I’ve been working on a bibliography for a book about Chinese jades. Many of the listings were incomplete, and I had to search a variety of sources to find the information I was looking for. I found that by searching through WorldCat I was able to locate a number of titles (including many books published in India or China) that I could not find elsewhere, and which had turned up no results with a standard web search engine such as Google.
WorldCat provides standard bibliographic information. It will show a list of libraries within a range of a specified zip codes. It will allow e-mail follow-ups to searches. Users can post reviews of titles. Unfortunately its only prominent link for purchasing titles is Amazon, although other options may appear in search results.
When I mentioned it to a librarian friend, he wrote the following:
Yes, it is a very useful tool produced by OCLC, which, however, is taking over the (library) world like Starbuck’s or McDonald’s. Though it is extremely helpful, and wonderful in concept, it is also insidious, and I am very wary of it. It is controlling and unifying all library cataloging and in some places outside of the US and replacing wonderfully enlightening and useful cataloging with bland, uniform, insufficient and extremely conformist cataloging. OCLC is forcing old school and creative catalogers and librarians out of jobs as it grows ever larger. Use it at your own risk & only if necessary. KILL it if you can.
So I guess this is another of those modern dilemmas that seem to be springing up more and more frequently. Good resource, soulless librarian killer, or both?