May 2010 Archives

Making mashing mainstream

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Question: What's more exciting than getting a whole bunch of people together for a mashathon? Answer: having them ask, "When's the next one of these?"

In case you're not familiar with the term, a "mashathon" is an event where programmers and developers spend a concentrated period of time - usually a day or two - working together to see what they can do with a variety of programming resources. It lets people get really "down and dirty" with the software while providing resources (including each other) for helping to move things along. The stated goal is often to create a new mash-up or prototype during the event. The more holistic goal is to help build a community for developers who turn interfaces and protocols into useful, living services.

Over the last year or so, I've seen both those goals met and exceeded by the terrific folks doing such great work at our various mashathons.

Just last week, we co-sponsored an event in the UK along with the Mashed Libraries group. We've had mashathons in Amsterdam, in Australia, at the New York Public Library, in Seattle and even one here in Dublin, OH for OCLC staff. And while the technical output of these sessions - almost 50 applications based on the WorldCat Search API, xISSN/xISBN, the WorldCat Registry API and the Terminology Service - is impressive, what excites me more is that people want more. The fact that so many OCLC members are getting involved in the Developer Network and creating these apps is fantastic.

We have now hit a monthly rate of 5 million calls on the WorldCat API. The xID services get in the millions, too. It now feels like the developer community isn't just experimenting with these in order to test them out... but is really doing great work that drives discovery of library services. Many of these calls on our APIs are coming from business partners, too, such as Boopsie and RedLaser. That's the great thing about APIs like this; they're useful for large-scale partner programs as well as small, experimental applications.

Going forward, we're going to be working to integrate APIs and other developer tools even more closely into new OCLC services. The goal is to let members access data in as many ways as possible, allowing for as much innovation as possible.

And not just for hard-core programmers. Wade Guidry, the Library Technology Coordinator at the Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound, created applications using Yahoo Pipes to connect the New York Times Best Sellers API and the WorldCat Search API. While Yahoo Pipes isn't something you'd pick up in an hour or two, it's also not anywhere near as complex as learning a new programming language. It's a type of mid-range development tool that more and more library technical staff will be able to use to mix and mash data in an interesting variety of ways.

Put that together, and what we've got are more people interested in building with developer tools and an upcoming platform that will have more opportunities than ever for them to do so. To my mind, that's a great recipe for mainstreaming mashups.
Last month, ALA released its "State of America's Libraries Report 2010," which noted that new reductions were seen in 41 state library budgets during fiscal 2010. Of states reporting decreases in local funding to public libraries, the majority were in the 5-10 percent range. And for many, more cuts are likely. There are examples of good news. This week, in my home state of Ohio, 86% of Ohio library levies passed. This was especially important as state funding for libraries in Ohio was cut 30% earlier this year. This certainly doesn't mean that library funding in Ohio is back to where it was even a year ago... but it is a hopeful sign that community efforts to mobilize on behalf of library funding can be widely successful.

Part of my job at OCLC is to participate in research on behalf of libraries and develop tools and materials that are useful to library staff in communicating their value to the communities they serve, and I'd like to share a little about three specific projects in this area.

  • Last month, OCLC introduced the new "How libraries stack up: 2010" report. This two-page report captures a number of compelling statistics about the impact public libraries have. Did you know 300,000 people get job-seeking help every day in US public libraries? Or that people use libraries 2.8 million times every month to support their small businesses? There's a lot more there, including dollar values for many of the services listed. Developed specifically as a piece that can be shared with local elected and appointed officials, it is available for download and we hope it will be shared widely and in concert with local statistics to reinforce the critical role libraries are playing today more than ever: helping people get back to work, manage their small businesses and come together as a community. As of this week, there have been more than 5,000 downloads of the report, and several libraries have let us know about activities and materials they've developed based on the information. And we've just added two PowerPoint versions of the report: one with all the information from the printed document, and a blank template with graphics and space for you to fill in information for your library.

  • Research for the forthcoming 2010 update to the Perceptions report (originally published in 2005) has captured some interesting data about how the current economy has affected users' view of libraries. For example, we found that while 68% of the US population are library card holders, that number jumps to 81% for people who have been negatively impacted by the current economy. Twelve percent of US respondents said that they visited the library weekly, but for those who have lost a job or have had their work schedule cut back, that number is 17%. The research also shows that those who have been impacted by the economy are more satisfied with librarians and library services. Look for the full report later this year.

  •  The "Geek the Library" awareness campaign pilot has been underway since June 2009 in central Iowa, southern Georgia, and a small number of other communities (based on research outlined in the From Awareness to Funding report) and the results are coming in. While there will be a formal report later this year--at which time all the campaign materials will be made widely available--the short version of the update is, "Geeking the library works!" We've seen unusually strong increases in awareness in both our main markets. The campaign also scored high for likeability, and over two-thirds of people took action in response to the campaign, or said they intended to. In Georgia, we also saw increases in people's willingness to support increases in library funding.

    The results are really encouraging, but what has been most exciting has been seeing how many library staff have grabbed the campaign with both hands. They've taken the opportunity to take the message into their communities and to local events, speaking to local media and sharing the message with their local businesses, schools and last but not least, city and council members.
We hope that these research and development efforts can help libraries make the connection between the important work they do and the need for funding. And that will, hopefully, translate into more good news about library funding in the future.