Mash Oop North write-up (part 1)

Spread some joy

Spotted in the Creative Arts Building at Huddersfield Uni

I’m on the train home from Mashed Library 2009 just now. It’s been an excellent day, with huge thanks due to Dave Pattern and everyone else involved in organising it. As someone said, it was the most organised unconference ever – properly organised chaos!

The event for me started yesterday evening, as I decided to avoid a 4.30am start by travelling up the day before and staying locally (I can recommend the Cambridge Lodge – very friendly staff and excellent fried breakfast!). A trip to a noodle bar and several local drinking establishments had been organised, which was very enjoyable both because of the delicious food and drink and the chance it gave to meet people informally before the event. This really helped me get over my usual introversion and get chatting, which helped me off to a good start the next day.

First session I attended was Dave Pattern on library usage data and Iman Moradi on gaming and libraries. I failed to take notes in any sessions except on Twitter, so here’s scrappy recollections:

  • Uni library stats show 20-25% of keyword searches end with 0 results. Resulting page is often a dead end – adding spellcheck etc will give a route out.
  • Huddersfield has done all sorts of wonderful things with their usage data – ‘people who borrowed x, also borrowed…’, general suggestions, and increasingly course-specific stuff. I was particularly taken with the way they can use course-based usage stats to create course-specific new items lists!
  • Visual features prove very popular (with stats to prove it) so finding ways to include book covers etc is a good idea. I wish sheet music covers didn’t all look so similar! AV material has more promise, but I’m imagining getting matches without ISBNs is slightly nightmarish.
  • Dave has a vision of the library website in 2012 – modular, flexible, with services that can be pulled out into students’ website of choice. Also pulling in non-catalogue links and resources, e.g. BBC news feeds and journal articles chosen with knowledge of student’s course and interests.
  • Iman had gorgeously designed slides, as you’d expect – he lectures in design iirc, as well as being a library fan! He reminded us of the user perspective, that finding stuff is complex and the more we can smooth that along the better. Serendipity can serve a purpose too, e.g. Huddersfield Town Library did a serendipitous display of novels by colour, which looked pretty and encouraged browsing.
  • He also pointed out possible similarities between library use and gaming (sorry Iman, I don’t play World of Warcraft, I’m too busy on my DS). He pointed out a library borrowing history is a bit like a game achievements list – there can be bragging rights on reading certain books. Dave touched on this gaming idea too with the notion of karma points earned by helping other students, redeemable for free printing etc.

Second up was Richard Wallis on Talis’ open source Juice Project. Its aim is to make it easy to enhance OPACs without duplication of effort, or as Richard said ‘slap some mash on your OPAC’ (wonder how he got that authentic mash-on-plate sound effect?). This is achieved by the writing of cross-OPAC extensions to e.g. add Google Book API features, look up a title in Worldcat (and display it in an in-page lightbox if so desired), plus the writing of a vendor-specific ‘metadef’ which defines where the ISBN etc are located on the page. If these are in place, all your friendly OPAC sysadmin has to do is write a little script to tell Juice where to put the extra content on the page, add a few lines of code to the OPAC source page and voila! This is something I’m hoping to get time to play with soon, although I’ll need to learn some Javascript and hope someone writes a metadef for SirsiDynix elibrary, else I’ll need to learn a lot of Javascript. Hoping some more real-world examples will start appearing soon too.

Philosophically I think the Juice Project has it spot on – it’s mad that so many OPAC administrators spend time coding enhancements which then work on their OPAC and theirs alone. Sharing code is definitely the way forward, and allows lesser-resource institutions with little development time to participate. One potential downside is accessibility – always an issue with Javascript, which is why it’s advised Juice is only used to add extra value to a service rather than critical functionality.

My final morning session was Tony Hirst’s Yahoo Pipes mashalong. I’d attended his Pipes presentation at last year’s inaugural Mashed Library event and been left in awe at what was possible, but not quite sure what to do with it. Sadly this time round Tony was beset with technical problems which cut his mashalong tragically short; on the plus side he’s since done a detailed and interesting blog post mashalong as an ‘apology’ (not necessary!) which I’ll be working through myself at some point. Despite the technical troubles this session was worth attending just for Tony’s brilliantly succinct explanation of JSON, which I’ve been baffled by until now – basically it’s a Javascript representation of an RSS feed which can be used to pull a feed’s contents into any webpage. Now I understand why I might want JSON output!

I’ll leave it here for now as my train’s nearly reached London. Another post (hopefully a briefer one) on the afternoon’s proceedings is coming soon…

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