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For my final post, I’m straying a bit from a specific library’s use of mashups, to a mashup that can be (and undoubtedly is being) used by librarians the world over:  LibWorm.  As a future librarian, I feel there are so many good ideas “out there” on the ‘Net that could be of use to me in my professional career, but there are not enough hours in the day for me to effectively search for everything I could want.  So a search tool like LibWorm, a search engine for the “biblioblogosphere,” seemed especially useful when I first found it described on this page from the Talis competition.

Here’s its FAQ page, where it basically says it is meant to be a “professional development tool” and current-awareness helper for librarians or people interested in libraries.   How does it work?  As much as I can tell, it provides an RSS feed from RSS feeds.  (No, really!)  Currently it mashes together 1400+ feeds related to libraries (found from lists on existing wikis and constantly submitted by individual bloggers, so the list is growing) and adds a search interface; so librarians can search for terms, or look at categories, tags, or subjects that interest them.  Then when they find a particular category or combination of search terms that’s most useful for them, they can set up their own RSS feed to get that information delivered to them.  If I’m in a time-crunch (and who isn’t?), I like this already!

Obviously this isn’t linked to any specific library, so I can’t analyze how well it is tied into the library’s other services.  But I would imagine this type of service appeals to librarians (or those interested in libraries) who are already at least moderately tech-savvy (know what RSS is and how to set one up, though the homepage here also includes directions for that to help out newbies).  I could see myself using this once I get into a specific library role and want to be updated on podcasts in academic libraries, say, or Personnel/HR/Jobs (hey, maybe I should subscribe to that one now, can’t start looking for a job too early… ), or Humor for when the jobsearch gets depressing…

On the usability front, this website scores well on my card.  Its front page (screenshot to left) seems to have taken a tip from that search-meister Google and made its home page very clearly all about searching.  No ads at all (a pleasant surprise!), lots of white space so one’s eye clearly goes to the search box, a few links to the Feed Categories, Subjects, and Tags, but nothing that detracts from the search capabilities.

If one clicks on the categories or subjects, one gets displays like these two screenshots:

We get a few Ads by Google now (hey, nobody’s perfect), but other than that, the display is still very clean, with navigational links at the top and one-click access (the orange buttons) to set up the RSS feed.  Honestly, I can’t see how they could make it any easier.  Findability… well, that’s unfortunately a bit harder.  I found it from the Talis page, and on trying a couple Google searches, for “library blogs RSS” and “library biblioblogosphere” (I know, that term’s a stretch for the layperson to know), I didn’t see LibWorm in the first couple pages.  So it might be suffering from its newness, or whatever things Google’s algorithms consider.  But I really hope it becomes more findable, because it deserves it!

Another thing I like about LibWorm is that it seems rather international — when I searched for “mashups” I got this results page, with 3 results on the first page alone that looked like they were in Italian and Swedish (I’m guessing?), and almost certainly I would get more if I searched for a non-English word.  So this is a tool useful for international librarians or any interested non-English-speakers.  Speaking of the search results page, it again makes it easy for someone to set up an RSS feed into their own personal reader (it offers Google Reader, Newsgator, and Bloglines buttons), and it automatically sorts by date (though Relevance is also an option).

Overall, excellent layout, visual appeal, ease of use, and a very handy tool for busy librarians everywhere — what’s not to like!  What do you think?

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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.