Library 2.0 in the Real World

By Jenny Levine |

If you're still fuzzy on the "Library 2.0" concept (a bandwagon on which I am proud to say I am still a passenger), then this is your lucky day. I'm still waiting for the video from this month's OCLC Symposium, "Extreme Makeover: Rebranding an Industry" (notes here), to go online to highlight how libraries can do more in the physical world to implement L2 concepts. But now, thanks to both North Carolina State University and to Casey Bisson, we also have two powerful examples of how libraries need to think differently about their online services through the L2 lens. Karen has already written about the new NCSU catalog, so I want to highlight Casey's latest achievement.

One of Casey's theories that resonates with me is a fundamental mistake librarians make: assuming that the OPAC has to be part of the Integrated Library System (ILS). In other words, if you buy a specific vendor's product with which to do your cataloging, acquisitions, serials, etc., then you are stuck using that vendor's online catalog. Unless, of course, you have one or more programmers to completely rewrite the catalog—and let's face it, there just aren't that many libraries with those kinds of resources.

Casey Bisson's OPAC (Prototype) ScreensSo rather than get bogged down in the debate about "Library 2.0" the label, Casey went out and built a prototype OPAC to prove his point. Like my organization, his is an Innovative customer, and like us, he'd like to see more from their online catalog offering. Luckily, he's a programmer who can build his vision, which you can start to see in these screenshots. You'll get to play with a live, working prototype soon, but here are just some of the interesting and pretty unique things Casey has built into his software.

The prototype is built on the WordPress open source, blogging platform, which gives it some very interesting features. For example, every record in the catalog gets its own page, which means it has its own static, permanet link (also known as a "permalink") that can be indexed by non-library search engines such as Google and Yahoo, as well as tracking of new items in engines like Technorati. Because it's blogging software, each record also offers comments, trackbacks, and (yes, believe it) tags.

Because WordPress is open-source software and uses an open architecture, anyone with the proper knowledge can write a plugin to modify the content, the display of search results, the display of the individual records, or users can remix content to their hearts' delight. This means that instead of limiting development to what the vendor offers or to what the programmer (you hopefully have on staff) can do, anyone who knows how to write a WordPress plugin can now enhance the OPAC—which suddenly opens the field to potentially thousands of new helpers.

That's a pretty intriguing thought, given that Casey's prototype is designed to work over any vendor's ILS, which means his work can be used more widely than any previous model. It's a huge step forward, and it's very different from our traditional model of being locked into one ILS vendor's proprietary offerings.

There's still much more going on here than just emulating blogging, too. Other things Casey has added to his prototype include:

  • a "recent searches" sidebar;
  • using AJAX to display the book jacket, review, and holdings data;
  • automatic identification of related items based on author and subject data;
  • a box to "search inside the book" that uses Amazon's API;
  • which also means the ability to integrate pretty much any other site's APIs to add in their services;
  • relevancy ranking of results.
Here's an example he gave me of how this new type of architecture could be used to enhance library services in an academic setting.
"Imagine a student comes to the reference desk and mentions that her class is working on a project and has to look for resources about 'x.' X may not be a good search term, and the catalog certainly won't return any results for that class (pretend it's 'en3610'), but after blogging about it (which should happen with all reference questions), the reference librarian could tag them, including a tag for the course number. Or perhaps the URL could be formatted in such a way that the search hits are tracked. Either way, the record becomes more relevant for a search that is just now important."

So between the screenshots, list of features, and this example, hopefully this helps clarify where many of us think library services need to go online, which is basically wherever the users are. That means disconnecting our services from being locked away in proprietary silos that patrons have to come to our sites to use. It means getting ourselves out into the major search engines (including ones that search HTML, RSS, OPML, etc.). It means adding interactive features that let users contribute and collaborate with us. It means using the tools and protocols the rest of the world uses so that we can be integrated into their environments, not forcing them to conform to ours.

Learn more about Casey's prototype at, find his presentation about this great service at (.mov format), and follow along via his blog at

As for me, I've asked him if SWAN can be a beta test when his code is ready, so hopefully I'll have much more to report in the future. It's a very exciting prospect to be able to finally let our libraries offer the kind of OPAC their patrons deserve. It's also a very "Library 2.0" prospect.

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