I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about using WorldCat through ShipIndex.org. I finally started, but as usual, my blog post has grown to be much too long for just a single post. So I’ll split this into two posts: one on finding monographs (ie, books) through WorldCat, and one on finding manuscript works through WorldCat. WorldCat does many different useful things in the ShipIndex.org database.
First, what is WorldCat, and what kind of records do you find there? WorldCat is a massive database that shows what books and magazines are owned by libraries in the US and around the world. WorldCat is created and managed by OCLC, an Ohio-based library services company. The first great application of WorldCat in ShipIndex.org is in helping you locate a book that mentions a ship of interest to you. I believe that knowing that a mention of a ship exists gets you at least 75% of the way to finding that citation. If you didn’t know the citation existed, then it wouldn’t count at all. But if you know it exists, then there are lots of ways of getting your hands on it, and seeing what it says. The easiest way is to see if a library near you owns the book, and here’s where WorldCat is a huge help.
If you click on “Find in a library near you” on any monograph (book) or serial (magazine) citation in ShipIndex.org, WorldCat will try to figure out where you are, and then locate the library nearest to you. You can always put in a ZIP code or a city name, too, to customize your search.
For example, imagine you’re searching for information about the ship “Punnet”. The premium ShipIndex.org database tells you that it’s mentioned in H. T. Lenton’s massive volume British & Empire Warships of the Second World War, on two different pages. You don’t own that book, so where can you find a copy?
Click on “Find in a library near you”, as shown here, and it’ll take you to this page in WorldCat that shows you more about the book, and most importantly, where the nearest copy is. In my case, WorldCat reports that the nearest library with this book is less than a mile away! (I’m lucky that way.)
Other libraries also have it, and maybe one near where I’ll be going has a copy. For instance, if I’m headed to Chicago on some upcoming trip, I could put in a Chicago ZIP Code (or just type “Chicago, Illinois”), and find out what libraries in the city own a copy. (Chicago Public Library and University of Chicago Library both own it, I find.)
If there’s no library near you with a copy, remember that you can almost certainly request that a copy be sent to you through your local public library, via “inter-library loan” (ILL). ILL is sometimes free, and sometimes costs something — but remember what a great thing the library did for you, and be sure to provide a bit of financial support to them for helping you obtain this volume!
As a somewhat advanced aside, it’s definitely worth looking through multiple records in WorldCat. For technical reasons, not all holdings records (ie, “my library owns this book!” messages) are attached to a single bibliographic description of a book. This is especially true for American versus non-American holdings: if you only see European libraries that own a book, and you’re in the US, be sure to see if there are other records that display American libraries’ holdings, and vice versa.
There’s more to WorldCat’s content, however. One of the great collections of resources in the free part of the ShipIndex.org database is the set of about 40,000 authority records from the WorldCat database, but there can be some challenges in using the results you find there. I thought it would be useful to describe how best to use the results you find here.
WorldCat’s holdings identifies books that are about a specific ship, along with manuscript information about specific ships. In the first case, it’s important to recognize the difference between WorldCat results and other results in the ShipIndex.org database. Any given book will be assigned subject headings by professional librarians. Most books only get a handful of subject headings (rarely more than, say, six), so a book needs to be substantially about a specific ship, if it’s going to have a subject heading for that ship. Lincoln Paine’s 2000 book, Warships of the World to 1900, has the following subject headings: Warships — History, and Warships. That’s it. There’s no mention in the subject heading of the specific vessels mentioned in that book. That’s what ShipIndex.org does: it tells you which specific ships are mentioned in this book. But when you want to find the book, the “Find in a library near you” tool helps you do just that.
If a book is about a specific ship, however, there will be a subject heading for the book, which will also appear in WorldCat. For example, Cathryn Prince’s recent book, Death in the Baltic: The World War II Sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, has as its primary subject heading Wilhelm Gustloff (Ship). Through ShipIndex.org, you know that an entire book about the Wilhelm Gustloff exists, and you can track it down through whatever channels work best for you.
Several years ago, folks at OCLC were kind enough to generate a list of subject headings that cited ships. We agreed that these citations would be added to the free collection, not the subscription database. The result is that ShipIndex.org helps you quickly and easily find books that are by or about the ships in question, which is super-great.
Wait a minute – what was that about books by ships?
That’s the other part of the collection of records from WorldCat, and the subject of part 2 of this blog post.