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:



Openings – An Introduction for Adopting Open Textbooks

me_400x400Hi, I’m Sally Wilson, the Web Services Librarian at Ryerson University in Toronto.  My web presence consists of a wide range of accounts, most of which were set up as experiments. The ones I use most often for work and learning are my Twitter account, @swilson416, my Google Plus account,  and this blog.

My experience with open education has been through participation in a couple of online courses/cMoocs, Headless DS106 and ETMOOC and through some work that I did while on a study leave.  My study leave focused on ebook creation and “hacking” books in the public domain and how this could be used as a pedagogical tool.  I have also created a couple of versions of Jason Griffey’s LibraryBox, a self-contained wireless network that allows one to distribute files (could be public domain items or OER) in areas that lack Internet connectivity.

In this course I would like to learn more about what OER are available and how they are being used in higher education institutions in Canada.  Although I don’t teach courses myself, I would like to be a resource person for others in my institution who might be considering using or creating open textbooks and have a better idea of the challenges that might arise.

Remembering the Real Winnie Website Project

Real Winnie Collection WebsiteThis summer and fall one of the big projects I worked on was the creation of a digital collection website as part of a larger project called Remembering the Real Winnie: The World’s Most Famous Bear Turns 100.  The larger project comprised an exhibit held at the Ryerson Image Centre from November 5 – December 7, 2014, an interactive story website, a short film and the digital collection website.  It involved a large cast of contributors from the owner of the collection to staff, students, faculty members and librarians from across campus.

The small archival collection (consisting of photographs, letters, diaries, and a veterinary kit) that was the basis for this project was lent to Ryerson University by the great-granddaughter of Harry Colebourn, a veterinarian from Winnipeg.  At the outbreak of WWI, Colebourn travelled from Winnipeg to Valcartier, Quebec to join the troops heading for England.  On his way he purchased a bear cub, whom he called Winnie.  Winnie followed Colebourn to Salisbury Plain where the Canadian troops were stationed.  When the troops were sent to the Front, Colebourn took Winnie to the London Zoo.  Winnie became a star attraction at the zoo and was particularly beloved by Christopher Robin Milne whose father, A.A. Milne wrote the Winnie-the-Pooh stories.

1914 DiaryThe digital collection website was created using the Omeka open source web-publishing software developed by the Roy Rozenweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The software can be enhanced with plugins, several of which were used for this project.  As the collection contained several diaries that Colebourn wrote between 1914-1918, the Internet Archive Book Reader was used to allow readers to flip through the pages of the diaries.  The diaries were also transcribed to allow for searching of the content of the diaries.

Other interactivity was added to allow for viewing of several of the items in the vet kit that is part of the collection.  3D scans were made and added to the SketchFab site so that they could  be integrated into the collection website.  More information about the scanning is available in the 3D Scanning Essay on the Real Winnie website.

Harry Colebourn on the Front

Several interactive maps were also created by geocoding the locations mentioned in Colebourn’s diaries and uploading this data to the CartoDB website to create maps. How these maps were created is explained in the Mapping Harry Colebourn essay.

Making a Larger Whole

Connected Courses begins next week and I have been checking out a few of the blogs to see what others have to say.  I’m impressed (and intimidated).  It looks exciting so I am jumping in.  Although I work in higher education I am not directly involved in teaching; however, whatever I can learn about enhancing the learning experience has got to be beneficial.  After spending a good portion of the last year evaluating Learning Management Systems (LMSs) I want to see everything that these systems are not.

Despite already having plans for a wide range of projects this semester, Connected Courses looks like it needs to be part of the plan.  To paraphase Hunter S. Thompson:

[Learning] should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”

Fine Art: Finding Images

Recently several major art museums have announced that they are making their digital collections available for download and non-commercial use.  This opening up of collections gives students and anyone interested in fine art an opportunity to work with and use these images in their own projects.  The following museums and galleries have collections that have recently announced that their images in their collections are available for download .

Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC

Portrait of George Moore

George Moore (1852-1933) by Edouard Manet H.O. Havermeyer Collection, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On May 16, 2014 the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced that 400,000 high resolution digital images of public domain works could be downloaded from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use.  You do not need to seek permission for use of these images nor is there an associated fee.  This initiative is called Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC) and works covered by this initiative are identified by the acronym OASC. More information is available on the Met’s  Frequently Asked Questions page.

Search the Met’s Collection.

National Gallery of Art, Washington

Key West, Hauling Anchor, 1903 by Winslow Homer, National Gallery of Art.

Key West, Hauling Anchor, 1903 by Winslow Homer, National Gallery of Art.

NGA Images is a repository of digital images from the collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington.  More than 37,000 open access digital images are available free of charge for download and use.  Images are available at different resolutions for use on screen or in print publications.  Search NGA Images on the National Gallery’s website.

Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam

Detail from The Little Street, Johannes Vermeer, RIjksmuseum

Detail from The Little Street, Johannes Vermeer, RIjksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam makes over 125,000 images from the collection available, free of charge.   To use them you will need to create a free Rijkstudio account to get started.

The account lets you create your own galleries and download images for your own use.  The museum encourages you to create your own masterpieces from the images that you download and has examples of objects, images and videos created from its art works.



The Getty

Unknown Horse and Rider, about 550 B.C., Terracotta Object: H: 12.7 cm (5 in.) The J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California

Unknown. Horse and Rider, about 550 B.C., Terracotta Object: H: 12.7 cm (5 in.)
DIgital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program


The Getty makes freely available all digital images (about 90,000) to which it holds the rights or that are in the public domain.  You can browse all Open Content images or use the search on the Getty Search Gateway and download images identified with a download link.  Images used should be credited as follows:  “Digital Image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program”

Finding More Images

These are just a few examples of places where you can find fine art images to use in your projects.  Check the Finding Images to Share post for more resources for finding images.

The Web in Your Pocket: Distributing Digital Resources using LibraryBox

Image of Poster Presentation

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution- ShareAlike License

At the recent Ryerson University Faculty Conference I presented this poster to familiarize faculty members with LibraryBox and how it might be used in their teaching and research.  At the poster venue I had a LibraryBox for testing and had a good stream of visitors from a wide range of departments in the University – Nursing, Engineering, New Media, Sociology and Architecture.  The poster gave some background, simplified how to build instructions, some use cases, features and benefits, a map with some highlighted LibraryBox locations and some sample screenshots.  It will be interesting to see if I hear back from any of the faculty members that dropped by.

Customizing your LibraryBox v2.0 Beta

Screenshot of LibraryboxRecently I created a LibraryBox v2.0 Beta and have been spending some time customizing the look and feel of the default installation to reflect how I would like to use it and to prepare it for a couple of upcoming poster presentations. Here are a few notes on what I have discovered so far that may be helpful if you are trying to do some customization.  For more detailed information and discussion about LibraryBox 2.0 that goes way beyond look and feel, check out the LibraryBox Google Group and the Advanced Setup page on the LibraryBox site.

Files and Directories

The default installation of LibraryBox v2.0 comes with a suite of files that work out of the box.  These can be found in the LibraryBox directory on your USB stick.  Many of these files can be customized to make your LibraryBox unique. The files that govern how content is displayed can be found in the Content and Shared directories below the LibraryBox directory.  Before editing them, it is a good idea to make a back-up copy of the entire contents of the LibraryBox directory and save it to your computer.  If anything goes badly wrong when editing, you will be able to restore the original version.

Content Directory

The content directory contains several files and folders as follows:

librarybox_faviconFavicon.ico is the small 16 x 16 pixel icon that appears in the browser address bar when a user is connected to one of your LibraryBox pages.  You can create your own favicon if you wish by using a favicon generator such as:


Gpl-2.0.txt file contains the text of the GNU public license.

HTML Files

The Content directory contains several static HTML files as follows:

Home Page –  index.html
Statistics Page – stats.html
About Page – about.html

php files

dl_statistics.html.php and vc_statistics.html.php are used to track downloads and visitor counts which are reported on the home and stats pages.

STL files

These files can be used to 3D print a container for your LibraryBox.

css Directory

Contains css files used by LibraryBox pages:


The css directory contains style sheet files that govern the look and feel of your LibraryBox pages. Several of these css files come with the Bootstrap framework, a collection of tools that was used to create the LibraryBox website.  The font.css file makes use of the font files that are in the Content/fonts directory.

If you would like to change how content is displayed on your LibraryBox and use some of your own styles, it is advisable to create a separate stylesheet and put your additions and changes in that file rather than edit the default files.

dir-images Directory

This directory contains several small icon images that can be used to provide a visual cue to alert users about what type of file they can expect to download.

fonts Directory

This directory contains custom fonts for LibraryBox.

img Directory

lbx-logo-small-white      lbx-logo-small    menu-icon

This directory contains 3 small icon files.  Two of them are small LibraryBox logos and the other is the hamburger menu-icon used in the top right of the web pages.

Js Directory

The js directory contains javascript files.

Shared Directory

User-supplied downloadable files should be placed in the appropriate sub-directories under the Shared directory.  In the default installation the following sub-directories have already been set-up and are linked from the dropdown (hamburger menu) at the top right of the home page:

  • audio
  • software
  • text
  • video

These directories do not contain any files.  You can delete any that you do not plan to use (and remove the corresponding entry from the drop-down menu) and add directories for other types of content – data, images, etc.

For each directory that you wish to keep, you should have an index.html file that is the access page for the content in that directory.

Editing HTML Files

You can edit the HTML files by inserting the USB key into your computer and using your favourite editing software.  If you use this option you will need to move the USB key between your LibraryBox and computer to make and check edits.  If you have activated the ftp option for your LibraryBox, you may prefer to use an FTP client to download files, edit them and then ftp them back to the live LibraryBox.

Note about the name of the Content directory:  I found that although the name of this directory starts with an uppercase C, I could only get urls to work consistently by using a lowercase c.

Statistics for downloadable files

If you would like to maintain statistics for downloads from your LibraryBox, you will need to create the links to these files in a particular way.  All your urls should be prefaced with: http://librarybox.lan/dl_statistics_counter.php?DL_URL=/

Eg. http://librarybox.lan/dl_statistics_counter.php?DL_URL=/Shared/text/books/stoker_dracula.epub