Libraries mark 40 years of online cooperative cataloging with WorldCat
Today marks the 40th anniversary of the launch of WorldCat, the world’s most comprehensive database of resources held in libraries around the globe.
On August 26, 1971, the OCLC Online Union Catalog and Shared Cataloging system (now known as WorldCat) began operation. That first day, from a single terminal, catalogers at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, cataloged 133 books online. Today, WorldCat comprises more than 240 million records representing more than 1.7 billion items in OCLC member libraries worldwide.
“We congratulate the thousands of librarians and catalogers around the world who have helped to build WorldCat over the past 40 years keystroke by keystroke, record by record,” said Jay Jordan, OCLC President and CEO. “We who work at OCLC are proud to have been a part of this remarkable story, and I want to thank our member institutions and employees for the years of dedicated effort that helped build this unique resource. Fred Kilgour’s vision – improving access to information through library cooperation -- is every bit as vital today as it was in 1971. This anniversary is an important milestone in a shared journey that, I believe, will continue for many decades to come.”
WorldCat is a database of bibliographic information built continuously by OCLC libraries around the world. Each record in the WorldCat database contains a bibliographic description of a single item or work and a list of institutions that hold the item. The institutions share these records, using them to create local catalogs, arrange interlibrary loans and conduct reference work. Libraries contribute records for items not found in WorldCat using OCLC shared cataloging systems.
“In retrospect, I have to say that in those early days, I don’t think we really understood the enormity of the system that we were embarking upon, much less did we consider what the future possibilities might be,” said Lynne Lysiak, who had just started her career at Ohio University Libraries when WorldCat first went online, and is now retired. “As OCLC forges ahead now with WorldCat Local and cloud-computing developments, they are embarking on a new era and suite of services for libraries and their users. It’s an exciting time.”
“OCLC cataloging and resource sharing services and our library management systems continue to help libraries improve their productivity, save money and improve access to their collections,” said Mr. Jordan. “Against a backdrop of continuous technological change, WorldCat and the OCLC cooperative have continued to grow.”
Since 1971, 240 million records have been added to WorldCat, spanning more than 5,000 years of recorded knowledge, from about 3400 B.C. to the present. This unique collection of information encompasses records in a variety of formats—books, e-books, DVDs, digital resources, serials, sound recordings, musical scores, maps, visual materials, mixed materials and computer files. Like the knowledge it describes, WorldCat grows steadily. Every second, library members add seven records to WorldCat.
Once records have been added to WorldCat, they are discoverable on the Web through popular search and partner sites, and through WorldCat.org.
Records entered into WorldCat since 1971 have been continuously migrated, reformatted and updated to conform to newly issued cataloging standards. They have been touched and enhanced hundreds of times by librarians around the world and by OCLC staff and automated systems.
The first OCLC cathode ray tube terminal was the Irascope Model LTE, which was manufactured by Spiras Systems. OCLC deployed 68 LTES, one of which is now on permanent display in the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., and another in a new OCLC Museum dedicated today in Dublin, Ohio. The LTE was connected to OCLC via a dedicated, leased telephone line from AT&T; message traffic moved at the rate of 2400 baud (2,400 symbols per second).
People can now use their mobile phones to access WorldCat via WorldCat Local, where 4G wireless downloads are 2,500 times faster than the original OCLC network. Wired networks are now 416,000 times faster.
Find more about WorldCat on the OCLC website, and watch WorldCat grow as libraries around the world contribute to the database.