Building three apps to demonstrate the OCLC platform
For the last three months I've been working on the project of building three applications to demonstrate the OCLC cooperative platform. The intention was for any of these applications to be installed easily in the WMS staff interface as potential part of the Acqusitions workflow. The ideas for these apps came out of a brainstorm session I had with my boss and staff who work on the Acquisitions portion of WMS. The idea was to create applications that would potentially help streamline acquisitions workflows in some scenarios using OCLC web services and any other web services readily available.
Personally I see them as "staff workflow mashups" because they take staff workflow that would happen in separate systems and interfaces and move them into a single space. They are far from perfect but they give developers and librarians an idea of the potential of what is possible with flexible systems and web services.
The first application I built was the "Alibris application". The goal of this application is to help librarians easily create an order of Alibris titles that their library doesn't have in a particular subject area. The typical workflow for this is that a librarian will send Alibris a request for a list of currently available titles they have related to a topic - like South American Archaeology. The librarian then goes through the list and checking the library catalog figures out which titles the library doesn't own and wants to buy. Then an acquisitions staff person has to create the order with all the desired titles and send that order off to Alibris. This app streamlines the process by allowing the librarian to upload the spreadsheet in CSV format and then have it checked against their library's holdings. A list of items not held is returned and the librarian can select which ones they want to purchase, which creates an order in WMS.
The second application I built was the "Amazon application". The idea behind this one is to simplify ordering of items for the library collection from Amazon. How many times has an Acquisitions librarian had to place a "RUSH order" via the Amazon.com website only to then rekey this information into the integrated library system? To streamline this process, the Amazon application takes an existing order created in WMS and sends it to Amazon so that a shopping cart of the items are created and checkout easily facilitated.
The third application I created is a riff on one of the potential platform applications demonstrated at last year's ALA. The "Bestseller App 2.0" allows a library to select a given New York Times Bestseller list and see which items from that list the library doesn't currently own. Then a user can select which of these items should be purchased and how many copies should be purchased. An Amazon cart with these items is then created as is a WMS order.
The two biggest challenges with all of these different applications was using the different web services and finding appropriate identifiers to traverse systems. OCLC Number may be a helpful unique value in libraryland but it has almost no uptake outside of libraries, which means one has to fall back on ISBN which is truly unique. Another challenge of the project was the diversity of the web services being used. New York Times and WorldCat Search API use simple key-based authentication for allowing access. In contrast the Amazon Advertising API uses a much more secure but complicated and frustrating method to authenticate API users. Add into the mix a very alpha version of an Acquisition Order web service which has both read and write capabilities and a developer has their hands full, (but very much in a good way).
I'll be putting up a post about the development of each of these applications in the next few weeks. So if you're interested in the "how'd they do that" part stay tuned. If you're wondering when the Acquisitions Order web service will be available, the current ETA is the end of 2011. If you want to learn more about the cooperative platform go read my boss, Kathryn Harnish's great introductory post and check out my other posts on the cooperative platform framework, architecture and infrastructure.
Senior Product Analyst