Google Book Search Data API

The new Google Book Search Data API has some really cool features and I’m wondering how much of it I can shoehorn into the OPAC?

Our students increasingly expect the OPAC search box to be searching the full-text of our book stock — i.e. they type in several words that it would be useful to borrow a book about. Searching just the bog-standard MARC metadata, you’ll be lucky to get much back… and perhaps then, only if we’ve got the full table of contents in the the MARC record.

So, for example, if I do a keyword search for “english media coverage of immigrants and social exclusion” on our OPAC, I’ll find nothing. However, if I run the same query through the Google API and then filter the results (using the ISBN) to just items we hold in the library, I get 6 hits from the first 40 results that Google sends me:

(I’d probably find more if I also used thingISBN or xISBN to match on associated ISBNs)

I’m not going to claim that those 6 are the most relevant books we hold in the library for that particular search (I’m not sure if I’d find anything of use in the “California politics” book)… but that’s only because I have no idea what the most relevant books are and, no matter how closely I scrutinise our MARC records, I probably never will ;-) So, short of quizzing a Subject Librarian, some of those books might be a worth a quick browse …which I could do virtually with the Embedded Viewer API:

GBS_insertPreviewButtonPopup(‘ISBN:0415198437′);

I guess the big question is “how many API searches will Google let me do every day?”

Green eco-friendly catalogue PCs

Warning — long blog post ahead!

I’ve been promising to post something about our new catalogue PCs …but first, a bit of background:

Like most large(ish) academic libraries, we’ve got dedicated catalogues PCs… lots of them… on every floor! From memory, we had at least 35 of them before the start of the refurbishment. We tended to use PCs that were no longer suitable for staff and they’d often be 5 or 6 years old. Unless staff remembered to turn them off every evening, chances are they’d get left on 24/7.

After a quick Google search, it looks like the average PC & monitor uses around 2.5 pence (UK) per hour (probably more now that electricity costs have risen in the last 12 months). So, if left on 24/7, then it would use 60 pence per day, £4.20 per week, or around £218 per year. Multiply that up by the total number of PCs (35) and we might have been paying around £7,600 per year! :-S

When I saw the plans for the refurbished floors, the first thing I noted was that there was an increased number of catalogue PCs on each floor (bringing to grand total to 45). Again, if left on 24/7, that could cost us nearly £10,000 per year.

Anyway, a couple of things coincided this summer. Firstly, the University (which has been busy improving recycling, etc) was crowned the “Most Improved University” in the annual People & Planet’s Green League table (more info here). Secondly, at the Poster Promenade event in June, I spotted something interesting on one of the stands…

pp_013

On the left-hand side of that photo is a small black box with a cool blue LED — a Viglen MPC-L mini PC. It ships with Xubuntu Linux, 256MB of memory and a 80GB hard drive, and has all the usual connections that you’d see on a PC (6xUSB, VGA, audio, and network). There’s no fan inside, and the metal case acts as a large heatsink for the low spec’d CPU.

Our IT Dept had evaluated them, but the non-standard operating system and the relatively poor performance had put them off. However, they looked ideal for catalogue PCs and, according to the Viglen web site, they only use £1 of electricity per year!

A quick hunt around on the Viglen web site also threw up the fact that they can be purchased with a VESA mount, so the PC can be attached to the back of a flat screen monitor — potentially a huge space saver.

Due to the limited time available, I didn’t fancy trying to figure out how to run Xubuntu as a PAC and instead I installed XP and configured it in the same way as our other catalogue PCs (using Public Web Browser as the Windows shell). The mini PC is *just* about powerful enough to run a web browser smoothly. We normally use McAfee antivirus on University PCs, but that killed the mini PC (it uses far too much CPU and too much memory), so I went with a freebie antivirus option instead.

The mini PCs weren’t too difficult to image. After finally managing to get Norton Ghost to run off a USB drive, it took about 20 minutes to image each mini PC.

So, enough talk, let’s get to the good bit with some pictures!

First of all, you’ll need a TFT monitor with 4 VESA mounting holes on the back:

minipc_001

The VESA mounting cage for the mini PC looks like this:

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You can see the mini PC connections on these two photos:

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And here you can get a feel for the size (that’s a 17″ TFT monitor behind it):

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The mini PC would have no problems fitting into a 5.25″ drive bay on a standard PC:

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Here’s the mini PC inside its cage:

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Next up, you screw the cage onto the back of the monitor:

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Shame they don’t bundle a short VGA lead with the PC!:

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Then slip the mini PC into its cage and hook up the VGA cable:

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The whole thing is secured using a padlock, which traps all the cables (no more stolen mice!):

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From above, you can see just how small the mini PC is:

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Setting them up took a little bit of time, as tidying up the various cables so that they’re hidden behind the TFT is a bit tricky:

minipc_019 minipc_020

And, voila — 6 new eco-friendly catalogue PCs and not an ugly PC base unit in sight!

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I set the mini PCs up to drop the monitor into standby after 15 minutes, so hopefully we’re going to save a few thousand pounds in electricity this year and maybe we’ll manage to stay in the top 10 in next years’ Green League table :-)

—-

[edit] I forgot to mention that the mini PC is powered using a 12 volt laptop style power adaptor.

Playing with Processing

Iman first mentioned Processing ages ago, but it’s only recently I’ve gotten around to having a play with it.

So, this is my first stab at coming up with something visual and it’s in the same vein as Dewey Blobs

proc1

…you’ll need Java installed to view it.

Rather than lay Dewey out on a 2D gird, I’m using a 10x10x10 cube (000 is at the front-top-left and 999 is at the back-bottom-right of the cube). The code then cycles through all of the check-outs (orange) and check-ins (blue) from a single day, with a zigzagging 3D line linking up the previous transactions.

What I originally wanted to achieve was to have two curving lines, snaking their way through the cube, but figuring out how to do the Bezier curves made my brain hurt ;-) Anyway, if you want to see a version where the line runs more quickly, click here — it’s harder to read the book titles, but the lines fade away more realistically. Or, here’s a 3rd version that doesn’t include the Dewey classification or book title.

A word of warning: the Java might chomp away at your CPU, so I’m not sure how well it’ll run on a slower PC.

World exclusive!

This is a little naughty of me — posting pictures of the two subject floors that have undergone refurbishment this year before many of our library staff have had chance to see them in person ;-)

Last summer, we refurb’d the entrance floor of the library and rebranded it as the “Student Centre” to reflect the fact that the myriad of student service departments now had a presence in the library. Shortly afterwards, actor Patrick Stewart formally opened the library :-)

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(Mr Stewart chats to Lisa and Bryony at the “Ask a Librarian” desk)

This year, we’ve tackled 2 of the 4 subject floors and they’ve been strictly out-of-bounds for most of the summer. Just before the floors were handed over to the builders, I popped round with my camera (see Flickr)…

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Four months on, and I’ve gone round again. The refurbished floors aren’t open to staff or students yet, as shelving is still being fitted, PC desks are being installed, and crates of stock are returning from temporary storage. You can view the photographs on Flickr or watch them as a slideshow.

floor6_009 floor6_006 floor6_001 floor5_025 floor5_022 floor5_014

The architects had a difficult brief — improve study facilities, add social spaces and flexible areas, and do it all with the existing space and without loosing shelving capacity.

Wandering around the floors, they’ve managed to do it and then some!

  • flooring is used to guide people through the floor, with clear paths from both staircases to the Subject Team office on each floor
  • the silent study area and silent PC rooms aren’t enclosed rooms, but use corridors of thick glass walls to absorb noise — as you enter the areas, the noise from the rest of the floor simply vanishes!
  • to free up much needed space, each floor makes use of mobile shelving from Nordplan
  • power sockets and data points are everywhere — scattered across the floor in floor boxes and mounted in vertical poles close to the where the comfy furniture will be placed
  • most of the walls are curved, and most of the walls are glass — natural light floods in and you’re never far away from the great views across the valley and towards Castle Hill (Huddersfield’s most famous landmark)

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One thing I’ve not taken a photograph of yet is the new eco-friendly library catalogue PCs, and that’s because I’m not installing them until later on this week …pop back on Thursday evening and I’ll reveal all!

And, if that wasn’t enough, today we unveiled our Learning 2.0 programme at the annual Teaching & Learning Conference held at the University — yay! :-)

25things_001

million pound butts

Do you ever get the feeling you’re either still asleep and dreaming, or that you’ve woken up in a parallel universe?

Apparently “artist” Damien Hirst will get £1m just for putting a few used fag ends into a box

butts

Personally, I’m blaming the switching on of the Large Hadron Collider for altering reality.

p.s. if the person who buys the butts reads this blog post, please get in touch as I’ve got a pile of old newspapers and a hankering for a ivory back scratcher.

Old Job, New Job

Technically today is the last day of my “old job”, which saw me based with the Business Applications Team in Computing Services at the University of Huddersfield. From Monday, I’m still the “Library Systems Manager”, but I’ll be moving up to join colleagues in the Technical Services Team in the Library.

My new role will be less about systems admin and hardware troubleshooting, and much more about development, programming and improving access to e-resources.

And that’s not the only change around here — phase 2 of the 3 year refurbishment of the University Library is nearly complete. I’ll be posting some photos next week, but the refurbished subject floors look fantastic!!! It’s hard to believe it looked like this a few weeks ago…

Music Library

"Oh-oh dedication's what you need…

…if you wanna be a record break-er, oooooh!” (full lyrics)

I’m not sure if the University of Huddersfield has ever made an appearance in the Guinness book of World Records before, but it looks like we should be in the next edition!

Students from the University’s Department of Chemical & Biological Sciences teamed up with about 60 sixth-form students from local schools and colleges to beat the record in just under one hour, following a morning of intensive coaching and training. The record-breaking model measures 21.5 m (70 feet 6 inches) and exactly copies the genetic code for human insulin. It is the world’s largest model and consists of 1,118 ‘base pairs’, compared with the previous world record, which was a random sequence of about 300 base pairs.

Major kudos to everyone involved!!!