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

Patron Book Reviews Tool

   September 27th, 2007

Chili Fresh logoI was asked by a company called Chili Fresh to take a look at a new tool they're creating. It is designed to allow book reviews written by patrons to display right in the catalog (similar to reviews on Amazon.com showing up right on the item details page).

I agreed, and have spent some time on this, because I really like the concept - integrating useful data right into the library catalog. One of the biggest problems with library resources is that they're too complicated to use. The databases we subscribe to are great, but if using them requires patrons to jump through hoops, then the patrons are not going to use them.

As an example: NoveList is one of the best databases libraries can offer. Its readers advisory information is unmatched. But, because it's a stand-alone tool (the proverbial "information silo"), it's just that much more difficult for patrons to use.

Counter to this is LibraryThing for Libraries, which provides readers advisory information right in the catalog - you know, where our patrons already are. I don't think the suggestions provided by LTfL are as good as NoveList (yet), but its ease of utility makes it a far more practical tool.

And this is what caught my eye with Chili Fresh. Patrons-created book information, right along side the library's book information. That's great. Just like comments on a weblog, getting patrons involved and interacting with the library is going to enrich both the tool and the experience.

I've spent a few hours this week playing with the Chili Fresh tool (my test page), and sending emails back and forth to the developers. They readily admit this tool is still in beta, and has a ways to go, but they are open to comments and have already incorporated a few of my suggestions. I encourage anyone interested to set up an account and play too, and let them know what you think. The more input provided by libraries, the more this will be shaped into a useful tool.

It seems a bit clunky right now, because the examples are all outside of a library catalog. But they're definitely on the right track, and the idea is worth some attention. You can sign up on their website for a test account, or contact them Scott Johnson (jscott [at] chilifresh.com) for more information.

A note about their website: you'll notice that many of the pages are blank. I asked about this and was told that, since the product is still in beta and is changing, they are limiting the amount of information available.

book review, book reviews, chili fresh, chilifresh, libraries, library, patron, public libraries, public library, readers advisory

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5 Responses to “Patron Book Reviews Tool”

  1. Jessica Says:

    So, if you liked it, is something that your library could just integrate into your catalog? As in, you wouldn’t have to get consortium permission (or any other such nonsense)? I think this sounds like an interesting idea, just like Library Thing, but we can’t do anything to our catalog because of the state – which sucks.

  2. Brian Herzog Says:

    Since my library is also in a consortium, this was one of the first questions I asked. At the present time, all it takes to get this to work is to copy/paste the code into your catalog page.

    The catch with us is that, since my consortium shares a catalog, individual libraries don’t have access to the code of the catalog pages to make changes like this. Also, it looks like if it is added to the catalog, it will show up for all libraries, whether they want it or not.

    This will not fly in my consortium. We currently use SirsiDynix Horizon 7.3, which does pass a library code in the url. I’m sure this could be hijacked to show the Chili Fresh code only for certain libraries. Right now, though, I don’t think Chili Fresh does this, so the library/consortium would have to write that code.

    I also asked about pricing, but didn’t get a complete answer. I think all the vagueness is due to them still being in beta, but hopefully they’ll have more concrete answers soon.

    And you know, I suppose you could add this tool to your website (instead of the catalog) without affecting any other consortium libraries, but then you lose the advantage of the tool being in the catalog.

  3. Jessica Says:

    We also use Horizon, so the issues would most likely be the same (ha – who am I kidding? There would be zero interest in this here).

    Thanks for your comment on my blog – I am only slightly horrified to find that I put the link to my personal blog here….

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    Ha – I updated the link, so your personal life is safe with me (sorry for peeking).

  5. Scott Says:

    I love the questions that have been asked by Brian so far… and hopefully I can answer a few more here.
    I’m Scott with ChiliFresh.com.

    We are working closely right now with SRSI Dynix and they have told us that the administrator in your consortium DOES have the URL structure that will take you directly to your online catalog’s record AND they also have the ability to customize your catalog to allow book reviews to show up directly in you catalog.

    Because you are in a consortium, there may be some approval issues… HOWEVER, it is obvious that if a patron can conduct a search for a particular item JUST IN YOUR LIBRARY, there is a specific URL to that item as well (that is what the SRSL Dynix people tell me).

    Brian, if you would provide me with the name and contact info of the person that is the “Admin” for SRSI for your consortium, I can verify all this directly with him/her. Giving them a head-up first would be a good thing too.

    Thanks for your input!