Virtual Catalog FAQ

Q: What is the Virtual Catalog?

A: The Virtual Catalog searches through many individual Massachusetts library catalogs for a book, CD, audio or video and then informs you who owns it and whether it is on the shelf.

As the Virtual Catalog grows, it will become your first stop for finding library material in Massachusetts.

Q: Why should I use the Virtual Catalog?

A: Massachusetts has over 50 online library catalogs. Each catalog is a separate physical computer system. Each catalog has its own user interface, search and display screens, and borrowing mechanism. In some catalogs you can find books and magazines owned by an individual college or university. In others, the network catalogs, you will find material owned by dozens of libraries, including about 325 of the 370 public libraries in Massachusetts. Up until now there has not been a quick or simple way to search for material across these catalogs. The Virtual Catalog solves this problem.

Q: Why is it called Virtual?

A: Computer systems that find and integrate information from other places, but have no real location themselves --they only really exist on the Web-- are often called virtual. The WWW Virtual Library may be the best known example. Some of the "metasearch" engines on the Web, such as, Metacrawler, Dogpile, and Mamma, are also virtual.

Q: How many catalogs can I search today?

A: The Virtual Catalog project has been underway since 2000; 15 library systems are now connected. The Virtual Catalog will search the following library catalogs:

  • Bridgewater State University
  • C/W MARS, Central/Western Massachusetts Automated Resource Sharing
  • Fenway Libraries Online
  • Minuteman Library Network
  • MBLN, Metro Boston Library Network (including the Boston Public Library)
  • MVLC, Merrimack Valley Library Consortium
  • NOBLE, North of Boston Library Exchange
  • OCLN, Old Colony Library Network
  • SAILS
  • University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell

CLAMS (Cape Libraries), UMass Amherst and UMass Lowell have been removed from the Virtual Catalog due to system incompatibilities. They will rejoin the catalog when the Virtual Catalog is able to move to a new platform.

MBLN card holders must enter the Virtual Catalog as guest users at this time. You cannot reserve material (i.e., "place a hold") through the Virtual Catalog interface at this time.

Westfield State University has temporarily removed itself from the Virtual Catalog as it transitions to a new system. (June 25, 2013)

Q: What library catalogs are scheduled next?

A: The Virtual Catalog must move to a new version of the software interface before any new systems are added. We will continue to add members after that change occurs.

MVLC and MBLN continue to wait for improvements in some software modules before full participation can be established.

Q: What do I need in order to request a book from home?

A: You need a library card (or student ID for many academic libraries) from a library that is participating in the Virtual Catalog. Currently, the following systems can accept ID's through the Virtual Catalog: C/W MARS, Minuteman Library Network, NOBLE (also requires a PIN), OCLN, SAILS, UMass Dartmouth and UMass Lowell.

Q: Can material be sent to my home?

A: When you make a request through the Virtual Catalog, you must designate a library pickup location. You will be sent notification (usually via e-mail) when the material has arrived at the library you have selected.

Whether a book can be sent to your home or office is really a local library policy and funding decision. Currently, it is pretty rare, but more and more libraries are looking at extending their customer service in this direction. Many public also make special arrangements for homebound patrons. Please contact your local library circulation department to find out its policy.

Q: What about magazine articles?

A: Currently you cannot find magazine listings in the Virtual Catalog. Magazines are treated a little bit differently by online catalogs for a number of reasons. The type of record in the database is different. For instance, Time magazine comes out every week, so the library catalog record may show how many years of Time are being held by the library. This makes it harder to identify and "grab" the specific issue of the magazine for which you are looking. Libraries will usually not loan a complete issue of a magazine. Rather, library users request a specific article. We hope to add the ability to search for periodicals and request articles in the future.

In the meantime, you have several options.

  • First try searching one of our full-text statewide magazine or newspaper resources.
  • You may search an individual library catalog (not the Virtual Catalog interface) which will often have magazines listed.
  • Ask your local librarian whether the article is available via Interlibrary Loan, a regional service that provides copies of magazine articles from all over the world.

Q: Does it cost any money?

A: Not usually. Material coming through the Virtual Catalog and the statewide delivery system is generally free to Massachusetts residents. No libraries on the statewide Virtual Catalog charge for loans. Other types of interlibrary loan request that you make through your library may have a charge attached to them. If a copy of the requested material cannot be provided at no charge, your approval will be required before a copy of the material is requested for you.

The Virtual Catalog system is supported with state and federal funds.

Q: I am having technical problems when I try to use the Virtual Catalog

A: If you have a Norton Personal Firewall or Norton Internet Security product, you may have difficulties using the Virtual catalog. Please follow these detailed instructions.

There is limited help available in the Virtual Catalog itself. If you do not understand how to place a request or have other problems, please contact your home library, or send an email to the Virtual Catalog Help Desk: vchelpdesk@flo.org.

This Web site, and other programs of the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners, is funded in part with funds from the
Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency that fosters innovation, leadership and a lifetime of learning.
Page last updated on 12/17/2013