Web Magazine for Information Professionals

What Happens When We Mash the Library?

Paul Miller looks at recent attempts to make library resources more appealing, including the Talis competition to build library 'mashups'.

Over the summer of 2006, there was much talk about extending and enriching the online offerings of the library. Reports for the Library of Congress [1] and University of California [2] were still being cogitated upon. North Carolina State University's [3] Endeca-powered catalogue was attracting a lot of interest [4]. The Next Generation Catalog list [5] was going from strength to strength, and two competitions in particular invited entrants to re-imagine the library and aspects of its online service delivery.

OCLC [6] ran their software contest [7] for the second year, inviting non-profit entrants to make interesting use of OCLC services. And Talis [8] gathered an international team of judges [9] to invite anyone, anywhere, to use anything in order to demonstrate an interesting new take on the library's online presence.

A Rationale for Competition

For all those users of libraries who have ever wished they could bring information from their library to life outside the virtual walls of its Web site, the Talis competition presented an ideal opportunity to see some of what the future might hold.

From Jon Udell's early work with LibraryLookup [10] to the current fashion for Greasemonkey [11] plug-ins and the more structured exposure of Web Services by Talis, Amazon, Google and others, there are significant advances being made in the ways in which libraries offer their services to the outside world. At least as important is the revolution occurring outside the library, as those beyond the walls take and manipulate library data on their own.

Modern approaches to thinking about provision of library data and services online create opportunities for numerous applications beyond the traditionally defined library management system. By adhering to standards from the wider Web community, by considering the library system as an interlocking set of functional components rather than a monolithic black box, and by taking a bold new approach to defining the ways in which information from and about libraries are 'owned' and exposed to others, we make it straightforward for information from the library to find its way to other places online.

Rather than being locked inside the library system, data can add value to the experience of users wherever they are, whether it is Google, Amazon, the institutional portal, or one of the social networking sites such as MySpace or Facebook. By unlocking data and the services that make use of it, the possibilities are literally endless, and it is here that efforts such as those around the construction of a library 'Platform' [12] 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 'Mashup'. Mashups 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. Wikipedia [13], the online encyclopaedia, defines a Mashup as;

"... a website or web application that uses content from more than one source to create a completely new service." [14]

This competition was for anyone in the community that had harboured a yearning to see information from or about libraries put to best use and displayed to optimal effect alongside information or services from other sources. The Mashing Up The Library competition [15] was open to all, and carried a first prize of £1,000 for the strongest entry.

This competition was intended to celebrate and showcase all that is best in these efforts to push library information out to existing audiences in new ways, or to reach totally new audiences with compelling and captivating applications. The 2006 competition marks a beginning, and we look forward to watching the sector grow in coming years.

Announcement of the Mashing Up The Library competition in June generated great enthusiasm amongst diverse groups across the world. Tim Spalding of LibraryThing [16] commented "LibraryThing draws on libraries for its data, so I'm well aware how rich this is, and how relatively unexploited by programmers in general. I'm looking forward to seeing what creative mashers do".

Helene Blowers, Public Service Technology Director, Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County [17] Charlotte, North Carolina congratulated Talis on its initiative, noting with approval that not only was the competition open to all-comers (rather than just its customer base) but also that contestants were not obliged to use or interface with Talis' products to create an entry. Darlene Fichter, Data Library Co-ordinator for the University of Saskatchewan [18] felt it would 'kick-start the creation of several mashups using library data which will benefit everyone'.

The Judges

An expert panel of international judges gathered to promote and judge the competition. They comprised;

The Entries

A total of eighteen entries were received for the competition, spanning 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 from the commercial sector. As is the trend with Mashups more generally, map-based Mashups proved common.

All eighteen entries are described in detail [19], and comprise;

Photo (28KB) : Figure 1 : first prize logo


Photo (94KB) : Figure 2 : John Blyberg

John Blyberg

screenshot (51KB) : Figure 3 : John's winning entry, Go-Go-Google-Gadget. This image by kind permission of John Blyberg. © All rights reserved

John's winning entry, Go-Go-Google-Gadget.
This image by kind permission of John Blyberg. © All rights reserved

The First prize of £1,000 was awarded to John Blyberg [38] of Ann Arbor District Library [39] in Ann Arbor, MI. His entry, Go-Go-Google-Gadget [28], showed how simply library information can be integrated into the personalised home page offered by Google, and was an excellent example of taking information previously locked inside the library catalogue and making it available to users in other contexts where they may spend more time than they do in their catalogue. Available information includes new and the most popular material in the library, and user-specific information on checked-out and requested items. 'Superpatron' Ed Vielmetti [40] applauded the simplicity of this entry, remarking in a clear invitation for others to follow John's lead that "the visible source code is very tiny and easily hackable." Vanderbilt University's Marshall Breeding [41] concluded, "I like this entry's spirit of opening up information in the library system and putting it under the control of the user."

In recognition of the strong pound at the time, the sum of $2,000 was paid to John.

The Second Prize

photo (28KB) : Figure 4 : second prize logo


screenshot (69KB) : a view across part of the library territory inside Second Life from the top of the Talis tower

Figure 5: a view across part of the library territory inside Second Life from the top of the Talis tower

The Second prize of £500 was awarded to the Alliance Library System [42] in East Peoria, IL, and their global partners in the Second Life [43] Library [44]. Their entry, the Alliance Second Life Library 2.0 [20], was both a testament to international co-operation amongst libraries and a compelling demonstration of the ways in which traditional library functions can be extended into cyberspace, reaching new audiences.

In recognition of the exchange rate at the time, the sum of $1,000 was paid to the Alliance Library System, and they used the funds to finance a number of building projects inside Second Life.

Since the competition, Talis has also been involved in sponsoring a further library venture inside Second Life; Talis Cybrary City [45]. This new island provides a free home to more than thirty libraries around the world, and offers them a space in which to project their own identity and services, separate to the communal effort they put into the main Second Life Library. Individuals well known to Ariadne readers, including Eduserv's Andy Powell, are taking to the opportunities in Cybrary City like the proverbial ducks to water [46].

What's Next?

The Mashing Up The Library competition marked an important step forward in encouraging open and inclusive innovation from libraries around the world, regardless of their consortial memberships or vendor allegiance. As we move forward and traditional library groupings become less appropriate and sustainable in today's rapidly changing environment, it becomes increasingly important to encourage open approaches such as these. Talis is committed to helping libraries to reach out to existing and new markets for their capabilities, and the ongoing support of this competition is one aspect of that strategy.

Rather than re-run the same competition again in 2007, we wish to encourage innovative work on an ongoing basis. As such, the competition Web site [15] remains open, and is accepting new entries. We will periodically assemble a team of judges to select the best submissions since the last time entries were judged. In addition, we will seek to reward particularly innovative or compelling examples on an ad hoc basis, outside the normal cycle of judging.

For those not interested - for whatever reason - in entering the competition itself, we also maintain an Innovation Directory [47] within which any piece of innovative work in this field may be registered. Current entries include contestants in our competition, those we are aware of from the OCLC competition [7], and more. We invite others to come forward and nominate their own work and that of others, in order that we can build a resource from which the whole community may learn.


The 'mashup' is a point in time; a means to an end. Our purpose is not, necessarily, to encourage the neverending development of small tweaks and hacks around existing systems. Our purpose is to create a safe and incentivised environment within which the whole sector can begin to give serious thought to what they actually want in the future. Should we continue to change the systems we have incrementally, or are we approaching the point at which some revolutionary change is required? Mashups are 'easy', mashups are quick. Mashups free their creator to think differently, and to try the unexpected. Some of that which they learn will inform our collective thinking as we move forward.

More sustainable than an explosion of individual mashups is a robust and scalable ecosystem upon which system builders can rely, and within which a wide range of stakeholders can maintain existing niches or carve new ones. Mashups certainly point in an interesting direction. The sustainable future, whilst learning an awful lot from them, is far more likely to look like the vision forming around the Talis Platform [12], with its robust technical footing and powerful Web services [48] that enable integration with Amazon [49], LibraryThing [50], Google, and more, and that make it feasible to construct a whole new application [51] in a matter of days rather than months or years.

screenshot (87KB) : Figure 6 : Talis' Project Cenote, an experimental interface rapidly deployed on top of an underlying Platform to showcase the possibilities offered by large pools of data and consistent means of access

Figure 6: Talis' Project Cenote, an experimental interface rapidly deployed on top of an underlying
Platform to showcase the possibilities offered by large pools of data and consistent means of access

The world is a-changing. 'Playing' in Second Life and 'mucking around' with mashups tells us a great deal about how; and an awful lot more about how to change with it.


  1. Calhoun, K., 2006, "The changing nature of the catalog and its integration with other Discovery Tools"
  2. Bibliographic Services Task Force, 2005, "Rethinking how we provide Bibliographic Services for the University of California", http://libraries.universityofcalifornia.edu/sopag/BSTF/Final.pdf
  3. North Carolina State University http://www.ncsu.edu/
  4. Endeca at the NCSU Libraries http://www.lib.ncsu.edu/endeca/
  5. Next Generation Catalogs for Libraries mailing list http://dewey.library.nd.edu/mailing-lists/ngc4lib/
  6. OCLC, the Online Computer Library Center http://www.oclc.org/
  7. Second OCLC Research Software Contest http://www.oclc.org/research/researchworks/contest/
  8. Talis http://www.talis.com/
  9. Mashing up the Library competition 2006 judges http://www.talis.com/tdn/competition_judges
  10. LibraryLookup http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/LibraryLookup/
  11. Greasemonkey http://greasemonkey.mozdev.org/
  12. Talis Platform http://www.talis.com/platform/
  13. Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/
  14. Mashup, as defined by Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mashup_%28web_application_hybrid%29
  15. Mashing up the Library competition http://www.talis.com/tdn/competition/
  16. LibraryThing http://www.librarything.com/
  17. Public Library of Charlotte & Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, North Carolina http://www.plcmc.org/
  18. University of Saskatchewan http://www.usask.ca/
  19. Mashing up the Library competition entries http://www.talis.com/tdn/forum/84
  20. Alliance Second Life Library 2.0 http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1506
  21. Amazon2OU Library Pivot Browsing http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1508
  22. BiblioPage http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1503
  23. Book Cover Browser http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1517
  24. Book Trackr http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1522
  25. Consuming Library New Book Feeds http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1513
  26. Danish Contribution http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1519
  27. Feed Based Library Interface http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1504
  28. Go-Go-Google-Gadget http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1524
  29. Lib 2.0 library toolbar http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1521
  30. The Library Catalogue in Google Desktop http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1526
  31. LibMap http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1516
  32. Library Map Mashup http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1525
  33. Library Patrons who borrow to create http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1518
  34. Lillian - a virtual librarian http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1507
  35. Maps of Place of Publication http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1511
  36. OU Traveller http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1520
  37. NJIT Catalog http://www.talis.com/tdn/node/1523
  38. John Blyberg http://blyberg.net/
  39. Ann Arbor District Library http://www.aadl.org/
  40. Superpatron blog http://vielmetti.typepad.com/superpatron/
  41. Marshall Breeding http://staffweb.library.vanderbilt.edu/breeding/
  42. Alliance Library System http://www.alliancelibrarysystem.com/
  43. Second Life http://www.secondlife.com/
  44. InfoIsland.org, the blog of the Second Life Library http://www.infoisland.org/
  45. 'Talis sponsors Cybrary City' press release http://infoisland.org/2006/11/07/talis-sponsors-cybrary-city/
  46. ArtsPlace SL blog http://artfossett.blogspot.com/
  47. The Innovation Directory http://www.talis.com/tdn/innovationdir/
  48. Talis Platform web services http://www.talis.com/tdn/platform/
  49. Amazon@Libraries Firefox browser extension http://www.talis.com/tdn/greasemonkey/amazon-libraries
  50. LibraryThingThing Firefox browser extension http://www.talis.com/tdn/greasemonkey/librarythingthing
  51. Project Cenote http://cenote.talis.com/

Author Details

Paul Miller
Technology Evangelist

Email: paul.miller@talis.com
Web site: http://www.talis.com/

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