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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.
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 want. 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 Trendwatching.com 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 All-Consuming; allconsuming.net Audioscrobbler www.audioscrobbler.com Functional Requirements of Bibliographic Records (FRBR) www.ifla.org/VII/s13/frbr/frbr.pdf Life Caching www.trendwatching.com/ trends/LIFE_CACHING.htm OCLC Top 1000 www.oclc.org/research/top1000 The PageRank Citation System newdbpubs.stanford.edu