Book Review: More Library Mashups

Libraries interested in using their data to improve service should get More Library Mashups: Exploring New Ways to Deliver Library Data edited by Nicole Engard.  It is a strong book that balances both highly technical developer-grade projects with ones that any library could do with basic technology skills and the ability to follow instructions.

The book defines mashups as mixing two or more data sources to create a better service.  Some of the examples rely on consumer cloud services like IFTTT.com (a triggering service), Yahoo! Pipes, and Google Drive. Others require infrastructure – often Ruby on Rails or PHP – to deliver more complicated results.  Whether you are a developer or just a tech-curious information worker, you will find interesting options.  All the projects are well-documented, almost like recipes, but individual authors frequently also provide their own code.

There are many excellent examples but these were the ones that piqued my curiosity as ones I think our library could accomplish or are just intriguing for what they offer as a service improvement:

  • The Umlaut implementation by Jonathan Rochkind at John Hopkins is a fascinating shift from using discovery services as mere layers on top of library services.  Jonathan describes the project as focusing on the last mile and smoothing the path from discovery to delivery.  I found it technically challenging to understand but conceptually it is an intriguing way for a library with a variety of services to go beyond making them discovery-searchable;
  • Another John Hopkins project called Rapier, an API of APIs described by Sean Hannan, has a similar impact.  It frees you from limitations common in vendor products.  Rapier was developed so that content, created in one of many databases, could be re-used without being rekeyed in multiple locations.  The solution uses Mustache and was also technically beyond my ability but tantalizing;
  • Searching library databases using a Twitterbot and IFTTT is described by Universiteitsbibliotheek Utrecht’s Bianca Kramer.  This is a simpler mashup – when you know what you’re doing!  It’s a great example of how accessible these projects are.  Ms. Kramer walks through all the steps, including detailed examples of things like filtering on Yahoo! Pipes, so that anyone can follow her recipe.  Just as importantly, since her project relies on consumer cloud services, she addresses issues like the longevity or ongoing existence of the tools she relies on;
  • News alerts using Yahoo! Pipes and MailChimp from Irish law librarian Celine Kelly at A&L Goodbody.  This is another excellent step-by-step on how to start to wrangle loads of information into RSS feeds and e-mail alerts triggered by incoming feed items.

There is much more in the book, particularly focusing on catalogs and maps.  These held less interest for me but emphasize an important point about the book.  Few readers will find everything applicable to their library environment.  But every information pro who leafs through this will find more than one good idea that they might be able to do, whether it’s improving presentation and serendipity of calendar information or better kiosk desktop management.

Librarians should buy this for their own professional development and library directors should look at as an investment in their people.  Whether you complete the projects listed or are just inspired – as I was – to think about how to apply their concepts to my own library, this book is worth your time.