What is WorldCat and Why Do We Love It?


“The majority of information lies outside the Internet.”
– Jens Redmer, Director of Google Book Search, quoted at Slippery Brick, January 2007

“What’s on the web is extremely ephemeral. Very little of it was written before 1995.”
– Brewster Kahle, creator of the Internet Wayback   Machine, quoted in Newsweek, March 29, 2004 p. 58.

Anyone with an interest in the past soon realizes that Google does not represent the sum total of all recorded human knowledge.  The Buffalo History Museum has been collecting paper-based history for 150 years now, amassing library collections that include 23,000 books, 2,000 manuscript collections, 200,000 pictures & photographs, 7,000 postcards, 7,000 microfilms, 10,000 maps, plans, drawings, and posters, hundreds of reel-to-reel audio recordings, hundreds of periodicals, and uncounted thousands of pamphlets, brochures, newspaper clippings, and other paper-based ephemera.

So, considering that people have been storing information on paper for about 1000 years and the internet is only about 20 years old, how do you figure out what is out there for research purposes if it isn’t digitized and optimized for search engines?

Enter, which you can think of as Google for the offline world.  It is one free giant online card CATalog for the WORLD’s libraries.  The Research Library has been computerizing its bibliographic records for almost 30 years and has contributed over 25,000 of them to WorldCat, which now boasts one billion records of items found in the libraries all over the planet. Those same 25,000 bibliographic records are also searchable in our in-house catalog, FRANK (Find Resources And New Knowledge).

If you look up Lauren Belfer in FRANK, you discover that the Research Library owns her popular Buffalo novel, City of Light.  If you look her up as an author in WorldCat, you discover that there are 21 entries for her, including Swedish, Italian, and French translations of City of Light.  Click on any one title to see which libraries own copies.

When a book actually is online in full text, catalogers can build a link into their bibliographic records, enabling you to read it at your computer.  But only a tiny percentage of books, newspapers, etc. have been scanned.  Your WorldCat search results will usually show you records of undigitized books, maps, newspapers, periodicals, recordings, letters, and diaries that reside in library collections and must be viewed in person.  In other words, the past is not online.

In the Library, we use WorldCat to figure out who owns something when we do not.  WorldCat showed us that the internal business records of the Bethlehem Steel Company (over 200 linear feet!), including the Lackawanna plant, are held by the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, Delaware.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to look in WorldCat for an early short story by Lauren Belfer.  Once you find it, you will discover that it is set in Buffalo and is readable online in full text.  Happy hunting, everyone!

Cynthia Van Ness, MLS
Director of Library & Archives

*This article was featured in the Winter 2012-2013 issue of “The Album”

How to connect with Buffalo history from the comfort of your home


When you can’t use our books in person, you can sometimes connect online.  Every Buffalo researcher should get to know these online book sites. 

Google Books:
We LIVE at Google Books. For historical researchers, Google Books is the most important part of the Google empire. For several years, Google has partnered with several major libraries, including Harvard, Cornell, and the New York Public Library, to digitize millions of books and periodicals.  The results are full-text searchable for names of individuals, places, specific phrases, businesses, organizations, events, anything you’d look for the regular Google home page.  Fortunately for us, many of the participating libraries happened to collect books on Buffalo. 

Your search results will have 4 levels of access:
1. Full text: the entire book is online
2. Preview: you can read multi-page excerpts but not the entire book
3. Snippet: you see only the paragraph or sentence containing your search term(s)
4. No preview: the book is not online, usually because the sole surviving copies are owned by one of the many libraries (like us) who are not part of the Google Books project.

Other useful features: you can bookmark your finds in a feature called My Library and share your lists.  You can download entire free books in PDF and read them offline.  Because Google is a business, you can also purchase newly released e-books for your e-reader. is the not-for-profit alternative to Google Books.  It presently has 8.8 million volumes online and all are free and full text.  Their library partners include the Library of Congress, the University of Toronto, and Columbia University.

To search it, click on the magnifying glass icon in the black navigation band across the top of your screen. lags behind Google Books in its full text searchability for a specific name, phrase, or term.  However, anyone can upload a text to  Download options include formats designed for screen-readers used by people with vision loss.

HathiTrust is a consortium of a hundred academic and research libraries around the world who are digitizing books.  It presently has 13.8 million volumes online. About 40% are available for free in full text.  To download a book that is still protected by copyright, you have to be affiliated with a member institution.  At present, the closest participating institution is the University of Rochester.

Like Google Books, HathiTtrust offers you the option of searching the full-text of everything for a name or phrase.  You can create collections (bookmark your finds) and share them.  You can also limit your search to books that are online in full text.

Project Gutenberg:
The Gutenberg Project is the grand-daddy of all online book sites, founded in 1971 before any of us had ever heard the words Internet, Browser, or Digitize.  It presently offers over 50,000 books, all of which are online for free in full text with several downloading options.  Gutenberg is full-text searchable, as well as browsable by author, title, and subject.  Unfortunately, the Buffalo content here is minimal.

FRANK, our online catalog:
Naturally, we cannot omit our largest in-house digital project, our online catalog.  It lists over 27,000 distinct books, manuscripts  & microfilms in the Research Library collection.  We are continually cataloging new and old stuff.  When we learn about free online versions of works that we own in hard copy, we build links into the bibliographic record.  Try searching for a person, place, thing, business, church, organization, event, and maybe one of your results will lead you to a full-text, online version.

Cynthia Van Ness, MLS
Director of Library & Archives

*This article was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of “The Album”

A Day in the Life…

Spring 2016 Newsletter Cover

Spring 2016 Newsletter Cover

Part of my job as the Graphic Designer here at The Buffalo History Museum is to layout our quarterly newsletter, The Album. Each newsletter has a different theme that then translates down to the content and cover image, for example last month’s theme was “Connections.” Our summer theme is “Celebrations,” where we will be featuring upcoming museum events, exhibits, and artifacts fit for a celebration!


Catalogue boxes and file folders filled with images from TBHM collection.

I went right to our Research Library in search of the perfect cover image, which was harder than one would think. Celebrations should be easy to find, right? People having fun at a party, smiling candidly, clinking champagne flutes…or not. With the help of our Librarian, Cynthia Van Ness we had to think of some “outside the box” categories to broaden our image search.


Canisius High School Father-Son Football banquet, 1936

First up were program books from local parties of the past, while there were some interesting finds, like this adorable football invite for a Canisius high school banquet from 1936, most did not have much imagery to them. Next we tried to focus in on celebrations that happened at The Buffalo History Museum, past exhibit openings, Annual Meetings, milestone anniversaries etc., but sadly cover worthy images still eluded us.


Storybook Land parade, 11.14.1959

Then, jackpot! After changing our party-centric mindset we moved toward parades and picnics and there came the celebratory moments we’ve been searching for! Let me tell you there were a wide variety of parades held in Buffalo; Loyalty day, Ringling Brothers and Barnum Baily Circus Parade, Allentown Village Society Parade, and even a Storybook Land Parade.  The picnic photos were eye-catching as well as capturing summer holidays grilling with family or laughing in the park.

Now for which image won the cover you will have to wait in see. The summer issue of The Album will be out by the end of May, stop in the museum for a copy or grab a membership and have the issue delivered right to your door!

Jennifer Nichols
Graphic Designer/Marketing Associate

Buffalo Newspaper Custom Search Engine


One of our most frequently asked questions is “Can I search old Buffalo newspapers online?” The answer is, “It depends.” Some newspapers have been digitized at some websites, which we talk about below. But all of the major Buffalo newspapers starting with our first paper, the Buffalo Gazette, founded in 1811, are not online in any comprehensive or systematic way. We hope to make an announcement soon about a newspaper digitization plan.

Until then, there are multiple online newspaper sites with random chunks of this or that newspaper, so we decided to make our own search engine to make it easier to access them. We focused on sites likely to have Buffalo articles and sites indexed by Google.

When we had several that fit the bill, we set up a custom search engine called Buffalo Newspapers.

With this single search box, you can simultaneously drill into these newspaper sites and use all of the Google operators you’ve gotten used to, like quotation marks to find a phrase, or the –(minus symbol) to leave out a word. Four of the sites are free, but two have a paywall or require a paid membership. At the pay sites, you may get the first paragraph free, which will help you decide if it is worth purchasing the entire article.


What’s Under the Hood:

Name of Site Comments Coverage begins Coverage ends Fee or Free Indexed by Google
Buffalo News The Buffalo News does not permit Google to index its archives, but it has a reseller,, who does 1998 present $ Yes, through
Chronicling America This is where the Library of Congress is gradually digitizing the nation’s newspapers Colonial Era 1922 Free Yes Scanned microfilms from around upstate NY, with imperfect OCR[i] 1795 2007 Free Yes
New York Times The NYT used to pay attention to Buffalo. When you open a link from the NYT, look for the tiny link to download a PDF 1851 1980 Free Yes Operated by, presently has 61 newspapers from around New York State 1797 1977 $ Yes  This is a collaborative effort to   host digitized newspapers from around New York State Colonial Era 1922 in most cases Free Yes

[i] OCR stands for Optical Character Recognition, the software that enables a computer to “read” printed pages and make them full-text searchable

If you like this search engine, we invite you to embed it at your blog or website. Please contact us in the Library to request the code:

Cynthia Van Ness
Director of Library and Archives

Death of the card catalog (dun dun dun!)

User comments

Cataloging card cabinets

Friday, October 2, 2015 marked the official end to the Online Computer Library Center’s (OCLC) printing of catalog cards for libraries. Yes kids, as seen in the haunted New York Public Library basement of Ghostbusters or the cabinets in the background of The Big Bang Theory. Nearly all libraries have now incorporated the use of an online catalog essentially rendering cataloging cards obsolete. While many libraries may still have ordered the cards as a back up to their online system, OCLC decided it would no longer supply the cards and could turn its attention to other prevalent issues libraries are facing. For those of you curious to see what was printed in the final batch of cards, check out this video and article from The Columbus Dispatch.

Examples of the Research Library catalog cards. The cards on the left side shows beautifully handwritten cards from our Old Book Catalog, which we still use. The cards on the right side are from our last batch ordered from OCLC. Notice the “end of life” statement on the first printed card.

Worry not my nostalgic friends; we at the Research Library still have a couple of card catalog cabinets that we use almost on a daily basis. Those of you who have visited us recently may have checked out our Obituary Index (1811-2001), or the Buffalo/Erie County Civil War Enlistees Index. So, if you’re in the mood for a trip back to your younger years, stop by and take in the sights of the card catalogs we still use. Just watch out for the Library Ghost!

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

Favorite Library Acquisitions

During my tenure here at The Buffalo History Museum, I have had many interesting items and collections come across my desk. The vast majority are from generous donations and a select few are ones my boss has found. I’ve decided to pick out a few of my favorites to share with you.

McKinley Poem1. McKinley Poem, 1899. Call number: Mss. A2013-33

This poem is written on the back of a note from Augustus Strong of Rochester to Wilson Bissell of Buffalo; however, the author of the poem is unknown. What is so intriguing about the poem is the prediction of President McKinley facing St. Peter and answering for his polices while holding office. The poem was written in 1899 and sent to a resident of Buffalo. As you all know, President McKinley was assassinated two years later in Buffalo.

2. Meldrum’s special Pinochle playing cards. Call number: GV 1235 .M4 1915   HA Meldrum Co Pinochle Cards

Library catalogers typically don’t encounter 3D objects; those are more frequently found in museum artifact collections. However, we received a donation of a deck of Pinochle playing cards from H.A. Meldrum and wanted to include these in the library collection due to the image of the department store on the cards. This was a unique challenge to accurately describe the cards, a 3D object, within the confines of a library catalog that typically deals with paper.

3. Exit 51W / by Kasia Keeley. Call number: Rare N 6498 .P37 B8 2012

This was another fascinating discovery by my boss and would more accurately be described as artwork than a book, as it contains no linguistic content. It proved to be another unique challenge for me as a cataloger. The artist created a serigraphy and cut paper book of scenes along I-90W from the East, Rt. 33 at Exit51W and Rt. 198. The book has a single piece of grey card stock holding it together that once opened, unfolds like an accordion. Over top of the card stock, the artist has cut paper scenes. They include the Statue of David, the Richardson Complex, the Buffalo History Museum, Niagara Street, the Electric Tower and the Liberty building to name a few. If you’re interested in seeing it, stop by the library or check out the artist website:

4. Edward Cook Freedom Papers. Call number: Mss. A2013-110 A2013-110 Edward Cook Obit

Just like the many archives of the world, we too make our own discoveries. While only ‘lost’ for a short time, the needs of this collection were finally able to be met 10 years after acquiring it. The collection was donated in 2003 by Dr. Bruce Lee, a descendant of Cook. Edward was the son of Henry Cook, who came to Maryland in slavery from Africa. Henry escaped slavery and joined the Mohawk Indian tribe. He met and married Patty, an Indian woman, and together had Edward, making Edward a free man. Edward moved to Buffalo as a young man, where he made a living being a barber at the Mansion House. The collection includes a photograph of Edward, Baltimore County freedom paper certifying he was born free, baptism certificate for Edward, a permission note to travel at night and his obituary.

Queerie Queers
5. Queerie queers with hands, wings and claws with illustrations by Palmer Cox.
    Call number: Rare PR 9199.2 .C69 Q84

This children’s book, illustrated by Palmer Cox, was published by John D. Larkin out of 663 Seneca Street. The book features many short stories, magic tricks to do at home and less than common nursery rhymes. For example, I grew up on the simple version of “Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water.” However, the version John D. Larkin helped to publish had a much longer introduction to Jack & Jill. “For an idle lad, as he was, Jack had no traits, after all, that were very bad. He was simply Jack with the coat on his back patched up in all color from gray to black. Both feet were bare; and I do declare that he never washed his face; and his hair was the color of straw.” Thankfully, his soap business was more successful than his publishing.

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

Secrets from the stacks: Erie County Penitentiary Prisoner Identification Cards

The “Secrets from the Stacks” is a program that is offered only a few times a year to spotlight items the Research Library does not typically get to show off. The program being held on June 6, 2015 will feature the Erie County Penitentiary prisoner identification cards (Mss. B85-6). The collection dates from 1896 to 1914, with the bulk of the photographs being from 1899 to 1905. This collection was donated to the Research Library by the Erie County Correctional Facility (Wende) in 1986 and just recently has been arranged, indexed and cataloged, making it accessible to interested researchers with a Scholar Pass.

Antwater Back WatermarkThe identification cards used by the Erie County Penitentiary are the precursor to modern day finger printing. The cards mimic the Bertillon system in order to identify repeat offenders by their physical features and dimensions, such as their head length, length of middle finger and the length of their foot. The cards also contain the offender’s name, aliases, age, nativity, occupation, charges and sentencing information. These cards were then arranged by a unique system and referenced upon their re-arrest. The Research Library greatly appreciated the donation due to the collections valuable genealogical, sociological, criminology and anthropological research potential.

The program will feature many of the identification cards for the attendees to view, along with photographs of the Erie County Penitentiary to help place the collection within context and other true crime resources. The program will run from 10 am to 12 pm on June 6, 2015. The completed index is available online, by going to

Amy Miller
Assistant Librarian & Archivist

Discovering the Howard D. Beach Collection: A Journey Into History

This is the story of discovering of the Howard D. Beach Photographic Studio Collection through the course MST 623 Digital Collections. Made possible through generous donations and the joint efforts of Dr. Conides and Noelle Wiedemer at Buffalo State College and The Buffalo History Museum.

TBHM    beach1

Figure 1 & 2: Welcome to The Buffalo History Museum, the home to the Howard D. Beach photography studio collection of glass negative plates.


Figure 3: Here is where the collection is currently being housed. Our class consists of 13 Graduate students, who are unearthing images that have yet to be viewed by anyone in almost 100 years. We are the first class to have our hands in this collection under the guidance of our professor Noelle Wiedemer. It is truly an exciting time!

The collection was found in the basement of the Howard D. Beach home and photographic studio when it was sold. Negatives, Paintings, Prints, Records, and Receipts were found in various states. From pristine condition to varying degrees of decay.beach3

Figure 5: These boxes represent a small smattering of the “other” items found among his collection besides the glass negatives. Some of the materials have been destroyed by time and weather, while other items are in almost pristine condition.

beach4 Figure 6: A yellowed image, clearly a very old print. Just one of many treasures waiting for their history to be revealed.

Figure 7: Some images, apparently frobeach5m first glance the images seem to be charcoal or pastel on paper, approximately, 16” X 20”. At this point, there are more questions than answers.

What are these? What were they used for? Did he use them somehow as back grounds that he super imposed in his photographs? Only time and looking further will tell.

beach6Figure 8: Walking into one of the rooms that store the Beach colbeach7lection, classmates are looking through a box of 6 ½” X 8” glass negatives box and showed me this; Figure 9: Excited to see H.D.B. (Howard D. Beach) showing women utilizing books in his photographs has set my mind in motion. I can’t help but wonder what year this photograph was taken nor what else might be uncovered with each box that is opened. It is hard to imagine 60,000 glass negatives. To help give the reader perspective, consider that each box in the background of Figure 9, contains 6-8 boxes containing approximately 12-16 negatives each.

beach8Figure 10: Today I opened the bankers box marked 42400-42700. As I had randomly selected a box of the 8” X 10” negatives, I had no idea what I would find inside! My mind raced about the possibilities of the hidden treasures that lay within; Gloves applied, equipped with pen, paper, camera and a light box, I gingerly pulled the first box of negatives out and laid them on the table. The box is numbered, it is unclear at this time, what it belongs to, however, I must be patient, as there are many steps to uncover the history of these negatives

Figure 11: Looking in the Banker’s Box marked 42400-42700, rbeach9eveals five Hammer 8“ X 10” Photographic Dry Plate negative boxes in varying degrees of decay. Forgetting for a while to write any observations down at all, engrossed in the details of the glass, fascinated by the images of countless faces that have no significance to me, and yet, the negatives state with dignity that they lived. I find myself drawn to the details that accompanied each image and in Beach’s own handwriting, the name of the subject(s), delivery due date, Reference number(s) that correlated to the customer’s details stored in a meticulously kept card catalog.

beach10Figure 12: Manufacturer Hammer Dry Plate Company, Negative Box top. The image reveals the number 42400, which correlates to the numbers of the negatives found inside, or did presumably sometime in the past.

Figure 13: The above image is marked as the N Literary Society. The negative is shown with the emulsion side up, with the name of the customer, date (print was due for delivery to customer and a corresponding number that relates to the card catalog of Howard D. beach12Beach’s customers.

Figure 15: My curiosity continues to be peeked when I found this image of an older woman with her reading glasses holding a book open seemingly to a specific page. I can’t help but wonder if I will be able to read the poem when the negative is digitally inverted.

After several hours of looking through the five boxes I came away with a few images that struck a chord. I still have more images to select before I begin my research on the individuals of the images I have selected to research.

– Danielle Delia
Museum Studies student at Buffalo State