Searching online for books in local libraries

by @edent | , , | 3 comments

This is a mixture of lament and how-to guide.

Suppose you've reviewed lots of books. It's pretty easy to generate a link to let people buy the book at Amazon or any other online store. But how do you link to a user's local library?

You can't. There is no "search every library in the UK" service1. You can search the British Library, but they generally don't deliver to your local town centre.

Here's how to (almost) search local libraries for books.

eBooks

eBook behemoth OverDrive rules the roost when it comes to providing library services in the UK. As far as I can tell, they have the monopoly on eBook lending in UK libraries. That's a shame, because monopolies usual mean crap service. But it is also handy because you can use their service as a meta-search engine for local library books.

OverDrive's API is invite-only, but their search is pretty easy to manipulate. There's no way to search for an ISBN, but a title search will suffice:

https://www.overdrive.com/search?q=song+of+achilles

That goes to a page with eBooks and AudioBooks - as well as a few other close matches.

List of items matching the search "Song of Achilles" - includes two versions of the book, an audio book, and other work by the author.

Selecting a book takes you to a page which shows which of your local libraries has the book available to borrow.

OverDrive web page showing which local libraries have the book to borrow.

It isn't perfect. The "local" part seems to use GeoIP to guess where you are. Lots of eBooks aren't available on OverDrive. Oh, and it doesn't do legacy (paper) books.

But, it's better than nothing.

Paper Books

OK, suppose you're one of those old-fashioned fuddy-duddies who prefers dead tree format? How do you search for those relics in a local library? Enter WorldCat!

WorldCat is the world's largest network of library content and services. WorldCat libraries are dedicated to providing access to their resources on the Web, where most people start their search for information.

Again, their search URl is pretty easy to manipulate:

https://www.worldcat.org/search?qt=worldcat_org_bks&q=song+of+achilles

Quickly takes you to a list of books:

WorldCat Results for the book.

Visiting one of those links takes you to a list of local libraries - again, it guesses your locations:

List of libraries on WorldCat.

But, sadly, most of those links are broken.

Gone  The requested resource /web/lewisham/search is no longer available on this server and there is no forwarding address. Please remove all references to this resource.

Some gave me errors, some redirected to the front page of the library website, some went in endless redirect loops. Not one single link took me directly to a page where I could borrow the book from my local library.

Now what?

I'm at a loss. The bottom of my review page looks like this:

List of links to buy the book at Amazon or hive, the publisher's site, the author's site, and borrow from a local library.

I'd love to point that library link to WorldCat - but it is just too unreliable. So I'm sticking with OverDrive for now.

Anyway - read more books, and borrow them from your local library if you can. Libraries are brilliant.


  1. You can search all Welsh libraries in one go. 

3 thoughts on “Searching online for books in local libraries

  1. Alan says:

    There used to be a great project that brought all the London public library catalogues together

    “WILL – “What’s in London’s Libraries” has just been launched. This is a new service for users and librarians of London libraries. It will bring together all 33 London library catalogues into a single, searchable database. It also includes a variety of information such as activities programmes and special collections. The URL is: http://www.londonlibraries.org.uk/will”

    Sadly long defunct

    Increasing numbers of local authorities are in the same catalogue as part of a consortium so you can search collections for a bug chunk of people there (London plus Essex) https://llc.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/default

    The BL have been working on a proposal for a single national platform for public libraries for longer than I care to think about. It won’t integrate the search anyway I don’t think.

    There may well be other decent options but not my specialist corner of library land!

  2. @librarieshacked has a prototype API for this in the works


  3. Yep, in the absence of (publicly available) APIs from library system websites this basically web scrapes book availability from the different types library website. It has a JSON file of all the services and what type they are

    example request:librarybooks.uk/api/availabili…

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