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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, December 25, 2016

My sister-in-law called the other evening to share her excitement with two genealogy classes she was taking, and exciting it was to learn all that libraries have for the genealogist.


My response was, “Hey, Sis, surely you remember that I have been a librarian over 40 years!”


Yes, of course, she remembered all of that, but really wanted me to tell her more about this resource called “Worldcat.”


Searching for your family tree has always been done; but exploded in popularity following the American Bicentennial and the production of the TV documentary “Roots.”


Her most recent class involved the use of “Worldcat” as related to genealogy – and she asked me to explain it from the perspective of a public librarian.


Worldcat is the largest online library database in the world containing 380 million records with 2.4 billion titles.  62% are English language with a total of some 491 languages represented.


It is owned and operated by OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center housed in Columbus right here in Ohio.


It started in 1967 when Ohio’s college libraries joined together to develop a computer file to link the collections of their libraries into what was then called the “Ohio College Library Center.”


In addition to a shared catalog, libraries planned to share cataloging data and in 1971, the Alden Library of Ohio University became the first institution to catalog on OCLC.


Over the next decade, the OCLC database grew to become a resource for locating library materials in countless library collections worldwide until the database was opened to the public in 2003, eventually called “Worldcat.”


At the same time, OCLC acquired the trademark and copyrights to the Dewey Decimal Classification which had been developed by library master Melvil Dewey a century earlier; doing the revisions and updating in conjunction with Worldcat.


Today, genealogists can peruse the public version of Worldcat looking for family history and genealogical books.


In the case of my sister-in-law, a Connecticut Library owned a family history book about her ancestors and they were willing to photocopy pages to send to her.


OCLC is also the basis for Interlibrary Loan services at many public libraries in the U.S., including ours.


Our library system is part of the SEO Library Consortium and our customers have access to more than 8 million items that can be loaned and shipped among the 92 public library systems that are part of the network at no cost.


If you want an item not in the SEO system, we can access the ILL portion of  OCLC through our online portal and it can be sent here with a $ 3.00 supplement for shipping costs.


It is exciting that OCLC started in Ohio, and today has its home in Ohio.


OCLC made news last year, when on October 1, they produced the last library card for the last library that purchased cards for library card catalogs.


For 40 years, their computers and their huge printers were a primary source for all those cards with a hole punched that filled those library catalog cabinets.


Our library system uses OCLC for Interlibrary Loan, as well as electronic cataloging records to add to our system for new books. 


We also contract for CONTENTdm, the software that operates our Digital Shoebox Project that contains 100,000 digitized pages of local and regional history that is part of the Digital Public Library of America.


For genealogists like my sister-in-law, OCLC is another resource for locating those hard-to-find resources.  Our own Local History and Genealogy Department handles requests from nationwide users who identify resources right here in Jefferson County.