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2010-05-20 15:26:50

WPOPAC Reloaded

I’ve re-thought the contents of the record and summary displays in WPopac. After some experimentation and a lot of listening, it became clear that people needed specific information when looking at a search result or a catalog record.

So now, when searching for Cantonese slang, for instance, the summary displays show the title, year, format, attribution, and subject keys of each result. And when viewing the record for A Dictionary Of Cantonese Slang you’ll get all of that and more.

Attribution? Yeah, the 245 subfield C that never gets much attention in our catalogs, but is so useful to actual humans who might want to read the work. Subject keys? Let’s leave that for another post.

On the downside, I let a bug sneak in that shows an empty list of 856 URLs in each record (records that do have 856s display properly). Though this may still be called an incremental improvement over my last version that didn’t show the 856s at all. Another bug is that records without publication years are getting showing (and getting filed) under year zero. Ironically, the most common source of this problem is in catalog records for websites.

Walt is among those that I think will appreciate these changes, but I’m anxious to point out, despite this gleeful post on the subject, how pedestrian these changes are. That is, anybody with a bit of skill with XHTML and PHP — say any of the thousands of people developing themes for WordPress — should be able to shape the record templates to their liking in moments.

My delay in this is a mixture of laziness, being to busy elsewhere, and simply wanting to see how things work. I’m amused, for instance, that I haven’t heard anybody ask for the ability to sort search results by date or author.

Technorati Tags: wpopac, record display, libraries, lib20, libraries 2.0, search result

Making Libraries Relevant in an Internet-Based Society

PSU’s Casey Bisson wins Mellon Award for innovative search software for libraries

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — You can’t trip over what’s not there. Every day millions of Internet users search online for information about millions of topics. And none of their search results include resources from the countless libraries around the world—until now.

Casey Bisson, information architect for Plymouth State University’s Lamson Library, has received the prestigious Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration for his ground-breaking software application known as WPopac. The Wpopac software will revolutionize the online search process by allowing titles and descriptions of library holdings to be found on the Internet.

The award was presented at a ceremony hosted by the Mellon Foundation on Monday, Dec. 4 at the fall meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information, in Washington, D.C. Bisson’s project was selected as one of only 10 recipients out of several hundred nominees for 2006, the first year the MATC awards have been granted. The decision was made by an all-star panel that included Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Foundation.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports the thoughtful application of information technology to a wide range of scholarly purposes, including developing digital technologies to enhance research, teaching, and online and distance learning, and new technical approaches to archiving text and multimedia materials.

Christopher Mackie, program officer for the Mellon Foundation’s Research in Information Technology section, was pleased with how well WPopac fits the foundation’s criteria.

“The award committee was particularly excited by the way WPopac makes library patrons more active participants in their library experience,” Mackie said. “By allowing patrons to add information to library records online, the software allows the community to work together to make their library resources more informative and more valuable. When you couple this with the reduced costs of access that WPopac permits, and the enthusiasm with which it has been received by librarians and patrons alike, the committee judged the project to have a truly revolutionary potential.”

“For years we’ve been talking about the digital divide in terms of access, and we’ve been working hard to put computers and networks into every school and library,” Bisson said. “But those same libraries, and their communities, are invisible to people online. If libraries are to be more than study halls in the Internet age, if they are to continue their role as centers of knowledge in every community, they need to be findable and available online. They need the tools to represent their collections, their services, and the unique history of their communities online. That’s what WPopac does.”

Dwight Fischer, director of information technology at PSU, called Bisson’s work an appropriate centerpiece for the university’s transformed academic library. “Over the past year, Lamson Library has implemented what is known as a Learning Commons,” Fischer explained. “This joint effort between library and IT professionals brings more technologies, online research materials, academic tutoring, writing and reading services to a central location in the library. Library faculty and staff members work side-by-side with IT professionals, forming a collaborative team that better reflects the needs of today’s students. Casey’s project will help build more bridges to more information for more people. We’re very proud of him.”

Technorati Tags: andrew w mellon foundation, award, mellon foundation, press release

Presentation: Designing an OPAC for Web 2.0

IUG 2006 presentation: Designing an OPAC for Web 2.0 (also available as a PDF with space for notes)

Web 2.0 and other “2.0” monikers have become loaded terms recently. But as we look back at the world wide web of 1996, there can be little doubt that today’s web is better and more useful. Indeed, that seems to be the conclusion millions of Americans are making, as current estimates show over 200 million users in the US, including 87% of youth 12-17.

Web 2.0 isn’t driven by technology, it’s driven by that critical mass of users. And while social software and AJAX enabled web applications get most of our attention, people are turning to the internet for some very mundane everyday activities that were little more than science fiction in 1996. The commonality of internet banking, for example, reflects the trust users now have in the security and reliability of online services.

But the web has weathered so much hype and hyperbole that it may be difficult to recognize its arrival as a true cultural force. Computing has become so common that children often learn to type before they learn to write. And the instant, self-service access to worlds of information and services is changing industries — a fact we can see clearly in the decline of the role of travel agents, even while air travel continues to grow.

Kevin Kelly, in a Wired Magazine story described this apparent blindness:

The accretion of tiny marvels can numb us to the arrival of the stupendous. [thanks to Josh Porter for alerting me to this]

So the question of how to design a web OPAC for today is a question of how to design an information service in a world rich with information services and filled with users who make information seeking — though not necessarily at libraries — part of their everyday lives.

WPopac: An OPAC 2.0 Testbed

First things first, this thing probably needs a better name, but I’m not up to the task. Got ideas? Post in the comments. For the rest of this, let’s just pretend it’s an interview.

What is WPopac? It’s an OPAC — a library catalog, for my readers outside libraries — inside the framework of WordPress, the hugely popular blog management application.

Why misuse WordPress that way? WordPress has a a few things we care about built-in: permalinks, comments, and trackbacks (and a good comment spam filter), just to start. But it also offers something we’ve never seen in a library application before: access to a community of knowledge, programmers, and designers outside libraries. Because the core of WPopac is WordPress, and because it preserves WordPress’s rich plugin API and themes structure, it already has more users, designers, developers, and administrators than all the ILS vendors combined.

So, down with the ILS? Well, no. There are some brave souls working on full-fledged open-source ILSs, but that’s not my goal here. The ILS does a lot of stuff I don’t want to be responsible for, like the acquisitions workflow and financial, inventory, and circulation management. When you peak inside your ILS, you realize there’s a lot there you don’t want to have fix.

So, we have to have both an ILS and WPopac? Well, you don’t have to have anything, but if you want it, at least WPopac is free, extensible, and open-source. Less flippant answer: yes, it does assume there’s an ILS in the background somewhere, but more than a few people see potential for projects like this to serve underfunded libraries that may lack automation. That could be interesting.

But blog posts are unstructured and library data is full of structure. What gives? The standard WordPress content database is buttressed with extra tables to represent all the bibliographic information in its atomic detail. But even the ‘unstructured’ data takes some clues from the microformats camp, putting everything in XML parsable XHTML.

How’s that work again? Well, let me be careful here. I’m not proposing WPopac as a solution, rather as a framework for building a solution. That said, you can get a pretty good idea of how the first draft of this concept works by looking at a real record (be sure to view the source, as there are some hidden divs in there). But if you don’t like that, you can change the look by fiddling with the stylesheet or switching themes, and you can change the content with the WordPress API or by changing the way it’s loaded in the first place.

Further, because all the bibliographic data is there in its atomic detail, plugins can use and display that data anywhere on the page. Try a search to see how I’m using that data in the right column to improve findability, as in my clustered search results prototype from last fall.

So, does that mean I can do XYZ that I’ve wanted to do? Maybe. Anybody who knows how to write a WordPress plugin can take a stab at playing with all that data. The “refine search” content in the right column, and the “alternate searches” content at the bottom is generated that way. Try this one: I’ve finally got the Wikipedia results I’ve always wanted in the catalog, just look in the right column. Or take a look at the “add to del.icio.us” link in the record display, that’s generated by a regular wordpress plugin written by Arne Brachhold, who wasn’t thinking of libraries or OPACs when he wrote it. And down at the bottom of the page you’ll see the a list of related works that’s built by my own bsuite plugin. Want COinS-PMH/unAPI? The interface and all the data are there to make it happen, and here’s a good plugin to start from.

So no guarantees, but hey, give it a try. And if you run into trouble you’ll be among hundreds of thousands of WordPress users and supported by a huge community of plugin and theme authors.

What about RSS, XML, OpenSearch? WordPress solves the RSS feed for us (look at this URL to see). A feature-complete XML API, is a bit further off, but maybe somebody wants to pitch in to help solve that one? And full OpenSearch support, taking advantage of the suggested and alternate search features, is my next big project (here’s where I’m going with that).

This is awesome, can I run it at my library? Well, Jenny called dibs… But, really, this project started with my attempts to find a way to make my work sharable, so, yes. Call me a dreamer, but I find the notion of a community of libraries sharing plugins and code changes really exciting. But right now, there are three major components — the data importer, the plugin, and some modifications to the WordPress baseline code — and all of them need a little more work to make them distributable. Stay tuned.

This sucks, it doesn’t do X, and your plan for Y is all wrong. You’re probably right. This is my first stab at a really big problem, and there’s a lot that isn’t done and certainly a few things I didn’t think of. The plan here is to build a framework that let’s us ask questions, build possible solutions, and share them easily. The only thing I’m certain of is our need to find ways to make our systems easier to use, easier to extend, and integrated into the larger stream of progress that’s shaping the internet that over 200 million Americans are making an essential part of their lives. Take this as an invitation to get involved, there’s lots to do.

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