Thursday, February 16, 2006

Appropriate Linking, Like Love, is in the Air

A couple of weeks ago Dan Chudnov commented (in #code4lib) that he didn't like putting links on web pages when he referred to books, because he's a librarian, and it doesn't feel right to be pointing to a commercial entity when the book is probably available at the local library. Similarly, Karen Schneider just this weekend felt conflicted about her blog book reviews, for much the same reason. Then, Lorcan Dempsey noticed that the COPAC experimental library catalogue provides COinS in the full record display.

While one might take issue with Dan and Karen's (apparent) distaste for the marketplace, a deeper point is that, just like those bibliographic databases that unconditionally provide links to online fulltext that may or may not be available to a particular user (*cough* PubMed *cough*), the link that is prefered by the creator of the content may not be appropriate, for any number of reasons, for the reader of the content. Even if Dan had no qualms about providing a link to, or maybe even deriving a benefit from affiliating himself with,, and even if I wanted to buy the book, that doesn't mean that is the best place to go. In fact, I just recently spent quite a bit of money at Amazon, but it was at But providing Open WorldCat links, as Karen suggested, isn't the right thing either, because (a) my local public libraries aren't members of OCLC and, (b) I might want to buy the book.

These incidents seem to emphasize yet again the importance of providing appropriate links for users. But how can Dan or Karen provide appropriate links for me, when they don't know what libraries, bookstores, or online retailers, I might frequent? Lorcan's post points in the right direction, however: content providers (and not just databases and library catalogues, but also bloggers, and other publishers of original content) need to begin providing metadata about the bibliographic units that they are discussing, so that the reader can decide what to do (and where to link to) with the metadata.

Openly Informatics (recently purchased by OCLC, coincidentally) provides a Mozilla Firefox extension that recognizes COinS and links to the user's own OpenURL resolver. Unfortunately, I don't think that's good enough for the majority of people. MPOW's OpenURL resolver doesn't, for example, provide links to amazon (of any nationality) or to the local public library. I need a personal link resolver; something that runs on the desktop that knows those places from whence I borrow or purchase books. My personal resolver should also provide a fallback, or "smarthost", OpenURL resolver, so that journal links that I run across can be passed along to a "full-service" link resolver, like the one that the university runs, so that I can find appropriate copies of articles.

In fact, I don't think I need a full link resolution server. I just need a shopping/library assistant: a firefox extension, much like Openly's, in which I could configure the online bookstores that I frequented and the libraries that I used, and which presented an OpenURL-style menu of searches based on the the contents of embedded COinS in web pages. Now I just need to find the time to write such a beast. And convince everybody else to start providing COinS.

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