one is linking to actual digital images of the records being described in the catalog. Digitized FamilySearch materials will now join the digitized entities of the HathiTrust, Google Books, the Internet Archive and others on WorldCat. How cool is that?!

For whatever reasons, so many libraries and research centers simply don’t have FamilySearch and the FHL catalog on their “radar” as web spaces with great family history “tool kits,” let alone great history resources. A FHL catalog presence in WorldCat will increase the chances that family history researchers as well as researchers in numerous other related fields will discover the valuable materials FamilySearch has gathered and made accessible over the years.

FHL library records living in WorldCat means that users have the ability to create and save lists and bibliographies that include FHL bibliographic resources. While free to access with no login required, you can create a free account in WorldCat, and then compile and annotate a research list on a family, location or other topic. That compilation lives in the cloud, and can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection.

WorldCat offers some additional functionality that is pretty neat. Its “Find a Library” mobile app enables users to find the libraries closest to them that own a particular book. Once a particular library is chosen, it is possible to view information regarding that library’s location, phone number and e-mail address. The researcher also can
link to library’s online catalog for more specific item information, and call the library directly to confirm the availability of the book or other item.

In addition to the “Find a Library” app, there are nine different WorldCat apps for the iPhone, and three of them are also available for the Android. There are two experimental features currently available on the WorldCat site. One is “WorldCat Genres,” which is supposed to assist users in discovering resources by titles, subjects and locations just to mention a few of the grouping possibilities. It will be interesting to see if that works well in the genealogy space. The other, “WorldCat Identities Network,” is being developed to help researchers determine relationships between individuals, locations, historical events and the like found in books and other materials.

And I haven’t even mentioned how getting WorldCat results in FamilySearch queries will broaden and enrich the discovery experience for the hundreds of thousands of individuals who use FamilySearch each day. Indeed, “next to knowing is knowing where to find out.” Kudos to FamilySearch and OCLC for partnering to enhance the discoverability of key informational resources in WorldCat!

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