[52WeToBeGeneChall] Challenge #5 – WorldCat.org

Geneabloggers.com and Amy at WeTree have done it again! This year they’re bringing us 52 weeks of genealogy challenges to blog about. As Amy said in her kick-off post, this year is meant to stretch our brains, work our skills, and build us into top notch researchers! She goes on to say:

The goal is to get genealogists to stretch their brains a bit. Beginning researchers will discover some new resources. You are encouraged to push buttons, click links and study all corners of the web sites. Some of you will be familiar with all of the tools used in the challenges. If that’s the case, approach them from a different angle. Don’t use them to search your ancestors, experiment with other ideas and explore the different ways the tool can be used.

This week’s challenge: WorldCat.org. Play with WorldCat.org. WorldCat is a massive network of library content that the public can search for free (user name and password not required). Not every library is a part of WorldCat, but the vast size of the network makes it an important genealogy tool. If you are looking for a specific book or publication, enter the identifying information into the WorldCat search box and see which libraries hold the item. You may even find that you can get the item through your library’s inter-library loan program. Don’t forget to search for some of your more unusual surnames and see what comes up. The goal is to play with WorldCat and examine its possibilities for your own research. If you’re already familiar with WorldCat, play with it again. The network and collection grow and change constantly. If you have a genealogy blog, write about your experiences with searching WorldCat for this exercise.

From last week’s post on Interlibrary Loan you can probably figure that I’m a big fan of WorldCat.org. It’s one of my favorite research tools. I’ve used it to search for books and periodicals that I’ve found through online trees on sites like Rootsweb.com, I’ve used it to extend my searches on surnames, and I’ve used it as part of my process for locating items for interlibrary loan.

My favorite part of WorldCat.org is when you type in the title of a book that you’re just dying to find… that you just know has the key to all of your research… and when the results appear you find that there’s a library that has a tiny little special collections reading room that’s less than 20 miles from your house! That’s exactly what happened when I was desperately trying to find Texas Trails of our Tollett Family, and, incidentally, what got me hooked on WorldCat.org. Suddenly, a title that I thought was out of my grasp was in my hands in less than 30 minutes! The library results can be sorted by distance from a zip code, making it simple to find out if the item you’re searching for is at a library within driving distance.

WorldCat.org is primarily for libraries, however on items where the option is available, WorldCat.org provides a link to Amazon and other sites to purchase a copy of the item you’re seeking. I have not found this to be particularly helpful in my research. Many of the items that I use WorldCat.org to locate are items that are difficult to find, out of print, or rare books. These factors make the chances of a copy being available for purchase slim.

WorldCat.org is also optimized for mobile phones. Accessing their site is easy and automatic from your iPhone or other smartphone device. The mobile interface is a little buggy but is still a good quick reference for citations. The citation formats available on the mobile interface are: APA, Chicago, Harvard, MLA, and Turabian. Unfortunately, it appears that the feature that requires the most updates and debugging is the “Map All Libraries” feature. At the present, the WorldCat.com mobile interface takes you to a GoogleMap, but no libraries are actually mapped.

I’ve just started using the lists feature that is offered with a free registration. In the lists feature you can create either public or private lists to save books that you want to return to quickly. WorldCat.org’s help files indicate that each list can store up to 500 items. Additionally, each registered user can create “as many lists as you need.” Lists have an RSS feed button, allowing you to subscribe to your own and to others’ lists. You can add brief notes (up to 255 characters) to a list describing the contents or giving yourself a little reminder about why you started a list. I have found these lists to be extremely helpful in organizing surname research.

WorldCat.org is an incredibly powerful search engine for locating additional research avenues, networking with other individuals who have similar research interests, and a tool for organizing your to-do lists. Since registration is free, there’s no reason not to take advantage of this fantastic tool!


  1. Don’t you just love WorldCat? I found an amazing early newspaper collection on there today. It’s like an online amusement park for genealogists. Thanks for sharing your experience.
    .-= Amy Coffin´s last blog ..52 Weeks to Better Genealogy: Week 5 =-.

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