Course:LIBR559M/Making a Mashup-Friendly Library

From UBC Wiki

Mashups[1] are an intriguing means of knowledge creation in the Social Media universe (i.e. the 21st century). Peter Evans-Greenwood's definition of a mashup is "a user interface, or user interface element, that melds data and function from multiple sources to create one single, seamless view of a topic, eliminating unnecessary decisions and actions"[2]. In other words, this term merely describes the act of research - consolidating information from different sources into one piece of work. The library, then, is already a pre-eminent mashup tool. To go beyond the act of taking text from books and interpreting it in combination with text from other books is the kind of mashing up this wiki-page will discuss.


Making your library mashup-friendly just requires a few things:

  • Interesting information no one else is sharing.
  • Storing that information in a format that makes it easy for others to use.
  • Tools to interpret the data in innovative ways.
  • Consideration of the legal issues around copyright in sharing and remixing data.
  • A willingness to experiment.[3]

The last point there is very important. It's a question of attitude, of relaxing control over the contents of your library so as to see what creative things your community can make happen.

What Needs Mashing?

One of the first steps to making a mashup-friendly library is to consider the information you're making available for remixing. Rather than duplicating the effort of other information organizations in this global society, it is more practical to focus on what is unique about your library. For public libraries, this could be topics of local importance like community history. Or, for academic libraries, their institutional repository. The point is to make available the things Google (or the big consortia) can't be bothered with (or don't have).

That said, it is very useful to collect some kinds of information similar to other groups. If more than one group makes a collection of pictures available with Creative Commons licensing, it is better for comparative purposes if they're of similar time periods or have some other basis for comparison. A completely haphazard approach means each collection might be interesting on its own, but ignores the wider scale of possibilities.

For a very good overview of this idea, check out this video: An Interview with Kathryn Greenhill of Libraryhack[4]

Accessible Information

Making the locally interesting, not-catalogued anywhere else (at least not in a very detailed way), information in your institution available for others to use requires a few things. Making something available but only in a proprietary (or worse, proprietary and obsolete) format that was hand coded and used only by your organization isn't useful. Ideally the information is very local, but in a universal format/protocol.

Open Data/Open Access

Making data open or ‘freeing the data’ so that is accessible for re-use is the first step in making a mashup- friendly library. This also means looking ahead: when your library collects new data it needs to ask itself how this information could potentially reach people in the digital space, and thus collect and process it accordingly with an eye to future mashup projects.

As service organizations, libraries need to view data as something they can curate and then release to their clients so that they are enabled to participate more fully within their communities and the data these communities generate. By ensuring data is open, the library situates itself as a leader in providing both information and participatory access to it.

For more, watch this video: Anna Raunik & Margaret Warren (from State Library of Queensland) Interview [5]

Organizations Dedicated to Open Data

  • Open Definition[6] provides criteria for openness in relation to data, content, and software services.
  • The Open Knowledge Foundation[7] promotes open knowledge, and its projects suggest ways in which libraries can use the open data vision to reach out to their communities.


While Excel spreadsheets of your library's local information are good (although the non-Microsoft-bound .csv format would be more universally readable), even more useful in today's social media environment is what is known as an API (Application Programming Interface[8]).

An API is a set of rules that allows for live data exchange between programs. This is how people can overlay Google Maps with pictures from Flickr. Both websites are storing different kinds of data but the API lets a third party easily mash them together. It's possible to mash-up data by hand without the use of an API, but when dealing with large amounts of information this would be very tedious. Many social media platforms have APIs for you to work with, including Twitter, and Google.

A word of warning: Creating an API does require a bit of programming skill, mostly in php scripting.

API Resources

Remixable Information Tools

Data Mixing

Mixing data of different types is the type of Mashup we usually think of. An example of putting together information from two different sources is when locations from books are mapped in Google Maps. The more information you have to work with, the easier it is to integrate two different data types. As Kathryn Greenhill of Libraryhack says[15], while software can try deciphering addresses, actual geotags are more useful.

This is also where anticipating future uses of the data is useful. Retrofitting old information is going to be difficult and time-consuming, so ensuring that your current information is catalogued thoroughly (and according to Open Data standards and protocols) will make future mashers of your organization's data that much happier.

Hardware Interpretation

Mashups are not only confined to online sources, but can bring digital data into the physical world. Using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets with camera capabilities, digital data can be mashed up with real world objects such as books or buildings. QR codes can be used to bring library services outside the library setting via mobile phones. For example, Costa County Public Library's Snap & Go Project implemented QR codes in a variety of creative ways such as a sharing readalikes for popular books, providing access to free audiobooks using QR codes found on public transit, and running a library scavenger hunt.

Developments in Augmented Reality (AR) have also opened the door to a myriad of potential uses to benefit both library staff and patrons. William Brinkman of Miami University in Ohio is developing a smartphone application for shelf-reading that can read special spine labels and detect out of place books [16]. One can imagine the possibilities of similar applications that read QR codes, barcodes, or even RFID tags to display useful information about a book, such as user reviews, readalikes, or author notes.

Mashups can be used as a way of facilitating interaction between users and a library's digital or special collections. WolfWalk and BeaverTracks are two examples of self-guided walking tours developed by academic libraries that allow users to view geotagged historical photographs using the location-aware capabilities of smartphones to place the photographs in context with the actual locations on campus.

Further AR Reading

Licensing New Knowledge

Creative Commons

Creative Commons (CC) is a non-profit organization founded in 2001[17]. Their goal is to facilitate the free use, copying, distribution, editing, and re-mixing of creative works[18]. To this end, they provide a variety of free licenses for creators to apply to their work as an alternative to exclusive copyright[19].

Of course, Creative Commons licenses are not the only options out there. A popular alternative, especially for software, is the GNU General Public License[20]. However, Creative Commons allows for finer grained decisions about the use of intellectual property (although, the two are now inter-operable, depending on the CC license)[21].

The last benefit of CC is its international scope, whereby they have been adapting the original American-based licenses to the copyright laws of countries around the world (Canada among them)[22].

Understanding copyright can be daunting at the best of times. Here are the advantages of the CC system:

  1. The human-readable parts of the licenses really are readable by humans.
  2. If a contributor chooses a CC license they retain full copyrights; if the license is violated, legal action under copyright law can be taken.
  3. These licenses are legally binding, as they now have case-law precedent[23].
  4. The licenses have also moved into the international realm.
  5. Users can fill in this simple form to aid them in selecting a license[24].

Flickr Commons

In 2008 Library of Congress started a pilot program with Flickr, in which it shared thousands of historical photos from its Prints and Photographs Online Catalog with the Flickr community, inviting people to add tags, comment, and offer additional descriptive information about the uncatalogued collection. The success of the project led numerous other cultural institutions[25] to jump aboard in an initiative named "The Commons" on Flickr. The goals of the program are to "increase access to publicly-held photography collections and to "provide a way for the general public to contribute information and knowledge"[26].

Because most of the photos shared in The Commons photostream are publicly-held and the copyrights are not held or controlled by the institutions, a new copyright designation was formulated by Flickr: "No known copyright restrictions." By selecting this option when contributing to The Commons, a library asserts that it has "reasonably concluded that a photograph is free of copyright restrictions" either because it is in the public domain or because the library has control over the copyright. This is not a guarantee, and leaves it up to the user of the image to do his/her own research- a caveat clearly specified in the rights statement[27]. Thus, although it is oftentimes difficult to establish provenance for photographs, this option allows you to freely share your library's holdings with the general public.

Mashups Using The Commons

The aggregation of photos in The Commons has led to some interesting mashups. Some notable examples:

  • New York Then and Now and New Zealand Then and Now: displays historic images from The Commons and compares them with their modern day Google street view locations
  • Sydney Sidetracks: an interactive map from Australian Broadcasting Company, providing video, audio, and photos from The Commons for specific locations
  • Powerhouse Museum in Layar: a tutorial for using the Layar Augmented Reality smartphone app, using GPS and Powerhouse Museum's Flickr Commons images to see historical photographs of the buildings you are standing by, or to find nearby locations with photos and navigation directions in Sydney.

Mashed into the Community

When you're making large swathes of your locally interesting information accessible to the world to remix reuse and mashup, it's important to tell your stakeholders about it. This is so they know about the excellent work you're doing and why it's important. It's also possible that some people who've donated items to your organization will not be all right with their information being put out there for modification by nameless others[28]. Being very clear about the licensing is important. This is also where conversation needs to be happening.

Other Mashup Examples


Libraryhack was a 2011 library mashup and app competition which invited participants to use data from Australia and New Zealand libraries in creative new ways. The entries included:

  • Talking Maps - Using libraryhack datasets and other online sources, this entry combines photographs, manuscripts, and audio and superimposes them onto maps to produce fleshed out historical stories.
  • Conviz - Using data from the British Convict Transportation Registry, this online application gives people a fuller story of the European settlement of Australia. It allows one to search for convicts and offers numerous charts, maps, and other visualisations to display info about the convicts, including the boats they came over on, their sentences, and their departure and arrival locations.
  • Newserve - Maps out all of the newspapers in the State Library of New South Wales and the Trove digital collection. Via a timeline, newspapers and the dates they are available are displayed, and it also allows users to search for digital collections or catalogue data.

All Libraryhack entries can be found here


  1. "Mashups" HLWiki Socialmedia glossary, accessed July 26, 2011.
  2. Evans-Greenwood, Peter. 2009. "We need a better definition for 'mash-up'" PEG, accessed July 26, 2011.
  3. Adapted from Greenhill, Kathryn. 2011. "What libraries need to do to create mashable data - Libraryhack interview with Kathryn Greenhill," Librarians Matter, accessed July 27, 2011.
  4. "LibraryHack interview with Kathryn Greenhill," uploaded by TheQUTube on YouTube, May 25, 2011, accessed on July 25, 2011.
  5. "Anna Raunik & Margaret Warren (from State Library of Queensland) Interview" uploaded by TheQUTube on YouTube, May 25, 2011.
  6. "Open Definition :," Open Knowledge Foundation, accessed July 26, 2011.
  7. "Open Knowledge Foundation," Open Knowledge Foundation, accessed July 26, 2011.
  8. Wikipedia contributors, "Application programming interface," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, accessed July 26, 2011.
  9. "The Nutshell: A Beginner's Guide to APIs," Guardian, last updated Friday 14, 2007, accessed July 25, 2011.
  10. "How to Create an API?" WebResources Depot, posted July 14, 2009, accessed July 29, 2011.
  11. "Beginner's guide for journalists who want to understand API documentation," Poynter, last updated July 11, 2011, accessed July 25, 2011.
  12. "How to Design a Good API and Why it Matters," uploaded by GoogleTechTalks on Oct 8, 2007, accessed July 25, 2011.
  13. "How we made an API for BoingBoing in an evening," FluidInfo, posted January 27, 2011, accessed July 25, 2011.
  14. "Librarian commentary on the 2011 Google Books API," Bibliographic Wilderness, posted May 12, 2011, accessed July 25, 2011.
  15. "LibraryHack interview with Kathryn Greenhill," uploaded by TheQUTube on YouTube, May 25, 2011.
  16. "Augmented-Reality Shelving: Q&A with Miami University's Bo Brinkman on the ShelvAR App," Library Journal, updated April 18, 2011.
  17. Lysecki, Sara. 2007. “Creative Commons expands in Canada and Beyond.” ComputerWorld Canada 23.15.
  18. “About the Licenses,” Creative Commons, accessed July 24, 2011.
  19. “About the Licenses,” Creative Commons, accessed July 24, 2011.
  20. “GNU General Public License, version 3,” GNU, last updated June 29, 2007.
  21. Maracke, Catherina. 2010. “Creative Commons International: the International License Porting Project – Origins, Experiences, and Challenges.” JIPITEC 4.1: 13.
  22. “Big legal win for free licenses,” Joi Ito, August 14, 2008.
  23. “Does Creative Commons need more court cases?” TechnoLlama, Accessed July 21, 2011.
  24. “Choose,” Creative Commons, accessed July 21, 2011.
  25. "Participating Institutions," Flickr: The Commons, accessed July 27, 2011.
  26. "FAQ," Flickr: The Commons, accessed July 27, 2011.
  27. "Usage," Flickr: The Commons, accessed July 27, 2011.
  28. "LibraryHack interview with Kathryn Greenhill," uploaded by TheQUTube on YouTube, May 25, 2011, accessed on July 25, 2011.


Since this is a wiki more hands might get involved down the line, but the original team responsible for this wikipage include: Abraham DeJesus, Jamie Fong, Jennifer Pappas, Kerry Taillefer and Justin Unrau. It was created for LIBR559m - Social Media for Information Professionals in July 2011.