Monday, September 24, 2012

Library signage

After all of the hoopla about libraries converting to BISAC bookstore categories instead of using the Dewey Decimal System, a trip to Barnes and Noble one day last week made me wonder if it's really the categories that matter, or if it's all about the signage.
Here's some recent signage at Barnes and Noble:

Here's what the library signage in my local library looks like:

Which do you think is understood best by the people who step into those institutions?
I've referred to library cataloging as "the secret language of twins," understood by a small in-crowd and completely unknown to others. This library signage is even worse than that; it's as if the library decided to encrypt its subject access, and won't let the users have the key. There is no copy of DDC in the library for users to consult. (I know this because I looked for it.) You can get to a place on the shelf by doing a search in the catalog, but you can't find out what the numbers mean, and there is no natural language translation given in the library, other than "Fiction" and "Non-Fiction" over the doors to the main shelf areas.

How could this possibly be seen as functional?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Seven years, and waiting

Just a quick note to say that the Google Book Search lawsuit has entered a new "pause" and will thus be delayed further. Among the salvos that Google and the Author's Guild have fired back and forth are those around the question of whether the Author's Guild can legally represent all authors against Google. As I recall, the Author's Guild has something on the order of 5,000 members, all alive (as far as I know), while Google's digitization now covers somewhere upwards to 10 million books and probably nearly as many authors, from the days of early printed works to the present.

Google challenged the Author's Guild as class representative of all authors, but Judge Denny Chin, the judge who has seen this case through most of its life, allowed the suit to go forward with the Guild as class representative. This has been reversed by an appeals court judge, which means that the question of class representation must be decided before the suit can continue. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Rich snippets

At the recent Dublin Core annual meeting I heard Dan Brickley talk about Google's use of for rich snippets. is commonly thought of as "search engine optimization" (SEO), which to most people means "how to get onto the first page of a Google results search." But the microdata in web sites can also be used to make the snippets shown more useful by incorporating more information from the web page. The examples above, from the Google rich snippets page, show features like ratings as well as links to actual content within the web page.

Now that WorldCat has markup, my first thought was: what kind of rich snippet would be good for library data? There is a rich snippet testing tool where you can plug in a URL and see 1) the snippet 2) what microdata is visible to Google. You can plug in a WorldCat permalink and see what the rich snippet result is:  (opens in separate window)

There is no rich snippet displayed here, which tells us that Google hasn't yet developed a rich snippet model for our kind of data. But you can see, in great detail, all of the coded data that is available. (The red warnings indicate that there is data in the OCLC microdata that isn't part of OCLC is talking to the developers to incorporate new elements, some of which show up as warnings here.)

I began to think about how I would like this data used. It could be used to format a more bibliographic-like display, adding author, publisher, pagination. The ISBN could of course link to key online bookstores. (That would also bring in revenue for Google, so might be a popular choice for the search engine.) But what about libraries? How could rich snippets help libraries and library users?

The snippet could  lead back to WorldCat where the user could find a nearby library, but... wait! Google often knows your approximate location, and WorldCat knows whether libraries in your area have the book. AND the library catalog often has information about availability. I don't know how this data would interact with the WorldCat tool, but here's what I would like to see in the snippet:

This definitely goes beyond what "rich snippet" means today, but is not inconsistent with retrievals that pull data from multiple online sales outlets.  In the sales model, Google's assumption is that the searcher wants to obtain (in FRBR-speak) the item, and therefore various outlets that could provide that data are listed. This same logic could apply to libraries, of course. Libraries are a local source of many of the same things that are sold online, so the obtain logic fits.

This analysis of mine obviously ignores the economic incentive for Google to provide library holdings, especially since they would be seen as competing with sales.  I'm just dreaming here, doing the "what if" thing without the practical limitations.