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Last entry talked about one way for patrons to browse the library visually even if they don’t often set foot inside.  Today’s concept is similar, and the idea is a good one.  Think: How many people in your life have ever bought a book off of Amazon.com or Amazon.ca?  Probably a vast majority, I’d guess.  Now, how many of those people would have liked to preview the book (or even read it through once and decide they didn’t really need to own it) thanks to their local library? (i.e., Vancouver Public Library in this case)  Now it’s (theoretically) easy to find out if VPL has the item you’re looking at on Amazon.

David Eaves in his blog here has simple directions how to install this add-on (actually several add-ons) to your browser, but basically here it is:

1. You need to be using the Firefox browser.  Go here if you need it.
2. You need to install the Greasemonkey add-on.  Go here for that.
3. Then go here and download/install the “Amazon Vancouver Public Library Linky.”

After that, you should be able to go to Amazon.ca (perhaps not Amazon.com, according to Eaves?), search for any item, and see a display like what I circled in the screenshot to the right, with the red or green text indicating the book’s status, linked directly to the record in the VPL catalogue.  As long as you get it all installed, it’s a pretty handy feature.

But I have a few beefs with this one.  First, the fact that users have to download potentially three new installations is enough to turn off some users – those with slow-ish internet connections, or not-very-internet-savvy patrons who might be intimidated by all that downloading.  (Heck, I do have fast internet, and I already use Firefox so #1 was done, but I didn’t bother to download #2 and #3 until I had to review it for this blog.  Though I am not the heaviest Amazon user, and classes leave me little time for fun reading, so I could be biased.)  This application is definitely built to appeal to heavy Amazon users.  But initially it’s a bit elusive to locate because I couldn’t find any sort of link or information about it on VPL’s homepage or Amazon’s homepage (which, I guess, makes sense because it was developed externally to both of those); apparently the only way to hear about this one for now is word-of-mouth or diligent blog-reading, which may limit its availability and use.  Again, because this was developed externally of VPL, I can’t really say how it is tying this in to the rest of its services, but I’m sure VPL likes any application that drives traffic to it.

However, in my estimation, this tool is also only appealing to highly-computer-savvy, current-users of VPL already, and therefore shouldn’t be mistaken for an outreach tool.  Here’s why:  If someone doesn’t have a library card already or rarely uses the library, I can’t see someone going through the downloading and installing, finding their nearest branch and likely placing a hold to get the item delivered there, even perhaps getting a card, just to go pick up an item that they likely could have gotten faster by buying it (though the library is, as Eaves pointed out, a good way to keep a rein on that book-buying budget!  But again, this isn’t news to current VPL users.)

My other complaint is, once I was looking around on Amazon, sometimes I got a display like what I circled in the screenshot to the right, stuck on “searching…” indefinitely; while it was perpetually searching and never finding it, I went straight to the VPL catalogue directly and found out that yes, indeed, it does have that item.  And that points out the obvious alternative that I’ve often used in previous hometowns and libraries: If I see an item I want while browsing on Amazon, I just open a new tab, click on the bookmarked library catalog, and copy-paste the title or ISBN to find if it’s in the library.  A few more clicks, yes, which might turn off some, but it’s pretty foolproof.

So in sum, I think this mashup is a good idea at heart and is useful for a particular subset of people: heavy Amazon users, current VPL users, and those blessed with fast Internet.  Maybe that subset is a large enough populace, especially in a metropolis the size of Vancouver, and I guess as a (future) librarian I can hope that a tool like this will help more people become aware of their local library’s services.

Here’s an idea for a library-lover’s utopia: wouldn’t it be nice if, once you were signed into your Amazon account and it knew your location, Amazon itself would provide a link to the nearest library and “Search for this item in the library catalogue”?  That would maintain the excellent idea here, while eliminating the installation steps and probably eliminating the perpetual-searching non-display too.  Many library OPACs already provide a link to “More information on Amazon.com,” isn’t it time Amazon reciprocated? 😉

(Again, thanks to Susie for pointing out this particular mashup!)