Monday, November 4, 2013

Alright. Everyone have a cup of coffee? Glass of wine? Great. This is going to be an interesting post. While reading these articles, I had a lot of tangenting thoughts for this post. I’d love to rant yet again about accessibility and how Web 2.0 is alienating an entire population while libraries are struggling to cross the digital divide on dwindling resources because reasons. However. I think that sentence does my ranting for me. Instead, let’s talk about the importance of shirking the restraints of Amazon's algorithms and how the web allows us to collaborate and make our own, better, products.

O’Reilly and Battelle make the bold statement that “data is the “Intel Inside” of the next generation of computer applications” (2009). Essentially, what lends power to the next generation (or this generation) of applications is the content generated by its users (Holmberg et. al, 2008). One of the main features of buying from Amazon is the “Customers who bought this item also bought” line which follows each item record [aside: does anyone else want to start referring to these as “bib records” since starting library school?]. Some of those books are really good, and they have been on our reading list for a long time, and hey, someone who has similarly impeccable taste thought it was good enough to buy! In short, the value of a customer’s purchase reaches far beyond that individual purchase. Amazon's partner GoodReads has a similar feature, enriched by the ability to add all the books you’ve ever read and thereby eliminate possible rereads. And oh look, a link to purchase the book on Amazon!

So. If data generated by users is so valuable, then why don’t libraries use it, too? Wouldn’t it be to our benefit to use these tools to connect our patrons to potential material, therefore increasing our circ statistics and overall patron satisfaction? Well, in a word, privacy. Using patron data for any purpose isn’t what we do — most libraries don’t even keep a patron’s checkout history in order to respect their right to privacy. While some may not be bothered by the NSA’s collection of metadata, anyone who understands how rich metadata has the potential to be may be appalled. Given a library’s respect for patron privacy, how can we provide similar services without compromising our own values?

The answer, I’m happy to say, is out there. One of the best parts of the Internet is that there are highly-skilled people in the world who want to share and build and collaborate. It is my belief that these people are the ones who will move us beyond the closed networks of Facebook and into full APIs by voluntarily sharing rather than by the obligatory social network connection. [note: for those who don’t know, APIs are essentially the creators going, “Hey! You! Come play with this toy that I made and we can play together!”] While Web 3.0 is still in its proverbial prenatal stages, the Internet as referred to by O’Reilly and Battelle is well on its way to being a temperamental teenager. There will be always be alternatives to the popular kids - the LibraryThing to the GoodReads, the to the Delicious Bookmarks.

In my searching for examples of library hacks, I found this beauty:

The Fortune Teller
Made by

It is, in essence, a small computer which produces randomized book recommendations on a small slip of receipt paper. There are instructions available for free online, and the GitHub code is up. I make the argument that, given a wifi connection and a small UPC/RFID reader, it wouldn’t be difficult to create a program which would scan the reader’s book, search LibraryThing for the title, and return a randomized recommendation from the book’s page. LibraryThing has an API which allows us to access its rich collected data, why not use it?

How, you may ask, is this any different from using people’s metadata to add value to items? LibraryThing’s recommendation feature uses only member-added tags and LC subject headings, so it pulls only from the crowd’s tags, which are opt-in and not default. It does not crawl through users’ accounts to compare books and purchases, only takes information which has been offered (yes, it’s possible to make a book/library/account completely private). Oh, and something else - LibraryThing also supports “work-to-work” relationships, adding the possibility to recommend the next book in the series or world as well as create richer recommendations.

While right now we live in a fascinating phase of the Internet, we are currently in the throes of growing pains. Discussions of personal privacy, terms & conditions, copyright law, DRM, and so-much-more occupy our digital airwaves. Oh, and that’s another funny thing — people talk about the teenage years as if they’re the most tumultuous of our lives, but really we just mature and become more accustomed to what life throws at us. Sure our hormones settle down, but really we just get better (read: more cynical) at dealing with all the crazy. The same is true in technology. Issues and controversies aren’t going to stop or settle down or even slow down, but we will get better at dealing with them. I hope. This community of collaboration is growing, evolving, and expanding, and I never want it to stop.

Wanna hear the coolest part of writing this post?
At first, I remembered the fortune teller somewhere in the back of my head and decided to search for it. All I could find, though, was the picture of it on Pinterest. Despite my ninja Googling skills, the only explanation of the fortune teller I could find was the original picture, posted by the creator. After a little more digging in their blog I managed to find that they posted directions! DIRECTIONS! Someone made it and then put up a DIY post. For free. Because they wanted to. As I reblogged the original post with directions, I put up a note about how neat it was. Within thirty minutes the creator messaged me and offered their help.

That’s the spirit of the web that I love.

Works Cited
Holmberg, K., et. al. (2009). What is Library 2.0? Journal of Documentation, 65(4), 668-681.
O'Reilly, T., Battelle, J. (2009). Web Squared: Web 2.0 Five Years On. Retrieved from

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