Community Dev: Get your patrons coding

One of my goals for 2006 is to realize my vision for an AADL development program that allows patrons, community members, and anyone interested to develop software around AADL’s services. This will mean providing a suite of APIs that can be used by the public, and a set of developers tools and services that can facilitate development.

So you can imagine how happy I am that superpatron, Ed Vielmetti, is hacking away on our OPAC via the custom search RSS feeds that we unveiled late last year. His latest offering is a Greasemonkey script that embeds AADL catalog information within Amazon pages as you browse their site. Take a look at these two examples:

This example shows material that is available in the AADL catalog. You can simply click on the link and reserve it for pickup.

This example shows an item with a substantial number of holds. Unfortunately the due date info is pretty useless and I’ve been chatting with Ed about providing some optional estimated wait times–a slippery slope, but maybe one worth tackling.

I firmly believe that a community-oriented development program can be an extremely valuable addition to a library’s service-set. One of the reasons I’m so emphatic about pursuing something like the ILS Customer Bill-of-Rights is that it’ll help enable libraries to pursue initiatives like this. Skeptical? I envision a number of ways community dev can add value to your library:

Provides a sense of stewardship

How better to foster feelings and ideas of stewardship toward the library in the community than to let them become a part of building process? Community dev gets people invested in your library’s services. As a result, they become advocates for your institution and you can never have too many of those.

Unlocks a potentially huge brain trust

Ann Arbor is a very high-tech town. It is also a college town. As a result, we have a large concentration of geeks who are willing to be socially responsible and involved. I think that a community dev program here at AADL will have a great deal of appeal to those folks. Not only that, but such a program can become a useful resource for teachers, professors, and instructors who would like to point their students in the direction of possible project ideas.
Of course, it may be that your town doesn’t have the same demographic as Ann Arbor, in which case a community dev program might not be appropriate or useful.

Encourages innovation

Providing an interface for programmers and taking the next step of supporting and endorsing them can only serve to feed the creative beast. Ed is a good example of this because he has approached his projects from a completely different point of view than I do mine. I was aware of Greasemonkey, but I surely wasn’t thinking of it in terms of how it might be useful to our library and our patrons. Ed had a specific need and he addressed it. The more people you have doing this, the more broad and rich the possibilities become.

Benefits other libraries

By aggregating this talent and what it produces, you naturally become a resource for other libraries. Less than a day and a half later, skagirlie (formerly librarianne) has forked it (she’s doing some wicked stuff, btw). Fantastic!

I hope to see this library development model grow in the coming months and years because it’s going to keep our online services fresh and vital.

Solicits high-quality feedback

Any developer knows that the most useful technical feedback tends to come another developer. Imagine having a group of skilled coders constantly raking over your system. That’s the best type of QA auditing money can buy…for free! Of course, you’ve got to want to subject your systems to that kind of scrutiny. If you are serious about striving for excellence, then why wouldn’t you?

Promotable as a service

You can even promote community dev as a service for the public. This is particularly useful if you need to sell the idea. Community dev has a good ‘buzz’ potential, and that’s important when you go ask for some funding for a new server or pizza and mountain dew for a workshop (gotta prime coders with caffeine).

Puts library data into new contexts

How often do you see item availability from your library in an Amazon record? If you’ve thought about where your data can take you and you have some great ideas, let others share theirs. Let them also take it to the next step and implement their ideas.

Community dev is one of those concepts that has the potential to cross over into an important role a libraries play in the, well, 2.0 era. I’ll be chronicling the endeavor here as it unfolds.

About this entry