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Wikicat

The Wikimeadia Foundation the international non-profit organization behind some of the largest collaboratively-edited reference projects in the world including Wikipedia, have a project that has been running for the last few months named Wikicat.

Wikicat’s basic premise is to become the bibliographic catalog used by the Wikicite and WikiTextrose projects. The Wikicite project recognizes that “A fact is only as reliable as the ability to source that fact, and the ability to weigh carefully that source” and because of this the need to cite sources is recognized in the Wikipedia community standards. WikiTextrose is a project to analyze relationships between texts and is “inspired by long-established theories in the field of citation analysis

In simple terms the Wikicat project is attempting to assemble a bibliographic database [yes another one] of all the bibliographic works cited in Wikimedia pages.

It is going to do this initially by harvesting records via Z39.50 from other catalogues such as the Library of Congress, the National Library of Medicine, and others as they are added to their List of Wikicat OPAC Targets. Then when a citation, that includes a recognizable identifier such as ISBN or LOC number, is included in a page the authoritative bibliographic record can then be used to create a ‘correct’ citation. Eventually the act of citing a previously unknown [to Wikicat] work should automatically help to populate the Wikicat catalogue. – Participative cataloguing without needing to use the word folksonomy!

Putting aside the tempting discussion about can a Z39.50 target be truly described as an OPAC, the thing that is different about this cataloguing project is not what they are attempting to achieve but how they are going about it. The Wikicat home page states:

It will be implemented as a Wikidata dataset using a datamodel design based upon IFLA‘s Functional Requirements for Bibliographic Records (FRBR) [1], the various ISBD standards, the Library of Congress‘s MARC 21 specification, the Anglo-American Cataloguing RulesThe Logical Structure of the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, and the International Committee for Documentation (CIDOC)‘s Conceptual Reference Model (CRM)[2].

So it isn’t just going to be a database of Marc records then!

Reading more it is clear that once the initial objective of creating an automatic lookup of bibliographic records to create citations has been achieved, this could become a far more general open participative cataloguing project, complete with its own cataloguing rules managed by the WikiProject Librarians.

Because they are starting with FRBR at the core of the project, the quality, authority and granularity of the relationships between bibliographic entities potentially could be of the highest quality. This could lead to many benefits for the bibliographic community, not least a wikiXisbn service [my name] that is ‘better’ than OCLC’s xISBN.

So does the world need yet another cooperative cataloguing initiative? – working for an organisation that has cooperative cataloguing in its DNA for over thirty-five years, I should be careful how I answer this!

Throwing care to the wind – Yes. When you consider that all the other cooperative cataloguing initiatives [including as of today the one traditionally supported by Talis] are bounded by project, geographical, institutional, political, subject area, commercial, exclusive licensing, or high financial barrier to entry issues. What is refreshing about Wikicat is that, like Wikipedia, the only barrier to entry, both for retrieving and adding data, is Internet connectivity.

Unlike Wikipedia where some concerns about data quality are overridden by the value of it’s totally participative nature, the Wikicat team are clearly aware that the value of a bibliographic database is directly connected to the quality, consistency and therefore authority of the data that it holds. For this reason, the establishing of cataloguing rules and training for potential editors overseen by the WikiProject Librarians is already well detailed in the project operational stages roadmap.

I will be watching Wikicat with interest to see how it develops.

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Talis whispers about Library 2.0 possibilities

Talis Whisper front page

Along with wider discussion of Library 2.0, such as that captured in our Do Libraries Matter white paper [PDF download], last week’s Insight conference included several examples of Library 2.0 concepts surfacing for real in forthcoming products and proof-of-concept demonstrations.

Attendees were able to see the next generation of Talis’ Prism OPAC, Prism 3, and to see – and hear – enrichments appearing alongside more traditional entries, as well as realising the ease with which the interface could be switched in order to fulfill different requirements.

An experimental Whisper (experimental, and best in Firefox for now) also attracted interest from attendees, out on the blogosphere, and even on Flickr (it wasn’t us!).

Whisper offers a visualisation of some of the ways in which library content might be aggregated with content from elsewhere in the library, from other library domain systems, or from elsewhere entirely in order to deliver rich and meaningful services to users.

As Lorcan spots, the Whisper interface builds upon the now well-established “MODELS verbs” of Discover, Locate, Request, Deliver, and offers a tabbed interface comprising Discover, Locate, Directory, Borrow and Monitor.

Discover pulls together bibliographic data, enrichments such as book jackets, holdings data from participating libraries, and pricing from Amazon. From a single screen, the user can find a book (assisted by smart suggestions as they type, drawn from the titles of actual items known to the system), discover whether or not it is available to borrow or buy and – for those systems already known to the Directory – link straight through to detailed information from the ILS (Talis or otherwise) of the holding library. By default, the system searches every book and library that it knows about, but this is easily altered to either search only for books that are actually available to borrow, or to search only your own library. It would be straightforward to expand a search of your own library, say, to only search those nearby libraries likely to allow you access to the item.

Locate interprets the word literally, and uses Google Maps to display the locations of library branches, sorted by type. Selecting an individual library causes further details to pop up. For those libraries known to the Directory, a search entered here will be directed straight into the library’s own system. There are various ways in which such functionality might usefully deliver value to a range of different users, and it should be feasible to provide the types of segmentation and subsetting that real-world uses would require.

The Directory provides much of the power behind the applications being shown, and also now drives aspects of third party systems outside Talis. The Directory recognises that information about libraries and their systems changes with depressing frequency, and that time-pressed library systems staff rarely manage to inform all those linking through to them of any change. With the Directory, however, it becomes a simple task for changes to be spotted and modified once (by anyone with access, not just Talis or library staff), and for those changes to propagate out to any services requiring the information. The scripts running behind the Google Maps mash-up on the Locate tab, for example, do not require knowledge of the URL for a given library’s OPAC in order to offer the search of that catalogue. All that the script needs to know is a way to identify any individual library, allowing it to pass that identification to the Directory and receive back information to allow the formulation of a query. Any other system inside or outside Talis should be able to do the same thing.

Before you try it with your own library, it is worth noting that not all libraries listed via the Locate tab currently link through to the back-end library system. This is not some technical fault or major failing with the system. Rather, it is a reflection of the difficulty that anyone currently faces in building an accurate picture of libraries, their services, systems and capabilities. We are working to populate the directory more fully, and welcome participation from customers and non-customers alike. More comprehensively populated, the Directory is capable of powering a host of applications from Talis and others capable of consuming the underlying services.

Borrow demonstrates the way in which an Inter-Library Loan request might be integrated into the offering, whilst Monitor again utilises the Directory, this time to poll known systems for their status.

Whisper draws together a range of functions that, individually, would actually benefit quite different people. With current models, it is unlikely that the same person would be finding out where their local library was, submitting a full-blown ILL request to a different library, and monitoring the availability of various library systems. Nevertheless, the technologies behind these functions, and the way in which they have been drawn together in this demonstration interface, certainly serve to enable innovative thinking around ways in which different user communities might be given access to a range of tools tailored to their requirements and powered by robust, easily updated and ubiquitously accessible pieces of Platform infrastructure such as the Directory.

Demonstration of Library 2.0 web services

Ian Davis also showed a more bare-bones view on the same services, in which the user could consciously and visibly enable and disable individual services. Lacking a recognisable ‘library’ interface, Ian’s demonstration underlined the point that these services might actually be surfaced anywhere, and in any combination, not just in an application that looks like an ‘obvious’ evolution from the OPAC.

Behind all of this lie web services and other systems constructed in accordance with current thinking around the most appropriate standards and specifications from W3C, NISO, OASIS and others. The technologies behind Whisper are far from closed and proprietary and, where appropriate, Talis is continuing its practice of engaging with the appropriate standards bodies in order to ensure that emerging specifications are shaped in the light of the experiences we are gaining from Whisper and other developments.

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