or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Quick and Easy Website Mashups

ChelmsfordHistory.org/Resources.html pageThere's a lot you can do online to get useful information to patrons - and not all of it is complicated. Here is an example of one page with four mashups - four different tools in the right place can both enhance your website and make it easier to maintain.

First, the background: my library is participating in a town-wide effort to create a single access point for local history information. To that end, we created ChelmsfordHistory.org - featured here is the Resources page, with explanations of how each mashup works.

  1. Google Custom Search Engine
    [requires free Google account]
    A Google Customer Search Engine (CSE) lets you create a search box, powered by Google, and limited to only websites that you want to include in the search. In this case, we limited it to websites of organizations participating in our town-wide history project, and those that has some kind of related historical information. CSE's are easy to create, add websites to, and provides a "Get Code" link for you to copy/paste code into your website for both the search box and search results.

    In this example, a CSE is embedded twice - once as part of the page layout (so the search appears on every page of this website) and again at the top of the Resources page, to feature it more prominently.

  2. Google Book
    [no account required]
    One of our best local history resources is a book entitled The History of Chelmsford, written in 1917 by Rev. Wilson Waters. The copy of this book in Harvard's collection was scanned as part of Google Books, and therefore is available full-text online. However, instead of just linking to the book, we chose to embed it on our page, so researchers would have immediate access to it.

    The embed code for this book is found by clicking on the "Link" link in the upper right of the book page, and copy/pasting the "Embed" code into the Resources webpage makes it appear exactly where we want it. And since it is also available, we included a link on the page to download the entire book as a pdf file (but this isn't available for all books).

  3. Delicious Link Roll
    [requires free Delicious account]
    This page has two bulleted lists of links - the list at the top of the page is hardcoded into the page, and to make changes the html code needs to be edited and then the page uploaded via ftp to the webserver. The list at the bottom of the page is dynamically-generated by links bookmarked into a Delicious account, and is updated whenever new links are added to our account.

    The advantage to using a Delicious Link Roll is that there are multiple (and easy!) ways to add new links, and new links can be added by anyone who shares the account).

    Another advantage is the amount of control you have over what links get displayed, and what they look like. When adding links to Delicious, you can use tags to create your own controlled vocabulary, and then pick and choose and combine tags to pull the list of links you want. In this case, we only wanted to show websites with historical maps, so our link roll only shows links that have both the tags "historical" and "maps". A little more formatting makes those links look almost exactly like the list at the top of the page.

  4. Flickr Photo Badge
    [requires free Flickr account]
    My library uses our Flickr account to provide access to our collection of historical photos (among other things). As a way to spice up the look of the ChelmsfordHistory.org website, and to promote our online historical photo collections, we embedded Flickr Photo Badge into the bottom of every page of the website, which displays only historical photos of Chelmsford.

    A Flickr Badge is very similar to a Delicious Link Roll, but instead of displaying links it displays images. When we add photos to our Flickr account, they get tagged according to the controlled vocabulary we've created. Then, you create a badge to pull only photos with the tags you want (you can also pull based on how you have your photos' set and collections organized), copy/paste the provided code into your website, and your website suddenly becomes much more interesting - and useful.

    The Badge also lets you choose the number of photos to display, their size, and provides a range of layout options. Since we wanted them to be part of the site's layout, we chose thumbnail size, and we also set it to pull random photos, so the page is different every time it loads.

These are just a few examples of how we're using these mashup tools, and how we're combining them to serve a common purpose. What you can do with these (and other) tools is limited only by your imagination, but below are a few more suggestions to get you started - be creative, your patrons will thank you.

Google Custom Search Engine can search...

  • only websites in your community
  • websites devoted to a particular topic
  • teacher/librarian-approved websites for students to use
  • book reviews to make selection easier!

Google Books can be used to...

  • make a virtual bookshelf on your website
  • bring together useful resources for a student project
  • provide easy access for a book group to the full-text of a work

Delicious Link Rolls can use used to...

  • show websites you like or recently found
  • create subject-specific lists of useful resources
  • share useful resources amongst colleagues and patrons

Flickr Photo Badges can show off...

  • your online photo collections (or a subset)
  • activities taking place in the library
  • a slidehsow of just about anything