Hacking Book APIs

This year on the first day of the Ontario Library Association Super Conference there was a morning hackfest.  Several map based projects (Toronto poetry, Edmonton library events, conference delegates homes) were suggested along with a few others that focused on data sets.

Cover of novel, Landing GearThe project our group tackled was looking at a book API to see what might be done with it. An API is an Application Programming Interface – a way to allow web applications to interact with one another. A book API gives other programmes on the web the ability to talk to the contents of the book and use that content in new ways. Kate Pullinger, Governor-General prize-winner, and her publisher, Random House Canada, have released an API for an excerpt of her most-recent book, Landing Gear.

Although we lacked a programmer in our group and did not develop a project, we had plenty of discussion about what we might want to do with this API and book APIs in general.  Our ideas fell into two broad categories.

API Uses

Some ideas included:

  • Character bios
  • Mapping origins and journeys of characters
  • Serializing books by releasing sections at a time
  • Using quotes to have characters speak on Twitter
  • Analyzing relationships between authors different works
  • Generate Bitstrip comics with dialogue
  • School projects
  • Creating family trees

Role of the Library in Creating APIs

We also discussed what the role of the Library might be in creating APIs and making patrons aware of API enhanced aspects of books.  Libraries might be involved in the following:

  • Creating APIs for public domain books
  • Working on establishing standards for book APIs
  • Linking physical books to extended API content via QR codes
  • Democratizing digital humanities
  • Integration of API with accessibility software

A more complete picture of our thoughts can be seen in the image below.


Notes and diagram from Hackfest session on Book APIs

The members of the book API group were: Dana Thomas (Ryerson), Helen Kula (UTM), Pat Gracey (TPL), Lisa Smith (Chatham-Kent PL), Erica Heesen (Glengary-Stormont), Linda (school library), Sally Wilson (Ryerson)

For a quick overview of the other Hackfest projects, check out Jacqueline Whyte-Appleby’s Slideshare deck:



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