WorldCat Step-by-Step

Open WorldCat in another browser window to work through this tutorial side by side.


WorldCat is a global library catalog and a powerful research tool to discover books on any topic. This tutorial will step you through WorldCat's basic search options. You will learn how to use WorldCat subjects to optimize your search results and how to request books, that are not available at Villanova University, via interlibrary loan.

For the purpose of this exercise our topic will be:
"Maps of the Dutch Caribbean Colonial Power."

On the right side of the screen you can see the WorldCat search interface. You may have to log in with your ldap password first, if you are off-campus. Throughout the discovery process we will re-evaluate our search terms and change search tactics. Use the navigation arrows at the bottom to advance to the next page.

Click on the right arrow below to start.

Search Term Selection

1 of 4

Let's get started. Type the complete topic sentence into one of the search boxes in WorldCat:

"Maps of the Dutch Caribbean Colonial Power."

Click on the Search button and review your results.

Advance to the next screen when you are done.

Search Term Selection

2 of 4

Did you have 0 hits?
You must have kept quotes around the topic sentence. The quotes limit search results to exact matches. WorldCat has no records with an exact match to our topic sentence.

Did you retrieve 1-5 records?
You probably typed the topic sentence without quotes into the search box. WorldCat retrieved records that include all the search terms in the topic sentence although not necessarily as an exact phrase.

It is important to remember that WorldCat searches only book records and NOT the full text of books. While search engines like Google give you results that match only some of your search terms, WorldCat ALWAYS respects your search terms and search limits.

Advance to the next screen, where we will reduce our topic sentence to three essential search terms.

Search Term Selection

3 of 4

Let's go back to the drawing board to review our topic sentence since our first search attempt failed. Our goal is to look for more effective synonyms and to reduce the overall number of search terms.

We will only use three search terms in our next attempt. Instead of "maps" we will use "cartography," a term that describes the process of making maps. While "maps" as search term will lead us to books WITH maps in them or ABOUT maps, "cartography" describes the theory and philosophy of map making. We will also exchange the adjective "Dutch" for the noun "Netherlands," since catalog records typically prefer nouns to adjectives. Finally, we will add the word "history" into the mix. "Caribbean" and "colonial" will not be used in our next search attempt. We may later return to the search screen to add these or other terms to our search if warranted. Advance to the next screen for our second search attempt.

Search Term Selection

4 of 4

Click on the Searching tab in WorldCat and click on Clear to empty the search boxes.

WorldCat search screen

Type the search terms into one of the search boxes:

cartography netherlands history

Click on search and wait for your results.

How many records did you retrieve?

Advance to the next screen.

Search Limits

The search results look promising, but are cluttered with different types of resources. You may be tempted to explore the map or internet tabs, but remember that WorldCat is a catalog and does not include the source itself. Let's stick to books that discuss our topic for now.

Click on the Book tab to limit your search results further.

How many books match our search terms?

 Advance to the next screen where we will review some of the results together.

Review of Search Results

WorldCat presents results in order of popularity. Popularity is determined by the number of libraries that own a book. The top-ranked book may not always be the best match for your topic, but overall this ranking works fairly well.

The results screen gives you a lot of information that can help you with the selection of books for your project.

Results screen

The book icon to the left of the title indicates that you are looking at the record for a book. The book title is the most prominent piece of information. Books that are part of the Villanova collection have a library icon with the "VILLANOVA UNIV" label. The publisher is also listed on the results screen. Remember, that not all publishers are appropriate for a college-level research paper. University presses are always good choices.

On the next screen we will take a closer look at a single record.

Table of Contents

 WorldCat book record

Click on the title link of Mirror of Empire: Dutch Marine Art of Seventeenth Century to see the complete record for this book. A simple search with three well-chosen search terms resulted in some promising books. Although we did not use the terms "colonial" and "Caribbean," we nevertheless found books about colonial history. After all, Dutch cartographic history is closely entwined with Dutch colonial history.

Take a closer look at the contents of this book. It includes a long chapter by Dirk de Vries about Dutch marine cartography in the seventeenth century.

Advance to the next screen where we will locate the book in the library.

Villanova Call Numbers and Shelf Locations

We already know that Mirror of Empire is available at Villanova, because of the Villanova library tag. Now we will use the "Search the catalog at your library" link to determine with the help of the local catalog whether Mirror of the Empire is currently checked out to another student and where it is located in the library.

vufind link

Click on the "Search the catalog at your library" link and answer the following question.


What is the call number of Mirror of Empire?

Click on the Return button in the upper right corner of your screen to return to the WorldCat interface and advance to the next screen, where we will request a book from another library.

Requesting a Book From Another Library

worldcat ill

There are two scenarios when you should request books from other libraries:

Scenario 1:
Villanova owns the book, but it is currently checked out to another student.
Scenario 2:
Villanova does not own the book.

Click on the "Borrow from another library" link and log into the Villanova interlibrary loan system with your ldap password. Do not submit the request form unless you really want to read this book. It takes about a week for books to be shipped to Villanova. You will be notified via email when the book arrives.

Download Bibliographic References


Cite This Item generates book citations in various citation styles. These citations may have errors, so don't forget to proof-read them.

Note, that the Access link in Worldcat, rarely links to full text. In most cases it links to the table of contents which can also be found in the record itself. The familiar blue findit button is not the best way to link to the book record in the local catalog. Remember, that most of the books will be print books.

Advance to the next screen, where we will edit our current search.

Search Revisions

Return to the search screen by clicking on the Searching tab at the top of the screen. Keep the original search terms unchanged, but change the search field in the right hand box from "Keyword" to "Subject."

worldcat subject search

Click on Search, review the results and answer the following question before advancing to the next screen.

Did the number of results increase or decrease?

Subject Links

Go back to your search results and click on Mapping for Money to open the full record for this book:


There are many ways to expand and to focus search results in WorldCat. Subject links are a great option. Scroll through the full record of Mapping for Money until you locate the subjects/descriptors. You will notice that all subjects are links. The first subject in this record, "Cartography - Netherlands - History - 16th century," will generate a new search that matches the exact subject. The results set would be very similar to our previous results, except that it would be smaller, because it includes an additional search term: "16th century." Click on West Indische Compagnie to run a new search. You will see a mix of new and old records which will allow you to explore your topic further.

WorldCat Search Skills Quiz

We covered a lot of territory in a very short time. The WorldCat search interface includes a number of useful options which we did not review here. Feel free to explore them by yourself. Advance to the next screen and complete the quiz to test your WorldCat prowess.




WorldCat searches the full text of books.

Does WorldCat include the local Villanova call number?

Increasing the number of search terms will increase results. True or False?

When can you request a book from another library through WorldCat?

The subject links in WorldCat records generate a search for all records with the same subjects. True or False?

Please enter your name and email address to retrieve a copy of your completed quiz.

You can enter multiple email addresses separated by commas. If you are doing this for a class, you may need to enter your instructor's email address also.