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The LibraryLookup Bookmarklet

Zhigang Suo's picture

(Opriginally posted on Applied Mechanics News on 8 July 2006)

Quick link added on 12 July 2006. Here is a list of LibraryLookup Bookmarklets for many libraries, along with an instruction to use them.

In a previous entry on libraries and Amazon, I alluded to Jon Udell's LibraryLookup Project. The Project produces bookmarklets, which allow you to look up a book in your local library with a single click, while surfing on Amazon. See a screencast to learn how a bookmarklet works. Here I'd like to describe my own experience.

I live in Lexington, Massachusetts. The library of Lexington belongs to a network of 41 libraries known as the Minuteman Library Network. I draged the lookup bookmarklet of the Minuteman Libary into the toolbar of my Internet browser. (If your local library belongs to the Minuteman Library Network, click here for the bookmarklet.) When I am on the Amazon page of an individual book (e.g., Practical Internet Groupware by Jon Udell), a click of the bookmarklet in the toolbar lands me on a web page of the Minuteman Library Network, telling me if the book is in the collection of the Network. If it is, regardless which one of the libraries in the Network owns the book or if the book is checked out, another click on the web page of the Network allows me to request the book. The book will be waiting for me some time later at the counter of the Lexington Library, which is within walking distance from my home.

Harvard University also has a network of libraries. The catalog of the Harvard Libraries is difficult to use. It would be nice if I could avoid using the catalog and instead using Amazon to search for books. Some publishers also allow users of Amason to search inside books (e.g., William Feller). However, for some time I could not get Udell's Bookmarklet Generator to work for Harvard Libraries. I emailed Jon Udell for help. He replied quickly, but somehow his script didn't work. My son Daniel tweaked Udell’s script and finally obtained a working LibraryLookup bookmarklet for Harvard Libraries.

Once I find a book in the catalog of Harvard Libraries, I need to write down the call number, and go to the particular library that owns the book and look for the book among the shelves. Because Harvard has quite a few libraries, each having its own layout, I've got lost many times in the libraries, and will think twice if I'd take the trouble to check out a book from an unfamiliar library. The service at Harvard Libraries is not as good as that at the Minuteman Library Network.

As I argued in the previous entry, it makes little sense to spend resources on developing stand-alone catalogs of individual libraries. The libraries can leverage the power of Amazon, and focus on better serving the readers. The libraries can become labs to test new information technologies, and the librarians can be instructors to teach new technologies, and be innovators to design better ways to serve users.

See more ideas in this four-minute screencast by Jon Udell on yin-yang of content and services, and in this presentation by Chris Anderson at the Annual Conference of the American Library Association.

Tips to obtain the lookup bookmarklet of your own library

Tips to use LibraryLookup Bookmarks

Note added on 10 July 2006. I've just learned that the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC) provides a list of bookmarklets that look up books using xISBN, instead of using ISBN. This enhancement is significant, because each edition of the same book has a unique ISBN. While Amazon places the latest edition of a book at the top of the list, your local library may only have an old edition. These xISBN bookmarklets locate all editions of a book in the query. This list contains bookmarklets for many libraries, including Minuteman Library Network and Harvard Libraries.

Note added on 11 July 2006. Stuart Shieber sent me the following information. Worldcat contains the union of the card catalogs for a huge number of OCLC libraries. It also integrates automatic linking to Harvard's collections through the "Find It @ Harvard" buttons. The coverage of this collection is much broader than what Amazon catalogs, as it includes retrospective collections as well as foreign published materials and scholarly materials that are not in the commercial purview of Amazon.

Note added on 14 July 2006. The state of Massachusetts has over 50 online library catalogs. Over ten catalogs are federated into a Virtual Catalog. A user may request items unavailable at her local library.

Note added on 15 July 2006. Here is an example of software that may serve as an interface between users and libraries. ELF allows you to subscribe to RSS feeds of your requests and overdue books.

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