:: Digital Libraries Columns


Library Journal "Digital Libraries" Columns 1997-2007, Roy Tennant

Please note: these columns are an archive of my Library Journal column from 1997-2007. They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date. :: Digital Libraries Columns

When Popular Goes Public


   As librarians, we are in the business of serving the public. Perhaps
   the public happens to be those who live in a particular city or county,
   or study at a college or university, or work at a certain organization.
   No matter where we work, we have clientele whose needs for information
   and entertainment we try to meet. You think we would know what they

   We have some ideas, mostly based on anecdotal information (for example,
   what someone asks for at the desk), but we do precious little with the
   statistical gold mine that is accumulated by many of our computer
   systems. Integrated library systems tend to do well reporting aggregate
   numbers of books circulated, but why don't we have an option to order
   search results based on popularity? What is popularity?

   Of course, there are many dimensions of popularity and an increasing
   set of new services based on one or more dimensions of it. One of the
   most familiar services based on popularity is Google. Google's PageRank
   (TM) system is basically an algorithm for determining the relative
   popularity of web pages. Search results are then ranked based on that
   computed value.

   Meanwhile, OCLC has measured another kind of popularity. By plumbing
   the depths of WorldCat, OCLC Research staff discovered the top 1000
   most-held titles among OCLC member libraries. This was achieved by
   applying principles described in the report Functional Requirements of
   Bibliographic Records (FRBR) and making some additional judgment calls
   in merging records for similar items (for example, Garfield ends up in
   the top 20 since holding any Garfield title counted). Such stalwart
   classics as The Illiad and The Odyssey are, of course, represented, but
   there are some surprises as well.

   A network-based version of the typical best sellers list can be found
   at AllConsuming, which states it is "a web site that watches web logs
   for books that they're talking about and displays the most popular ones
   on an hourly basis."

   Watching & recording

   There is yet another side to popularity. A number of new services are
   cropping up that trade on our interests in what others are eating,
   buying, reading, seeing, or hearing. Take Audioscrobbler, for example.
   After downloading and installing a free plug-in, Audioscrobbler builds
   a profile of your musical taste on its web site by having the plug-in
   monitor what you listen to in your media player (e.g., iTunes, Winamp,
   etc.) and periodically uploading the information. Your web page on the
   Audioscrobbler site keeps track of your favorite artists and top
   tracks, but it doesn't end there. Audioscrobbler also compares your
   listening to all other users and computes your nearest listening
   "neighbors" by the percentage of overlap. It connects those with
   similar listening tastes, and you can check out the web pages of your
   neighbors for suggestions of other artists.
   Collecting your data

   This movement toward capturing and sharing one's personal information
   is so significant that coined the term life caching
   to describe the act of "collecting, storing, and displaying one's
   entire life, for private use, or for friends, family, even the entire
   world to peruse." When you consider that soon we will be surrounded by
   adults who have had a web site since birth (how many web sites created
   by proud parents have you seen?), the change of paradigm becomes more
   obvious.Audioscrobbler and similar services trade on the willingness of
   individuals to open their listening habits for others to view and use.
   It is simply the tip of the iceberg and will soon include all kinds of
   preferences, from reading to shopping. This concept may be a difficult
   one for librarians, who have zealously separated the identity of
   individuals from the books they read. We don't need to stop doing this
   but rather to understand that there may be legitimate times and places
   to allow users to self-identify their reading habits. And, as I believe
   a variety of services on the web demonstrate, there are useful things
   that can be done with such information.

                                      Link List
   [145] Audioscrobbler
   [146] Functional Requirements of Bibliographic
   Records (FRBR)
   Life Caching
   trends/LIFE_CACHING.htm OCLC Top 1000
   [149] The PageRank Citation System