"WorldCat" is a consolidated catalog of many major public and university libraries across the country. It is close to being a national library catalog and will display libraries across the country that own a specified item. Most libraries catalogs are included in WorldCat but many of the smaller ones, such as ones I know about in rural Missouri, are not. As time passes, catalogs of more libraries are included and accuracy seems to be improving as well. So it may be worthwhile to check periodically.
Worldcat attempts to consolidate libraries' listings for the same publication and assigns an "OCLC" accession number which is used to request the item. Despite the consolidation attempts, a particular item may have more than one listing due to slight variations in title or other identifying information entered, edition, or form (hardcopy, microfiche, microfilm, etc.). Worldcat can display a list of the libraries that own the item but it does not state whether the item is part of that library's circulating collection and will be lent. However, it is becoming more sophisticated in that in some cases, links are provided to the local holding library's own catalog, where circulation status can be checked. That has helped me in a couple cases to locate a circulating copy that my library staff couldn't find.
Initially it was not accessible by the public at large through the internet and had to be accessed through on terminals at your local public or university library. Those libraries may provide off-site access to registered card holders. As of about September 2007 there is a free, open Worldcat website at www.worldcat.org It appears to be the same database as accessed at libraries, but I prefer the interface and display of the library version. (Maybe that's just because it is what I am used to.)
Just about any published genealogical book will show up in a WorldCat search, being located in a least one library. HOWEVER, most libraries will NOT lend most genealogical materials through Inter-Library Loan (ILL) But some will, so it pays to try: you may be surprised. Also, most are good about making photocopies of a few pages.
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