Thursday, June 5, 2008

virtual bookshelves, shared bibliographies

L.D. has some commentary today on Google's patent application for a virtual bookshelf, covered in the SEO By the Sea blog.

In the last few years we really have seen quite a few online applications emerge for organizing "intellectual resources", be they websites, articles, books, etc. On the Web 2.0 end of things, comes to mind as well as LibraryThing . On the academic side, there's Zotero and Connotea, and CiteULike, among others.

Our Environmental Studies program here at Lewis & Clark is really trying to develop interdisciplinary student research. Part of the vision is, over the years, to develop a collection of research resources and data that students can draw and build upon as they do their research. Some of these resources would be primary, that is work generated by the students, and some would be secondary.

So far they've been using Moodle's out-of-the box build your own database feature to put this shared collection together. This presentation, from NITLE's Scholarly Collaboration workshop at Pomona last January, explains the system.

But they're looking to move to something different, something more flexible and social with tagging capabilities, but also with some ability to add structure to metadata. The problem is, most of the above mentioned apps are geared towards personal collections, not group collections. Some have a group feature or a sharing feature, but none really support a robust collaborative bibliography feature. For example, RefWorks supports publishing bibliographies to a shared campus wide web page, but its a really primitive feature.

My read is that it could really be useful to develop software that supports creating fairly sophisticated shared bibiliographies. Such software could offer multiple ways to organize resources, including concept maps and perhaps various other visual approaches. Integration with library resource management systems like link resolvers and catalogs would be key as well as integration with the personal bibliography software. This kind of software could enable an academic department, a group of scholars, or a whole college or university to collaborate more across disciplines and enable student research that better acknowledges and builds on research that was done before. If it was done right, it could be a really attractive resource for students as they do research and find themselves curious about what others have done.

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