OCLC is a global, nonprofit library cooperative. Since 1967, OCLC member libraries have worked together to help make it easier for people to find and access library materials. Today, OCLC has more than 18,000 member libraries of all library types, including university and academic libraries, public libraries, school libraries, and museums. OCLC’s library membership is global, representing 120 countries.
OCLC provides online software that library workers and managers use to analyze, catalog, share, and provide access to their collections. OCLC also performs original research about libraries, how they’re used, and how they can best plan for the future. This helps us better prepare our member libraries to meet the changing needs of library users. OCLC research staff performed the analysis on WorldCat data that informs The Library 100 list.
WorldCat is a database of the materials found in thousands of libraries worldwide. It’s the largest of its kind in the world, with information about more than 2.7 billion items, including books, e-books, movies, music, art, digital materials, and real-life artifacts. Readers and researchers can search WorldCat at worldcat.org, a free search engine.
Libraries are dedicated to making knowledge accessible to all people. Using WorldCat as a shared catalog helps libraries provide global visibility to library resources while reducing the repetitive work of cataloging. So, because of WorldCat, a student or researcher in Australia can find needed library materials whether they’re in Europe, or America, or at their local library.
How did you rank the novels on this list?
Materials in libraries are described and tracked in WorldCat in two ways. Any specific work of literature, music, art, history, etc., has an associated catalog record. This describes the item in a general sense. Every copy of the same book, for example, shares the same record. WorldCat also tracks library holdings, which indicate that a specific library has (or holds) at least one copy of that item.
The Library 100 is based on the total number of holdings for a specific novel across all libraries that have registered that information in WorldCat. When a library tells OCLC, “We have a copy of that book available,” that counts as a holding, and in the case of The Library 100, counts as +1 toward its ranking on the list.
It’s important to note that many types of libraries from all over the world use WorldCat, not just public libraries. That includes college and university libraries, school libraries, government libraries, law libraries, medical libraries, and other “special” libraries such as those for museums or private corporations. This list represents not just what is popular in public libraries for reading today, but what universities and schools keep in their collections for teaching, research, and literature studies.
In many cases, the novels on this list have been translated dozens of times; The Little Prince, for example, is available in 78 languages through WorldCat. In addition, there are often hundreds or even thousands of editions and variations of novels. OCLC researchers use a technique called “clustering” to sort through the 2.7 billion items in WorldCat to see if a particular edition of a book counts as a copy of one novel or another.
Please note that this process includes a small margin of error. There are so many editions and versions of books that some will be missed or miscataloged. By and large, though, the relative ranking of these novels is highly indicative of what libraries worldwide have on their shelves. These clustering processes are very thorough, and they’re using data that is unique to libraries and unique to WorldCat.
How did you decide what counts as a “novel”?
We began with a list of everything in WorldCat that counts broadly as “fiction,” sometimes called “works of the imagination.” From there, several sets of known categories were removed, including children’s books, poetry, drama, folklore, comics, short stories, and more. From there, what’s left is much closer to what modern readers would think of as “novels.”
The final list was reviewed by an editorial team at OCLC, as certain works can fall into a “gray area.” Some libraries, for example, might categorize a book as a novel, but others refer to it as a novella or a work of drama. In the end, a very few items simply required us to make a call one way or the other.
We ranked novels—rather than all forms of fiction—because it’s more helpful from a reader’s perspective. When looking for a new book to read, you’d rarely compare it to an epic poem or children’s cartoon book. But it can be useful to compare a fantasy novel from the 19th century (Alice in Wonderland) to one from the late 20th century (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).
Does the ranking include e-books?
The Library 100 is based on print books only. It does not include e-books, audiobooks, children’s adaptations, film adaptations, etc.
While the use of e-books has skyrocketed in recent years, our research indicated that for many titles on this list, library holdings for e-books were based on automatic links to free collections on the web (such as from Project Gutenberg). While this is a great way to get these novels into the hands of readers, it doesn’t represent a specific decision to add a particular novel to a library’s collection.
Why isn’t the list more diverse?
The Library 100 is based on a specific set of data within the WorldCat database—novels that are available through library collections.
The list emphasizes many books that we tend to think of as “classics,” because those are the novels most often translated, retold in different editions, taught and widely distributed in library collections. Because of this, the list tends to reflect more dominant cultural views.
Many libraries and other organizations are doing more to recognize and address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their collections. They are seeking out, sharing and preserving overlooked, minority and marginalized perspectives.
For example, the We Need Diverse Books program works to “produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.” There are educators and librarians working within specific communities, such as the American Indians in Children’s Literature organization. And there are many articles and panels about other ways to better reflect the stories and reading lives of a wider range of people and cultures. And you can help, too! Many libraries make collection decisions based on requests, both for specific books and to better cover particular subjects. Ask your public, school, or academic librarian about resources on diverse authors, stories, places, and subjects. If you have ideas on how to improve the inclusiveness of the collection, they’ll appreciate your insight.
Why can’t I find one of The Library 100 books in a library near me?
If you click on a book on the list, you’ll find its page on WorldCat.org. This will list all of the libraries that have told OCLC that they have a copy of that book available. If you put in your location, you will see libraries with a copy listed in order of how close they are to you.
WorldCat is used by more academic and large public libraries than smaller ones. If your nearest library is a small public library, it may not be using WorldCat as its cataloging database. That’s okay! There’s a pretty good chance it holds many of these novels. Just do a quick Google search for “libraries near me” and use your local library’s online search function or give the library a call … or just drop by.
Many of the older works on the list are also available in the public domain, from sites such as Project Gutenberg and others.
Let us know your thoughts
If you have any questions or comments about The Library 100, please send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.