Digital Doorway

I walked up the spiral staircase which led to the ALIA conference. In my mind was a picture of a land named Wikipedia which was full of all sorts of random information controlled by the public and edited on a whim by some with knowledge and some with evil intent.

In this picture of the Wikipedia information land there was a little door labelled “Public Library”. One could open the door and go down a rabbit hole into another more orderly information land full of reliable and useful information controlled by librarians wearing glasses and wielding sticks. Not really, I just put the bit about the sticks in to get your attention.

Well that’s what I expected to find at the ALIA talk titled “Digital Doorway:  gaining library users through Wikipedia” by Andrew Spencer and Brendan Krige from Macquarie University Iibrary. Turns out it doesn’t quite work the way I’d imagined. It is more like Thomas the Tank Engine, there is a controller and his name is John Mark Ockerbloom. He is otherwise well-known for his Online Books Page which lists over one million free online books, he invented it the Library Resource Box to create this digital doorway and he is the boss.

Ockerbloom is responsible for creating a nifty little tool called the Library Resource Box which is essentially a small piece of computer code which can be cut and pasted onto a Wikipedia page of your choice to add a doorway to the relevant resources your library has on the page topic. Anyone can edit Wikipedia pages, therefore anyone can add this link to their library in the external links/further reading section usually found near the bottom of a Wikipedia page.

The speakers hail from a university library and their talk discussed the results and procedure of a project involving first year university students. Students were shown how to use links from Wikipedia (created in advance with specially selected university Iibrary resources on the Biology topic) and then surveyed after completing an assignment to see how many of them actually used and found useful the links from Wikipedia page to library resources. The results were positive and the speakers enthusiastic. Just like one of those live videos of open-heart surgery the speakers also demonstrated a “live” page edit of Wikipedia which demonstrated the tool.

Of course there is a catch, indeed a few catches.

  • Libraries need to get themselves added to the list of libraries using this code and must submit a request to Mr. Ockerbloom to add them to his list of libraries. It is unclear whether there is cost involved in this or not.
  • The editing of each Wikipedia page is also manual so there needs to be people who are prepared to do some drudgery in the name of library linking.
  • There could conceivably be many many pages which could be edited by a library on many topics. If a Wikipedia page is about a notable person it is easy to link to as people on Wikipedia generally have something called a VIAF template meaning it is a simple code cut and paste job. However more general topics require some further more detailed work.
  • Another current problem is that there is no functionality using this tool on tablets and with more people beginning to use tablets these days this would need to improve for it to be a completely useful tool.

ALIA will be doing some information evenings with Wikipedia later this year and some editing workshops early next year which will touch on this tool among other topics. I am interested to see how it develops as it seems to have some potential for us to reach out to users who are searching for information but not coming in to the library.

Questions and possible answers Myra and I discussed after this talk included:

Does it cost money to be added to Mr. Ockerbloom’s list?

Further research is needed here, it appears to be free.

Is this a relevant and useful tool for public libraries as well as university libraries?

Yes, I think it has potential as a way to draw in non-library users or future library users as many people go to Wikipedia to start finding information on a topic, our information will not be quite as detailed as university students may require however may be useful for local history or student project purposes.

If we used it, what could we use it for?

It might be particularly relevant for local history pages on Wikipedia where we have very specific and relevant resources, or also local identities who may already have a VIAF code on their pages.

Who would perform the potentially menial time-consuming task of editing relevant pages?

Editing could perhaps be performed by Duke of Ed students or volunteers.

Would council/management/staff approve?

A future mini innovation project perhaps?

So lots of ideas were swarming around in my brain as I descended the spiral staircase back into the real world. It’s always great to go to a conference for some inspiration and motivation and to realise again that it isn’t just all about overdues and reported returns.

I didn’t even mention how very inspiring the keynote speaker talk by Marion Broadbent was and the very informative Majella Pugh from the University of Queensland talking about their project to prove the value added to the university by their library, but Myra and Ozge can tell you about that!



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