Tuesday, February 2, 2016

WISCAT Union Catalog - Still Serving Wisconsin Libraries

This post is the first part of a two part series about the WISCAT union catalog
Read part two

Why a Union Catalog?

Over thirty years ago the WISCAT union catalog was created as a "resource sharing tool for Wisconsin libraries of all types and sizes to locate materials for interlibrary loan, as well as a cost effective method by which libraries can convert their collections to the MARC bibliographic standard for use as the basis of local automation projects." 

image of a card catalo
Card Catalog (source: Pixabay)
Interlibrary loan then and now relies on the ability to discover what is owned in libraries' collections. Discovery was more difficult in the early 1980s when many libraries still had card catalogs and no World Wide Web service was available. 

An OCLC subscription for access to MARC records and interlibrary loan was usually also beyond the budgets of individual mid-sized to small libraries. Therefore, creation of the WISCAT Union Catalog was recommended to pool together the holdings information of many Wisconsin libraries to make it easier to discover what they owned, for more libraries to participate in resource sharing, and to obtain MARC records for their local computer catalogs. By 2004 the WISCAT union catalog records represented the holdings of 1,209 Wisconsin libraries (419 public, 118 academic, 533 school, and 125 special libraries).

image of school library and computers
School Library (source: Pixabay)
Today, the union catalog continues to be a useful and affordable tool for many, often smaller sized Wisconsin libraries including five public libraries. More than 600 Wisconsin libraries of all types have holdings information on the union catalog records. The union catalog enables discovery of their collections and participation in resource sharing if desired.  Twenty five percent of these libraries are currently participating in interlibrary loan in WISCAT. 

Through the decades, most libraries have completed the move to computer catalogs and made them accessible for searching online via the Web. Since 2002, when WISCAT became Z39.50 compliant, remote connections have been made to a growing number of Z39.50 compatible Wisconsin libraries' catalogs. These libraries' holdings are removed from union catalog records because their own catalogs are searched by WISCAT. Currently, 69 catalogs representing the collections of 622 Wisconsin libraries of all types and sizes may be searched simultaneously in WISCAT along with the union catalog.  Search results are merged for user display.  The WISCAT interlibrary loan system also searches all the catalogs behind the scene to build the lender list when an interlibrary loan request is created.

Related Reading

These are the good old days, a guest post by Charles Clemence of the Winding Rivers Library System (August 6, 2015) is a first-hand recollection of working with WISCAT as the resource sharing tool changed over time, shifting from microfiche to CD-ROM to computer software and then to an online Web platform

Written by:
Vickie Long, Resources for Libraries & Lifelong Learning team