The long tail of library discovery


One of our first OCLC symposium speakers was Chris Anderson, the technology writer and former editor of Wired. He spoke for us at ALA Annual back in 2005 on the subject of his famous Wired article and soon-to-be published best-seller, The Long Tail. Like many others in our profession, I found the subject to be both interesting and appropriate to libraries, as did others whom we quoted in a NextSpace article at the time.

Libraries have been collecting, preserving and promoting “long tail materials” for centuries, of course. That’s the long tail of content. But we’ve also found that, when it comes to WorldCat, there’s a long tail for discovery.

A brief history of WorldCat traffic

For the first year or so after we released in 2006, most of the traffic came through the “front door”—from what we call “organic page views.” That’s where you visit the site itself, do a search, look at the results and then find materials in a nearby library.

Today organic page views account for around 12% of our traffic.

The next largest source of page views is from “signed partners.” Call this the “warehouse door,” used for large deliveries. These are organizations that work directly with OCLC in order to get programmatic, large-scale access to library metadata. As you might expect, Google is the leader in this category.

Other large “signed partners” include Goodreads, BibMe, Citavi, CiteFast and EasyBib. These are important partnerships because they make sure that library materials are found within the online services people use the most. But what might surprise you is that even taken all together, these partnerships no longer account for even half of the site’s usage. What accounts for the rest?

The long tail of discovery.

A thousand side doors into your library

WorldCat Page Views pie chartWe refer to the last category of sites sending traffic to WorldCat as “volunteer partners.” These are websites that choose on their own to link to libraries through by taking advantage of the various tools we make available for this purpose, including APIs, Linked Data sets, widgets and the like.

Volunteer partners include some large and well-known sites. For example, because of how WorldCat centralizes library data, it is much easier for search engines to find. Bing, for example, sent 9.6 million views last year, along with Yahoo (7.8 million), HathiTrust (1.3 million), Wikipedia (1.1 million) and others.

But the story doesn’t end with large web services. Because OCLC makes it easy to link to libraries through, many smaller organizations can provide discovery access to libraries, too. For OCLC, these sites represent the “long tail” of library discovery.

Knit one, purl two-hundred-thousand

At an OCLC Member Forum in Boston last year, I shared the fact that the knitting site,, is one of the most active examples of our third category of referrers: volunteer partners. Last year Ravelry users viewed library materials on around 200,000 times. That’s 200,000 opportunities for members of this tight-knit community (sorry, couldn’t help myself) to share knowledge and connect to local libraries and other fans.

More than half of all page views come from volunteer partners. Click To Tweet

The reaction from librarians at the forum was very positive. Many had heard of or even used or recommended Ravelry. They were also pleased that an online community like this was able to easily send traffic to library materials through WorldCat. Some other interesting partners in this category include:

All together? From mighty search engines to knitters, volunteer partners now account for 58% of our page views on WorldCat.

Regardless of the size of the partner, the point is that easy tools and a variety of opportunities help OCLC democratize discovery and access to library materials. Meaning that the long tail now helps get people into libraries as well as give them content options once they’re there.

Visit the OCLC Developer Network to learn more about how you can incorporate WorldCat data into your applications and services.