Tuesday, July 12, 2005

OCLC What is it and how can it help genealogists?

From: ehgaulin@att.net
DearMYRTLE,
All of us who have been enjoying the balmy summer weather here in New York share your relief that Dennis has passed you by with relatively little damage. Let's hope he's the first and LAST this season.

I have a library question for you. One of my missions this summer is to toss some 40 years worth of genealogical paper into the trash. Naturally no self-respecting genealogist would even consider doing that without critically examining each sheet before it is shredded. Well, one of of things I found was a 2-page list of family genealogies published between 1855 and 1900 that are available on microfiche from a place called "OCLC." I did find that the acronym stood for Online Computer Library Center and that they have a web site. The latter wasn't very helpful.

My question is how do we take advantage of what appears to be a fantastic genealogical resource? OCLC must have a catalog, but how can it be accessed?

PS - Have the great new Canon digital microform reader-printers (MS-300) made their way into the Family History Centers in Florida yet? Locally we can now put our data on diskettes, CDs, and even flash drives instead of producing more paper copies!

DearEDWARD,
I'll answer your questions in reverse order. YES, the microfilm reader/printer/scanners with disk, CD and flash drive options have been available at the Brandon FHC for over a year, and one was recently installed along with high-speed internet access at the Family History Center in Bradenton. The local PAF Users Group has planned a "field trip" to the Bradenton FHC for the January 2006 meeting. Hope to see you there.
Now, about OCLC:

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WHAT ARE OCLC & FIRSTSEARCH?
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Basically OCLC is a librarian's tool, which non-librarians can access with appropriate login credentials.

A Google Search provided the following:
-- [OCLC]Online Computer Library Center, Inc. One of the premier world-wide bibliographic utilities.
www.oclc.org/ where we read "Founded in 1967, OCLC Online Computer Library Center is a nonprofit, membership, computer library service and research organization dedicated to the public purposes of furthering access to the world's information and reducing information costs. More than 53,548 libraries in 96 countries and territories around the world use OCLC services to locate, acquire, catalog, lend and preserve library materials.

Researchers, students, faculty, scholars, professional librarians and other information seekers use OCLC services to obtain bibliographic, abstract and full-text information when and where they need it.

OCLC and its member libraries cooperatively produce and maintain WorldCat-the OCLC Online Union Catalog.

Membership in OCLC is a unique cooperative venture, giving your library access to a wide range of services and databases, including WorldCat.

Together OCLC member libraries make up the world's largest consortium."

I initially used OCLC's "FirstSearch" at the University of South Florida's library to access "WorldCat." Thomas Jay Kemp told us about it at a genealogy seminar back in the early 1990s. At that time very few libraries had their own websites with online catalogs. My purpose in using the service was to locate an obscure surname book for my genealogy research, facilitating an ILL (inter-library loan.)

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HOW CAN OCLC HELP GENEALOGISTS?
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To be sure of my facts, I spoke with Kevin Beach, Collection Development Manager at the Manatee Central Library here in Bradenton, Florida. He's been using OCLC since 1976. Things have obviously progressed since those early computer days. Kevin explained that OCLC's FirstSearch includes about 35 databases such as:
-- WorldCat
-- Article First
-- GovDoc (Catalog of GPO holdings)
-- MedLine
He mentioned that librarians use OCLC to catalog new books, greatly speeding up the process of unpacking an order and getting the books on the shelf. There are also descriptions and table of contents for books, to facilitate book purchases.

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GETTING INTO OCLC
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As you may have noticed, Ed, when you get to OCLC's FirstSearch, you are requested to use a library name and password, which you wouldn't have since you are not a "member library." However, Manatee County, Florida library card holders like you have another option. Kevin explains the process for going through the library's website as follows:

1. Go to
www.co.manatee.fl.us/library/master/html

2. Click 'online resources' link on the green menu at the left.

3. A remote patron authentication program will prompt the user for a Manatee County library barcode and the patron must know his 4 digit PIN number as well. Once authenticated, the patron may choose from any of Manatee County Library's online databases, including OCLC.

4. Kevin explains one more thing: "Manatee County Library patrons may actually place their ILL requests directly on First Search without coming into the library and messing with forms. This makes the process very simple."

Readers who do not possess a Manatee County library card may find their library system offers a similar gateway to access OCLC. If not, OCLC must be accessed for you by the local librarian. Theoretically, I see this as a last resort, and for inter-library loan purposes in particular. I cannot imagine how frustrated the staff would become if hordes of genealogists began to line up at library reference desks with the request to use OCLC because ol' Myrt told them to do it.


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PRACTICAL USE OF ONLINE CATALOGS
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Realistically, Ed, unless you are stumped, and cannot find a specific, one-of-a-kind book through several individual library websites, then OCLC is your next option.


Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
DearMYRTLE,
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207
http://www.DearMYRTLE.com

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