The OLPC Is Built For Books, Scriblio Is Built For Finding Them

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OLPC + Scriblio

I had a chance to play with an OLPC prototype while at Internet Archive at the beginning of February. And what better to do with prototype hardware than play with prototype software? Art Rhyno smiles in the background, knowing I’m wondering how I can get one of my own OLPC laptops to play with.

ALA Presentation Roundup

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I’m no good at live-blogging events (Lichen is, just look at what she did at the non-profit technology conference), but between the two of us we did do four presentations (two were virtual), they’re online, and, well, we’re proud of them:

Small Steps


The Carnegie libraries defined our public information architecture of the 20th century: open stacks in an identifiably public building that welcomed all to come in and learn. This proposal seeks to define public information architecture for the 21st century by building systems that are open, remixable, and social.

Scriblio’s role in this began with the news that WPopac (as it was known then) was selected to receive a Mellon Award. As a comprehensive regional university with a rural campus and a focus on education, Plymouth State University was very interested in using the award to address some of the needs we found in communities of northern New Hampshire (and of the 60% of libraries nationwide that serve communities with fewer than 10,000 people).

This was the plan as we described it to the Mellon Foundation in fall 2006:

Plymouth State University is committed to continuing the development of WPopac and releasing it publicly as an easy-to-use, open source, online catalog available to all libraries. We believe the best way to ensure its sustainability is to keep it small, nimble, and simple, and maintain alignment with WordPress and other projects that are larger than the library community. In doing so, we will be able to focus on solving and excelling at the questions unique to our field.

The biggest challenge to a broader use of WPopac comes not from the cost of the software or hardware, but from a lack of bibliographic data to drive it. Relatively few libraries have online catalogs, let alone a set of bibliographic records representing their collection. License restrictions or difficulty in extracting data from those systems may prevent them from re-using their data in WPopac. The majority of libraries, however, have no online catalog — no records — and are unlikely to be able to afford the cost of those records.

Plymouth State University proposes that the award be used to establish an open record repository to serve the needs of libraries in implementing open source online catalogs at very low cost. The repository would take the form of a large WPopac installation, offering libraries the ability to freely download records directly into a library’s local WPopac installation and connecting users to local libraries holding the works they’re interested in.

The records would be licensed under either a GNU Free Documentation License (the same terms Wikipedia uses) or a Creative Commons attribution share alike license, and the initial backfile would be acquired by purchase from the Library of Congress’ collection of over 11 million available bibliographic records.

But it was clear that to achieve the real promise of what we were suggesting we needed a dance partner, and that’s what had me especially excited about the conversation I had with the Internet Archive’s Brewster Kahle during the Mellon Award presentation in Washington DC in early December. The conversation continued, and in March PSU/Scriblio and IA, in conjunction with BLC developed a grant proposal to build what we really needed: software that extended the network effects made possible by the internet to libraries.

The proposal included two major, interconnected components:

  • the development of into a feature-rich global catalog linking users to materials in Open Content Alliance’s book scanning project and including information about all other published books[1] with distributed editing tools
  • development of a multi-user version of Scriblio based on WordPress MU, delivering faceted searching and browsing of all a libraries web-accessible content including the catalog and website

Scrib+IA: collaborative development Scrib+IA: user interation

By developing these as an integrated pair (based on open protocols that would allow either component to be replaced), we can finally overcome the limitations of our stand-alone catalogs, leverage the network to develop shared resources, and allow libraries to focus on delivering locally unique resources.

One example that shows some of the possibilities here is Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth New Hampshire. Before implementing Scriblio as our public library development partner, the library, which serves a community of about 2,500, had no online catalog. Now they have a rich web presence that patrons check regularly for news about new programs and acquisitions.

Now the library is looking at exposing their local history collection — all their photos, town records, and other materials — online, a feat unheard of for a library of this size. Beyond Brown Paper demonstrates how this might work.

That effort will only be possible if the library can shift costs from systems that handle books (and other media where their cataloging and management expenses are needlessly duplicated in libraries everywhere) to the local works that can be found nowhere else.

The suggestion here isn’t to diminish the role of books in our libraries but to lower the costs of the systems we use to manage those books so that libraries can afford to deliver more of their services and value online, a proposition that becomes easier to understand once we see our users exploring community history, discussing sustainability, and explaining what a digester is.

The suggestion here is to build the public information architecture of the 21st century.

Classic Vonnegut!

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I haven’t talked about it nearly enough, but there’s great stuff going on at, our first public library using Scriblio. Today, we had our first comment on a catalog record:

Just borrowed this book. Classic Vonnegut! For anyone who enjoys his writing, or for those of you who have never read any of his books, borrow this. You won’t be disappointed!

Everything New Is New Again


Catching up on a lot of old news:

I asked for a new name when I announced it, and early this year the Plymouth State University executive cabinet officially renamed WPopac as Scriblio.

The name comes from Lichen Rancourt, who immediately saw the potential in the software to serve small, underfunded, and rural libraries. She started lobbying hard to make Cook Memorial Library in Tamworth a development partner so they could get it. Cook is an outstanding library, and Lichen happens to know the director. Lichen worked on the implementation of Scriblio for Cook Memorial — which involved the first full re-write of Scriblio — for the latter half of 2006 and launched in January 2007. Thanks to the Mellon Award funds, Lichen officially joined the Scriblio project at the beginning of 2007.

The new website is coming together slowly. We need a new logo (more on that later), but the theme (and a lot of great JavaScript you can’t see just now) comes courtesy of Matthew Batchelder, who keeps asking me when the rest of the site will go live (so we can all see the super accessible, very sweet Ajax he did for it).

The big question is “when can I use Scriblio?” The short answer is “soon.” Really. I mean that this time. Leveraging Digital Technologies to Provide Open, Universal Access to Books



Below is the full narrative of an IMLS grant proposal developed by Internet Archive, Plymouth State University/Scriblio, and the Boston Library Consortium to jointly develop, test, and deploy software for libraries. The submitted PDF of the narrative is available.


We propose to build as a step forward in facilitating resource sharing among small and owners of special or hidden collections. The project will build on the strengths of the Internet Archive’s book digitization activities and development of universal online access tools, Plymouth State University’s (PSU) development of tools to bring small libraries online, the Boston Library Consortium’s (BLC) leadership role in the Rethinking Resource Sharing Initiative. will focus on the needs of institutions that struggle with inter-library resource sharing and creating easy community access to their collections.

Now It’s Really Official


The press release:

Making Libraries Relevant in an Internet-Based Society

PSU’s Casey Bisson wins Mellon Award for innovative search software for libraries

PLYMOUTH, N.H. — You can’t trip over what’s not there. Every day millions of Internet users search online for information about millions of topics. And none of their search results include resources from the countless libraries around the world—until now.

Casey Bisson, information architect for Plymouth State University’s Lamson Library, has received the prestigious Mellon Award for Technology Collaboration for his ground-breaking software application known as WPopac. The Wpopac software will revolutionize the online search process by allowing titles and descriptions of library holdings to be found on the Internet.

The award was presented at a ceremony hosted by the Mellon Foundation on Monday, Dec. 4 at the fall meeting of the Coalition for Networked Information, in Washington, D.C. Bisson’s project was selected as one of only 10 recipients out of several hundred nominees for 2006, the first year the MATC awards have been granted. The decision was made by an all-star panel that included Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, and Mitchell Baker, CEO of the Mozilla Foundation.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports the thoughtful application of information technology to a wide range of scholarly purposes, including developing digital technologies to enhance research, teaching, and online and distance learning, and new technical approaches to archiving text and multimedia materials.

Christopher Mackie, program officer for the Mellon Foundation’s Research in Information Technology section, was pleased with how well WPopac fits the foundation’s criteria.

“The award committee was particularly excited by the way WPopac makes library patrons more active participants in their library experience,” Mackie said. “By allowing patrons to add information to library records online, the software allows the community to work together to make their library resources more informative and more valuable. When you couple this with the reduced costs of access that WPopac permits, and the enthusiasm with which it has been received by librarians and patrons alike, the committee judged the project to have a truly revolutionary potential.”

“For years we’ve been talking about the digital divide in terms of access, and we’ve been working hard to put computers and networks into every school and library,” Bisson said. “But those same libraries, and their communities, are invisible to people online. If libraries are to be more than study halls in the Internet age, if they are to continue their role as centers of knowledge in every community, they need to be findable and available online. They need the tools to represent their collections, their services, and the unique history of their communities online. That’s what WPopac does.”

Dwight Fischer, director of information technology at PSU, called Bisson’s work an appropriate centerpiece for the university’s transformed academic library. “Over the past year, Lamson Library has implemented what is known as a Learning Commons,” Fischer explained. “This joint effort between library and IT professionals brings more technologies, online research materials, academic tutoring, writing and reading services to a central location in the library. Library faculty and staff members work side-by-side with IT professionals, forming a collaborative team that better reflects the needs of today’s students. Casey’s project will help build more bridges to more information for more people. We’re very proud of him.”

Converting Between ISBN-10 and ISBN-13

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David Kane asked the web4libbers:

Can anyone tell me what the conversion between ISBN-10 and ISBN-13 is, please. I need to write a little conversion program. Anything in PHP, for example.


“There is already an online converter:;” some pointing at Wikipedia on ISBNs, Bookland, and EANs; John Blyberg’s PHP port of the PERL ISBN-10/13 tool; some explanation that you have to watch the check digit, and discussion about why you’d need to do all this conversion.

Finally, Tim asked:

Someone should offer single and batch converstion as a free API, not an online form and an offer to have a “representive” call you for larger jobs.

Does anyone want that, or shall I?

And I answered:

Same usage as xISBN and thingISBN. Returns empty result on invalid ISBNs.

Based on Blyberg’s code, incorporates some changes, may not be accurate. Poke at it, break it. Report findings, but don’t blame me if it returns incorrect results (I will try to fix the code/service, though).

Geeky extra: anybody know the Lat and Lon to Bookland? I’d really like to put this post on the map.


Fixing The Catalog

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Findability 2

I’ve been saying it in my presentations for some time now, but for LCE2006 and some other events, I’ve trimmed it down to a ten minute talk: Library systems face three challenges to remaining relevant in our post-Google world:

I’ve posted my screenshots and notes at Flickr. The result isn’t nearly as interesting as Dave Chiu and Didier Hilhorst’s Flickr-ized presentation, but I’m working on that for next time.