worldcat.org: recognize your ‘killer’ feature

Whenever I end up making a comment on another blog that ends up long,  I figure I might as well make my own post out of it.

Lorcan Dempsey points out that Google Books now makes a reference to integrated worldcat.org functionality in a little help page about using it for college research. Google says:

“If you’re connected from campus, we’ll show you where you can find the book right in the stacks of your university library. “

By “we” they mean “OCLC”, right? They’re talking about what worldcat.org will do?

I’m still not following what they mean here in terms of functionality. Are they talking about the worldcat.org link resolver and (less reliable to work) direct link into OPAC that show up when the IP is recognized from the Worldcat Registry? I guess so.

I think that’s definitely the ‘killer feature’ of worldcat.org, and apparently Google agrees: Worldcat’s ability to mediate between the web in general, and your own LOCAL library, at least for printed books.

The way to work for greater adoption is to recognize your ‘killer’ feature, the useful thing people will want that they can’t easily get elsewhere, and capitalize on it, make it work as easily and as powerfully as possible.  OCLC isn’t in my mind quite doing that yet.

But it could be made a LOT better with just a little bit of tweaking.

1.  Make those links show up on the summary results screen, right now they only show up on the item detail page, and are kind of subtle there.

2. Take a page from Google Scholar’s “preferences” — let a user select a (or several) affiliations from a search of the entire Registry, and let them do it and save it without logging in, like Scholar does, in cookies. You can plug Worldcat accounts there as a way of letting these preferences persist accross browsers or whatever, but don’t require a login.

[DO make it very easy for a newcomer user to find this preference selection. Perhaps right at the top of the holdings list. “Save your library preference for better links” or something.]

These two fairly simple tweaks would take the worldcat.org ‘killer feature’ to new level of usefulness for the average user.

Oh, once you know a user’s library affiliation(s), worldcat.org could also easily remember to always show those on top of the holdings list, and even to let the user filter a search based on availability at his library. But that might get into features that OCLC’s business model says should be for-pay with Worldcat Local. Either way, the first step is is getting those basics down above.

Have Worldcat.org direct users to a copy at their local library as easily, intuitively, quickly, and hard-to-miss as possible. Those two steps would be a big step. And there’s nothing tricky about implementing them.

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6 Responses to worldcat.org: recognize your ‘killer’ feature

  1. Alice says:

    Thanks Jonathan. These are great ideas and the team is all for making WorldCat.org easier and more intuitive for end-users while always connecting them back to their local library.

    What other good ideas do people have to help improve WorldCat.org? (Me, I just got one of my wishes fulfilled this month with the new keyword search widget.)

  2. jrochkind says:

    Thanks for listening Alice. I’d add that this is the kind of feature that is going to provide value to OCLC members _without_ needing to monopolize the corpus of bibliographic records.

    I’d want my holdings in worldcat so worldcat could fulfill this bridge function whether or not I could get bibs from somewhere else.

  3. I’ve tried to use the “Find this book in your library” feature but when it arrives at WorldCat I’m helpfully told “Sorry, we cannot identify the location you entered. Please re-enter your location.”

    Google’s fault? WorldCat’s? No idea, but it’s pretty useless. How’s it meant to work? Does the library have to sign up with Google/OCLC? If so, where’s the information on how a library would do that?

    I’d expect it’d sense your IP address by default (though letting you select the library/ies of your choice like Google Scholar would be better yet), so it *ought* to be giving me the listing for all the books in New Zealand. In fact I’m on the Uni of Canterbury campus at the moment so it *ought* to take me straight to WorldCat’s record of the UC copy.

    And if it *really* wanted to provide value to users (rather than pagehits to WorldCat) then it ought to redirect me straight into UC’s own record, if such a record exists; and if not, then to give me the option of other editions. I’d get downright excited if it’d do that.

  4. jrochkind says:

    Yeah, it’s supposed to recognize your IP address. I’ve noticed it not working for me so much these days too, I wonder if that feature is on the fritz.

    But additionally, yeah, for a library to be included there, they’ve got to share their holdings with OCLC, something which is not free to the library, and which is fairly likely (but not guaranteed) in the US and some other places, but I don’t know about New Zealand.

    More of the US-centric internet, I’m afraid.

  5. Our holdings are definitely included; I did get a bit excited when they first linked from their to our catalogue. Alas, time changes and my expectations increase rapidly. :-)

  6. jrochkind says:

    To make matters more frustrating for New Zealand, if you are in the US, you can enter a US postal code there even if it fails at geo-referencing your IP address. But I would be surprised if it could do anything with a New Zealand postal code.

    Definitely a Google Scholar-like preference (_without_ requiring you to create a WorldCat account and log into it, like Scholar does not!) could be a general workaround at least for the user, like you, motivated enough to make that selection, working regardless of success at the tricky business of geo-referencing IP address and regardless of where you are on the planet.

    And OCLC already has the hard part of the infrastructure to provide that in place, with the WorldCat Registry! if I were them, I’d get to that post haste.

    Although if it’s not recognizing you even when you are on campus, THAT could potentially be fixed by that institution registering it’s IP address ranges with the WorldCat Registry. You should suggest to the library (or to the appropriate staff at the library you work at if you work at the library yourself!) that they register themselves appropriately with the WorldCat Registry.

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