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A library of libraries

It never fails.

You’d think by now The Legal Genealogist would know better.

But nooooooooo…

I still make the same mistake.

Like yesterday when I was mentioning the wonderful treatises about justices of the peace in Ohio that I had come across using resources like Google Books, HathiTrust Digital Library and the Internet Archive.1

There were two treatises that I mentioned: Humphrey H. Leavitt’s 1843 The Ohio Officer and Justices’ Guide;2 and Paul Douglass’ 1932 The Justice of the Peace Courts of Hamilton County, Ohio.3

The first is readily available online — you can download it and read it.

Alas, the second — published after the 1923 break-point for U.S. copyright law4 — is still copyright-protected so it’s only available in snippet view online.

Yep, the reality is… it’s not all online.

So… as I should have expected… within minutes of that blog post going live, in came the question. Reader Debbie H. wants to know: “How do I find a book like that in a place where I have a fighting chance to be able to use it?”

Fortunately, there’s a very easy answer to that question.

It’s WorldCat.

And the website is

WorldCat explains that:

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. lets you search the collections of libraries in your community and thousands more around the world. WorldCat grows every day thanks to the efforts of librarians and other information professionals.


You can search for popular books, music CDs and videos—all of the physical items you’re used to getting from libraries. You can also discover many new kinds of digital content, such as downloadable audiobooks. You may also find article citations with links to their full text; authoritative research materials, such as documents and photos of local or historic significance; and digital versions of rare items that aren’t available to the public. Because WorldCat libraries serve diverse communities in dozens of countries, resources are available in many languages.5

Think of WorldCat as a catalog to just about every library around. And when you do a search for a book like Paul Douglass’ out-of-print-but-still-copyright-protected book, you can check to see if it’s available in alternative formats and editions (there is an e-book format, but it’s no more available than the print version) and — here’s the key — you can check to see exactly what libraries have a copy.

You begin by entering the information on the book you want to search. You can search by author name, by title, by publisher, by time period, by language and by much much more. (Hint: when you’re playing around on WorldCat, make sure to look at the “Subjects” and “More like this” fields… You may find things you didn’t know existed!)

Then when you find the exact book and edition you want, you enter the zipcode or city where you want to begin your search. In the image here, I used a zipcode in the City of New York. The system then returns a list, in the order of closest-to-farthest-away-from-you, of all the libraries that hold a copy of the book you want to read.

It turns out that three libraries in New York City have the book — two university law libraries and the New York Public Library. And there are, overall, 73 libraries right out to the Hamilton Library of the University of Hawaii at Manoa (4,900 miles from New York City) that have it.

You can, if you want, get a map to the library, get information about the library and even click through to an ask a librarian feature with libraries that offer that.


A great way to find that book, no matter where you are, and no matter where that copy may be.


  1. Judy G. Russell, “Treating the treatises,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 4 Apr 2017 ( : accessed 5 Apr 2017).
  2. Humphrey H. Leavitt, The Ohio Officer and Justices’ Guide (Steubenville, Ohio: James Turnbull, 1843); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 3 April 2017).
  3. Paul Douglass, The Justice of the Peace Courts of Hamilton County, Ohio (Baltimore, Md. : Johns Hopkins Press, 1932).
  4. See Judy G. Russell, “That 1923 date,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 20 Nov 2016 ( : accessed 3 Apr 2017).
  5. What is WorldCat?,” ( : accessed 5 Apr 2017).
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