Saturday, October 17, 2009

WorldCat: A mini-rant [UPDATED!]

As a researcher, one of the databases I depend on most is WorldCat -- the ginormous international repository for publication information on every book and serial available in just about any library, anywhere. It takes a few hours of fiddling with it the first time you use it in order to learn its quirks, tricks, and shortcuts, but once you do, you can find anything.

Then, this morning, I woke up to a new, "simplified" version that has transformed it from a precision tool into a blunt instrument. I believe that the phrase that my fourteenth-century documents would use to describe my feelings about this, after only 90 seconds of use, is odio capitale.

I am not amused.

UPDATE: Check out the comments section for the response of someone who seems to be affiliated with the WorldCat team. I am impressed.


Janice said...

The advanced search page still preserves the functionality I need:

I agree with you that the basic search of the updated homepage is atrocious and unhelpful. Since my students are trained to use WorldCat, I will have to alert them to the issues.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Hi Janice --

I've got that advanced search page, but I miss the browse function that lets you see if your title is a little bit off, rather than just returning a "no results found" message. And if you want to search by phrase rather than word, you need to know to put the quote marks around the phrase. Finally, the drop-down language menu excludes one of my major research languages.

One positive thing is that the new format will probably be less intimidating to undergraduates. But as an advanced researcher, I'm irritated.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

I take it back: you don't need the quotes. But I'm still pissy about the loss of the browse function.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

What about the "Expert Search" page? Does that do what you want?

Notorious Ph.D. said...

@ CPP: My library's new (as of this morning) worldcat page no longer has an "expert search" option. I even tried typing it directly in to the URL. Nada. Do *you* have it? If so, maybe it's something I can get my library to add.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

Yes, ours has "Expert Search". Access to WorldCat from our library is through a Web page at

Digger said...

I've never used worldcat via a subscription; though they did change the public version a while ago to something horrendously clunky. Do they do it so that they can charge for the useful version?

Alice said...

Sorry to hear the recent enhancements aren't helpful to your research. While undergraduates are important library users, *serious* scholars like yourself do tend to have MUCH higher search skills.

One question--Do you usually get to WorldCat through your university library? (selecting it as a Database on FirstSearch?) Or do you typically go in through the open Web version Knowing this distinction would help me direct your comments to the right WorldCat team, and be able to address the specific changes made.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Wow! Thanks, Alice! I had meant this to just be a vent, but I'm impressed.

First, to answer your question: I get to the site through my university library -- I don't have the password to do otherwise.

Second, after working for a while, I managed to find most of the "missing" things -- they're just a level deeper, and on the sidebar, rather than on the advanced search page where they used to be.

The one thing I really miss is the browse function. It has consistently helped me find materials when my citations are a bit off.

And while I've got you: I've always thought it would be helpful to be able to browse by subject strings, such as those you find in the "related subjects" area at the bottom of individual records. The strings attached to a particular record are in many ways dependent on the vagaries of a cataloger's choice when the book is first entered, so knowing which subject strings were right next door would help advanced researchers turn up more helpful records that they might have missed.

Finally, let me say that I am aware of the benefits this simplified layout will offer to beginning researchers. I've often tried to get my undergraduates to use WorldCat, but they've avoided it because (I think) they found it a bit intimidating. The new layout looks a lot like other search engines that they're more familiar with. So I'm all on board with that. I'd just like to see the options restored for those of us who are willing to fiddle around a bit more.

And again: thank you! If you want to communicate with me directly, I can be reached at notoriousphd [[at]] mac [[dot]] com

Clio Bluestocking said...

You can get WorldCat online, not just through your library? Amen! At a school that doesn't have it, I feel severely hobbled!