Piping Hot

Having some free time over Christmas, I have gotten around to playing around with some of the new mashup for dummies technologies being made available.

Besides Microsoft’s Popfly and Dapper, I have spent time trying to understand the basics of Yahoo’s Pipes. Some of the Pipes people are creating are quite complicated with geocoded maps and lots of localized information. In trying to figure out how to create something simple and at the same time wondering how tools like this can be used in the library environment I tried to think of ways to combine various RSS feeds. Here’s what I’ve come up with.

Ontario Nursing News
When I think about the future evolution of the traditional library subject guide I feel a big part of it should be automated updated content. We have a lot of nursing students in our library and I imagine a feed they could view which had up to date relevant information to them would be useful.

So I went about creating a Pipe from 3 different feeds. I created a simple Google News RSS feed for a search for stories that mention Ontario Nurses. But I also wanted to extract the news sections from the Canadian Nurses Association and the Ontario Nurses Association which do not provide their stories in a RSS feed. Pipes mentions using the tool Feedity, which scrapes a basic web page and creates an RSS feed from it. You can see below what this Pipe looks like:

onn.jpg

The results list is not as perfect as I would like. For some reason when Feedity scrapes the ONA site for stories it includes the ads from the site in the results of the Pipe. But overall, it does what I intended it to do. And now I can use the output of this Pipe as an RSS feed.

Access Copyright News
With all the news about copyright law changes coming I wanted to create a Pipe that combined a variety of feeds that mention everyones’ favorite copyright collective Access Copyright. This pipe is fairly basic and combines a feed from an Ebsco search and ones from Google Blogs, Google News and Yahoo News.

accesscopyright.jpg

The Filter module was needed to make this Pipe useful because with the Ebsco, Google and Yahoo searches it was not easy to verify that the phrase “Access Copyright” was returned and not the word access and copyright separated by a paragraph or a period. Before I put the filter in I was getting a lot of unrelated stories which had the word access as the last word of the articles and the copyright notice at the bottom of the article. Now I have a useful feed that keeps me up to date when Access Copyright news is happening or when articles that discuss the collective are written.

Library Catalogue Alerts on NCAA/College Basketball
Finally, I wanted to try a library focused Pipe. Knowing that there are a growing number of libraries with modern OPACs that create RSS feeds for searches I created a Pipe on the topic of basketball with a filter for NCAA/College basketball. I used the catalogues from Ann Arbor District Library, Plymouth State University Library, and North Carolina State.

ncaa1.jpg

I’m not sure how useful this particular Pipe is. It was more of an effort to see if it would work. I can imagine that if WorldCat had a way to create similar RSS feeds, the ability to filter results that Pipes has would allow you to create some interesting alerts about books on very specific topics being added to libraries across the continent.

Miscellaneous presentations

If you’ve got about some time to spare you may want to check out David Weinberger’s talk at Google and his talk at Yahoo! about his new book “Everything is Miscellaneous”.

In these videos he gives a humorous and concise review of this history of taxonomy and how the rise in digital information leads to a questioning of the adherence to the Aristotelian approach of rigid, arbitrary classification and embracing the idea of classifying everything as miscellaneous and doing the sorting based on the attributes that matter to you.

Interesting points from the Google video include:

  • A funny critique of Melvil Dewey (20:00).
  • The tension between the main stream media, encyclopedias, etc. which make a constant effort to appear authoritative and completely subjective while new sources like Wikipedia allow the community to post notices within articles which suggest that they may have bias, use weasel words, etc. (44:30)
  • A review of faceted classification which uses the Endeca catalogue at NCSU as an example. (31:40)

In addition to the rough treatment given Mr. Dewey there are inevitably comments made about every-ones favorite beacons of information organisation, librarians. In the Yahoo! video the interviewer is Bradley Horowitz, their head of technology development. Being the hip, techno guy he is, he takes some sly digs at library types (11:40) referring to them as, “the last bastions of the old guard” and “neatniks”. Weinberger responds to this by saying that he does not see such a clear delineation between these two camps when it comes to how to go about approaching, sorting and classifying information in this new digital age.

Another one of Weinberger’s key points (Yahoo! 16:20) is the idea that with so much information coming in to us it has now become easier to collect everything than to take the time and labor to review/judge/rigidly classify the information that comes in (his example being all the pictures you may take on a digital camera) and figuring out what to delete. Along with this is the idea that you can never know when you or someone else may need the information you think you should delete.

I am struggling a bit with this since I signed up for a Gmail account. I kept looking for where you create the folders so I can nicely sort my emails in to nice defined piles. Now I have to get used to this idea of Labeling Mail and letting all the emails sit together in the All Mail box.

These videos also brought to mind the issue we often have with our library web site. I know we could provide much more details about various aspects of the library but we arbitrarily decide at what point a piece of information would have such a limited audience that we decide that the work needed to create it, keep it current etc. is not a good use of our limited time.

This push and pull between the power held by the traditional information brokers and the rising chorus of the user wanting a bigger say is going to continue to be interesting to be a part of.

Modern OPACs

Articles and studies continue to point out that when it comes to fulfilling their information needs, the first choice of students is to use search engines and the other Internet tools they grew up with, as opposed to the current crop of tools the vast majority of libraries provide for them.

As this video highlights, today’s OPAC is often the source of much frustration, both for patrons and library staff. Speaking about our own OPAC, let’s just say that its “leisurely pace” has made me an expert at small-talk while the patron and I wait for the results to come up. It also not hard to detect the frustration/bewilderment they have when we explain why they need to use one tool to search for books, and another to search for articles. They have come to expect one search box as the launching point to find the resources that are available to them.

Thankfully, various libraries are beginning to implement tools that integrate the strengths of Google and other web tools (speed, interactivity, user-friendliness) with the strengths of library resources (controlled vocabulary, access to high-quality material, etc.)

In the news a few months ago was the award given to Casey Brisson, the Information Architect for Plymouth State’s University’s Lamson Library, for his creation of the WPopac application. Among other features, this modern take on the OPAC makes the library’s holdings visible to users of search engines and it allows patrons to add information to the library record. This link shows what a holding record looks like in this catalog.

While the WPopac is the work of a small dedicated team, Endeca is a diverse information technology company. I have come across two libraries that have implemented their search product. McMaster announced their launch of the product today. As you can see when you try a search in their “Endeca-powered library catalogue”, the interface makes it easy to limit a search to geographic region, subject era, etc. Most exciting to me is the seamless integration with their electronic resources.

McMaster’s new OPAC

North Carolina State University Libraries also have an Endeca-based product. They also allow you to install a web-browser search box for the catalog. Another cool feature is that after you type in your search, at the top of the page you get a breakdown of the results by Call Number.

NCSU

If for whatever reason you were looking for items about Abraham Lincoln and the Fine Arts, this product makes it quick and easy to do.

One area where the Endeca products fall short of Google is spelling error recognition. As someone who constantly has to use Google to find proper spellings for the searches students ask to me to do for them, any help I can get from a search product is appreciated.

In honor of the NCAA basketball tournament I decided to do a search for items on the topic of former Kansas Jayhawk star Wilt Chamberlain. When I typed in “Wilt Chamberlin” in Google it immediately suggested I meant to type in “Wilt Chamberlain”. However with the McMaster and NCSU catalogs, they did not guide me to the person I was obviously looking for.

Except for this small quibble, it is a positive sign that libraries are working hard to bridge the gap between today’s advanced web tools and technology and the legacy products so many of us are tied down to.