Panlibus Blog

Archive for June, 2006

Snideness had nothing to do with it – and I meant it

Walt Crawford’s latest (July) screed includes a suggestion (on p. 18 of the 26 page PDF) that I recently launched

“a snide attack on what I [Walt] regard as a core value of librarianship.”

According to my computer’s internal dictionary, ‘snide’ is defined as

“derogatory or mocking in an indirect way,”


“(of a person) devious and underhanded.”

Assuming that Walt is implying any intention on my part to conform to either of those definitions, I’d have to most vehemently disagree. I meant – and still mean – what I wrote;

“…but whilst recognising the importance of upholding and protecting personal freedoms we must not become trapped in endless agonising over whether or not our poor misguided users should be ‘allowed’ to ‘give up their privacy.’”

Walt’s comment – that I attacked something he sees as a core value of librarianship – is actually quite important here, as my post began by questioning a similar assertion by Rory Litwin that

“Privacy is a central, core value of libraries”

I really don’t see that it is. Indeed, as I originally wrote in response to Rory’s statement,

“Is it? Ensuring access to a wide range of material, yes. Protecting the individual’s right to go where they wish without censorship or censure, yes. But ‘Privacy’ is a term that can quickly become overly loaded, and can equally quickly become a quite ridiculous justification for not doing anything interesting.”

Walt doesn’t seem to like that, either, and suggests lack of balance rather than snideness this time around.

“Wow! Calling privacy a ”quite ridiculous justification“ for not doing something. There’s a kind of New Librarianship that moves strongly away from balance, and is just what we want to hear from a vendor whose systems should support privacy.”

I stand by what I wrote, and feel quite balanced, thank you very much. I’ll agree with one thing, though. Yes, our systems (and everyone else’s) “should support privacy”. It’s not for me, or for any one librarian, to decide on their own the level at which those privacy settings should be set, though. In an increasingly complex web of interconnections and calls upon our attention, it must surely verge upon the foolhardy to suggest that any one profession can know best, and control the levels of access to which the rest of the populace are to be permitted access.

There is a complex balance to be struck between a totally unregulated flow of data on the one hand and ‘privacy’-induced lock down of everything on the other. Protection of the individual’s rights (including their right to share access to their personal details) is, of course, hugely important. Protecting an individual’s right to choose to maintain their own privacy is part of that. The near-hysteria of those who wish to intervene in the activities of internet users ‘for their own protection’ is unhelpful and must surely reinforce stereotypical views of an authoritarian and nanny-ish library ‘authority’. Equally, suggestions that everyone is cast adrift to fend for themselves are disingenuous, and a long way from what I was writing.

All that aside, Walt has delivered yet another thought-provoking tome. I may find it increasingly difficult (even when I’m not being called snide or unbalanced) to locate much with which I can agree, but at least he continues to make me think.

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‘Mashup Camp’ explores the boundaries of mash

Mashing up the Library competition logo

Following a first event earlier this year, Mashup Camp 2 takes place in California from 12-13 July, and serves as a gathering place for many of those interested in mashing up with web services provided by organisations such as Google, Amazon, Yahoo! and more.

This event also includes an educational element, with Mashup University providing an introduction to everything mashup on the preceding two days.

It’s a shame that I’m unable to attend the Camp, as I’m convinced that the data and web services increasingly available from the library domain have much to offer mashup builders in terms of raw materials. I’m also sure, of course, that I’d learn a lot from interacting with this group.

Still, despite my inability to cross an ocean and a continent in that particular week, I do hope that some of the attendees might give serious thought to applying their abilities to the library domain. If they’re quick, they could be in the running for £1,000 and sector-wide adulation for their troubles…!

I’ll definitely be tracking the blog and the wiki with interest over the next month…

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‘Free Our Data’ debate

Free Our Data campaign logo

This morning’s Guardian newspaper includes a short piece to mark a new phase in their ongoing Free Our Data campaign. The story is also online, for those without the printed paper.

On the evening of 17 July, the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts in London will be hosting a debate on the issue, with speakers to include the Guardian‘s Charles Arthur, OPSI‘s director Carol Tullo (also, as is the way with senior public sector posts in the UK, “the Queen’s Printer”), and Ordnance Survey‘s CTO Ed Parsons.

The event is free, and you can book tickets via the RSA’s web site.

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Now you can get the Amazon Plug-in

In the many Web 2.0/Library 2.0 presentations I have given over the last few months I have used a Greasemonkey plug-in for the Firefox web browser to demonstrate how, by using AJAX techniques and Open Web Service API calls to the Talis Platform, library functionality can be served up to a user to add value on non-library sites.

The plug-in in question detects the ISBN on the book details page of and provides a list of libraries which hold one or more copies of the book. The panel in which the list of libraries is displayed is formatted to fit in with style of the Amazon page and hence appear part of it. But that is not all, clicking on a library in the list fires off a new browser window taking the user, deep-linked, directly to the relevant library’s OPAC page for that book.

All this is powered by holdings data and directory entries contributed to the Open Talis Platform.

I have often been asked if I could provide a copy of this plug-in for people to use on their own systems. Up until recently, this had not been possible because it utilized prototype versions of the Platform API calls. Now that the first batch of API calls have been released, the plug-in has been updated to use these production versions. Which means that I am able to release it for you to download and use.

Visit the relevant TDN page where you will find instructions on how you can get hold of the plug-in, try it out, let me know what you think of it.

Mashing up the Library competition logoSeeing Library API services being mashed-up to add value to a non-library site such as Amazon will stimulate some ideas for you to enter the Mashing up the Library Competition.

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New report examines attitudes of young people to public libraries in the UK

MLA have just released a new report, “A Research Study for 14-35 year olds for the Future Development of Public Libraries” [pdf].

Quoting from the Executive Summary;

“For non-users, negative perceptions of libraries are fairly deeply entrenched and there is a strong sense that libraries are ‘not for me’. In order to begin to consider libraries as an option, these barriers need to be addressed through service development and through facilitating understanding of changes within the service.

Responses to the modernised libraries included in this study demonstrated that efforts to update library services have made some libraries more compelling for both users and potential users in this age group and overcome some barriers.”

It’s always nice when official reports recognise the truth!

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Making it easy to talk about books

LibraryThing logo

Tim Spalding and LibraryThing continue to impress.

In a post to LibraryThing’s Google Group this morning, Tim invites users to take a look at a new forum system that he’s building for LibraryThing’s members.

‘So what?’, I hear you cry.

The interesting thing, to me, isn’t the forum itself at all. It’s his implementation of ‘touchstones’ to make it ridiculously easy for anyone to talk about authors and their works, and to have this link through to the bibliographic data and community intelligence of LibraryThing’s user base of more than 45,000 members.

“’Touchstones’ are works and authors ”touched on“ by your message. To add a touchstone, put brackets around the works and authors in your message—single brackets for works, double brackets for authors.”

It’s that simple.

There are already examples of tools that pluck ISBNs and similar identifiers off web pages, and pass them to some third party service (such as Amazon). We do that ourselves. Tim’s touchstones, though, take this to a whole new level, appealing not only to those who can conceptualise, find and (correctly!) type an ISBN, but reaching out to anyone who can partially recall the title of a work or its creator.

Absolutely brilliant, and so simple to use.

Now – how do we go about extending this, so that the same power can be called in my blog posting, my word processing, or even my e-mailing?

Read on, below the fold, for some screenshots to illustrate Tim’s current implementation… or just try it yourself.

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Mashing up text with place

Over on Joho the Blog, Dave Weinberger points to an interesting mashup of Project Gutenberg‘s public domain texts and MetaCarta‘s geolocation capabilities.

Now you can follow Jules Verne’s adventurers around the world in slightly fewer than eighty days, zoom in on areas of the journey that interest you, and view the relevant pieces of text.


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A typology of the mashup

Mashing up the Library competition logo

In a post about IBM’s recent statements around Web 2.0 and mashups, Dion Hinchcliffe goes on to offer a useful typology of the ‘five styles’ of mashup as he sees them;

Presentation Mashup: This is the shallowest form of mashup in the sense that underlying data and functionality don’t meet. Information and layout is retrieved and either remix[ed] or just placed next to each other. Many of the Ajax desktops today fall into this category and so do portals and other presentation mashup techniques.

Client-Side Data Mashup: A slight deeper form of mashup is the data mashup which takes information from remote Web services, feeds, or even just plain HTML and combines it with data from another source. New information that didn’t exist before can result such as when addresses are geocoded and display[ed] on a map to create a visualization that could [not?] exist without the underlying combination of data.

Client-Side Software Mashup: This is where code is integrated in the browser to result in a distinct new capability. While a component model for the browser is only now being hashed out as part of Open Ajax, there is considerable potential in being able to easily wire together pieces of browser-based software into brand new functionality.

Server-Side Software Mashup: Recombinant software is probably easier right now on the server since Web services can more easily use other Web services and there are less security restrictions and cross domain issues. As a result, server-side mashups like those that in turn use things like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or any of the hundreds of open Web APIs currently available, are quite common.

Server-Side Data Mashup: Databases have been linking and connecting data for decades, and as such, they have relatively powerful mechanisms to join or mashup data under the covers, on the server-side. While it’s still harder to mashup up data across databases from different vendors, products like Microsoft SQL Server increasingly make it much easier to do. This points out that many applications we have today are early forms of mashups, despite the term. Of course, the more interesting and newer aspects of mashups happen above this level.”

Are all of these equally relevant and prevalent, or does there remain a tendency toward the top of the list? How might examples of each of these manifest themselves in contexts relevant to libraries?

Feel free to drop suggestions for each into the Ideas forum associated with the Mashing up the Library competition; or build and enter with your idea!

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Blogging from Camden @ The British Library

I’m currently sat in the Auditorium in the Conference Centre at the British Library – an excellent facility being used today by the Library Service of the London borough in which the BL resides, Camden. The event is the Camden Library Service Staff Conference 2006 where I’m presenting Web 2.0/Library 2.0 – libraries do matter!

Camden Libraries have the unique advantage of having the wonderful resource of the British Library within its borders and on a day like today they take full advantages of it.

It’s not a one way partnership though, we have just seen an excellent British Library video of how libraries can aid people from ethnic backgrounds research and understand their history – all shot in local Camden Libraries.

Looking forward to what looks to be an excellent day – To those libraries who don’t have a National Library located within your borders – I bet you wish you had!’s Jeff Barr joins the library mashup competition’s judging team

Mashing up the Library competition logo

I’m pleased to announce that Jeff Barr,’s Web Services Evangelist, has agreed to join the team judging entries to the Mashing up the Library competition. Jeff blogs over on the Amazon Web Services blog, and is responsible for evangelising around Amazon’s rich web services offering.

We really do have a great team of judges, and I look forward to working with all of them as we pour over your entries.

The team currently comprises;

And I’m waiting on confirmations from a couple more.

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