I’ve looked at WorldCat Identities a few times since it was announced. Initially, I thought, MEH no big deal. You got a nifty little biography site for authors. But as I look at it more, I begin to think differently about it. My biggest revelation about it: it’s not really a biography site at all. It’s an aggregation of metadata about authors who are listed in the Worldcat database.
The metadata comes from WorldCat itself, the bibliographic information about the books by an author, but also information about how many editions are available, how many libraries own copies, which are the most widely held books. That’s the power of the Worldcat database. They’ve developed a public interface to plunder all those bits of info in the MARC records of WorldCat. It functions somewhat like an authority record for an author, but designed for a general audience instead of for librarians. Each author’s entry is nicely organized and easy to read.
This is another step in OCLC’s movement toward 2.0-ness. The subject headings associated with an author are even displayed as a cloud, more like a folksonomy than a controlled vocabulary.
There lots of other nifty bits, including book cover images, links to Library of Congress and Deutsche Nationalbibliothek authority files, and related identities (other authors, that is). Two graphics that I especially like are:
A timeline that graphs when works by and about the author were published:
And a bar showing the average audience level for the author’s books:
Identities is not perfect. It’s only as good as the WorldCat data itself. There are often multiple records for a single author because there are bibliographic records in WorldCat that are not properly associated with a particular author. Sometimes the links between the graphics and the WorldCat bibliographic records generate odd results.
Although Identities looks like it was designed with a general user in mind, I am thinking that librarians can make great use of this data. Identities could be an effective selection tool for librarians who want to learn more about an author and her works before making the decision to buy books by that author. It could also be used to quickly identify books by an author either on a particular subject or within a certain time period. Those are activities that can be accomplished with effective searching within WorldCat itself, but this visual display can make that process go more quickly and easily. Librarians often rely on book reviews to make selection decisions, but WorldCat Identities may actually present more extensive and useful information about an author than most book reviews would. I’m going to begin using it more myself.