Can you imagine a world without WorldCat?

WorldCat is a legend—a remarkable achievement in global collaboration. What began as a way for a handful of academic libraries in Ohio to distribute the cost of cataloging has turned into a critical, core asset for libraries around the world.

WorldCat is not just a place for individual libraries to write and store MARC records. Collaboration among our metadata experts, libraries, and many partners has evolved WorldCat to the point where it is a hub for an astonishing volume of library activities every day. The one thing that hasn’t changed is our global, community commitment to ensuring that high-quality, library-centric data is available now and in the future.

Community commitment creates WorldCat scale

WorldCat was originally based on a simple premise: one library worker could contribute a record and save time for dozens of others who improve it, add their holdings, and use the record as part of their local catalog. The more libraries that participate, the more opportunities for time and cost savings across the collective whole. Because that same network principle has held true for more than 50 years, WorldCat now incorporates thousands of libraries, hundreds of partner organizations, and billions of data points.

The cumulative work of participating libraries has remained foundational to this resource. But that mode of participation, alone, is not sufficient for WorldCat to keep up with the needs of modern libraries. Scaling up from a platform that crowdsources records to one that incorporates modern data management principles requires a rigorous, detailed set of processes and policies that continually work to supplement, enrich, maintain, and advance data quality. It’s more than adding server capacity; it’s about innovation across human and automated systems to amplify network effects exponentially. It also requires different processes and technologies that must be created, maintained, iterated upon, and kept secure. In short, we’ve had to improve how we improve WorldCat data across a variety of library activities.

Community commitment to high-quality data created a foundation of many individual records, constantly improved by the millions—amazingly, one at a time. We continuously build on that foundation. We include additional records from other sources and enrich data based on the systematic expertise of OCLC quality experts at a global level. Last fiscal year, for example, OCLC institutions enriched more than a million records. From there, OCLC quality experts improved 26 million more records. That work provided the basis for systematic enhancements to an additional 100 million records. That’s the real game-changer: applying the unmatched know-how of library workers and OCLC staff in new, innovative ways. That includes improving machine learning tools that layer further systematic changes on top of current global processes. We expect programmatic projects like this to enable us to remove more than 25 million WorldCat record duplicates in the coming year.

Automations are impressive and necessary. But they require library experts to make them smarter—one can’t thrive without the other. That’s the same community commitment established more than 50 years ago, just applied in innovative ways. And operationalizing library cooperation for today’s modern environments is the only way for the legendary work we’ve done together to remain relevant.

All eyes on the future of libraries

WorldCat represents a significant, decades-long investment for us and libraries. We must evolve, expand, and innovate its quality and uses.

As libraries continually transform to better meet the needs of their users, WorldCat will evolve to better meet the needs of libraries. #OCLCnext. Click To Tweet

We’ve spent approximately $162 million during the past five years developing and enhancing library bibliographic records and associated metadata. And as we continue to invest in research and tools that make processes more effective and connections even more powerful, it means the WorldCat of tomorrow will continue to transform.

Recent and upcoming changes include:

  • Efforts to improve the WorldCat knowledge base by adding new collections and updating the data to include more control numbers, improving the discoverability and accessibility of licensed electronic collections
  • New, free streamlined holdings service that helps libraries ensure accurate representation of collections in OCLC services such as FirstSearch, WorldCat Discovery, WorldShare ILL, and Connexion
  • The ability to register shared print retention commitments, helping maintain the “collective collection” of all libraries in a way that helps preserve the cultural and academic records
  • Open content flags in records that get library users to open access content more quickly and easily

All these efforts ensure that WorldCat will remain a critical tool for another 50 years. We’re leveraging our original, pivotal research and unique partnerships to innovate around our linked data focus. This includes work on entities that will begin to bring the next generation of metadata into library workflows. For libraries to get to linked data at scale, though, we need a cooperative platform and shared processes. And guess what? We have that already with WorldCat!

The greatest legends stand the test of time. They shift and grow to meet new challenges while remaining true to their core qualities. And as libraries continually transform to better meet the needs of their users, WorldCat will evolve to better meet the needs of libraries.

For more insights about WorldCat and library collaboration from Gina, please read another recent post.