WorldCat is the largest database of published works, many manuscripts and archival collections, in the world. Thus the name! Access to this database can be made through public and academic libraries. Those with web links allow you to access WorldCat at any hour of the day and night. Another way to search is at the WorldCat web page, http://www.oclc.org/worldcat/, using the search box on the opening screen. For more information on WorldCat access, contact your local or area library.
A search of WorldCat can be done by surname, title, geographic location or keyword (such as an ethnic group). Once the search begins, it may get out of hand. Try more specific requests, eliminating or adding to the terms. Not only will WorldCat retrieve publication, manuscript or collection information according to your search terms, but it will provide information on where those items are located.
When using the WorldCat web page, enter your zip code to learn where the item is located. A listing of libraries will show the approximate distance in miles from your house to a specific library. That does not indicate you must travel those miles physically to obtain the book. Click on the library to learn more about their policy for lending books or copying specific pages. If the book is a "must see," take the information to your local or area librarian to begin the interlibrary process.
Click on the author's name to learn more about what they have written. This can be helpful in determining connecting families or locations. There may be more books to add to your growing list.
Some of the books on your growing list may not be available on interlibrary loan. In that case, contact the library to determine their policy for making copies of pages. In the case of archival data, entries will contain more information in finding aids. If a specific collection interests you, contact the library or archives regarding the collection and how it can be accessed. By going from one link to another, you may discover that some collections have been digitized and are available for online access.
There is more than WorldCat. You will not find citations of books, microfilm, microfiche or collections in the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah on WorldCat. For those check the catalog at http://www.familysearch.org. You may discover links to digitized items that can be viewed online. These are becoming more frequent in their catalog entries.
Digitized books can also be searched at the Family History Archives, BYU web page, http://www.lib.byu.edu/fhc/. Enter a title, author or surname in the search field. If there is a match, specific pages can be viewed online or you can download the book.
Searching for books, manuscripts and collections of data keeps getting better. As more and more becomes available on Internet, keep in mind it is still possible to obtain books, film or copies on loan.