Forte: the National Library of Australia’s sheet music collection iPad app

March 26th, 2013

A man walks into a reading room, hands over his iPad and says “Hi, my name is Jake and I’ve built this”…

Forte iPad

Let’s go back in time

In March 2011 the National Library placed a dataset of our sheet music collection up at data.gov.au. This was to be used as one of the datasets for the LibraryHack competition. The dataset contained around 11,000 items from our sheet music collection, all the metadata, all the details about every page within each piece of sheet music and most importantly references to each image of the digitised page. This was a bit of a handcrafted dataset. Our regular API’s, like the Trove API, will only return information for the “top level” of the item, not the lower level details of every page.

We didn’t quite know what would happen with the dataset & how it would end up being used in the competition. Unfortunately it didn’t really get used in a major way in any of the entries and the dataset sat there gathering electronic dust.

Nearly 12 months later, totally out of the blue, someone walked into the reading rooms at the library, approached the person on the desk (who, as luck would have it was Sarah who was the project manager for our iPhone catalogue app), introduced themselves and said “Hi, my name is Jake & I’ve built this” & showed off what was the first prototype of what went on to become Forte.

At the time Jake was looking for a large dataset to help him solve a problem he was working on. He found our sheet music collection & built a proof of concept that helped him to solve his problem. Jake spent a lot of time at the Library working (and using our free wi-fi) and never realised that we had such an interesting collection. In approaching the library he wanted to find out what we thought. He had taken it as far as he could, but wanted some advice on how to take it further.

Over time, the Library worked with Jake to fine tune the app. The app initially started as an A-Z list of 11,000 items. We broke it up into decade by decade & attempted to show how many items were contained within each decade.  We also added a feature to be able to limit it to display who were the active composers within each time period. One thing we decided quite early on in the discussions was that there was to be no search. This was to be a discovery tool that displayed everything. We wanted people to explore.

The final app really has kept the core of Jake’s initial idea. It was refreshing to see someone outside the Library who was unfamiliar with the collection, navigate it & pull out the meaning of what was important and didn’t have preconceived ideas of how a collection had to be accessed. Likewise it was great being able to work with Jake & get the benefits of how he had approached similar problems within other non-library projects.

In keeping with the initial goals of making the data openly available, the Library has released the source code to the app under an open source license. Others can build upon what we have done.

Lessons

To me there were three really important lessons to come out of this:

  1. Make your data available.
  2. Don’t expect things to happen immediately
  3. If you can, guide the developer to help them fine tune their product & give them insight into the intricacies of the data.

It was one of those perfect examples of everything falling into place with the right people being in the right place at the right time.

Forte is available now at the AppStore. I’m really excited about the story of how the app came into existence, our team that worked alongside Jake to take his idea & build something that I’m really proud of.  I hope you enjoy discovering our collections.

Flickr Commons turns 5

January 17th, 2013

Today Flickr Commons turned 5 years old. The Commons has turned into an incredible resource of over 250,000 images from 56 different libraries, archives, and museums throughout the world. For me, the launch of Flickr Commons heralded what turned out to be a huge turning point for my career.

Flickr Commons allowed me to build my first proper mashup – my Google Streetview Then & Now. This was a bit of a breakthrough moment for me. It was my first demonstration of the power that comes from having interesting photos and associated data that was freely licensed and freely available to be shared through an API so others could do things with it. It made my day when George Oates at Flickr saw it and called me a superstar!

A bit to my surprise, people liked what they saw. I overcame my fear of public speaking and starting talking about what I had done and what could come from sharing and reusing data at conferences. People outside of work took an interest in what I had to say. People were willing to fly me places to listen to what I had to say & to listen to my ideas. Not only that, people referred to what I was doing in their conference papers and blogs. This led to me becoming the first Australian to be named as a Mover & Shaker of the library world by Library Journal. It’s allowed me to become a bit of an experimenter at work and

Along the way, my Commons experiences have introduced me to so many like minded people throughout the world. It’s these connections that can’t be measured by the number of views or comments an image contains.

In 2011 my Commons experience was complete when my work set up our own Commons account. I’m now on the other side trying to get interesting things from our collections out there to see what other clever people do with it. It’s a blast!

Little did I know that way back then that building a mashup at 3am one morning would influence my life and my career. I’m absolutely loving the journey it’s taking me on and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Thanks Flickr for what you’ve created.

Trove WordPress plugin

July 9th, 2012

One of the fantastic resources in Trove is the digitised newspaper collection. We’ve seen people using the newspapers for research & republishing their findings on their blogs. There’s a couple of issues with this:

  1. If the text that is copied hasn’t been corrected, if it ever gets updated in Trove it won’t get updated on their blogs
  2. Attribution is a bit hit and miss. Depending upon what the person does, they may or may not add a link back to Trove. We all know it’s nice to share the love and provide a link back to the resource where you’ve found something.

To make life easier for people using newspapers in Trove I’ve built a simple WordPress plugin based around the Trove API to allow you to embed the text from a newspaper article within your WordPress blog so that the text will reflect the current state of the text in Trove & it will provide attribution back to Trove. All it takes is three easy steps:

  1. Install the plugin
  2. Get the article ID of the text from the URL (e.g.:  the ID of http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/2760597 is 2760597)
  3. Where you would like that article to appear in your post us the following short code [trove newspaper=2760597]

That’s it!

I made up a quick screencast to demonstrate the use of it. I really hope that it’s useful for people. If you have any suggestions for improving it or extending it for other uses within Trove I would love to hear about it.

I have to give a big thanks to Kathryn Greenhill for helping me out with beta testing. This is the first thing I’ve built using the Trove API & the first thing I’ve released back into the WordPress community & it feels pretty good!

i

March 7th, 2012

Last year in Portugal I came across an amazing newspaper called “i” (short for informação). It’s the most beautifully designed newspaper. It was only when I got home that I found out it had been named the best designed newspaper in the world.

The hot topic, particularly in tech sections of newspapers is tomorrow’s expected announcement of the iPad 3. Have a look at their cover for today & their take on how to report it. So simple, yet so beautiful.

7 de Março de 2012

Each day a copy of the days cover is posted on the i Online Flickr account. Have a look at them & see how much work goes into producing an interesting daily paper that delivers topical stories with beautiful design.

Reflections on 2011

February 14th, 2012

As you can see from my site, 2011 was a year that I didn’t do very much writing. It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to write about, I just didn’t get around to finishing up the posts & they stayed in drafts (hence this being posted in February – better late than never). This was a pretty good reflection of how I felt this year went, good but not complete.

Work

A lot of good things happened this year at work. I was part of a national project called LibraryHack to enable what I had been talking about for the past few years – opening up library collections to reuse through API’s.

I cut down a bit on the amount of speaking I did this year, but ran a few more hands on tutorial sessions that I really enjoyed.

Travel

This year I travelled to Portugal, Spain & London. I cycled through the Algarve in Portugal, walked the El Camino de Santiago in the north of Spain and was exposed to the wonders of Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona. I had one of the most enjoyable meals of my life in Seville, I loved the schizophrenic space of the Mezquita in Cordoba. My goal for this year is to start learning Spanish.

Ceiling of La Sagrada Família

Photography

I took over 8000 photos this year, but only uploaded a small amount to Flickr. I didn’t feel that this was enough. I wasn’t that happy with many of the shots I took. I tended to shoot in large bursts, and that growth and consistency you get from practising a craft on a daily basis wasn’t there. I don’t think I grew as a photographer this year.

Some photographic highlights for me were being asked to be a photographer for TEDx Canberra. This came about from last year’s photos being seen by the organisers and asking me if I would like to help out this year. you have to love the combination of Flickr & Creative Commons licenses for this.

Rebecca Scott

I was inspired by watching Kim Tairi’s Flickr stream. Of all the photo blogs I follow I loved the curation of Vladimir Putin, action man from In Focus at The Atlantic.

Music

A lot of music really didn’t inspire me much this year. Triple J continued to disappoint. Most of the music I purchased was from the 1980′s. I subscribed to the Australian Chamber Orchestra series, and once again they didn’t disappoint. I always find something energetic and inspiring from their performances and interpretations of music, even if I don’t actually enjoy the music. There’s something about watching a live performance, seeing the interactions between the players, their concentration and reactions.

In May I attended what I consider to be the best concert I have ever been to – Reflections by The Cure at the Sydney Opera House. Held as part of the Vivid Festival it was The Cure playing their first three albums in their entirety followed by b-sides from the era. In addition it was an ever growing line up of past Cure members – starting with the trio of Robert, Simon & Jason, then being joined by Roger O’Donnell & finally Lol Tolhurst (the first time Lol had played with the group since leaving in 1989).

The Cure

Exercise

I ran 641km. It was another frustrating year of building up my running & then getting injured. Building up again & then getting injured again. Most of my runs were short 6km runs. I finished the year on a positive note by being able to run for over an hour and recover well. Hopefully this is the start of good things.

I didn’t really do much cycling this year (besides on my holiday), my bikes gathered dust. I miss it.

I walked 841km. This was mostly just walking to & from work. It’s surprising how quickly this adds up.

I’ve finished 2011 4kg lighter than at the start of the year.

Summary

I guess when you look at it in one big list, I did manage to achieve a bit. Maybe I just always want to achieve more in my mind. I’ve got a few things on the go already for 2012 (including a much needed redesign of this site) & I promise I’ll write a bit more about them here soon.