Happy new year! Nothing like starting off the year with a massively long post! I’d like to expound on one point about my Collections 2.0 manifesto from last week.
The fourth item in the manifesto concerns user customization. It’s all about the data, I said, and letting people do stuff with data. I can’t emphasize enough how important I think this is to the 2.0 enterprise. Communication tools are important for building a customer base and forming a community, but if a library does nothing but implement a blog and instant messaging, I don’t think they have moved very far along the 2.0 continuum.
Indulge me in a fantasy. I envision a future world where library users have a social space that is something like a portal or MyLibrary…on steroids…meets Facebook. They can design how the space looks and what is included. It might be library news and blogs. Perhaps messages from a subcommunity of library users in a particular subject area. Of course, a new book RSS feed would be there, customized to the specifications of the user. Also RSS feeds from publishers, popular and scholarly. The user’s own selection of feeds from beyond the library would be there too.
Interlibrary loan data is there; no separate ILLiad or other ILL management tool to log into. Hey, the article you requested is here. Click! Read! While we are talking about interlibrary requests, throughout the space, users have the opportunity to request items that are not accessible at their library. Worldcat book citation…my library doesn’t have it. Click! Order! The library mediates all this behind the scenes. Some materials are ordered to be permanently added to the collection some are borrowed through ILL. So, in fact, to the patron all requests look pretty much the same.
There is a federated search box to jump right in and do a quick search. But also links to the user’s favorite databases (they can pick which ones they want to display). But more than just links, the results of notifications they had previously set up in various databases would be delivered here like an RSS feed, complete with citation and abstract. So, the patron can scan those results, perhaps click items they want to save to look at more closely, and delete items that are not of interest. In fact, the system remembers every search the person ever did. They can browse and retrieve those prior searches in a multitude of ways, or ignore them.
Here’s another thing right at the fingertips: a citation management tool. All of the citations the user is interested in, tagged, classified, identified as read, unread, etc., preserved forever (or until the user deletes them). They can quickly select citations and port them to a word processing application, create bibliographies and lists of favorites (which can be made public), or send them to a friend. The web is the platform here, so all the cited materials are online. The citation contains a link directly to those online materials. Now, maybe our user has sent the citation to someone who doesn’t have licensed access to the material. No problem, it requires authentication anyway. No copyright or license violation.
By the way, our user’s authentication for everything the library offers has already been managed the moment they logged into the library space. In fact, everything looks like it is taking place within the library space. No bewildering array of interfaces to learn, no hunting through 12 different menus or directories for the right resource. Some databases have different features. So, when the user clicks through to use a database, different features will be activated, but it still looks like they are in the libray space. Actually, a lot of that look and feel is customizable as well.
It’s all about links to information and managing those links effectively for the user. They can go back any time and consult, word-search, read, or reread items they have marked. And the system is smart; it keeps track of what has been read by all users, giving citations a page rank as it were. Throughout this metadatabase of citations, there are spaces for user comments and rankings that are simply and graphically displayed. The user can explore these data more thoroughly if she chooses, or just ignore them. Some of this user data is as simple as usage numbers. Some are brief comments or reviews. Some explode into full-blown user communities: fan clubs, group reads, scholarly forums, scholarly journals even, subject wikis, etc. Hey, perhaps they even exist as online virtual communities and you can easily slip into another world.
Some of these user communities have a repository of user-contributed data: datasets, scholarly articles, term papers, podcasts, video, slides, teaching objects. As the materials are contributed, the metadata becomes accessible to all the library systems and thus to all the library users (unless the privacy settings have blocked this). Each person is free to track any of these comment spaces and user contributions they choose. In all the user data, no personal information is disclosed unless the individual chooses to do so. They can maintain an anonymous persona if they choose. Their public profiles display only what they want displayed. They can also form friendships and favorites as well. Sharing is encouraged.
I’ve talked a bunch about textual materials, but media materials are here too. There would be podcasts, as I mentioned, but also the online music and video collections the library licenses. The user can create favorite lists that function much like an iTunes library. Some might be licensed for indefinite download to mobile devices (ha!) and some would have a date stamp that would cause the mobile file to expire. The same would be true with ebooks. They wouldn’t be chained to a web browser and computer desktop.
In fact, a lot of the data from the user space could be viewed from different kinds of mobile devices. Get your search notifications on the cell phone. Send a book request from your PDA or ebook reader. None of it is tied to a particular workstation. You can log on from anywhere. The data can also be used or forwarded to other spaces, other communities of the user’s choosing. Plug stuff into you Facebook or MySpace profile. And when you log into those other communities, you are still authenticated to use licensed library resources.
Librarians, I might add, are ubiquitous in this user space, available to help customers. They have user profiles and can be friended up by anyone, emailed, IMed, Skyped, etc. If a user has a question, they can use their favorite librarian, but there would also be a help button that would be context specific. They would get connected to the right library staff to answer the question.
This world has a lot of mechanisms for user feedback and participation. But it is also very data intensive. Collections of information are still very important. A lot of what I described could be done today. It is all about creating links between materials that are already digital and online. Some of this fantasy would require developing solutions with publishers and information vendors to establish a level of data openness and interoperability that doesn’t currently exist. Perhaps a world in which open access had won the day would accomplish this. I expect, however, that there will always be ownership of intellectual property. We need to encourage vendors along an open data pathway, but also work to create mechanisms to protect property and authenticate users.
Whew! So, that’s the fantasy world that I live in. Tell me I’m crazy…or a mad genius!