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The ZACK Gateway is a mashup that isn’t used by one specific library, but is intended clearly for use by libraries (especially special) and rare-book-lovers.

Go here to look at the homepage.  Not the prettiest homepage, especially with the big list of check-boxes below the search box to indicate what libraries you do or don’t want to search, but it’ll do.  All those checkboxes are interesting though: Many of them are national libraries from various countries, like Canada, Australia, Sweden, Spain (though since this is created by someone in Germany, it’s naturally a bit heavy on the Germany catalogs – it looks like 10 names are in German), but I wonder how the creator chose which catalogs to include?  For example, in the U.S., naturally Library of Congress is the biggest, but I wouldn’t think Boston U. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology would necessarily have splendid collections of rare or out-of-print books?  Also, I wonder how the defaults are decided of what boxes are checked.  When I visited, it checked a smattering of eight boxes, two in the U.S., the Norwegian library, and five in Germany.  Since I am visiting the English version of this website (it says so in the URL bar), if you’re going to choose default boxes for me, does it not make the most sense to check the English-language libraries?  Perhaps the default search choices are one way this tool could be improved to provide better results…

Anyway, I searched for a title of the libretto book from a musical that I saw many years ago, loved, and have been trying to track down the CD from ever since – Quilters.  I already know it’s not common – WorldCat tells me they find only 2 libraries worldwide with the CD, though 233 libraries worldwide have the libretto/book. (If you’re not at a location that has a subscription to WorldCat, those links won’t work, sorry — you’ll just have to trust me on those numbers.)  Actually, I would have preferred to search for the CD — rarer — on ZACK, but the search interface allows no choices of format and apparently only searches for books.  Hmm.

When I searched on ZACK Gateway – both with the default boxes checked and when I changed it to include all the English-speaking libraries – it found just two results for the book, from the University of California library.  As I have circled in this screenshot, it clearly lists all the libraries searched and indicates how many results were found from each (hmm, do I really need to see the list of the libraries with no results?  That seems a bit redundant and makes it hard to see which ones actually do have results.)  Then, there are several useful links built in to the results page, but none of them are particularly self-evident or self-explanatory for the new user, which limits its usability.  The picture links to the Amazon sales page, the name of the library catalogue (Melvyn, here) links to the MARC record, and the (rather miniscule) Google icon is actually a link to Google Maps where it provides the “ZACK Bookmaps” – a user can see the relevant holdings mapped out with color-coded pins.

So, what’s the usability verdict on this one?  The search interface is a bit plain yet functional, but the results display page depends pretty much on users’ trial-and-error to explore the links.  It’s definitely designed, as already mentioned, to appeal to rare-book collectors or libraries looking for especially rare items, and with the emphasis on German libraries, it could be a more comprehensive search engine for some Europeans than WorldCat.  However, at least for North Americans, I can’t really see how this website outperforms WorldCat: WorldCat searches more formats; includes much more information such as options to view similar editions and formats, possible tags and reviews, etc;  and it found way more occurrences of my book, which probably just results from ZACK Gateway searching far fewer libraries.  As I see it, the one advantage ZACK has over WorldCat is its Bookmaps, which adds a nice visual display, but even WorldCat still lists the address of each holding library and links you to their catalogue.  Overall, this tool could be useful to some, but to be honest, I won’t be using it for book searching anytime soon.

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I love, love, love this next entry.  Probably that’s because one of my favorite things to do for years and years has been simply to go into a library and browse.  Whether it’s my hometown library I’ve been going to since before I remember, or a new library in a new city, it’s just fun to look around and see what they’re displaying.  And often I like to browse for things I’ll not necessarily check out: I’ll visit the teen section – they have the most intriguing covers! (and OK, I’ll admit, I still like to read YA lit sometimes), even the children’s section – talk about a walk down memory lane! (and, totally unrelated, but doesn’t this page make you want to be a kid again so you have a reason to read all those books?!)

Anyway, the Book Carousel is basically a really snazzy-looking way to browse covers online.  The Cambridge, ON library developed it (hey, didn’t I mention them around here earlier?  Way to go, Cambridge, for continuing to develop your sensible Web 2.0 tools!).  On this New Materials page , click on the purple eye (or click the orange button to subscribe to an RSS of this genre — another nice Web 2.0-y way to update patrons who want it) to view a neat graphic display of book covers.  Each book cover (with title and author above) is linked to the catalogue record with more information (though it’s not obvious there’s a link there, until you hover your mouse over the cover).  One can scroll through all the covers available, in sets of four, by clicking the right or left arrow buttons – though the arrows were not immediately obvious to me the first time I looked at this service; Cambridge could improve this service by making those buttons more prominent.

For a public library with an interest in increasing people’s reading for pleasure and edification, this is a wonderful way to reach people who, because of schedules or time commitments, rarely set foot in the library.  Many library OPACs already allow people to do all kinds of library-related stuff from their home Internet connection – search for materials, place holds, renew items, etc.  Practically, people who just want reading or viewing material only have to set foot in a library to check them out.  But it’s widely known that cover art can add (or subtract) vastly from a book’s content and “shelf appeal” – why else would publishers spend so much time and effort on covers, as SFF author Laura Resnick writes about here?  The Cambridge library is logically building on its patrons’ knowledge and usage of the computerized-library, adding to its existing Web 2.0 tools, and it now can take advantage of that cover art and reproduce that felicitous library experience of browsing all those lovely book covers, on the web.

However, (my only gripe, I promise) for such a cool tool, it’s not the most obvious to find from their homepage.  On the day I visited their homepage (Dec. 2), I went to at least three or four other likely-seeming places before I found the right place, as I’ve pointed out on the screenshot.  The link to the New Materials page is in rather small print at the bottom of the page — shouldn’t we advertise your cool tool a little more?

(Thanks to Susie and the bulletin board postings at this website for links to this and a few other library mashups I’m featuring here – Talis sponsored a competition, Mashing Up the Library 2006, and that discussion board was where many posted their entries.  Unfortunately a lot of the links are defunct now, but look around if you’re curious.)

Today’s entry is a sort of mashup of a library catalogue with a book-based social networking site called LibraryThing.

First, a little background on LibraryThing for those not familiar with it: Users (currently 945,000) create accounts; add books (choose from 40 million+ added so far) using ISBN’s, titles, or authors; review and add tags and ratings to benefit other users, etc.  (Actually, if you want a better description, go here for the tour.)

Basically, LibraryThing for Libraries (LTFL) is LibraryThing added-on to the typical library’s catalogue to make it more interactive and exciting.  (Again, a brief tour here.)  Libraries can choose to purchase either the Catalog Enhancements or Reviews Enhancements packages, or both.  (I couldn’t find any public word on the ‘Net, though, on how much either or both of them cost.)  Locally, West Vancouver Memorial Library (as well as 1500+ other libraries) is using part of LTFL, but I wanted to review a library using both the CE and RE packages, so here’s looking at Seattle Public Library (SPL):

When one searches for a book in the SPL catalogue, the results page looks like this: (click photo for bigger)

The links to the reviews from Amazon, LTFL, and NoveList are down in the corner, circled in red.  (I guess the link to Amazon’s reviews page for this specific ISBN is a mashup too, of a sort… And all librarians know of NoveList, but unfortunately you need a SPL library card number to access that, so I won’t go there.)  Clicking on the LTFL link leads you to a more comprehensive page of user-generated and highly interactive content, though, as you can see in this screenshot: 

You can easily see the tag cloud,  as many reviews as have been posted, readers’ ratings, recommended or similar reads, more detailed descriptions, links to more cover art, etc.  Most of those Amazon also has, and for free, but as a library user I like the feel of LTFL because it’s not blatantly trying to sell me something.  (It only links to the sites at which you can buy the book, like Amazon or Abebooks.)  Other extra perks: LTFL will also let you see the profile (with reading interests, other books reviewed, etc.) of people who liked this book, a “common knowledge” section with things like important character/place names or awards this book’s won, a link to possibly-relevant articles in Wikipedia… hmm, I think LTFL has thought of more than I could ever want to know about a specific book!  Obviously this much content does make for a rather lo-ong page to read (rather like this post, actually), but it’s arranged with the most widely-appealing stuff at the top (as I pointed out with the red arrows in the picture above), so it’s not too confusing to find what most people will want first.

So is LTFL worth the extra cost it requires from libraries, when enterprising patrons could go directly to Amazon and look up most of the same information?  Obviously some libraries have thought so, and the LTFL addition makes the social aspects much more easily accessible.  As a user, I like the looks of LTFL, and it definitely includes more social-networking, Web-2.0-type bells and whistles than Amazon does.  Thoughts or comments?

(If you’re curious to play around with LTFL yourself, visit the SPL catalogue.)