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Personalisation tool scoops library services mashup prize

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Paul Miller of Talis reports on the results of the company’s recent competition to create innovative library services

Over the summer of 2006, an eclectic mix of librarians, programmers, and interested individuals with web skills applied their talents to the task of ‘Mashing Up the Library’. They were competing for a first prize of £1,000 (almost $1,500 at today’s exchange rate) whilst together demonstrating numerous possible future directions for the delivery and integration of library services.

Modern approaches to the provision of library data and services online create opportunities for numerous applications beyond the traditionally defined library-management system. The library system can be considered as an interlocking set of functional components rather than a monolithic black box. A new approach can also be taken to defining how information from and about libraries is ‘owned’ by and exposed to others.

These ideas, combined with the standards from the wider web community, make it straightforward for information from the library to find its way to other places online. Rather than being locked inside the library system, a library’s data can add value to the experience of your users wherever they are.

This could be using Google, Amazon, an institutional portal or virtual learning environment, or social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. The possibilities are literally endless and it is here that sustained cooperative efforts, such as the Talis Library Platform, become important.

One very early example of combining library data with other sources in order to add value to both is the whole area of the ‘mash up’. Mash ups are not only found in the library world, but are proving increasingly prevalent in association with a whole host of Web 2.0 companies and ideas (see page 15). Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia, defines a mash up as, ‘... a website or web application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service’.

As part of our effort to nurture an open, scalable approach to library data and services, Talis worked with the judges to solicit innovative examples of library mashups. The Mashing Up The Library competition was open to anyone and received entries from Canada, Denmark, the UK and the USA.

These spanned everything from very simple enhancements to existing library functions, right through to a collaborative effort to provide library services inside the Second Life 3D online digital world. Entries came in from public and academic libraries, as well as the commercial sector.

The first prize of £1,000 was awarded to John Blyberg of Ann Arbor District Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. His entry, Go-Go-Google-Gadget, shows how simply library information can be integrated into the personalised home page offered by Google. This is an excellent example of taking information previously locked inside the library’s OPAC and making it available to patrons in other contexts. Available information includes new material in the library and patron-specific information on checked-out and items.

The second prize of £500 was awarded to the Alliance Library System in East Peoria, Illinois, USA, and its global partners in the Second Life Library. Their entry, the Alliance Second Life Library 2.0, is both a testament to international cooperation amongst libraries and a demonstration of the ways in which traditional library functions can be extended into cyberspace.

Libraries of all types are increasingly grappling with the realities of delivering relevant, appropriate services to their users. These same users are all too often prepared to accept ‘good enough’ from more accessible or engaging online content providers. By embracing and extending ideas such as those demonstrated by the entries for this competition, libraries, vendors and the wider information community can deliver world-class services.

More information on the competition, its judges, and the entries received is online at www.talis.com/tdn/competition. The site will soon also carry information on an exciting new phase of the competition for the rest of 2006 and 2007.

Talis’ Paul Miller was competition sponsor and a member of the judging panel