Serendipitous Discovery through WorldCat’s Identity Network?

Bell (2014) wondered at how serendipitous discovery in libraries could be maintained now that physical collections are dwindling, and library collections are shifting to the digital setting. Maloney & Coney (2016) mentioned the possibility of designing for serendipitous discovery by developing algorithms and ways of recommending that help filter information without erasing that “a-ha” moment. In the May 2019 review of the various companies that offer ILSs (integrated library system) and LSPs (library services platform), one of the companies mentioned was OCLC (Online Computer Library Center). OCLC creates ILSs, which are less in vogue and have a lower overall chance of having a web-based interface than LSPs but cater to libraries’ needs and pre-existing systems (Breeding, 2019). During class on Monday, we were allowed to select various platforms to explore. While I didn’t choose WorldCat Identity for the in-class activity, I was intrigued by it as a source that could incorporate this idea of serendipitous discovery. WorldCat Identity utilizes linked data to connect different people. I decided to search two authors that I admire, Hanya Yanagihara and Rivers Solomon.

Visual Diagram of Relationship between Rivers Solomon and other writers

Initially, the search results excited me. Out of the linked identities, I only recognize four of the linked authors: Roxane Gay, Cristina Henriquez, Dina Nayeri, and Téa Obreht. The links between genre fiction and “literary fiction” are blurred at best for me, but I haven’t seen these authors paired together before.

List of how each entity (author) is related to the queried author (Rivers Solomon). The charts list their related works.

When looking at how Rivers Solomon connects to the other folks on this list, it became quickly apparent that they were all in an anthology, The Best American Short Stories edited by Roxane Gay (2018). On the one hand, this is great because you could get a sampling of several different authors through one text, but what if you had already read The Best American Short Stories? What if you were looking for a novel similar to Solomon’s An Unkindness of Ghosts or to their novella similar to The Deep? Perhaps additional functionality like the inclusion of limiting filters. By narrowing the result not to include The Best American Short Stories, you could help diversify the overall results. Or is the function of linked identities to show authors who are tied to one another through shared texts? Hopefully, looking at Hanya Yanagihara’s entry will provide more insight. 

Visual Diagram of Relationship between Hanya Yanagihara and other writers

Off the bat, I don’t recognize any of these authors. While that does mean there is potential for discovering a lot of new authors, I would also like to see someone that I recognized as it would instill trust in the way that this data is linked.

When dialing into the results of the related works, the pattern we saw with Rivers Solomon holds. Works included as related works are either translated versions of Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees and A Little Life or works that she has co-authored or edited. 

From the examples above, I believe that Identity Linker is a tool that is best suited for researchers than the general public. While it might be useful to the general public to know what works have either been referenced or included the searched identity, that level of detail might be more helpful to researchers. Entries with a higher number of connections would elicit more interesting networks. These networks can be seen through the 100 identities, which are, unsurprisingly, mostly white and male. The trend of white and male creators mimics the biases of society and the history of silencing minority voices/promoting white supremacy.

Let’s look at Virginia Woolf, one of the top 100 identities. The identity connections between Virginia Woolf are more numerous and expansive. The authors listed are from many different periods; some are contemporary writers like Michael Cunningham and Djuna Barnes. Others are Virginia Woolf’s contemporaries like Katherine Mansfield, E.M. Forster, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce. Vanessa Bell (her sister) and her husband (Leonard Woolf) are also linked. Hogarth Press, the press that Virginia Woolf and Leonard Woolf created, is also included.

After exploring WorldCat Identity by myself, I decided to look at the OCLC Research site for more information on the tool. WorldCat Identity uses FRBR to pull from the general WorldCat metadata and create clusters of work written by From the OCLC research site, I’ve learned that WorldCat Identity has an entire for every name that appears in WorldCat. OCLC uses FRBR to pull from the WorldCat metadata to link works (including the variety of editions) written by a singular entity. WorldCat Identity is updated quarterly. Moreover, OCLC research explains that “[a] typical WorldCat Identities page will include a list of most widely held-by-libraries works by and about the identity, a list of variant forms of name the identity has been known by, a FAST tag cloud of places, topics, etc. closely related to works by and about the person, links to co-authors, and more” (WorldCat Identities, 2019).

Overall, the WorldCat Identity Network was not what I expected, but it is an interesting tool, nonetheless. I’d like to see a similar visual network that links WorldCat entries by themes and settings. This visual network may already exist, but I haven’t encountered it.


Bell, S. J. (2014). Collections are for collisions: design it into the experience. American Libraries, 45(9/10): 46-49. Retrieved from:

Breeding,  M. (2019). Library Systems Report 2019. Retrieved from: 

WorldCat Identities. (2019). Retrieved from:

Maloney, A.; Conrad, L. Y. (2016). Expecting the unexpected: Serendipity, discovery, and the scholarly research process. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publishing. Retrieved from:

Solomon, Rivers. (2019). Retrieved from:

Solomon, R. (2017). An unkindness of ghosts. Brooklyn, New York: Akashic Books.

Solomon, R., Diggs, D., Hutson, W. & Snipes, J. (2019). The deep. New York: Saga Press.

Yanagihara, Hanya. (2019) Retrieved from:

Yanagihara, H. (2015). A little life : a novel. New York: Doubleday.

Yanagihara, H. (2013). The people in the trees. New York: Doubleday.


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