Tuesday, September 23, 2008

WWL: World Wide Library

With the introduction of computers into libraries, librarians and patrons were able to gather greater amounts of knowledge and information at much greater speeds. Now, as computers become increasingly powerful and databases and search tools become more versatile, it makes sense that the libraries in the world are becoming closer.
OCLC promises to take the search for information yet another step forward with the product WorldCat Resource Sharing™. With this new product (which I am sure comes with a nice shiny price-tag), OCLC is in effect attempting to make the world’s largest library by linking many independent libraries together through this central WorldCat database. According to their brochure for WorldCat Resource Sharing™, “the more than 9,100-library system has at its core the comprehensive WorldCat® database. With more than one billion holdings—both physical and digital—WorldCat crosses all manner of subjects, languages, cultures and uniqueness.” (http://www.oclc.org/services/ brochures/211370usb_resourcesharing.pdf) One billion holdings…. Now that’s a library! By combining the holdings of those 9,100 libraries into one database, OCLC and WorldCat are making a strong effort to build the world’s largest catalogue or database, giving the patrons of these libraries unprecedented access to vast amounts of information. OCLC’s product brochure promises member libraries that “fulfillment grows dramatically when your customers can place requests electronically” (http:// www.oclc.org/services/brochures/211370usb_resourcesharing.pdf) and receive their requested material from wherever it resides within the various holdings. WorldCat Resource Sharing™ gives libraries and patrons the ability to share and find a great deal of information from all over the world.
Judging from this advancement the next and perhaps ideal progression is development of the ultimate library by connecting all the libraries in the world. By networking all libraries and recording all holdings in one central database, we could develop the ultimate library. Since this encompasses all libraries around the world, the theoretical structure would resemble that of the worldwide web. Instead of the Library of Babel, one could call this the WWL (World Wide Library), and it would obviously have a much more powerful search tool than Jorge Luis Borges’ perpetually lost inquisitors. Even though it would be possible to search for information and materials in this system, there would still be problems with this system. While it would be easy to find and access digital information, one major problem remains. If one needs access to an actual physical information source such as a book, it is very possible that it would need to be shipped from across the world, delaying the access to that information. Any problems aside, this would represent a giant advance in information science and retrieval.
While WorldCat Resource Sharing™ does not bring us to this ultimate library, it does go far in networking a large number of formerly independent libraries and building up an extensive database of holdings. This product represents a large advance towards the ideal of an information network consisting of all the world’s libraries and known as the WWL.

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