Thursday, May 2, 2013

Library online catalogues enhanced by harvesting online reviews

After a pause to prepare for teaching and work on some journal articles for publication, I have now returned my attention to my research proposal and in particular, my research problem. I have begun the process of narrowing down my idea again, and am exploring the possibility of studying "Blogs as narrative information sources for knowledge sharing". In this blog post, I just want to share with you some of my thinking through the issues as I formulate my research problem. Lets begin with a fictional story to represent an aspect of my problem.

Joseph searches the library online catalogue on restaurants. After reviewing the results retrieved, he shakes his head. Which of these resources should he check out? Which one will be worth his time? Why doesn't the library online catalogue provide any signals to advise him about the content in these resources? Does he have to go to Google or Amazon to read reviews for each material before taking the time to retrieve or browse them?

What Joseph contemplates is not far from reality. Libraries are already implementing online catalogues that draw on summaries and reviews from other online websites to help given readers more information about catalogue entries.  In my observation, I notice that the London Public Library (in Canada) uses the Encore, a product of Innovative Interfaces Inc., which facilitates reviews from library users/readers (Encore, 2012?), and even seems to harvest reviews and ratings from This is of interest to me, because I am developing a research proposal with the idea that one of the practical implications of my research is the harvesting of blog content to enrich library catalogue entries.

According to the overview of Encore on the Website:
Encore offers a suite of applications and web services that delivers a universe of information in ways that are intuitive, relevant, and, perhaps most important, familiar to today’s internet users. Through a single search box, Encore connects users to all the trusted resources the library collects or selects. Plus, Encore gives users ways to connect with each other and participate in your library’s information landscape.

How? Encore elegantly presents all manner of discovery tools, including faceted search results, Tag Cloud, Did You Mean…?, Popular Choices, Recently Added suggestions, and RightResult™ relevance ranking. It integrates federated search, as well as enriched content—like first chapters—and harvested data, and facilitates community participation with user tagging and community reviews.
Consequently, it appears that our online catalogues and discovery systems are already making use of online reviews generated by ordinary users to enrich the information in the OPACs.

Another Canadian library, the Toronto Public Library also uses a similar service called Syndetic Solutions™ from Bowker. According to its website, Syndetic Solutions™ from Bowker “is the premier source of specialized, high-quality bibliographic data designed to enhance library online catalogs”. It also offers Syndetics Classic™  which reportedly provides:

a wealth of descriptive information and cover images relating to videos, DVDs, CDs, audio books, and all types of books—from young adult chapter books to conference proceedings. Various elements of content are added weekly for over hundreds of thousands of new titles each year. Syndetics Solutions™ strives to provide a wide variety of the most useful and highest quality information available, much of which can not be found on online booksellers' catalogs and not available from any other source. New options are constantly being added to the service .

Hence Syndetics Solutions™ seeks to enhance the online public access catalogues of libraries through displaying descriptive data about the resources within the library's collection that can signal to readers the content within particular resources. Among the the descriptive data are summaries and annotations, tables of contents, author notes, book reviews, topical headings, images of book covers, and actual excerpts from within the books (Bowker, 2011). Of interest here are the reviews, of which Bowker (2011) reports that Syndetic Solutions product, Syndetics Classic, offers more than 2.8 million reviews as part of its enrichment elements. According to the its FAQ page,  Syndetics Solutions harvests its reviews from the following publications:

  • Library Journal - coverage beginning with 1985
  • School Library Journal - coverage beginning with 1985
  • Publishers Weekly - coverage beginning with 1985
  • Criticas - coverage beginning with 1999
  • Booklist - coverage beginning with 1988
  • Choice - coverage beginning with 1988
  • Horn Book - coverage beginning with 1985
  • Kirkus Reviews - coverage beginning with 1983
  • New York Times – coverage begins with 2007
  • Doody’s Reviews – coverage beginning with 1993
  • Quill and Quire – coverage beginning with 1996
  • Voya (Voice of Youth Advocates) – coverage beginning with 1993

  • As such, Syndetics, unlike Encore, does not harvests its reviews from any ordinary person online, but rather from selected and "trusted" publishers.

    My viewpoint on this matter is that while "authoritative" and "trusted" reviews by so-called "experts" are useful, we cannot ignore the ordinary or lay person's own review. According to a Technorati (2013) report, "blogs rank among the top five “most trustworthy” sources" that consumers use to make purchasing decisions (p. 4). Further, a study has shown that a good portion of consumers (approximately 70%) trust in and value online reviews similar to personal recommendations (Anderson, 2010).  In addition, it has been found by Johnson et al. (2008), that blogs have been deemed as highly credible sources of information for those who use them (albeit biased sources). As such, the data shows that in the online environment, online users desire authenticity, candid remarks, the biases and personal viewpoints expressed in online reviews in general and in particular, those views expressed on blogs. Which is why, my current research in validating blogs as information sources and narrative artifacts for knowledge sharing is important.


    Anderson, M. (2010, Nov 29). Local Consumer Review Survey 2010 – Part 1. BrightLocal Retrieved from:

    Bowker (2011). Syndetics classic: Enrichment elements. Retrieved from

    Encore (2009, May 22). Twelve libraries launch Encore 3.0: Libraries implement ratings, reviews, new discovery features, and more. Retrieved from

    Encore (2012?). London Public Library (Canada) patrons embrace social participation. Retrieved from

    Johnson, T. J., Kaye, B. K., Bichard, S. L., & Wong, W. J. (2008). Every Blog Has Its Day: Politically-interested Internet Users' Perceptions of Blog Credibility. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 13(1), 100--122. Retrieved from ttp://
    Technorati. (2013). TechnoratiMedia. 2013 Digital influence report. Retrieved from


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