Mashups in the library

During my undergraduate I wrote my first ever term paper on mashups of the musical variety (take for example Danger Mouse’s famous ‘Grey Album,’ a mashup of Jay-Z’s ‘Black Album’ and The Beatles’ ‘White Album’). My paper dealt primarily with copyright law, and the line between infringement and fair use – slippery waters to say the least. However, no matter where on the spectrum your ethical view of musical mashups might land, when their done right they create a new way of perceiving of each of their ingredients.

Mashups in the library work in a similar way to auditory mashups, they take two or more separate (but complementary) pieces and overlap them, therefore putting them into communication with each other and with users. In short a mashup, in a technology context, is a web-based application that combines multiple sources into a single tool. Thanks to Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) it is now easier than ever for libraries and to create their own mashups. Popular mashups include interactive and educational maps (such as the one featured above, a literary walking tour of New York), bibliographic records and social media (for example, Tweet to receive OCLC query results) and library catalogs with consumer book reviews, just to name a quick three.

As library patrons and librarians become more tech savvy and definitely more tech dependent, mashups can be a fast and dirty way to give the people what they want. Not used to having to leave your dorm room to have a quick reference question answered? Fine, just tweet your favorite librarian. Don’t know where your local library is? Okay, use Library 411, a listing of local libraries in the U.S. with hovering access to their hours and contact information. Essentially mashups can allow libraries to provide services to a large number of patrons collaboratively and through the web.

Although mashups are exciting and certainly attainable for most libraries, I do think that care and caution should be taken when considering when to invest in creating a new mashup. For example, even if its possible to create map of your system’s branches is it necessary or useful even when other maps include your libraries branches? Additionally, even if something feels current, cool or exciting, its worth considering the longevity and practicality of an application. Will your mashup be out dated in a year? Will your patrons use it? There are so many aspects of library information science that will require current and future librarians, catalogers and archivists to run to catch-up technologically, so it begs to question if mashups are worth their time.

For more on mashups:

Programmable Web

A presentation by N.C. Engard

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