I was a newbie to the library mashup scene, and took in a lot of information yesterday at Middlemash, hosted by Damyanti Patel and her colleagues at Birmingham City University. It was every bit the friendly and stimulating event that I’d expected to be, but by the time I, along with an impressive number of co-malingerers, got to the Barton Arms at the end of the day, I was able to pinpoint what had made me mildly uncomfortable at intermittent points of the day.
The discomfort had nothing to do with either the organisers or the participants, or indeed with the concept of mashing itself. The problem is that the same forward-thinking librarians who celebrate the advent of electronic resources and innovative technologies for discovering them, are the same people who, in a mashing context, are forced back into the world of print. And this has to be about ownership of data. Bibliographic data is much more “ours” than electronic resource metadata, that has traditionally been proprietary, locked away in abstract and index databases, available only in academic institutions and certainly not mashable by a bunch of librarians with a strange predilection for creating more exciting experiences of scholarly information.
Mashing the reading list
Like many people at the event, Edith Speller from Trinity College of Music was concerned about her institution’s reading lists. She felt that they were getting too static, and out of date, and, like many Talis Aspire customers, wanted to raise awareness of all those expensive subscriptions to e-resources among academics who would then be more likely to include them on resource lists. However, the solutions arrived at seem to be very book-specific, involving the following:
• Using the ISBN of a book on a resource list to look up recommendations (along the lines of “people who bought that also bought this”) using Amazon Web Services.
• Using the Mosaic API to:
• Perform an ISBN look-up to find the courses associated with the people who have borrowed that book.
• Use course codes to look up what other books were borrowed by people on those courses.
Paul Stainthorp at University of Lincoln is using RefWorks to create embeddable lists of new titles and communicate them to users, by sharing folders within RefWorks publicy and creating RSS fees on that folder. He’s also used Yahoo! Pipes (the mashup panacea du jour) to pull in the book cover image and description from Amazon. Because their academics prefer notifications by email, as opposed to running their own RSS feed, an email now comes in when a new book arrives in their subject area.
No doubt academics are availing themselves of current awareness services provided by publishers to find out about new e-journal articles, but it comes back to the disintermediation of the library from e-resource metadata. Owen Stephens from Open University reflected in the pub afterwards on the decisive break that occurred with the electronic journal, when the library no longer owned the item, but merely licensed it. Tony Hirst concurred that the library world had never challenged the proprietary nature of abstracts and indexes.
Mashing the library floor plan
University of Sheffield plans to use heat maps to analyse how users are navigating the library. With the Ranganathan maxim in mind (positioning the stock to minimise the need for users to move around the library) they would then be able to optimise the library layout.
Sure it’s funky, but I just want to renew my books
Earlier in the day, Mark Van Harmelen from Hedtek Ltd. based at the University of Manchester, urged us all to listen more to the student voice, through focus groups and other mechanisms. I know that Owen Stephens and many other Middlemash attendees are making every effort to engage with students in the idea and design stage right now. It will be interesting to see whether we’re expending too much energy on over-sophisticated solutions for the dying format of print. As Chris Keene from University of Sussex stated, the response of students to tag clouds and other features at the discovery layer is, “Sure it’s funky, but I just want to renew my books.”
Personally, I’d love to see more focus on work-level data. The published works of an author or indeed a subject area plotted against an appropriate timeline could be tremendously useful – the works of Dickens plotted against key social legislation of the 19th century springs to mind. But the approach would come into its own with non-fiction, where there is a more direct relationship between published literature and real world events. That would really add scholarly value to bibliographic data, and would enable us to break out of transactions such as reservations that are rooted in the past not the future of scholarly life.