WorldCat Hackathon

I attended the first-ever WorldCat Hackathon on Friday and Saturday (November 7 & 8), and us attendees explored ways to take advantage of various public application programmer interfaces (APIs) supported by OCLC.

Web Services

logoThe WorldCat Hackathon was an opportunity for people to get together, learn about a number of OCLC-supported APIs, and take time to explore how they can be used. These APIs are a direct outgrowth of something that started at least 6 years ago with an investigation of how OCLC’s data can be exposed through Web Service computing techniques. To date OCLC’s services fall into the following categories, and they are described in greater detail as a part of the OCLC Grid Services Web page:

  • WorldCat Search API – Search and display content from WorldCat — a collection of mostly books owned by libraries
  • Registry Services – Search and display names, addresses, and information about libraries
  • Identifier Services – Given unique keys, find similar items found in WorldCat
  • WorldCat Identities – Search and display information about authors from a name authority list
  • Terminology Services – Search and display subject authority information
  • Metadata Crosswalk Service – Convert one metadata format (MARC, MARCXML, XML/DC, MODS, etc.) into another. (For details of how this works, see “Toward element-level interoperability in bibliographic metadata” in Issue #2 of the Code4Lib Journal).

The Hacks

The event was attended by approximately fifty (50) people. The prize going to the person coming the furthest went to someone from France. A number of OCLC employees attended. Most people were from academic libraries, and most people were from the surrounding states. About three-quarters of the attendees were “hackers”, and the balance were there to learn.

Taking place in the Science, Industry and Business Library (New York Public Library), the event began with an overview of each of the Web Services and the briefest outline of how they might be used. We then quickly broke into smaller groups to “hack” away. The groups fell into a number of categories: Drupal, VUFind, Find More Like This One/Miscellaneous, and language-specific hacks. We reconvened after lunch on the second day sharing what we had done as well as what we had learned. Some of the hacks included:

  • Term Finder – Enter a term. Query the Terminology Services. Get back a list of broader and narrower terms. Select items from results. Repeat. Using such a service a person can navigate a controlled vocabulary space to select the most appropriate subject heading.
  • Name Finder – Enter a first name and a last name. Get back a list of WorldCat Identities matching the queries. Display the subject terms associated with the works of this author. Select subject terms results are displayed in Term Finder.
  • Send It To Me – Enter an ISBN number. Determine whether or not the item is held locally. If so, then allow the user to borrow the item. If not, then allow the user to find other items like that item, purchase it, and/or facilitate an interlibrary load request. All three of these services were written by myself. The first two were written at during the Hackathon. The last was written more than a year ago. All three could be used on their own or incorporated into a search results page.
  • Find More Like This One in VUFind – Written by Scott Mattheson (Yale University Library) this prototype was in the form of a number of screen shots. It allows the user to first do a search in VUFind. If desired items are checked out, then it will search for other local copies.
  • Google Map Libraries – Greg McClellan (Brandeis University) combined the WorldCat Search API, Registries Services, the Google Maps to display the locations of nearby libraries who reportably own a particular item.
  • Recommend Tags – Chad Fennell (University of Minnesota Libraries) overrode a Drupal tagging function to work with MeSH controlled vocabulary terms. In other words, as items in Drupal are being tagged, this hack leads the person doing data entry to use MeSH headings.
  • Enhancing Metadata – Piotr Adamzyk (Metropolitan Museum of Art) has access to both bibliographic and image materials. Through the use of Yahoo Pipes technology he was able to read metadata from an OAI repository, map it to metadata found in WorldCat, and ultimately supplement the metadata describing the content of his collections.
  • Pseudo-Metasearch in VUFind – Andrew Nagy (Villanova University) demonstrated how a search could be first done in VUFind, and have subsequent searches done against WorldCat by simply clicking on a tabbed interface.
  • Find More Like This One – Mark Matienzo (NYPL Labs) created an interface garnering an OCLC number as input. Given this it returned subject headings an effort to return other items. It was at this point Ralph LeVan (OCLC) said, “Why does everybody use subject headings to find similar items? Why not map your query to Dewey numbers and find items expected to be placed right next to the given item on the shelf?” Good food for thought.
  • xISBN Bookmarklette – Liu Xiaoming (OCLC) demonstrated a Web browser tool. Enter your institution’s name. Get back a browser bookmarklette. Drag bookmarklette to your toolbar. Search things like Amazon. Select ISBN number from the Web page. Click bookmarklette. Determine whether or not your local library owns the item.


Obviously the hacks created in this short period of time by a small number of people illustrate just a tiny bit of what could be done with the APIs. More importantly and IMHO, what these APIs really demonstrate is the ways librarians can have more control over their computing environment if they were to learn to exploit these tools to their greatest extent. Web Service computing techniques are particularly powerful because they are not wedded to any specific user interface. They simply provide the means to query remote services and get back sets of data. It is then up to librarians and developers — working together — to figure out what to do the the data. As I’ve said somewhere previously, “Just give me the data.”

I believe the Hackathon was a success, and I encourage OCLC to sponsor more of them.

Published by

Eric Lease Morgan

Artist- and Librarian-At-Large

5 thoughts on “WorldCat Hackathon”

  1. Hai everybody, it was great meeting you there! Thanks for the summary Eric, I will use it for my report. I have just finished uploading my photo’s to Flickr with the hackathon tags.
    Hope to see you all at the next hackathon!

Comments are closed.