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As I commute back and forth on the park-and-ride bus (50 minutes each direction) from my new house in Espanola to work in Santa Fe, I listen to a lot of National Public Radio.  Along with keeping me properly distressed over the U.S. involvement in foreign affairs and anxious about the free-falling economy, I also use it as my bellweather of popular trends and opinions.  I don’t get cable, so I can’t watch MTV.  The pulpy content of glossy grocery aisle magazines makes me queasy.  So these days my pop culture sensibility mostly comes via Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

I particularly enjoyed the story this week about how “websites let bibliophiles share books virtually“.  Even though LibraryThing has been around since 2005 and these biblio-social networking sites are proliferating like rabbits at a love-in, I’m glad to hear it’s not just me and my bookclub/librarian buddies using them as a nerdy alternative to MySpace. So who (besides Steve Jobs) says nobody reads anymore?

I am definitely a proponent of using any and every tool at our disposal for the purpose of making literacy more accessible. Along these lines, it appears that the traditional role of reader’s advisory is quickly becoming a thing of the past – in a good way. I am always perplexed by the traditionalists among us who exclaim loudly about the deprofessionalization of libraries due to some innovation which makes all our lives easier – because there is job security in wasted time, I suppose. There are many aspects of this phenomenon related to public library roles in particular (self check-out, OPACs, simple signage to waylay those ubuquitous “where’s the bathroom” reference queries), and I’ve known many a librarian to get pretty huffy to have such precious duties stripped from the daily routine. The ideal of Library 2.0 is to provide the tools to provide service better, faster, more cheaply, and more democratically. This is very close to the ALA mission “to promote the highest quality library and information services and public access to information.” So come on. Let’s consider shifting our roles to value-added service (the specifics of which are the material for future posts) rather than insisting on being superfluous dinosaurs sitting behind a reference desk twiddling our thumbs.  

These are just a few tools related to reader’s advisory that I’ve been checking out lately:

 1. ReadMe Wiki

This is part of the MetaFilter wiki – one of Jessamyn West’s many impressive projects.  Through a Wikipedia-like interface, it includes categories of topics on what to read (broken down somewhat similar to a bibliographic classification scheme, though more limited).  The sub-categories include such topics as “For a bookclub” and (particularly useful) “For a bookclub on the verge of dissolution.”  Clicking on this link leads to a MetaFilter blog page called “Dead Book Club Walking” which provides suggestions on how to keep a book club going. 

While I find the categories in the ReadMe Wiki to be pretty limited at this point, it shows the potential of these types of wikis for community reader’s advisory and recommendations.  The popularity of consumer models such as Amazon prove that readers want this power.

2. LibraryThing

It’s taken me way too long to really play around with LibraryThing.  And sure enough, I’m having fun.  I would recommend it for anybody with a hankerin’ for catalogin’.  It’s free to catalog up to 200 books (or $10 for an unlimited 1 year subscription/$25 for a lifetime subscription).  It uses the Z39.50 protocol to get bibliographic information from LC, Amazon, and “more than 80 world libraries.”  Users can take this information to catalog personal collections in Dewey, LC, or use personal tags.  It’s also the “MySpace for books” in the sense that users can share recommendations, find read-alikes, get ratings, find readers with similar interests, blog about books, etc.  In other words, it’s like a cataloging party.

Libraries can also use LibraryThing in conjunction with their OPACs.  Many public libraries (such as the Atlantic Public Library in Iowa and the Danbury Connecticut Public Library) are taking advantage of the library widget within their catalogs to add things such as new book recommendations, links to similar books, tags, and links to other editions and translations.  This is an easy, free step towards creating Library 2.0 OPACs.  With the links to read-alikes and the other unique LibraryThing tools, it’s also an instant, free reader’s advisory service.

3. Local library blogs

I was a bit surprised recently to see that the Santa Fe Public Libraries’ blog, Icarus, was voted one of the best public library blogs by the Free Range Librarian.  I guess they’re doing something right.  It is so easy anymore to integrate blogs into websites that I would be surprised by any library unable (or unwilling) to make the effort to do so.  Of course, there are still libraries out there lacking websites or OPACs.  It seems to me that a library blog is a win-win arrangement from all perspectives.  It is another means by which patrons can approach reader’s advisory on their own terms, find other readers with common interests, and in the process maybe even find a book club or meet new people.  

4. WorldCat Lists

These lists have been written up in a variety of blogs lately, including Thom Hickey’s Outgoing blog on “library metadata techniques and trends.”  It’s another potential tool for libraries and individual readers looking for ways to share books and book recommendations.  According to the OCLC site, the purpose is 3-fold:

1. “Keep track of items you plan to borrow next”

2. “Recommend favorite books and movies for a particular subject or genre”

3. “Organize resources for a research project”

These tools share the characteristics of being user-friendly, fun to use, universally applicable, and practical.  There are many more like them out there, and the potential for future developments is only beginning. While I don’t consider myself what the Annoyed Librarian likes to call a “twopointopian”, if something makes service better and lives easier and more productive, I consider it my professional duty to promote it.

(jumping off soapbox)

I’m in the process of weeding through the issues and blog topics I saved in the past few months and haven’t had a chance to ponder or research thoroughly. Thanks to a (rather dated) post by Jessamyn West at librarian.net, I was reminded of the Open Library project. As this is an idea still in demo form, it may still be somewhere below the radar. In any case, it’s a fascinating project. A little idealistic for sure (going so far as to make the statement that “the ultimate goal of the Open Library is to make all the published works of humankind available to everyone in the world.” And declare peace on earth. And teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. Uh huh.).

Despite its high-flung goals, Open Library does combine several important elements of the best of Library 2.0 brainstorming. It seeks to create an entirely open-source and collaborative universal catalog on a wiki model. In other words, “Imagine a library that collected all the world’s information about all the world’s books and made it available for everyone to view and update.” “It would link to places where each book could be bought, borrowed, or downloaded.” Unlike most current cataloging models, they seek content contribution from the user community (building upon the ideas of progressive libraries that are now implementing tools on their websites that enable blogging, tagging, etc.). This is a powerful dynamic. Power to the people, indeed.

But what about standards? We all know the dystopian fantasies surrounding folksonomy run amock. The proponents of Open Library propose a schema developed on the MARC model called “futurelib“, which is viewable in draft form. Of course, content contributors could not be forced to follow the standards, but I suppose we’re going on the wiki-ish assumption that everyone has the same good intentions.

The main question I have is how this project is going to come anywhere close to its goal of making available the world’s entire published works. The only material available for freely accessible digitization would be work out of copyright, which is a very limited amount of material. At this point, I don’t see how they can go much further than attempting to aggregate all the world’s bibliographic records in one place. Kind of like a universal WorldCat. Still noble, but falling short of the ultimate goal. The availability of a catalog record certainly does not equate with access to the “published works of humankind.” Of course, they do say “bought, borrowed or downloaded.” But how much of a contribution to literacy is it to provide an Amazon link, particularly for the citizens of Third World countries who presumably are the primary focus of this project? Am I missing something?

readingissexy.jpgI couldn’t resist this super cool t-shirt from buyolympia.com (my new favorite online store)…and it promotes literacy! Win win! (That’s not me in the photo – just a stock image from the catalog)

I have my bibliophile (ok, bibliomaniac) friend Melisa to thank for keeping me on my literary toes.  She recently started an online book discussion group covering the classics of world literature, and belongs to several other online book groups.  She makes me feel like I should be reading much more, or at least broadening my horizons more.

After finding out we both just read Anna Karenina, Melisa persuaded me to get involved in the Russian Reading Challenge 2008.  According to the blog that’s been set up by Sharon from Ex Libris, this is a “12 month reading challenge of all things Russian – novels, short stories, biographies, history, poetry – by Russian authors or by authors about Russia.” So suddenly I find myself compelled to actually read War and Peace

While not every reader will be interested in this particular challenge, I do like the idea from the perspective of promoting literacy. It’s the perfect opportunity to form a local group of readers and get together to talk about the books as well as get the opinions of an online community. When I’m answerable to a discussion group, I’m more likely to stay on task. I suppose that’s the idea behind such things as the One Book, One City programs and other such public library initiatives. Whatever creative new approaches can be found to increase literacy, I’m all for it.