:: 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 They have not been altered in content, so please keep in mind some of this content will be out of date.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

Big Ideas and Small Solutions


   Innovations are sorely needed for libraries to compete with Google and
   Amazon. Big ideas can sketch out the future, while small solutions
   can--in building block fashion--help develop that future.

   By "small solution" I don't mean trivial. Small solutions solve
   discrete, well-bounded problems and can be pieces of larger solutions.
   They can move us forward by mixing and matching available components in
   new and previously unimagined ways.

   A number of innovations, which at first glance are completely
   unrelated, can come together and create important synergies.
   Library bookmarklets

   A bookmarklet is a small JavaScript program in the form of a link that
   the user can drag to the bookmark bar in the web browser. Clicking on
   that link executes the JavaScript program.

   InfoWorld columnist Jon Udell created a LibraryLookup bookmarklet that
   allows someone who finds a book in Amazon, or anywhere an ISBN is
   present, to click on the bookmarklet and perform an automatic library
   catalog lookup on that ISBN. Since these are library-specific (the
   JavaScript needs to know where to send the query), users either need to
   find your library listed at Udell's web site or use his self-service
   tool to build a bookmarklet.
   OCLC's xISBN service

   OCLC has applied some of the principles laid out in the International
   Federation of Library Associations and Institutions' "Functional
   Requirements for Bibliographic Records" (FRBR) document to the WorldCat
   database. For more on FRBR and how both OCLC and RLG are using it to
   remake their systems, read "[123]Not Your Mother's Union Catalog " (see
   LJ 4/15/03, p. 28).

   This means that given a specific copy of a book, you should be able to
   identify other editions, translations, or printings. This is exactly
   what OCLC's xISBN service does in a very lightweight fashion. Pass it
   an ISBN, and it will pass back all ISBNs of all the related items in

   Useful on its own, it can be combined with the bookmarklet concept to
   become part of a compelling library service. Imagine a library user
   querying a catalog while viewing a book on Amazon and finding any
   version of that book in the library. Users will be much more successful
   than if they searched on a specific ISBN. OCLC has combined the xISBN
   lookup with the bookmarklet concept and as a prototype service is
   providing bookmarklets tailored to specific libraries on request.
   xISBN and OpenURL

   The UK Office of Library Networking (UKOLN) is integrating the xISBN
   service with its OpenURL resolver. To see it in action, go to the UKOLN
   Sample Reading List page and click on a link. The resulting OpenURL
   resolver page displays links for that item but also the message, "It
   may also be worth checking the following alternative ISBNs."

   Andy Powell, UKOLN assistant director, describes this experiment as
   trying to "show the benefits of services like xISBN being broken out of
   monolithic applications and exposed on the network for m2m
   [middleware-to-middleware] use--allowing small functional components
   offered in one place to be embedded into services delivered elsewhere."
   These are small solutions that libraries can mix-and-match to make big
   ideas a reality.
   A big idea

   Dan Chudnov, systems programmer at the Yale Center for Medical
   Informatics, has sketched out a big idea based on small solutions. In
   "Library Groupware for Bibliographic Lifecycle Management," he
   describes several technologies that, although unrelated, could be
   integrated to create a seamless environment to capture, manage, and use
   personal references to intellectual objects--whether print books or
   online articles.

   Web logs (blogs), OpenURL resolvers, and bibliographic reference
   managers, he argues, can help form the building blocks of a new
   infrastructure so users can manage a variety of aspects related to
   their bibliographic links and references. Moreover, should libraries
   step up to the plate and create such an infrastructure, we will more
   effectively embed our services within the everyday life of our

   Chudnov explains his idea much better; I cite his idea as an example of
   how it sometimes takes small solutions for big ideas to occur to us--or
   at least to envision how they might effectively work.

   Many ideas and innovations may come to nothing in the end, but the few
   that make it can be worthwhile. For proof we needn't look far: not long
   ago Tim Berners-Lee came up with a relatively simple idea and called it
   the World Wide Web.

   [124] FRBR at OCLC
   [125] Library Groupware for
   Bibliographic Lifecycle Management
   OCLC's xISBN Service
   [128] UKOLN Sample Reading List