The ZACK Gateway is a mashup that isn’t used by one specific library, but is intended clearly for use by libraries (especially special) and rare-book-lovers.

Go here to look at the homepage.  Not the prettiest homepage, especially with the big list of check-boxes below the search box to indicate what libraries you do or don’t want to search, but it’ll do.  All those checkboxes are interesting though: Many of them are national libraries from various countries, like Canada, Australia, Sweden, Spain (though since this is created by someone in Germany, it’s naturally a bit heavy on the Germany catalogs – it looks like 10 names are in German), but I wonder how the creator chose which catalogs to include?  For example, in the U.S., naturally Library of Congress is the biggest, but I wouldn’t think Boston U. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology would necessarily have splendid collections of rare or out-of-print books?  Also, I wonder how the defaults are decided of what boxes are checked.  When I visited, it checked a smattering of eight boxes, two in the U.S., the Norwegian library, and five in Germany.  Since I am visiting the English version of this website (it says so in the URL bar), if you’re going to choose default boxes for me, does it not make the most sense to check the English-language libraries?  Perhaps the default search choices are one way this tool could be improved to provide better results…

Anyway, I searched for a title of the libretto book from a musical that I saw many years ago, loved, and have been trying to track down the CD from ever since – Quilters.  I already know it’s not common – WorldCat tells me they find only 2 libraries worldwide with the CD, though 233 libraries worldwide have the libretto/book. (If you’re not at a location that has a subscription to WorldCat, those links won’t work, sorry — you’ll just have to trust me on those numbers.)  Actually, I would have preferred to search for the CD — rarer — on ZACK, but the search interface allows no choices of format and apparently only searches for books.  Hmm.

When I searched on ZACK Gateway – both with the default boxes checked and when I changed it to include all the English-speaking libraries – it found just two results for the book, from the University of California library.  As I have circled in this screenshot, it clearly lists all the libraries searched and indicates how many results were found from each (hmm, do I really need to see the list of the libraries with no results?  That seems a bit redundant and makes it hard to see which ones actually do have results.)  Then, there are several useful links built in to the results page, but none of them are particularly self-evident or self-explanatory for the new user, which limits its usability.  The picture links to the Amazon sales page, the name of the library catalogue (Melvyn, here) links to the MARC record, and the (rather miniscule) Google icon is actually a link to Google Maps where it provides the “ZACK Bookmaps” – a user can see the relevant holdings mapped out with color-coded pins.

So, what’s the usability verdict on this one?  The search interface is a bit plain yet functional, but the results display page depends pretty much on users’ trial-and-error to explore the links.  It’s definitely designed, as already mentioned, to appeal to rare-book collectors or libraries looking for especially rare items, and with the emphasis on German libraries, it could be a more comprehensive search engine for some Europeans than WorldCat.  However, at least for North Americans, I can’t really see how this website outperforms WorldCat: WorldCat searches more formats; includes much more information such as options to view similar editions and formats, possible tags and reviews, etc;  and it found way more occurrences of my book, which probably just results from ZACK Gateway searching far fewer libraries.  As I see it, the one advantage ZACK has over WorldCat is its Bookmaps, which adds a nice visual display, but even WorldCat still lists the address of each holding library and links you to their catalogue.  Overall, this tool could be useful to some, but to be honest, I won’t be using it for book searching anytime soon.