Everybody's Libraries

March 22, 2013

Updates on library linking, Wikipedia, and what you can do

Filed under: discovery,libraries,sharing — John Mark Ockerbloom @ 4:55 pm

I’m gratified for the positive response I’ve been getting to the Forward To Libraries service I first introduced last month.  It really took off when I announced the templates for linking to libraries from Wikipedia a couple of weeks ago.   They’ve been written up in places like Boing Boing and in Wikipedia’s own Signpost newsletter.   The service now includes more than 150 libraries throughout the English-speaking world.  Various Wikipedia editors are also adding the link templates to various articles–  besides the handful I added myself, more than 450 have been added by other editors at this writing.  And I’ve heard from numerous librarians who now want to start editing Wikipedia themselves, both to add library links and to otherwise improve articles.  (Here’s how to become a Wikipedia editor.)

So far, I’ve largely provided this service on my own, with support from the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.   But I’d like to make the service more useful, and could use some help.  If you’re interested, here are some things you might want to know:

Some libraries are easier to link than others.   If you’re using one of many standard library catalogs or discovery systems, and you haven’t made substantial modifications to it, it’s easy for me to add your system. I basically just record what software you’re using and where on the Web the service runs, run some test searches to verify your system, and you’re good to go.  If you’re using a more customized, obscure, or home-grown system, I might still be able to add links to it, but it may take me more effort to figure out how to make useful search links into the system.  Any information you can provide would be helpful.  There are also certain off-the-shelf systems that I have problems with.  Many Polaris systems, for example, will give a “session timed out” message the first time you try to follow a search link into the system.   (Back up and try the link again, and everything will be fine for some time afterwards.)  Some other systems don’t seem to support deep search links in any consistent way that I’ve been able to determine, and not just some very old session-based systems, but also EBSCO’s fairly new EDS discovery platform.

I’ve determined ways to link into these various systems from reading various documentation files I’ve found on the public Internet, along with some reverse-engineering of public web sites.  If you know of better ways to link to some of these systems that I haven’t yet figured out myself, and this information can be made public, let me know.

For now, I’m declining to list libraries that don’t have many English-language subject or Library of Congress name headings, because the results of English searches in those libraries will be misleadingly incomplete.  But I’m considering ways to include translated searches, where the data to support this is available, for a wider range of countries.  (VIAF already provides much relevant data for names.)

The most popular new Wikipedia Library resource template is also controversial, and might be modified or deleted.   I provide a number of different templates for linking from Wikipedia to libraries, including the inlined text templates “Library resources about” and “Library resources by“, and the all-in-one sidebar template “Library resources box“. By far the most used of these templates has been the Library resources box.   It’s easy to spot in an article, it organizes links clearly, and it’s easy for editors to recognize as a template that they can add to articles they find of interest.  But some Wikipedians, including at least one Wikipedia admin, have objected to the template.  They cite style guidelines that say external link templates should not use boxes or other graphical elements, but only appear as inlined text.  I’ve defended the boxes, noted how other library-related external links commonly appear in boxes, and proposed ways to address various Wikipedian concerns.   But it’s ultimately up to the Wikipedia community to determine whether or how library links will appear in Wikipedia articles.  To find out more about the issues, see the Library resources box talk page.  And if you’re a Wikipedia editor or user, feel free to weigh in on that page or other relevant forums.

I’m exploring ways to make it easier for readers to get to our libraries.  For one, I’m starting to record IP ranges for some institutions, so that local network users can follow “resources in your library” links straight to the institution’s library, without having to first register a preference.  (Users can still register a different preference if they want.)  IP-based routing is an experimental service, initially being provided to a limited number of institutions, and I may modify or withdraw it in the future.  If you’d like me to consider it for your institution, you can submit a request, with the relevant IP ranges (preferably in CIDR format) in the “anything we should know?” field.  Note that the IP ranges you submit will be published as part of the library data I’m sharing for this project.

I’m starting to share my work on Github.  There is now a Github repository with selected data and code for the FTL project.  In it, you’ll find the data I use to link to the libraries enrolled in the service, and you’ll also see the code for the main CGI script used to forward readers to those libraries.   You can’t yet run the service out of the box yourself with the code and data provided so far, but I hope that what’s there will help people understand how the service works, and possibly implement similar services themselves if they’re so inclined.  The data’s released under CC0, so you can reuse it however you like; and the code is open-source licensed under the Educational Community License 2.0.  I hope to add more data and code over time, and I’m happy to hear suggestions for enhancements and improvements.

I’m hoping that as more people get involved, the service will improve, library resources will become more reachable online, and Wikipedia will become a more useful resource as well.  If you’d like to get involved yourself, I’d love to hear what you’re up to, and what suggestions you might have.


  1. John, this is a very timely and impressive effort. I wanted to give you my opinion on the “box v. inline” discussion (and I will add something on the talk page). I think that the inline under “External links” looks fine, and I think it is important to adhere to WP’s culture regarding the creation of boxes. Step one seems to be to get these links onto as many pages as possible and see how well they work and how they are received. It would be ideal to be able to track stats of use, at least in a few libraries, so that you have an impact factor. If the impact is high then you have some weight in suggesting a partner agreement with WP.

    But mostly, I want to say thanks for inventing this! – kc

    Comment by Karen Coyle — March 23, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

    • Thanks very much for your comments! They mean a lot to me.

      I agree that what I’m doing needs to fit into Wikipedia culture. I’ve recently been offered assistance with getting a Wikimedia Labs account, where it sounds like I can install the software, and offer it for possible integration with the Wikipedia/Wikimedia infrastructure. As I understand it, there’s more latitude on look and feel for sister projects; but regardless of the consensus that develops on that, it probably makes sense in the long term for the templates to forward through Wikipedia’s own infrastructure rather than through Penn’s.

      As far as statistics go, Wikipedia itself tracks the pages that use the templates (see the “What links here” link on the template pages)– that’s why I can say the box template is currently the one that’s been used the most, though it’s still a pretty small set of pages compared to Wikipedia as a whole. The back-end software also logs the forwards to libraries. Last I checked, it was still doing more forwards from The Online Books Page (where the links automatically appear on lots of results views) than from Wikipedia, but I expect Wikipedia forwarding will increase as more Wikipedia pages get the templates added.

      Comment by John Mark Ockerbloom — March 25, 2013 @ 3:32 pm

  2. This is a great idea, and one that I’m looking to use as part of the library training that I’m providing next semester to the students in a first-year biology unit. We (the library staff) will try and add the template to the Wikipedia pages that are relevant for the students’ assignment questions, and then show them how to navigate from Wikipedia to the library’s collection. If it goes well with this unit, we may try and expand it to other units, too. Thanks for developing this tool – I think it has great potential for encouraging students to use the resources which they, in effect, are paying for.

    Comment by Andrew Spencer (@GeocachingLibn) — July 3, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

    • Andrew, however your experiment on templating links from Wikipedia pages goes, I hope you (and/or your team) will write it up. I want to read about it.

      Comment by Mica Meerbach — July 12, 2013 @ 7:23 am

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