Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Ideas don't Die!

I was recently reading these two articles on ProfHacker, one was on RSS & SMS integration in the (library) catalog, and the most recent one about mobile applications for libraries.

This brought me back to my days as an MSIT student.  Back in those days I took many opportunities to work on homework/class projects that dealt directly with library systems - some examples are IT/Library mergers and integration, patron privacy and Project Wormhole - which is what these ProfHacker posts reminded me of!

Project Wormhole* (yeah, I used imaginative names), was a project I worked on for an Object Oriented Programming course.  The main idea was that each patron would have a customized library homepage that they would log-onto and they would have a widgetized HUD of all of their information needs.  The patrons already have a library barcode and a student/staff ID number, so there isn't really a need to create yet another log-on! They just need to log on with information that they already have and customize their interface. 

The main elements of my design were:

1. One search to rule them all! 
Back then we had our own catalog, worldcat, ILL (through ILLiad) and the Massachusetts Virtual Catalog - and this was just for books! So in order to keep things simple, this one search would be sort of google-esque.  You would put in your search terms and then this magical algorithm would search through all books, ebooks, journal articles, patents, theses, newspapers, and the web, and would provide you with a consolidated view of all items that pertain to your search.

Of course that would be a TON of results, so the patron would have the ability to sort and filter by content type - whether it's a book or an article for example, whether it's something available in the building (i.e. your library), locally or if you have to send away for it, and there could be a social aspect of this where journal articles and books could be annotated, reviewed and "starred" (I guess similar to libraryThing and GoodReads).

1.1 Easy Access to content
Now once you've done your search and you've discovered that your local library does not have this item you are looking for, next to the search result there could be a "get this item through ILL" - one click ordering like amazon!  All the bibliographic information would be sucked into the ILL system and the thing would be ordered for you! Just one click!


2. RSS everywhere!
OK, databases have had RSS for a while, but you need to go into each database and specify your interests. M'eh.  Too much work!  Let the system work for you!  In your library profile you could have (1) your major (2) the courses you are taking this semester and (3) interests other that these aforementioned two categories.
As the library acquires more books, as the journal providers acquire the rights to more content and make it available, and as campus events happen - if there is ANYTHING that hits upon your major, minor, course topic types you're taking or your other interests you will get real-time updates on your RSS feeds, on your homepage.  From there you can simply click on the new Journal, Article, Book, whatever item it happens to be and you can have access to it!

You can also incorporate feeds from Amazon's "new items" for example so as new books become available you can put them on a "wish list" indicating to the library that this is something you want to read and that they might want to purchase!


3. Notifications Galore!
Another box on the homescreen would be notifications - when books are due, if books are available for pick-up, if you have fines and so on.  If you have fines, you'd be able to pay them right then and there! If there is a book that you need to return soon, you can do 1-click renewal (if allowed)!  This of course would tie into an SMS system where the user would have an option to receive SMS notification of new books, new articles, upcoming due dates for books, fines and so on! Through another system the patron could also renew items via SMS.

Going with the "RSS everywhere" theme, this could also tie into your blackboard courses so your coursework notifications and email, as well as your campus based email, can be previewed and accessed through this portal.


4. A real academic social network
OK, granted this would only be via your institution, but think about it! You are researching X in department X and Joe Schmoe is researching X in department Y.  You are both researching the same related area and could collaborate but your don't about it because you are in different departments!  By having a social profile on this library portal you can not only discover information, but people as well! You COULD collaborate on projects with people you never knew existed!

In addition, if you are researching X in department X and Joe Schmoe is looking for a guest speaker for X in his Y class, it's now much easier to find experts in X to come to talk about it in his class!  It's a win-win!


Anyway, those were my ideas for MSIS 615 - I had worked together a prototype UI with some mock action back in the day - but I never had a chance to see this implemented. Reading the ProfHacker posts leaves me with an optimistic feeling that I am not the only one who's thought about this (or at least is making the case for this) and that some day (soon I hope!) we see this become a reality :-)





* I do believe that I called it Wormhole because of Stargate - a portal that brings you to new information (yeah, I know, geeky)
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