How do we help information seekers find library resources online? OCLC began asking that question more than 10 years ago. The 2005 Perceptions Report showed that almost nobody began information searches at library websites. Aware of the changes in information seeking behavior, we’d begun the OCLC “Open WorldCat” program in 2003 in order to get library metadata into popular online services. Open WorldCat provided direct access to the data in WorldCat to a variety of search and discovery providers who then linked users back to resources in member libraries.
At the end of the pilot that launched Open WorldCat, we were getting around 4,000 hits per day, which we considered successful enough to warrant moving forward. We have continued to add services that drive users to OCLC services and member libraries. One of our fastest-growing services is our suite of APIs.
Today, we’re seeing more than 3 million hits per day to OCLC APIs.
What makes that possible? One reason is that the diversity of APIs we offer allows a range of partners to tap into the cooperative’s resources for a variety of purposes. A quick look at one of the most popular uses, and one of the most specific, gives us a good snapshot of how that variety supports libraries and their users across a broad range of activities.
Search is king of the APIs
OCLC APIs help libraries manage acquisitions and circulation, improve the efficiency of interlibrary loans, find materials outside of the library, contribute records and holdings to WorldCat, download records and classify resources. We build on the power of our APIs through the OCLC Developer Network. It features a unique tool called API Explorer, which lets anyone try an API using a simple web form.
The most popular API service is the WorldCat Search API, used by discovery and consumer service partners that create apps like EasyBib, Cite This For Me and many others. These uses are an evolution of the Open WorldCat program, connecting information seekers to library users within popular online workflows.
The WorldCat Search API is used by about 500 partners, libraries and groups and is responsible for about half of the 3 million queries generated daily.
APIs add records to WorldCat, too
In 2014, some OCLC member libraries in the ARL community asked OCLC to help solve a specific need. They wanted a simple, web-based application that non-librarian staff could use to enter minimal cataloging information for new books. It would allow these books to be discovered more quickly and then more detailed information could be added later by a trained cataloger. Specifically, the records would often be added by book buyers traveling overseas, purchasing materials in languages not familiar to them.
The result is Bib It—a web application that asks for bare-minimum metadata. It can be run on a smartphone, and is really easy for non-librarians to use without having to have the detailed knowledge of a cataloger. Here’s a snapshot of its main (and only) page:
APIs are a great way for libraries to create solutions that save them time and effort in back-office workflows.
The key to the success of APIs? Lots of keys
OCLC has provided API keys (credentials for accessing the services) to more than 4,500 partners, researchers, libraries groups and individual developers. They’ve used these resources to create more than 100 different solutions across a huge range of library types, sizes and workflows.
These keys are also the key to one of my favorite parts of working at OCLC—the learning we all get to do together. It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a lone developer working out of your house or part of a large team of programmers at a big research library. Working together on projects like these is a great way to help connect all kinds of libraries and users and expand our creativity.
Do you have an idea for an application or new use for an OCLC API? I’d love to hear about it. Please tweet it with the #OCLCnext hashtag or let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.