Prowling with WorldCat: How to Find Any Book in Any Library

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Image by Gerhard G. from Pixabay

Do you have a yen to know where all the books are?  Most people who like to read know to go to Amazon, and of course there are a lot of great options for purchasing there or on other used book sites. 

Many of you also know how to use your local library’s resources, and you may even have extra library cards to fill in the gaps that you’ve gotten from neighboring cities or through fee-based programs. 

Going through all of those separate websites can get tedious, right.  Did you know there is a better way? Did you know that there is one website that you can use to search every major library (public and university) in the world?   

That’s right.  And it has an adorable name too: WorldCat.  Because it prowls the world’s libraries.   

And also it’s short for “world catalog”. 

This is the website librarians use to find books when you request an “interlibrary loan” for books your library doesn’t have. They don’t limit this information to librarians though; it is free and open to the public, and you do not have to register to use it.   

WorldCat tells you where to find any book, DVD, CD, or article there is. It also has some features you will see on social media such as Good Reads, but since World Cat is used by librarians, students, and researchers, it’s all a bit more nerdy.  By “nerdy”, I mean it has more depth. 

With a free account, you can create lists and bibliographies, and WorldCat will help you format them. 

On The Lois Level, we try to stick to books that are readily available for free, either online (as long as it’s legal) or through libraries.  I think the United States overall has a good library system: actually, I am amazed.  Even smaller towns frequently join forces with neighboring towns or counties so that they can provide more materials to their patrons.  But no library, of course, can afford to buy every book.  

Libraries have a budget, that is determined by their local governments.  They use professional guidelines to determine what they need to stock for general research purposes, and beyond that, their purchasing is heavily dictated by patron demand. 

If you live in a suburban area, for example, you might find a lot of bestsellers on the shelves, but a city, especially if there is a university nearby, might have more academic work.  Many people near me live on the water, so the library has a very healthy section on fishing and boating. 

If we want to read something, many of us might start with the library and then move on to the bookstore or online shopping if we don’t find what we want.  Some people like to purchase their books as a rule, and some don’t purchase at all.  Whatever you do is great, as long as you don’t obtain books illegally. 

Sometimes, however, the book is hard to find or too expensive…or both. Or you might be a big cheapskate or just enjoy the hunt.

Hey, it beats compulsive shopping!

So you can go to the library and ask the librarian to this, or you could try it yourself. 

Here’s why you should: 

1.     It’s fun.

2.     If you need the book by a certain time, knowing where it is can give you an idea about when you will get it.

3.     If your library charges for ILL (mine charges postage fees, which can quickly equal the cost of the book itself), you might be able to save money by driving to the library and getting it yourself.

Many cities offer privileges to residents of nearby cities, sometimes for free and sometimes for a small charge.  University libraries also sometimes offer privileges to local residents, especially if you are in a small town or city.  You can almost always qualify for a library card in the city where you work, even if you live elsewhere.  Some libraries, both public and university, will give a card to any resident or worker in the state! Every institution is different; you just need to check. 

The whole thing is simple.  Open up the home page and do a search.  You can choose whether you want print or e-book, or audio, even braille! 

You can put in your zip (postal) code, and the list of libraries will automatically be put in order of distance from your location.  The only caveat is to double check Google for exact locations of physical libraries if you don’t know where they are already.  When I clicked “Map it”, I was directed to the Central Library for my city even though there is a branch library in my zip code.  I know there are branch libraries in my neighboring cities that are closer than the central libraries. 

The links on WorldCat will take you to the website for the library so that you can search again from there.  Most library systems let you search their catalog even if you don’t have a card.   

If you eventually have to place an Interlibrary Loan (ILL) request in at your local (or university, if you are a student or staff member), you will get the materials faster if you tell them where they are.  When I was a student, I would put it on the form in the comments box. 

WorldCat is primarily designed for librarians to use, but it is very simple and user friendly for anyone who loves books enough to want to.

Like any self-respecting book website, WorldCat uses its amazing databases to create reading lists such as the Library 100. The Lois Level studied this list carefully and curated it into even more (shorter) lists for you. Click below for more.

The Lois Level’s Lists from the List:

The Most Important 5 Novels to Read from the WorldCat Library 100

Top 10 FREE Novels To Read from the Library 100

10 Best FREE Books to Read With Kids From the 100 Most Popular Library Books in the World