Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Where we are

The University Library (UL) and CARET have already dipped a mutual toe into widgets with the development of the Cambridge Libraries Widget. Before we immerse ourselves further, here’s an update on where we are and how we got there.

The UL became interested in widgets (portable web interfaces) as a quick and easy way of making library functionality and content available outside the traditional library catalogue. We were particularly interested in CamTools, the University’s VLE.

CamTools is written and administered by CARET, who have a wealth of experience in developing web interfaces. The UL and CARET were casting around for opportunities to collaborate, and the development of a library widget seemed like the perfect opportunity.

We found we were able to work very well together, and after various struggles (mainly to do with authentication), the Cambridge Library Widget was launched in CamTools, iGoogle and Facebook in January 2010, with an embeddable version following soon afterwards. The Widget is deployed in our production VLE, with usage climbing steadily.

It allows library users to search library collections, view their library profile (which can be fairly complex in Cambridge), and manage loans and requests. Widget functionality will underlie the user interfaces for our new resource discovery platform to be launched at the start of the next academic year.

So, what have we achieved so far? We have taken library functions out of the library catalogue and freed them to wander in our VLE and social networking sites. We have taken control of the presentation of library services and functionality in a way we haven’t been able to do before. And we’ve written a few snazzy extra features. But essentially we have been in the (admittedly important) business of recreating existing functionality in a new environment.

Which is all well and good, but we were left feeling “there must be more to widgets than this”. Hence this project, in which we aim to unlock the potential of widgets to do entirely new things, and to bring together some of the disconnected parts of academic life for our users.

This means building widgets which talk to more than one system at a time, linking people to integrated services and content. We want our interfaces to connect not just to our library management system, but also to our institutional repository and student registry.

Of course, we are still interested in new environments, and one strand of the project will tackle the challenges of deploying widget-like interfaces on mobile devices. And we’re also hoping to have some fun with a few one-off widgets which explore the odd and innovative possibilities of tying disparate data together.

Over the coming weeks, as well as keeping you up-to-date with new developments, we’ll be delving into the past to illuminate what widgets are, how they work, and how to get them working for you.

1 comment:

  1. Great kick-off post, a nice prelude into the story of widgets. I look forward to hearing more of the widget tale!