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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!)

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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.)