Scan A Barcode, Find A Library: Bringing The World’s Library Collections To Your Phone

Ever wonder about those ubiquitous Universal Product barcodes on the back of just about every book? We’ve been scanning UPC barcodes at the grocery checkout for years, but there never seemed to be a consumer application for those found on books…until now.

Imagine strolling through a bookstore and finding an intriguing title. Wouldn’t it be great to instantly know if you could perform some comparison shopping online?

Even better, wouldn’t you want to know whether the public library down the street could lend it to you for free, or provide an inter-library loan to you from another institution?

We wanted to share some very exciting news from the converging worlds of libraries, data access and mobile technology.

iPhone users can now download two updated applications that will scan a barcode on a book and find that book in a nearby library using data from WorldCat, the world’s largest online database of records representing items held in libraries.

The RedLaser application, developed by Occipital, of Boulder, Colorado, is a barcode scanning application and technology for the iPhone, available through the Apple App Store.

The RedLaser app, which is currently among the top 25 paid apps in the App Store, turns the iPhone camera into a barcode scanner. For book barcodes, the app uses WorldCat APIs to deliver localized U.S. library results based on the user’s geolocation, providing library holdings, library location, contact and map information.

Another exciting new app available is Pic2shop, one of the original mobile apps designed for consumers who like to comparison shop. Users scan a book barcode with their iPhone, and can compare costs to get the book at various retailers or, now, a local library.

This app also uses the WorldCat Search API and WorldCat Registry APIs to deliver results for libraries nearby who hold the item in WorldCat. Location and mapping information is also available.

Developed by Vision Smarts, a technology company based in Belgium, pic2shop was the first iPhone app that could read UPCs and EANs. It broadens the availability for book barcode-scanning functionality, as it offers a free download and works on all available iPhones—even first generation models.

In addition, pic2shop works in all countries, although not all users may have nearby libraries with up-to-date holdings in WorldCat. Vision Smarts is also developing pic2shop apps for additional platforms beyond the iPhone.

Benoit Maison, founder of Vision Smarts and lead developer for the pic2shop app says that “Cataloging books is what we originally had in mind when we set out to build pic2shop more than a year ago. As an avid reader, I find WorldCat truly amazing. I am very proud to help make library results more widely known and available to all pic2shop users.”

Mike Teets, OCLC Vice President for Innovation, explains that “putting library results in mobile phone apps such as pic2shop helps remind users that a local library might have the book they’re thinking to buy. And libraries gain extra visibility and value from their OCLC membership, thanks to the cooperative power of WorldCat.”

WorldCat is the world’s largest database of bibliographic information built continuously by OCLC member libraries around the world since 1971. WorldCat maintains persistent, Web-accessible identifiers to bibliographic descriptions of items in libraries and connection information to the institutions that hold each item. The institutions share these records, using them to create local catalogs, arrange interlibrary loans and conduct reference work. Libraries contribute records for items not found in WorldCat using the OCLC shared cataloging system.

There are now more than 165 million records in WorldCat spanning five millennia of recorded knowledge. Like the knowledge it describes, WorldCat grows steadily. Every second, OCLC and its member libraries add seven records to WorldCat.

Metro’s Dorothy Peyton Gray Transportation Library & Archive has been using the OCLC database to help catalog our collections for years.

WorldCat APIs are available to anyone interested in creating noncommercial mash-ups or mobile apps that include library data. Commercial apps like RedLaser use the WorldCat Search API through a simple partnership agreement.

“OCLC continues to explore new and different ways to provide library data where users need it,” said Teets. “Mobile devices are fast becoming the medium of choice for access to information for many people.”

Thousands of libraries and millions of books – now at your fingertips. Literally.