The Hashtag Syllabus: Part Two

Last week I finally uploaded a bibliography of just under 150 items from the Leddy Library that could be found on the BlackLivesCDNSyllabi that has been circulating on Twitter since July 5th. In this post, I will go into some technical detail why it took me so long to do this.

For the most part, the work took time simply because there were lots of items from the original collection that was collected by Monique Woroniak in a Storify collection that needed to be imported into Zotero. I’m not exactly sure how many items are in that list, but in my original Zotero library of materials there are 220 items.

Because I’ve made this library public, you can open Zotero while on the page and download all or just some of the citations that I’ve collected.

I transferred the citations into Zotero because I wanted to showcase how citations could be repurposed using its API as well as through its other features. I’m a firm believer in learning by doing because sometimes you only notice the low beam once you’ve hit your head. In this case, it was only when I tried to reformat my bibliography using  Zotero’s API, I then learned that  Zotero’s API has a limit of 150 records.

(This is why I decided to showcase primarily the scholarly works in the “Leddy Library” version of the #BlackLivesCDNSyllabus and cut down the list to below 15o by excluding websites, videos, and musical artists.)

One of the most underappreciated features of Zotero is its API.

To demonstrate its simple power: here’s the link to the Leddy Library #BlackLivesCDNSyllabus using the API in which I’ve set the records to be formatted using the MLA Style: https://api.zotero.org/groups/609764/collections/V7E2UPJP/items/top?format=bib&style=mla [documentation]

You can embed this code into a website using jQuery like so:

<!doctype html>
<html lang="en">
<head>
  <meta charset="utf-8">
  <title>Leddy Library #BlackLivesCDNSyllabus</title>
  <style>
  body {
    font-size: 12px;
    font-family: Arial;
  }
  </style>
  <script src="https://code.jquery.com/jquery-1.10.2.js"></script>
</head>
<body>
 
<h1>Leddy Library #BlackLivesCDNSyllabus</h1>
<p>
 
<div id="a"></div>

<script>
$( "#a" ).load("https://api.zotero.org/groups/609764/collections/V7E2UPJP/items/top?format=bib&style=mla" );
</script>
 
</body>
</html>

The upshot of using the API is that when you need to update the bibliography, any additions to your Zotero group will automatically be reflected through the API: you don’t need to update the website manually.


For my purposes, I didn’t want to use Zotero to generate a just bibliography: I wanted it to generate a list of titles and links so that a user could directly travel from bibliographic entry to the Leddy Library catalogue to see if and where a book was waiting on a shelf in the Leddy Library.

Now, I know that’s not the purpose of a bibliography – a bibliography presents identifying information about a work and it doesn’t have to tell you where it is located (unless, of course, that item is available online, then, why wouldn’t you?).  Generally you don’t want to embed particular information such as links to your local library catalogue into your bibliography precisely because that information makes your bibliography less useful to everyone else who isn’t local.

The reason why I wanted to include direct links to material is largely because I believe our library catalogue’s OpenURL resolver has been realized so poorly that it is actually harmful to the user experience. You see, if you use our resolver while using Google Scholar to find an article – the resolver works as it should.

screencapture of alma

But if the reader is looking for a book, the resolver states that there is No full text available — even the library currently has the book on the shelf (this information is under the holdings tab).

walking

In order to ensure that book material would be found without ambiguity, myself and our library’s co-op student manually added URLs that pointed directly to each respective record in the library catalogue to each of the 150 or so Zotero entries in our #BlackLivesCDNSylllabus collection. This took some time.

Now all I had to do was create a blog entry that included the bibliography…


I will now explain two ways you can re-purpose the display of Zotero records for your own use.

The first method I investigated was the creation of my own Zotero Citation Style. Essentially, I took an existing citation style and then added the option to include the call number and the URL field using the Visual Citation Style Editor,  a project which was the result of a collaboration of Columbia University Libraries and Mendeley from some years ago.

screenshot
I took my now customized citation style and uploaded it up to a server and now I can use it as my own style whenever I need it:

https://api.zotero.org/groups/609764/collections/V7E2UPJP/items/top?format=bib&style=http://librarian.aedileworks.com/leddylibrarybibliography.csl

screenshot
I can now copy this text and paste into my library’s website ‘blog form’ and in doing so, all the URLs will automatically turn into active links.


There’s another method to achieve the same ends but in an even easier way. Zotero has an option called Reports that allows you to generate a printer-friendly report of a collection of citations.

Unfortunately, the default view of the report is to show you every single field that has information in it. Luckily there is the Zotero Reports Customizer which allows one to limit what’s shown in the report:

screenshot

There’s only one more hack left to mention. While the Zotero Report Customizer was invaluable, it doesn’t allow you to remove the link from each item’s title. The only option seemed to remove the almost 150 links by hand…

Luckily the text editor Sublime Text has an amazing power: Quick Find All — which allows the user to select all the matching text at once.

screenshot

Then after I had the beginning of all the links selected for, I used the ‘Expand selection to quotes’ option that you can add to Sublime Text via Package Control and then removed the offending links. MAGIC!

screenshot

The resulting HTML was dropped into my library’s Drupal-driven blog form and results in a report that looks like this:

screenshot


Creating and sharing bibliographies and lists of works from our library catalogues should not be this hard.

It should not be so hard for people to share their recommendations of books, poets, and to creative works with each other.

It brings all to mind this mind this passage by Paul Ford from his essay The Sixth of Grief Is Retro-computing:

Technology is What We Share

Technology is what we share. I don’t mean “we share the experience of technology.” I mean: By my lights, people very often share technologies with each other when they talk. Strategies. Ideas for living our lives. We do it all the time. Parenting email lists share strategies about breastfeeding and bedtime. Quotes from the Dalai Lama. We talk neckties, etiquette, and Minecraft, and tell stories that give us guidance as to how to live. A tremendous part of daily life regards the exchange of technologies. We are good at it. It’s so simple as to be invisible. Can I borrow your scissors? Do you want tickets? I know guacamole is extra. The world of technology isn’t separate from regular life. It’s made to seem that way because of, well…capitalism. Tribal dynamics. Territoriality. Because there is a need to sell technology, to package it, to recoup the terrible investment. So it becomes this thing that is separate from culture. A product.

Let’s not make sharing just another product that we have to buy from a library vendor. Let’s remember that sharing is not separate from culture.

This is the second part series called The Hashtag Syllabus. Part One is a brief examination of the recent phenomenon of generating and capturing crowdsourced syllabi on Twitter and Part Three looks to Marshall McLuhan and Patrick Wilson for comment on the differences between a library and a bibliography.