2021 End-of-Year Community Updates

Hi Open Library Community! This is going to be a less formal post detailing some of our recent community meetings and exciting Q3 (quarter 3) opportunities to learn, celebrate, and participate with the Open Library project.

Earlier this Month

Upcoming Events

  1. 📙 Library Leader’s Forum 2021-10-13 & 2021-10-20
  2. 🎉 Open Library Community Celebration (RSVP) 2021-10-26
  3. 📅 2022 Roadmap Community Planning (join) 2021-11-02 @ 10am PT

Open Library Community Celebration 2021

Last year we started the tradition of doing an Open Library Community Celebration to honor the contributions & impact of those in our community. On October 26, 2021 @ 10am Pacific we will be hosting our 2nd annual community celebration. We hope you can join us!

During this online event, you’ll hear from members of the community as we:

  • Announce our latest developments and their impacts
  • Raise awareness about opportunities to participate
  • Show a sneak-peek into our future: 2022

Free, open invitation: RSVP here


5-Year Vision

End of September on 2021-09-28 @ 10am PT, the Open Library community came together to brainstorm Open Library’s possible long-term directions. Anyone in the community is welcome to comment and add their notes and thoughts:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1q_jAcdEc705H3gsZv_Yt_08c8YFmefdSvMbiljc2O8g/edit#


2021 Year-End Review

On 2021-10-12 @ 10am PT the community met to review what we had accomplished (see review doc) on our 2021 roadmap.


2022 Community Planning

First week of November on 2021-11-02 @ 10am PT the community will meet to brainstorm goals for Open Library’s 2022 roadmap. This community planning call will be open to the public here.

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How one volunteer is sharing a better reading experience with all of us

For nearly 15 years Open Library has been giving patrons free access to information about books in its catalog, direct to their computers. But for millions of readers across the globe who rely on their phones for access, this hasn’t always presented the ideal mobile reading experience.

This year, a volunteer within the Open Library community named Mark developed an independent mobile app, an unofficial companion to the website called the Open Library Reader. This lite app, which is available for free from the Apple store and Play store, emphasizes the mobile reading experience and showcases the books within a patron’s Open Library reading log. It’s a great way to take your personal library with you on the go.

While Open Library Reader is an unofficial app which is not maintained or supported by the staff at Internet Archive, we’re ecstatic that talented volunteers within our community are stepping up to design new experiences they wish existed for themselves and others. We applaud Mark, not only for the time he invested and showing what’s possible with our APIs, but — true to the spirit of Open Library — for sharing his app for free with patrons, in such a way which seems to respect patron privacy.

We sat down with Mark for an interview to learn why he created the Open Library Reader and which of its features may be appreciated by book lovers who are on the go.

A picture of a patron’s personal library when logged in to the Open Library Reader app

Open Librarian: “Why did you find the need to build an Open Library Reader?”

Mark: I read a lot of books on my iPad, especially old, hard-to-find mystery novels. Open Library has a lot of great reads, but I was getting frustrated trying to manage my Reading Log and read books in the tablet browser. There was a lot of scrolling and clicking around, a tap in the wrong place could send me off somewhere else, and the book I was reading was always surrounded by browser and bookreader controls. I just wanted to sit down and read, and not have to be reminded of the fact that I was looking at a website through a browser.

Open Librarian: What were some of the approaches Open Library Reader used to solve these problems?

Mark: I thought about some of the good tablet-based reading experiences I’ve had, and imagined what it could look like if the interface were centered around the individual reader and the small set of tools they need to find, manage, and read books. So the Reading Log shelves and the reading interface are the core of the app, and everything else kind of happens at the edges. Everything you need is just one tap away. The reading interface is still the familiar Internet Archive BookReader, but I’ve overlaid some additional functionality. You can hide all the controls with the single tap, and the book expands to completely fill the screen. I also added a swipe gesture, so it’s easy to turn pages if you’re holding your device with one hand on the couch.

Open Librarian: What does it feel like to use? Can we have a tour?

Mark:

Open Librarian: What is your favorite part of the app? I like how it shows the return time

Mark: That is cool — that’s another example of centering the needs of the reader. It’s hard to pick a favorite part. Every feature is the result of me reading in the app every day for months before I released it. Periodically, I’d think “that’s kind of annoying” or “I wish I could…” and I’d go code for a while until I was happy with the experience. But the full-screen reading mode is probably my favorite. With the high-resolution page scans expanded to fill the screen, it’s almost like reading a physical book.

Open Librarian: What was your experience like developing the Reader?

Mark: I’m a retired web developer, so interface design, user experience, APIs and that sort of thing are nothing new, but I’ve never built a native app. After some reading, I picked Google’s Flutter tool, which allows easy cross-platform app development. I was amazed at how fast it was to assemble a simple app with just a few lines of code, and then it was just a matter of layering on the functionality I wanted. I spent a lot of time exploring the Open Library and Internet Archives APIs to figure out the best way to get at the data I needed, and even submitted a few updates to the Open Library codebase to support features I wanted to build. The Open Library team was extremely welcoming and supportive, and really made this app possible.

How can you support Mark’s work?

First, try downloading the Open Library Read App from the Apple store or Play store. If you have a suggestion, question, or feedback for Mark, send him an email to olreader@loomis-house.com. If you appreciate his work, consider rating the app on the app stores and leaving a review so others may discover and enjoy it too. To learn more about Mark and the Open Library Reader, look out for his upcoming interview on the Open Library Community Podcast.

Want to contribute to Open Library too?

See all the ways you can volunteer within the Open Library community!

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Extending a Warm Welcome to New Patrons

By Sabreen Parveen with Ray Berger & Mek

A Forward from the Mentors

For book lovers who use openlibrary.org every day, it may be easy to forget what it felt like to visit the website for the first time. Some features which some were able to learn the hard way — through trial and error — may not be as easy or intuitive for others to understand. We feel like we’ve failed each time a patron leaves the library, frustrated, and before even having the chance to understand the value it may provide to them.

At Open Library, we strive to design a service which is accessible and easy for anyone to use and understand. We understand that everyone has different experiences and usability needs. Our mission is to make books as accessible and useful to the public as possible, and we’re unable to do this if patrons aren’t given the opportunity and resources to learn how our services work.

After polling dozens of patrons on video calls and through surveys, we started to get a good idea about which aspects of the website are most confusing to new patrons. The most common question was, “what is Open Library and what does it let you do?”. We tried to search for a clear explanation on our homepage, but there wasn’t one — just rows of books we assumed patrons would click on and somehow understand how it all worked. We also received useful questions concerning which books on Open Library are readable, borrowable, or what is meant when a book shows as unavailable or not in the library. We also received questions about how the Reading Log works. We decided to address some of these frequently asked questions at the earliest possible entry point: on our home page with a new Onboarding Carousel. Leading this project was 2021 Open Library Fellow, Sabreen, with the mentorship of Ray & Mek. We’re so excited and proud to showcase Sabreen’s hard work to you!

Designing a Simple-to-use Onboarding Experience

By Sabreen Parveen

This summer I got this amazing opportunity to work with the Internet Archive as an Open Library Fellow where I contributed to the Onboarding Project.

My Journey with Open Library

I decided to join the Open Library community in 2020 because I was interested in contributing to an open source project and improving my abilities as a programmer and designer. Several things about Open Library stuck out to me while I was browsing projects on github. Firstly, I had the knowledge of the languages and frameworks it used. Secondly the documentation was very clear and easy to understand. Thirdly, the issue tracker contained many exciting ways for me to help. Most importantly the project had an active community and hosted calls every week where I could work with others and ask questions. Once I had familiarized myself with the project, I joined Open Library’s public gitter chatroom and asked questions about getting started. Shortly after, I attended my first community call, received a Slack invite, and later that week submitted my first contribution! I have joined almost all the community calls since. Gradually I started solving more and more issues, many of them related to web accessibility and SEO. I also started creating graphics for Open Library’s “monthly reads” pages. The community must have been excited about my contributions, because this year I was invited to be a 2021 Open Library Fellow and to team up with a mentor to lead a flexible, high-impact project to completion.

Selecting a Project: Onboarding Flow

The project I chose for my 2021 Open Library Fellowship was to add a new user onboarding experience to Openlibrary.org homepage to help new patrons get an overview of the website and how to use its features.

The problem

First time visitors to OpenLibrary.org often report getting confused because they don’t know how to use the service. We had several indicators this was the case:

  • From my own experience, I had been confused when I first started using the website. I didn’t know what the “Want to read button” does? I came to know about the list feature while solving an issue.
  • Bounce Rate: Open Library has a fairly high bounce rate, which is a measure of percentage of people who visit a website and leave without continuing to the other pages. We wondered if this is because patrons were confused about how to use the website and so we wanted to test this.
  • Feedback: We received this feedback from patrons emailing us about their experience

So by adding onboarding flow many of the users will get an insight of what the website actually does.

Implementation

While designing user onboarding, we wanted to create a system that was interactive, contextual, and easy to use and understand. As a result, we decided to start by adding an onboarding carousel to the homepage, the most common place patrons would land on when visiting the website for the first time. We designed the carousel to feature five cards: Read Free Library Books Online, Keep Track of Your Favourite Books, Try the virtual library explorer, Be an Open Librarian and Feedback form to receive feedback from the visitors. 

We  decided on a carousel as the format because they’re

  • non-interruptive.
  • persistent, unlike other onboarding design patterns that only show up upon signup and are never seen again.
  • easy to explore.

When clicked, each card redirects patrons to a FAQs page. In an upcoming version, the “keep track of your favourite books” card will instead trigger an onboarding modal with a step-by-step tutorial containing several slides explaining how we can add a book to our reading log, create a new list and view your reading log. Each feature is explained using a GIF, which is short and descriptive. You can close the modal at any step and any time. The modal creation was a long process of discussions and feedback, but finally we came up with a simple and attractive modal.

During implementation we kept following things in our mind:

  • The icons for the home page cards. Their resemblance with the text.
  • Eye catchy and easy to understand captions
  • Links the card will redirect people to (currently FAQs page)
  • GIFs should be contextual.
  • Modal design should be such that the main focus should be on the GIF and not the modal itself. Also easy navigation between the slides was necessary.

Design Process

To make this project successful, we had weekly meetings and discussions in the community channel to get everyone’s opinion. Designs were mocked up using Figma. I also had the chance to present my ideas before the Internet Archive’s product team. We used feedback from these meetings to review our previous decisions, our progress, and inform next steps. 

Results

  • Alexa: The bounce rate is now reduced to 38.2%.
  • Google Analytics: More than 5000 engagements with these cards.
  • Infrastructure to continue building from which we can re-use in other situations. 

Next Steps

  • Doodles to bring more character to the homepage cards
  • Include pop-up tutorials for more of the cards (other than just Reading Log + Lists)
  • Ability to hide / show the carousel (for patrons who have already received the information) 

My experience

I had a pretty good time working with experienced mentors Mek and Raymond Berger. They were very supportive during the entire program. Sometimes we spent our meeting time finding solutions to some problems together. Additionally, I learned more about project management and clarifying a plan by breaking issues into manageable steps. I got to spend time learning about new industry tools like Figma, which we used for presenting designs and Google Analytics for tracking key metrics. I also gained a deeper understanding of user experience. I learned to design by thinking as a patron of Open Library, what would she or he want? Will it be useful or easy to understand? I appreciated the flexibility of the Open Library Fellowship program, there was no pressure on me so that I could focus on my studies also. We tried to have clear next steps and homeworks at the end of each of our calls. The calls helped clarify what we were hoping to accomplish and provided direction and feedback. Finally, having the community available for regular feedback was really useful for tuning our designs.

About the OpenLibrary Fellowship Program

The Internet Archive’s Open Library Fellowship is a flexible, self-designed independent study which pairs volunteers with mentors to lead develop of a high impact feature for OpenLibrary.org. Most fellowship programs last one to two months and are flexible, according to the availability of contributors. We typically choose fellows based on their exemplary and active participation, conduct, and performance working within the Open Library community. The Open Library staff typically only accepts 1 or 2 fellows at a time to ensure participants receive plenty of support and mentor time. If you’re interested in volunteering as an Open Library Fellow and receiving mentorship, you can apply using this form or email openlibrary@archive.org for more information.

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The Open Book Genome Project

We’ve all heard the advice, don’t judge a book by its cover. But then how should we go about identifying books which are good for us? The secret depends on understanding two things:

  1. What is a book?
  2. What are our preferences?

We can’t easily answer the second question without understanding the first one. But we can help by being good library listeners and trying to provide tools, such as the Reading Log and Lists, to help patrons record and discover books they like. Since everyone is different, the second question is key to understanding why patrons like these books and making Open Library as useful as possible to patrons.

What is a book?

As we’ve explored before, determining whether something is a book is a deceptively difficult task, even for librarians. It’s a bound thing made of paper, right? But what about audiobooks and ebooks? Ok, books have ISBNs right? But many formats can have ISBNs and books published before 1967 won’t have one. And what about yearbooks? Is a yearbook a book? Is a dictionary a book? What about a phonebook? A price guide? An atlas? There are entire organizations, like the San Francisco Center for the Book, dedicated to exploring and pushing the limits of the book format.

In some ways, it’s easier to answer this question about humans than books because every human is built according to a specific genetic blueprint called DNA. We all have DNA, what make us unique are the variations of more than 20,000 genes that our DNA are made of, which help encode for characteristics like hair and eye color. In 1990, an international research group called the Human Genome Project (HGP) began sequencing the human genome to definitively uncover, “nature’s complete genetic blueprint for building a human being”. The result, which completed in 2003, was a compelling answer of, “what is a human?”.

Nine years later, Will Glaser & Tim Westergren drew inspiration from HGP and launched a similar effort called the Music Genome Project, using trained experts to classify and label music according to a taxonomy of characteristics, like genre and tempo. This system became the engine which powers song recommendations for Pandora Radio.

Circa 2003, Aaron Stanton, Matt Monroe, Sidian Jones, and Dan Bowen adapted the idea of Pandora to books, creating a book recommendation service called BookLamp. Under the hood, they devised a Book Genome Project which combined computers and crowds to “identify, track, measure, and study the multitude of features that make up a book”.

Their system analyzed books and surfaced insights about their structure, themes, age-appropriateness, and even pace, bringing us withing grasping distance of the answer to our question: What is a book?

BookLamps-Theme-Currents-for-Carrie

Sadly, the project did not release their data, was acquired by Apple in 2014, and subsequently discontinued. But they left an exciting treasure map for others to follow.

And follow, others did. In 2006, a project called the Open Music Genome Project attempted to create a public, open, community alternative to Pandora’s Music Genome Project. We thought this was a beautiful gesture and a great opportunity for Open Library; perhaps we could facilitate public book insights which any project in the ecosystem could use to create their own answer for, “what is a book?”. We also found inspiration from complimentary projects like StoryGraph, which elegantly crowd sources book tags from patrons to help you, “choose your next book based on your mood and your favorite topics and themes”, HaithiTrust Research Center (HTRC) which has led the way in making book data available to researchers, and the Open Syllabus Project which is surfacing useful academic books based on their usage across college curriculum.

Introducing the Open Book Genome Project

Over the last several months, we’ve been talking to communities, conducting research, speaking with some of the teams behind these innovative projects, and building experiments to shape a non-profit adaptation of these approaches called the Open Book Genome Project (OBGP).

Our hope is that this Open Book Genome Project will help responsibly make book data more useful and accessible to the public: to power book recommendations, to compare books based on their similarities and differences, to produce more accurate summaries, to calculate reading levels to match audiences to books, to surface citations and urls mentioned within books, and more.

OBGP hopes to achieve these things by employing a two pronged approach which readers may continue learning about in following two blog posts:

  1. The Sequencer – a community-engineered bot which reads millions of Internet Archive books and extracts key insights for public consumption.
  2. Community Reviews – a new crowd-sourced book tagging system which empowers readers to collaboratively classify & share structured reviews of books.

Or hear an overview of the OBGP in this half-hour tech talk:

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GSoC 2021: Making Books Lendable with the Open Book Genome Project

By: Nolan Windham & Mek

I’m Nolan Windham, an incoming freshman at Claremont McKenna College. This summer I participated in my first Google Summer of Code with the Internet Archive. I’ll be sharing the achievements I’ve made with the Open Book Genome Project sequencer, an open source tool which extracts structured data from the contents of the Internet Archive’s massive digitized book collection.

The purpose of the Open Book Genome Project to create “A Literary Fingerprint for Every Book” using the Internet Archive’s 5 million book digital library. A book’s fingerprint currently consists of 1gram (single word) and 2gram (two word) term frequency, Flesch–Kincaid readability level, referenced URLs, and ISBNs found within the book.

Try it out!

Anyone can try running the OBGP Sequencer on an Internet Archive open access book using the new OBGP Sequencer™ Google Colab Notebook. This interactive notebook runs directly within the browser, no installation required. If you have any questions, please email us.

If you are interested in seeing the source code or contributing check out the GitHub. If this project sounds fascinating to you and you’d like to learn more or keep the project going, please talk to us!

How I got involved

I first found the Internet Archive in high school where I used the Wayback Machine for research and Open Library for borrowing books. As I found out more about the Archive’s services and history, I became more and more interested in its operation and its mission: to provide “Universal Access to All Knowledge”. Once I heard this mission, I was hooked and knew I wanted to help. During a school trip to San Francisco, I joined one the Archive’s Friday physical tours (which I highly recommend). The tour guide was impressed with the amount of information this high-schooler knew about the Archive’s operation and took me aside after the tour and showed me Book Reader’s read aloud feature and answered some questions about the book derive process. The tour guide then invited me to join the Open Library community chat where developers, librarians, and patrons discuss all things Open Library. This tour guide turns out to be Mek, my project mentor, Open Library Program Lead, and Citizen of The World.

I started attending the weekly Open Library community calls to learn more about how Open Library works, the issues the project faced, and how I could help. After months of showing up to calls, learning about open source, and developing my programming skills, Mek showed me an interesting prototype called the Open Book Genome Project.

Background

The Open Book Genome Project (OBGP) is a public good, community-run effort whose mission is to produce, “open standards, data, and services to enable deeper, faster and more holistic understanding of a book’s unique characteristics.” It was based on a previous effort led by a group in 2003 called the Book Genome Project, to “identify, track, measure, and study the multitude of features that make up a book.” Think of it as Pandora’s Music Genome Project but for books. Apple acquired and discontinued the Book Genome Project in 2014, leaving a gap in the book ecosystem which the Open Book Genome Project community now hopes to help fill for the public benefit.

The Open Book Genome Project is one of many efforts facilitated by members of the Internet Archive’s Open Library community. Their flagship service, OpenLibrary.org is a non-profit, open-source, public online library catalog founded by the late Aaron Swartz, which allows book lovers around the world to access millions of the Internet Archive’s digital books using Controlled Digital Lending (CDL). Open Library hopes the Open Book Genome Project may help patrons discover and learn more about books in some of the ways the Book Genome Project originally aimed to accomplish.

You can learn more about the history of the Open Book Genome Project in an upcoming blog post. You can also learn more about the other half of the Open Book Genome Project called Community Reviews in this blog post.

Here’s where we started

When I began working on the OBGP Sequencer, the general code structure and a few features were in place. The sequencer could extract a book’s N-gram term frequency and identify its copyright page number. There were many features in the product development pipeline, but no one dedicated to implement them. Over the past few months, I led development to add and improve the Sequencer’s functionality, created an automated pipeline to process books in volume, and deployed this pipeline to production on the Archive’s corpus of books.

One challenging part of the development process was getting ISBN extraction working accurately. The ISBN extractor works by first finding what it thinks is the book’s copyright page and then checking for a valid ISBN checksum in every number sequence. Although this approach works, there are often a lot of strange edge cases usually having to do with poor optical character recognition. To address this, I was  manually spot checking books for ISBN’s that were detected and missed, and investigating why to iteratively improve the extraction process. Here is a screenshot of my process.

Another challenge later on in the development process was getting books processed at scale. With a collection as large as the Archive’s, parallelization of processing is an essential component of scaling the sequencer up. I taught myself to use some of Python’s parallelization libraries and implemented them. Another challenge was getting parallelization working with the database. I addressed this by making the file system and directory layout database because modern file systems are built to work well with parallel I/O.

Here’s what we were able to accomplish with OBGP

  1. Make more books borrowable to patrons
  2. Add reading levels for thousands of books
  3. Identify & save urls found within books
  4. Produce a large public dataset of book insights

Making Books Lendable

Nearly 200,000 books digitized by the Internet Archive were missing key metadata like ISBN. The ISBN is used to look up all sorts of book information which is helpful for determining whether a book is eligible for the Internet Archive’s lending program. The absence of this key information was thus preventing tens of thousands of eligible books from.

As of writing, the Open Book Genome Project sequencer has extracted ISBN’s for 25,705 books that were previously unknown. 12,700 of those are newly lendable to patrons. Take a look at them here!

These books now have identifying information and are linked to Open Library Records. Open Library pages that  had no books available now have borrowable books. Here is a before and after screenshot.

Before

After

Adding reading levels

It’s often difficult to identify age-appropriate materials for students and children. By adding reading level information to Internet Archive’s book catalog, we’re able to make age-appropriate books more accessible.

The Sequencer now performs a Flesch–Kincaid readability test on each book on which it is run. This resulting Flesch–Kincaid grade level estimation allows students, parents, and teachers to filter their searches for books which include appropriate reading levels.

Preserving URLs

Open Library is aware of more than 1M books containing urls. These mentions by credible authors are like a vote of confidence of their relevance and usefulness. These websites are at risk of link rot and without preservation could be lost forever. But given the average webpage only lasts 100 days, it’s only a matter of time before millions of URLs found in millions of books will be preserved for future generations.

As of writing, URLs have been successfully extracted from more than 13,000 books, which will soon be preserved on the Wayback Machine. Many of the high quality references found in published books have not yet been preserved and now will be.

Producing public datasets

The original goal of OBGP was to produce an open, public data set of book insights capable of powering the open web. As of writing, the Open Book Genome Project sequencer has uploaded genomes for 180,642 books. For every book sequenced, a book genome is made publicly accessible that provides insights into the book without needing to borrow it. The goal of this is to increase the quantity and quality of publicly available descriptive information available for every book, so that readers and researchers can make better informed decisions and glean deeper insights about books. This supports readers, researchers, book sellers, libraries, and beyond.

Personal Development

I really enjoyed participating in GSoC with the Internet Archive because I was able to build programming foundations and gain industry experience that will prove invaluable in my future. I developed my project management skills, became more comfortable programming in Python and using new software libraries, and advanced my knowledge of dev-ops tools like Docker.

The future of the project

If you may be interested in contributing or learning more about the Open Book Genome Project sequencer, please send us an email.

Although we made a lot of progress with this projects development, there is still a lot more to be done. Here is a quick list of possible future features to get you excited about the possibilities of this project:

  • Make URL’s clickable
  • Identifying meaningful semantic elements in books, like Entities and Citations
  • increase the number of previewed pages & volume of previewable content.
  • Clickable Chapters in Table of Contents
  • Library of Congress Catalog Number extraction
  • Copyright information (Publisher, copyright date) extraction
  • Book and chapter Summarization and Topic Classification

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