WorldCat has been so helpful to all of us these past years. There is nothing else offering such a comprehensive search of all (participating) libraries around the world. Not only does it show you all the libraries that own the item you are looking for, you can link into the libraries’ catalogs and see the status of the item. WorldCat searches across media types and allows three levels of searching, which is such a pleasure for those of us who understand how to create a complex search.
Yet as with all OPACS, the search engines, algorithms, and retrieval methods still need work. I would never advocate a messy kind of search like you get at Amazon, but the nice thing about Amazon is that the messiness presents in its list all the results you would want to see, whereas in WorldCat, you have to do several searches to see all the results you want. I know people are working to change this — truly, library catalogs should be the BEST place to find a book, not the most frustrating. I’m thinking of when I need to find the second book in a series. For something as simple as looking for the second book in the Twilight series, I have had to resort to Wikipedia (looking for a patron, not myself). The OPAC results list all the different editions separately, and the series information is often not even present in the catalog page.
Something even simpler than that shouldn’t have problems, but it does. Looking for a book by its title should work. Instead, many times in WorldCat, I have to reduce my search to keywords to find what I want — one or two keywords, mind you, not a complex search query. For example, today I wanted to find the book “Civilizations of the Ancient Near East,” edited by J.M. Sasson.
I looked up the title itself and I was taken to the one result, which was not the book nor the same title. So I tried the title as a keyword — same result. I tried the title words as keywords pluss Sasson. NO results. I tried the title words as keywords with Sasson as the author keyword. NO results. Finally, I used Sasson as an author keyword, and that was all. This gave me the list of books by him, and the one I wanted was on that list. I knew the book was in WorldCat because I found it first in UWM’s PantherCat.
When we are pressed for time in a reference interview, we don’t have the luxury to fiddle around with WorldCat’s errors to find a book for a patron. Honestly, I would have tried my first method and possibly the next two in a normal situation. I would have concluded the book wasn’t there. And I would have definitely had to conclude this if a patron didn’t have the author. I was looking for myself here, so I was very persistent and I had all the information I needed. The fact remains that this is an issue for WorldCat — to not return a title when everything is spelled correctly, even as a keyword. Sheesh.