Friday, January 11, 2008

Crazy ideas for LibraryThing for Libraries

One big question around LibraryThing these days is "Where do we take LibraryThing for Libraries?" There is an obvious answer--direct user participation. Right now, LibraryThing for Libraries provides services that "arise from" user generated data without bringing that sort of interaction to the OPAC. So we provide tag-based searching based on LibraryThing's almost 30 million tags, but patrons can't tag books in their catalog. Nor can patrons assemble book lists, write reviews and so forth.

We're clearly going this direction. We're not sure that patron tagging is a big deal, but there are things to do here. And that's all I'll say about that!

But what else can we do? We have interesting data, an interesting technology, Casey Durfee, and the will to act on small, interesting ideas quickly. Direct us!

So here are four ideas I've been having. I wonder what the people—and particularly the 37 LTFL libraries—think of them:

Idea 1: Widgets. We could give libraries an easy way to let their patrons create library widgets for their blogs and Facebook pages. These would be little "what I'm reading" widgets--covers and titles--not unlike the popular LibraryThing widgets--but they would integrated with the library catalog. Clicking on a book would take you to the catalog, of course. The library could also add a "Add to my widget" buttons to their catalog pages.

I think widgets are a great missed opportunity for libraries. Although RSS is supposedly "Web 2.0," there's something backwards about libraryland's embrace of this static, pushy technology. Although the vendors have all rushed to implement it, not that many people really want to turn an OPAC search into an RSS feed and insert a catalog search into their otherwise human and enjoyable feed reader. (And feed readers are still a cool fringe activity--a step above drinking absinth.) But people love to show off and tell their friends what they're doing. As the saying goes, patrons don't want "your" content, their want "their" content. Widgets would be perfect there, and the data and hooks LTFL has puts us in an excellent position to do this.

Idea 2: Super-simple catalog API. We could provide an extremely simple API to individual LTFL library catalogs--just checking whether a library has a book, and maybe returning the ISBN, title, author, the direct URL and maybe related editions in the library. That's basically all we know, but it's 95% of what API developers want and 900-times easier than trying to figure out Z39.50 and MARC.

I'm not sure libraries would do anything with this, but I think some patrons would. Lightweight, fast APIs are red meat to mashups. Also, it's only a day or two of coding. I like projects like that.

Idea 3: Library Bookmarklets. Along similar lines, we could provide bookmarklets and Greasemonkey scripts that would help patrons link their library in with the rest of their online book experience. So, for example, a patron is on an Amazon page thinking about buying a book. They click their library bookmarklet and up pops a little box that says their library has the book, and links to the page.

Idea 4: Put libraries in LibraryThing itself. Right now, LibraryThing tells you if a book is available in a small number of independent bookstores and seven or eight swap sites. But it doesn't tell you if a library has it. For most libraries, we can't know. But we do know for LTFL libraries.

Five ideas is enough for now, I think.

As mentioned before, Abby and I are at ALA, boothless and fancy free.
Tim's cell: 207 272-0553

PS: I left on—multiple tag searching and library tag clouds. We don't need your feedback on those; we already think they're good ideas.

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Blogger Edwin Mijnsbergen said...

Five idead is not enough, keep 'em coming :-)

1/11/2008 11:39 AM  
Blogger Edwin Mijnsbergen said...

ideas I meant, sorry

1/11/2008 11:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is really in your frame of reference but one thing I have noted it that the very bottom of the library scale are the small unfunded public libraries run by volunteers. they have no money for a catalog or the necessary MARC/Book info to make one work. If LibraryThing could develop a circulating client for them it would be great. Ideally it would be set up so that book and patron info would be stored on the client but book info access remotely from your databases. Again I don't know if this is practical but it is an underserved market which could use some help.


1/11/2008 1:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Augmented shelf scanning widget. When I go to a library for a (non-fiction) book, I scan the shelves around the book for interesting alternatives. A widget that mashes up a library's "nearby" shelved books in catalog numbers with other data would be pretty cool.

1/11/2008 1:12 PM  
Blogger Ross said...

Crazy... like a fox!

I like 'em all, but 3 & 4 are particularly appealing.

1/11/2008 1:41 PM  
Blogger Kelsey said...

"Augmented shelf scanning widget. When I go to a library for a (non-fiction) book, I scan the shelves around the book for interesting alternatives. A widget that mashes up a library's "nearby" shelved books in catalog numbers with other data would be pretty cool."

god i am really into that idea

1/11/2008 2:22 PM  
Blogger Jon Ericson said...

Instead of just tracking books I own, it would be wonderful if I could track the books I've checked out and if that could be done automatically. If, for instance, if I check out a new Tom Clancy novel, read a hundred pages and return it, it would be nice to check LibraryThing to see which one it was. Then I could decide that I didn't like it much and tag it so that I'd know not to check it out again. Or if I did like it and just got distracted by something else, I could tag it so that I'd look for it again.

Very few of the books I read come from or end up in my personal collection, but they are sometimes as important as the books I own. In fact, the books I try but don't finish would be nearly as interesting to record as those I do finish.

1/11/2008 3:17 PM  
Blogger C4bl3Fl4m3 said...

My only concern with the widgets thing that show what you're reading based on what you've checked out is reader privacy issues. Most widgets run off of some RSS feed, which means you don't get to say "oh, show this book, but don't show this one" (unless you can code that in). Of course, you could always just not use it, but still.

Also, what about the issues of hacking (or just browsing legally) and other people getting access to what you check out via an RSS feed? One would have to be very careful to make sure that data would only be released upon request of the patron the data belongs to, as well as the data is opt-in for RSS to the public, and not opt-out.

I'd use the widget, personally, but I just think some tweaks need to be done to ensure privacy.

1/11/2008 4:35 PM  
Anonymous John said...

John from SFSU here.

All of the ideas sound good. I am in favor of getting links back to the library in as many places as possible. I would give priority to #2 and #4. For #4, I would recommend doing like WorldCat and show users the closest libraries first.

#3 is a good idea, but I think that it has already been done by Jon Udell who has a LibraryLookup Bookmarklet. There also is a great FF plugin called "Book Burro" that will look up your book in several local libraries (and compare prices at several online bookstores at the same time)

On #1, I like the idea of widgets for libraries, but I wonder how often people would use this one. The problem is that libraries (unlike Amazon or LT) have a specific physical location. It wouldn't make sense for me to tell my friends in New York or Singapore "Hey, I'm reading this great book" and give them a link back to my library in San Francisco.

If you are open for additional suggestions, I have been thinking about how libraries can do a better job of taking advantage of the fact that your tags seem to do a better job of relevance ranking than do library catalogs. I don't have too many specific ideas yet, but one nice thing would be to add call numbers to the tag browser. Again, this acknowledges the fact that most libraries still dealing with physical books in a specific physical location.

For example, I just finished reading the "Shock Doctrine" by Naomi Klien, looked up the book in the SFSU catalog, clicked on the tag for "neoliberalism" and found a very interesting list of suggestions. It would be even better if I could immediately print out that list with call numbers so that I can go and find those books in the stacks.

1/13/2008 12:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

These might generate greater interest if they were directly available to patrons. Give people the capabilities to pull information from their local libraries (admittedly complex for you as a service provider) and record it in LibraryThing's WikiThing or their own blog space. Why? Because libraries are encumbered by legislation that regulates privacy and public forum concerns. Before many of them can add services, those must be reviewed by legal advisors and increasingly denied. Libraries are also restrained by their own ITD support. They may have little to none, or it is limited by an ITD focus on minimal bandwidth and security. If the services were available to individuals who used them sufficiently, libraries would have data to support their requests for added service.

For a start, bookmarklets could be listed with libraries already included under "Book Links".

1/13/2008 6:53 PM  
Anonymous bennui said...

I think Jon Ericson is onto something. I see user tags like "read" and "not read", "own" and "checked out from library" in LT all the time.

Two things that I think need consideration as you move forward:

1) many public libraries provide one centralized catalog that serve several branches. If LT could somehow account for this with the bookmarklet idea, that would be good.

2) and this is an important one: libraries are not just books any longer. I do like that LT focuses on cataloging books exclusively, but if LT is truly to be useful to libraries, especially public libraries, it may need to consider expanding it's model to provide cataloging support for movies, music, magazines, and electronic resources of various types.

1/20/2008 2:32 PM  
OpenID said...

#2 is great and but before quickly implementing and inventing yet another API pleas consider using existing ones! For Search there is not only "Z39.50 and MARC" but SRU and Dublin Core or even simpler OpenSearch. A possible return could also build upon RSS. For simple lookup (for instance based on a given ISBN) unAPI is surely the best choice. With unAPI you can start with a simple return format ("ISBN, title, author, the direct URL and maybe related editions in the library.") and later add more formats like MARC etc. Some libraries already support unAPI or will support it, so the LT simple return format could be integrated. unAPI is damn simple and there is a strong community of library hackers behind it, so give it a try!

1/21/2008 3:34 PM  
Blogger Los Gatos Public Library said...

Henry Here! LGPL
I like the widgets idea and the API sounds promising, but am I missing something? It seems to me that the next logical feature is the pulling in/addition of comments. Not necessarily letting people comment directly, but just displaying the existing comments from LT. I know you kind of referred to that in the intro--but wouldn't that warrant it's own bullet point?

1/25/2008 12:51 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

You mean reviews, right? I agree.

1/25/2008 12:56 PM  
Blogger Los Gatos Public Library said...

yes "reviews" - totally - glad you agree!

1/25/2008 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Merriwyn said...

I work in a High School Library who are currently looking at LTFL and other 'catalogue enrichment' services - what we REALLY want is to get the cover images and reviews on LTFL and then we can just use the one source! Basically like a slightly altered version of what ordinary Librarything users experience on librarything when looking at other users catalogues, but on our library catalogue instead.
As far as users adding comments is concerned most libraries are probably more interested in the existing LT reviews than in user added reviews anyway due to the moderation issues - especially in a school environment!

1/25/2008 9:51 PM  
Blogger SB said...

At Kingston I’m after:

LibraryThing for Libraries data inside LibraryThing:
The inclusion of libraries as LT members, so people can become “friends of the library”.
Show what local libraries (who participate in LTfL), have holdings. Possible via address details?
Contribution rankings – A way to encourage tagging by showing the participation levels of users (would need to have certain things increase and other things decrease your points total).

LibraryThing data inside LibraryThing for Libraries (in our catalogue):
We can’t wait to get the ratings, reviews and cover images into our catalogue!
The ability to create ratings, reviews and tags from within our catalogue.
“Add book to my personal library” button to grab books from the library catalogue and add them to your LT Library.
To be able to place a box somewhere in our catalogue so people can search tags on items held by us.

Other things I want
Statistical information about the usage of LTfL in our catalogue.
Electronic material/resources links. They have ISBNs too and so why not link directly to titles if they are not copyrighted?

2/07/2008 11:37 PM  
Anonymous Merriwyn said...

I am with Kingston library (who use the same software as our library incidentally ), our library wants exactly the same things! LibraryThing data in our catalogue, our catalogue in LibraryThing, what a joy that would be!

2/23/2008 12:46 AM  

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