Friday, January 11th, 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.

Labels: librarything for libraries, ltfl


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