OCLC has recently expanded its efforts to enable discovery of library collection items through Google search. The organization has been partnering with Google on a variety of projects to increase the visibility of library collections since 2009. OCLC is now providing feeds and other data needed to enable individuals to borrow items from their local library through the knowledge panels displayed in search results for books.
Web Discoverability through WorldCat.org
Searches in Google for books can include library collection items via OCLC WorldCat.org through a mechanism in place since 2003. Selecting the item in the search results displays its record in WorldCat.org, listing nearby libraries that hold the item.
OCLC launched Open WorldCat as one of the earliest projects to make a broad representation of library materials available on the web. The initial Open WorldCat pilot began in late 2003 with a set of about 2 million records. The pilot provided links to bibliographic records and holdings through the worldcatlibraries.org domain. By 2006 the service transitioned to the worldcat.org domain become a production service for public access to OCLC's full bibliographic database. (see: Nancy O'Neill, (2004) Searcher magazine and Paula J. Hane (2006) InfoToday Newsbreak)
WorldCat.org is now well established as one of the most popular library-oriented library destinations with over 70 million visits annually, connecting 10 million users to library websites. WorldCat.org serves as the freely accessible public facing interface for OCLC's database of more than 500 million bibliographic records and 3 billion library holdings and as a resource that Google harvests for its search indexes.
OCLC works closely with a variety of partners such as Google, Goodreads, and Wikipedia to direct users searching for an item to find what they need in a library. These partner sites include links such as “Find in a Library” to direct users to WorldCat.org where they can locate these items in a library nearby. Libraries receive millions of referrals from these partner sites every year.
The basic approach for web discoverability based on worldcat.org involves the inclusion of records in Google indexes to support searches for content items held by libraries. WorldCat records appear among the organic results in for a Google search. The placement of these items can be boosted by including qualifiers to the search such as “in a library”.
When a worldcat.org link is selected from a search result, in addition to displaying the detailed information about the item, it can also connect the user to the record in their library's catalog. The list of libraries holding the item can be adjusted by entering an address or postal code. From the display of the local catalog record, the user can check its availability or place a request.
OCLC has a longstanding eligibility requirement for discoverability services through worldcat.org. Libraries interested in exposing thier collections in this way must subscribe to the OCLC cataloging service and subscribe to its discovery services, which includes FirstSearch and WorldCat Discovery Service. The Library Web Visibility service description states:
When your library's collections are represented in WorldCat through any cataloging subscription and you maintain a FirstSearch/WorldCat Discovery subscription, your library's resources will be visible in WorldCat.org search results.
Figure 1 illustrates the workflow for discoverability based on the inclusion of records from WorldCat.org in the Google search index. The searcher begins with a search term for the book "da vinci code", which has to be supplemented by "in a library" or similar phrase to narrow the results. Even with the qualifier, the WorldCat record did not appear until the third page of search results, and was preceded by listings representing other libraries. Clicking the link brings the searcher to the full WorldCat.org record for that item, including bibliographic details and the eligible libraries that offer it. Selecting the desired library takes the searcher to the item in its catalog. From that point, the searcher can see the status of the item, place a hold, or visit the library to borrow it.
This approach has become less effective over time as WorlCat.org results fall below those for the many other sites that describe, sell, or lend the item. Results for the item in other library catalogs may also appear before the WorldCat.org link. Searchers are not likely to persist through many pages of results to find library offerings. Discoverability of library materials should be prominent and easy, reminding the searcher that an item can be borrowed from a library instead of buying it. Fortunately, the borrow action in Google knowledge panels offers a streamlined pathway for accessing items from libraries.
OCLC announced at the 2022 Public Library Association meeting in Portland that a new WorldCat.org will be launching later this year. According to OCLC, the updated site will be more inclusive and will provide libraries with new tools to promote their collections and connect with their communities.
New Discoverability Initiative: Supporting Google knowledge panels
By expanding its partnership program with Google, OCLC now provides a new and more powerful way to facilitate the exposure for library collections on the web. OCLC recently announced that it has begun to work with Google to provide feeds to enable print materials from participating libraries to appear in the borrow actions in knowledge panels for books. This approach gives those looking for a book a more direct path to the catalog of their library to borrow or request it. The knowledge panel appears on the first page of a search, avoiding the need to scan through long results lists to find library offerings.
In support of this initiative, OCLC delivers feeds to activate the borrow action in knowledge panels for materials held by its members. These JSON feeds include those for books and libraries, structured according to schema.org and delivered according to specifications provided for developers.
This mechanism enables links directly to the item in the library's catalog from the initial page of a Google search. This capability is facilitated by structured data from WorldCat delivered to Google and the linking data in the WorldCat Registry.
In addition to the requirements for inclusion in its discoverability service mentioned above, this initiative is currently limited to libraries in the United States. Participating libraries must also have up-to-date entries in the WorldCat Registry, including the linking syntax for the library's online catalog search by ISBN or ISSN. OCLC has launched this service by providing data feeds for several hundred libraries. Over time OCLC will increase the number of libraries and holdings represented.
Figure 2 illustrates the simplified pathway enabled through this approach. The searcher begins with a query for a book. In most cases additional qualifiers to specify a book search are not needed. The initial page of Google search results lists the organic and sponsored results in the main column, with the knowledge panel to the right. The knowledge panel for books will include buy and borrow actions. Feeds delivered by OCLC and other library-oriented providers enable borrow actions. The searcher simply clicks on the Borrow button for the desired library and format, which then presents the item in the library's catalog. For borrow actions activated by OCLC, the borrow link transparently redirects the searcher using syntax held in the WorldCat Registry to the URL for the library's catalog and the search string for the specific item. From the library catalog, the searcher can view the availability of the item, place a hold, and visit the library to borrow it.
Multiple borrow actions may be presented for books in a Google knowledge panel. In addition to those enabled through OCLC's efforts for print items, others may be offered for ebooks and audiobook versions via OverDrive, or through discoverability services from EBSCO NoveList or SirsiDynix, also described in this issue of Library Technology Newsletter.