Tuesday, January 12, 2010

How to check your library catalogue by using your IPhone as a free barcode scanner - ZBar & RedLaser

I tweeted the following on a whim.

Google Goggles if you are not aware is an android app (will be ported to other platforms), that allows you snap photos, and it then uses some form of intelligent image recognition system to figure out what the picture is about and pull out relevant information. It  works great for recognition of  book covers , though it currently only allows you to  use that information to search google books etc. Would be a nice hack if someone could get it to search any arbitrary library catalogue ,so users can go to a book store, snap the book cover and instantly check if the book is available in their library.

Toby Greenwalt (@theanalogdivide) , agreed and mentioned that he used the RedLaser app  on IPhone to do what I feel is the next best thing, which is to allow users to scan barcodes, and have it check his libraries' catalogue, presumably by ISBN. 

The instructions he gave were from the blog of Redlaser , which shows you how to create a search for any search string, so you can customize it for your library catalogue.  It's really quite easy to do, you can create searches specific to your library catalogue and offer them to users, which is what WorldCat has done.

But one issue stopped me cold, the RedLaser app isn't free! Though it isn't really expensive, in the words of Toby this meant it was not for "mass consumption", since users certainly will not pay for this.

I did a cursory search to see if there were free barcode scanners that  allowed you to create your own custom searches, but didn't come up with anything

However a few hours later, I coincidently ran into ZBar.

How does it work? First click on the camera icon and take a picture of a barcode. You should position the camera until it automatically recognizes the barcode and takes a picture.

Once you have taken a picture of a barcode  it will appear, the image above shows two barcodes that have being scanned and the ISBN that was extracted.

Then click on  any of the barcodes.  In my example, the second barcode is from the excellent "Library Mashups: Exploring New Ways to Deliver Library Data" by Nicole C. Engard

By default it gives you 3 possible searches to work on the extracted ISBN, google search, amazon search, Internet UPC database.

You then click "Edit" on the top right corner

In fact you see 7 possible searches, but I think only 3 show up, because searches are selectively shown based on the information in the barcode.

You can change the order of each search, delete existing ones, but of course you should add new search to do a ISBN search of your library catalogue. I create one for LINC (Library Integrated Catalogue), which is our name for our library catalogue based on  Innovative Interfaces.

I will not go into how to handle the url prefix,  if you are reading this blog most of you should know how to already (basically do a isbn search, grab the front portion of the url, less the actual search string).

This is similar to the way Redlaser handles custom urls, but isn't ideal I think as sometimes you need to specify suffixes, but I think for most library catalogues this isn't a big problem (but will be so if you are talking about databases!)

You also need to specify the barcode types that this search will apply to. I haven't really researched this (there are many types including the currently popular QR codes), so I just select the ISBN-13 option.

Once done, LINC appears as an option, I also shifted it to the top option

Click on it, and it does a ISBN search of your catalogue

So now, you can go to any bookstore, or library, scan the barcodes of several books you are interested, and then with one click check whether each book is listed in your library catalogue. This is bit easier even compared to using custom search apps like theOracle , Websearch etc

A lesser use is that you can email yourself the links (click on the bottom left icon on the barcode screen)

This is just a rough first cut,  one idea : what about doing some form of xisbn search (or search search) so one doesn't miss out paper/hardback versions or different publisher versions?

Also interestingly enough the default option as a search named "Open URL", is this for Open URL resolvers??


Given the recent Library interest in QR codes , it bears noting that ZBar handles QRcodes as well, so I suppose one could encode urls into the QRcode, and then resolve it using the OpenURL search for your library???

Hopefully someone more technically skilled than me can play with this and put it to better use. The main problem against mass adoption of this is that adding the url is still quite geeky compared to the Redlaser method. But given that it is free, it costs nothing to try ,so librarians have no excuse not to try.

It could also be improved if you could set it to automatically search the extracted info against your default search (some barcode scanners automatically look up Amazon etc) rather then forcing you to to manually do it.

Yet another hairbrained idea from me, any comments?

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