Celebrating 45 years of WorldCat

Scott Seaman

WC-45-blog-color-green[1]Ohio University’s Alden Library was the first library to use WorldCat to catalog a book online. It was August 26, 1971, the day the OCLC Online Union Catalog and Shared Cataloging System began operation. Catalogers at Ohio University cataloged 133 books online from a single terminal that day.

Our contribution and participation in the creation of WorldCat with the submission of the first record is an incredible legacy and an incredible part of our history. And what WorldCat has become in the 45 years since is just as extraordinary. It speaks to the dedication and the hard work of librarians everywhere.

I know firsthand that sense of dedication.

A window into worldwide scholarship

In the early 1980s, while I was working on my MLS, I worked at OCLC. At that time, OCLC ran a retrospective conversion operation, and libraries from all over wc_ou_video_screen_capturethe world would send shelflist cards to OCLC in Dublin, Ohio, USA. I was a part of a small team of conversion experts who went card by card, searched the database, and either added holdings to an existing record or created a new record for those shelflist materials. In the OCLC database, there are probably tens of thousands of records with my initials on them that I’ve created or upgraded or added holdings to.

It was an extraordinary experience, a window into worldwide scholarship, because libraries had collected all of this incredible material. To go through it card by card, record by record, gave me a real insight into the way the database was built—a living database that’s constantly being added to, constantly being upgraded. It was a wonderful experience.

Sharing the world’s collected knowledge

There are several sets of materials I remember vividly. Probably the most distinctive was material from the Free Library of Philadelphia. We were sent cataloging cards, shelflist cards that had been created in the late 1700s and early 1800s. They were handwritten in an old-fashioned librarian’s script. The cards would nearly crumble in your hand as you handled them, they were that old.

Another set of materials I remember were Bach scores and sound recordings, particularly the cantatas. For several weeks, I simply attached holdings to these materials as part of a conversion job for a library. After working on the cantatas and searching the database for several weeks, I sat down and finally just went to a library, checked out the Bach cantatas, and sat and listened through them all in one weekend. It was my introduction to Bach, and I’ve been a Bach lover ever since.

This week, as we mark the anniversary of this wonderful database, what I think is important to remember about WorldCat is how WorldCat has shaped and continues to shape scholarship.

To have the world’s knowledge cataloged and made available is just an extraordinary miracle. And to have been the first contributor is almost unthinkable. It’s such an honor.

Guest contributor Scott Seaman is Dean of Libraries, Ohio University.

Question…What unique items has your library added to WorldCat? What are your favorite collections in WorldCat? Share your answers with hashtag #OCLCnext