Widgets widgets all around, but will they click the link?
On a recent posting the Librarian in Black, Sarah Houghton, celebrated the development of a new tool called Library Thing for Libraries. The tool will allow library catalogs to include a widget which would display related editions, similar titles, and any other feature tagged by Library Thing. There will be a breakdown in paid and free options that seems quite interesting:
In keeping with our policy on thingISBN, our “related editions” widget will be free—allowing any library in the country to “FRBRize their catalog” without paying LibraryThing or anyone else a dime.** The paid widgets will include book recommendations, tag-based browsing, ratings, reviews and so forth.
In essence libraries could use the widgets to help collocate items which have been joined by the users on one side and by the catalog on another. I find the suggestion of “FRBRizing” catalogs a step in the right direction, as we continue to see users taking new routes to find the information they need. I would have to agree with those on the FRBR blog when they commented on the display options shown on the NYPL demo page from the Library Thing people. The list of multiple editions in a long list may confuse more than inspire, so as they suggested controlling the expression level data within the catalog may be more effective than saying everything at once to the user.
I wonder how useful this general widget would be to academic libraries, especially those with specialized collections and a smaller portion of their collections being for popular titles. The features I find myself most interested in, which seem to be more akin to the multiple entry points those within the FRBR mindset wish to realize, are making tag-level browsing and faceted information available to the user. I am not suggesting that the catalog needs to be purged of the subject classifications and bibliographic data we have utilized up to this point, but the ability to allow these controlled options to co-exist alongside the more fluid associations made by users, could ultimately make an OPAC for all.
On a related note, OCLC has just released a Google widget which allows those with personalized Google home pages to search WorldCat. It seems to be using the OCLC.org Beta interface which uses a simple interface to harness the power of their catalog. The information it displays utilizes your associated locational data to determine what the closest library with the title would be to you. Having tested it myself I must say that this is a simple way of looking up titles for availability. I was disappointed to see that the displayed record didn’t work as well with my Zotero citation extension for Firefox, but for what this was designed to do I was quite impressed.
This sort of portlet seems to be something all libraries should be thinking about. In time a library may be able to embed a similar widget, created from their own catalog, into all their relevant pages; and maybe even into other pages within their organization. Imagine having the library presence in places such as a academic department’s home page or perhaps on something like Facebook. It is important that we continue developing stronger catalogs and forward-looking systems, but we should not forget the importance of being found at the moment of inquiry. To see how something similar has worked and has won my fancy, take a look at the web-based chat program Meebo. In terms of connectivity, I really like the fact that someone looking at this blog or at my library profile page, could talk to me at the same time without having to download a particular software or use the same messenger service. Not to mention the fact that I can pro-actively chat with them once they enter my site. Maybe it’s time we started getting aggressive and finding the questions before they are they are left unanswered.