Mashing libraries: work in progress

After attending Mash Oop North (#mashlib09) in Huddersfield last week, I’ve been playing around with some of the tools and services mentioned at the event. One service that appealed to my imagination was Dipity, which was shown by Brian Kelly in his Enthusiastic Amateurs session. I particularly liked the example of its use in creating a visualisation of media release effectiveness for the University of Aberdeen and thought this could be used for the Slainte Media Centre.

To help me get to grips with Dipity, I’ve already created a simple timeline based on all the Web2.0 services we use, which I’ve embedded within Slainte News. Although links to our Web2.0 service accounts are included in the footer at the bottom of the page, the timeline brings all of the content together in a visually appealing way that might open it up to increased use.

A slight problem with Dipity is advertising, which isn’t displayed on the small timeline embedded in our website but will appear if you switch to the full view. To get rid of this you need a Pro account which costs $99.95 per month and would be too expensive for our purposes. Since no adverts appear on our website, we’re going to proceed with this experiment and monitor its impact on Web2.0 service use stats.

Another service I’ve been experimenting with is Yahoo Pipes, which is a “composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web.” When I first heard about what this could do it occurred to me that it would be a good way to aggregate the news output from all libraries in Scotland to create a comprehensive and frequently updated current awareness service for librarians. This work would, however, be dependent on the libraries or wider institutions (i.e. local authorities, universities, colleges etc) having RSS feeds set up for news items…

Of the 32 Scottish local authorities only 13 had RSS feeds set up on their news content or press releases (as at 13/07/2009). Through a contact on Twitter (James Coltham or @prettysimple) I found a source that reported 24% of UK councils have RSS feeds (see Mash the State). This means that the Scottish figure is considerably higher than the UK average, at around 40%.

In the higher education sector, I found that just three of Scotland’s 14 universities had no RSS feeds evident on their website news content (as at 14/07/2009) (note that there are a further 6 HE institutions in Scotland which have still to be reviewed). There was some variation in how the 11 HE library news feeds were organised; some appeared on news at institutional level, others were on library news (sometimes in the form of a blog) and some universities had both library and institutional level news feeds. From a practical perspective, this meant that I had to create two strands within the Yahoo Pipe: one with a ‘library’ filter set up on the institutional level news and an unfiltered one for the content coming from a library specific feed.

The output of this, titled Scottish Libraries Newsfeed, has now been embedded in the Scottish Libraries NetVibes page and can be re-used or re-purposed by others interested in the content.

However, some difficulties with mashing data in this way are evident. Firstly, it’s clear that the info in many of the feeds has not been created with a view to being used elsewhere so it can be difficult to tell which library service the item is about (i.e. it’s assumed that you are accessing content on a particular library’s website/blog and so would know what’s meant by “the library”). This can make it difficult to pick out items of interest so it would be useful if the source were to appear (in the Pipe’s list view perhaps).

The layout seems to mirror the order in which feeds were added to the Pipe but I suppose this is just a short-term issue since new items will appear according to when they are added to the parent RSS feeds, thus mixing it up a bit.

There’s also a lot of  stylistic variation since some of the content is coming from institutional press offices and other items have been created for blogs and are more informal. This variation would of course increase if the scope was extended to cover Twitter feeds too, with formal press releases appearing alongside 140 character tweets. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as I think all of these different sources would add a richness of perspective – giving a more comprehensive and rounded overview of what’s happening in Scottish library services.

It may be the case, however, that too much input (i.e. too many feeds being drawn from too many sources) would make this unwieldy rather than a useful national aggregation. If this becomes the case then the pipe could be broken down into individual sector pipes. In the meantime, I think it’s worth trying a cross-sector approach, both to offer a single source of news about all libraries (that use RSS feeds!) and to facilitate sharing ideas across sectors.

So the next step will be to add feeds from FE libraries, the outstanding 6 HE institutions and the National Library of Scotland. It would be ideal to extend this to other sectors but there are obviously time constraints associated with going through individual school websites, for example, so we may have to look at different ways of getting this information for other library sectors.

In the longer term, we hope to use the output from the feeds to improve the SLIC/CILIPS news output delivered via Slainte news. This currently depends on user submissions combined with staff searching so the Yahoo pipe will certainly be a useful internal tool.

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Mapping it out for Scotland

A new service for people interested in finding out what Scotland’s libraries, museums and archives holds was soft launched today. The interesting thing about the service is the use of a geographical interface using a Google mashup.
Check it out at: http://www.scotlandsinformation.com

Is your library, museum or archive on the map? if not, email: scotearl@slainte.org.uk