Wednesday, 10 February 2010

VALA 2010 - Day One - from World Cat to Open Calais


VALA 2010
The first day of VALA 2010 was a lovely combination of the familiar - and  look what's coming over the horizon - and are you ready to play.

OCLC and WorldCat
In the first category, Karen Calhoun of OCLC gave  a really good benchmark session on where the global library world is in terms of sharing and extending their participation with the emerging learning and local web.

She concentrated in the main on current OCLC products and plans - with an extended pit stop to explore the growing range of World Cat as a global gateway to the worlds library collections.

One Search to rule them all and in the results you'll find them
[source -John Garraway]

I like World Cat - or should I say I totally adore the idea behind World Cat - to bring onto the users contextual desktop the combined holdings of library land - especially public library land.

Among the many use cases for such a tool, potentially,  it offers the web searcher a straight line to their local public library shelf. Need more?  Imagine making a search on a topic on Google, Bing, et al, and among the results you get are links to books in your local public library, which when clicked takes you to the library record page and, if you are a member, the option to  take the book out and have it sitting waiting on the shelf for you to come and get it.

World Cat does this - or almost.  It does it by having relationships with library holdings  in 112 countries. Some of these - like New Zealand - have formal contracts with the National Library,  and so direct routes to the national holding catlalougue. In short - this puppy can scale. It also has a potential to be the world library catalougue for global library land.

Right now
Right now  it's fair to say most of the effort is still in the plumbing - with the user experience playing catch up. Take this example - I went there and searched for Anne Salmonds recent and downright brilliant Aphrodite's Island.

Pick me!
WorldCat knows about it for sure - here -  but it doesn't know where I live so I have to tell it - saying Auckland doesn't work - it wants New Zealand - but there is no way you can know that - whereas a simple world map image- like changing the time zone in a MacBook - would sort that in seconds.

When it does catch up with where I am , its great - it shows me the public and university New Zealand libraries which hold the book.  Picking Auckland City Library I can get there - but again, I've got to log in and then make my request for a hold.

So it all works - sort of - which is why I said I love the idea of World Cat - but it still feels like a long way to go before it feels easy - seamless - and proper web like. And I doubt it wee Abbey - see yesterdays post below, would be all that impressed by all the stuffing around.

Direct search for Aphrodite's Island  on Google
Going the other way direct from Google or Bing needs even more work -  which is a polite way of saying that World Cat is invisible using this route.

Thus a search on Google for Aphrodite's  Island offers heaps of sources - but only one library result on the first screen - the Australian National Library, here .

NLA and me
Apart from a fantastic tour of the building by NLA s Director, the gift of a Picture Australia USB stick [always declare an interest, especially in Australia] - and being hosted to a meeting containing a brilliant vegetable curry-  I have no relationship with the NLA - so the reference is no use to me as a way of getting my mits on the book. 

However, it does get me some context to the subject - and be still my beating heart - links to items in their collection about Tahiti - see this example of a heritage map, as an instance of this kind of serendipity, here.  However, curiously, it didn't give me a reference to one of the NLA's star collection pieces,  the Journal of Joseph Banks. They have even digitised it and make it available as a PDF here

TROVE - context in motion
But wait - switching to Trove -  their all singing dancing new federated search tool - TROVE - brings back a wonderful set of sources, here .Which begs the question how come Google knows about the catalougue entry and not the Trove page? That said, Trove is a brilliant example of context in motion.

Open Calias  -Context - the  challenge of the semantic web 
All of which is a neat switch to Tom Taques presentation on Open Calais and the challenge and opportunities around building the semantic web  - or as he puts it , the contextual plumbing to sorting the wonderful vibrant but essentially unusable current web.

In a stormer of a session were non techies didn't need  oxygen once, he took the audience on a tour of the history of Open Calais - its current intents, and perhaps a sneak preview of its future plans to mine the relationships in the submitted data for opportunities

These opportunities are of course around content and context - i.e. creating metadata software which makes instant rich and extensible concept maps of information showing linkages and conceptual  contours.

The pitch
Open Calais is one of these tools. It is  a free to use  includes an open API] and when you give it some of your content, categorises it,  returns name entities, and attempts to construct a facts and event framework.  You can use a version of the software on the site, here, as well as start thinking about how you can use it to enhance and extend the depth and reach of the metadata in a collection.

And on that note - the good Mr Taque made a point of giving a shout out to the Powerhouse Museum who have already been playing in this space. 

For those looking for more on Open Calais, try here.  And for sure, it is not for the faint hearted - but that's okay there are some wonderfully capable people at VALA who can cope and carry their own oxygen ! 

Tom Taque - libraries and Worldcat
Curiously, and in a wonderful moment of transparency, Mr TT happily admitted that up to this point he knew very little about what libraries were doing in the semantic web space. He even more cheerfully opined he had until today never heard of either  OCLC and World Cat.

Join dots - sharpen pencils

Among all the lovely quotes and insights from this first day at VALA - this is the one I am remembering - sounds like there is a lot of joining the dots to do -  perhaps its time for library land to sharpen pencils!

Update - day two VALA
Well here's an interesting couple of dots -  in her own blog reports from VALA and speculates on a suggestion that World Cat be uploaded into Open Calais.

Update - Day three VALA
On the declaration of interest with NLA - now I come to think on, I have two USB sticks from Picture Australia. Also, and I am totally chuffed by this, I am now the proud owner of a TROVE T shirt! Rocking. Going to wear it to Foo Camp NZ this weekend!


Sue's blog said...

Paul - not sure what happened for you but when I took your little search and clicked on Auckland City Libraries or Christchurch City Libraries it took me straight to the item and I could see whether it was in or not... Perhaps it is confused cos you are in Melbourne?? Sue

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