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Last edited by AgentSapphire
March 10, 2022 | History

Open Library Read API

The Open Library Read API is intended to make it easy to turn book identifier information (ISBN, LCCN etc.) into direct links to Open Library's online-readable or borrowable books.

The Read API is inspired by the Hathi Trust Bibliographic API and is intended to be compatible with it. The Read API results extend the Hathi API in several ways:

Demo and Simple Sample Code

Here's a simple demo page. This page demonstrates adding (hidden) 'book' links with ID information, then turning them into links to Open Library books by including a script that automates calling the Read API.

There are two parts to this:

  1. a page-level JS link that calls readapi_automator.js:

    <script src="readapi_automator.js"></script>

  2. One (empty) <div> tag per book, like this:

    <div class="ol_readapi_book" isbn="039471752X" lccn="75009828"><div>

See the demo page code for how it works!


The API is used to request information on one or more books using library identifiers: ISBNs, OCLC Numbers, LCCNs and OLIDs (Open Library Identifiers). Requests can be made in two formats: single and multiple.

The single-request format

To request information about readable versions of a single book edition, GET a URL in the following format:<id-type>/<id-value>.json

<id-type> can be 'isbn', 'lccn', 'oclc' or 'olid' (Open Library Identifier).

<id-value> is the actual library identifier.

For example:

... will return a JSON hash:

  [{'match': 'exact',
    'status': 'full access'}],
    'itemURL': '',
    'cover': {'large': '',
              'medium': '',
              'small': ''},
    'fromRecord': '/books/OL23747519M',
    'ol-edition-id': 'OL23747519M',
    'ol-work-id': 'OL15328717W'}],
     {'data': { ... }
      'isbns': ['0596156715',
      'publishDates': ['August 2009'],
      'recordURL': ''}}}

The hash contains two fields:


This is a list of any matching or similar online-readable books that Open Library knows about, including links to cover images and read or borrow urls. Thw list may be empty if nothing's available.

Items are sorted first by match ('exact', 'similar') then by availability ('freely available', 'lendable' etc.) then by edition date. The first returned item is usually the best choice to display to the user.

item fields:


Bibliographic information about the match. This portion of the result can potentially contain information on more than one match (as, for instance, two books may have the same isbn) - but in almost all cases will just contain one.

Record fields:

The multi-request format

This format allows multiple requests to be issued in same call. Also, each request can contain multiple keys, to increase the chances of a match.

The URL format is<request-list>;

<request-list> is a list of <request>s, separated by '|'.

A <request> is a list of one or more <library-ids>, separated by ';'.

A <library-id> is an <id-type> and an <id-value>, separated by a ':'.

<id-type> and <id-value> are as the single-request format.

The return value is a hash, with each successful <request> as keys. The hash values are the same as the single-request format. If a request doesn't match, it won't appear as a result in the hash.

If a <request> starts with 'id:<key>;', then <key> is used instead of the full <request> string as the key for that hash value.

For example:;lccn:50006784|olid:OL6179000M;lccn:55011330

... will return a hash with two keys:

    '1': ...
    'olid:OL6179000M;lccn:55011330': ...

... where the key values are similar to those from the single-request format.

JSONP Requests

The Read API supports JSONP. Just add ?callback=my_callback to the request, and the result will be wrapped in my_callback().

Using the API

Request IP Address

The Read API checks the requesting IP address when looking for borrowable matching books. If the requesting IP address is one by the In Library lending program, many more borrowable books will be returned. If you're with a participating library, it may make sense to use EZProxy to make sure that webpage access to the Read API appears to come from an In Library IP.


March 10, 2022 Edited by AgentSapphire update broken link
August 29, 2011 Edited by mikemccabe Surface more demopage details
August 29, 2011 Edited by George Expanding how to
August 5, 2011 Edited by mikemccabe Add demo link.
June 2, 2011 Created by mikemccabe Initial stub