Book reviews

The book reviews project at Oslo Public Library aims to collect book reviews produced in Norwegian libraries, and to make them easily accessible for reuse.

The online library catalogue may be a helpful tool for library users to search for books by title, author or subject. It is not as good a tool for finding information about books they are interested to know more about. The catalogue records will expose bibliographic facts like names of publishers, physical descriptions and ISBN numbers. But what is this book like? Is it any good? This is the kind of information the catalogue won’t provide. Also it is the kind of information many library users hope to find in the library and on our webpages.

The lack of information like this might seem understandable. After all, producing this kind of subjective information about books is a very time consuming job. But the fact is that libraries already produce information just like this, it just isn’t put to very good use. In most libraries employees write lots of book reviews. Altogether that adds up to lots and lots of book reviews. Book reviews are published at web sites and in blogs, they are printed on paper to promote exhibited books, they are read aloud to visitors and co-workers in the library… And after having been exposed once, they are typically forgotten. What a shame.

So the problem isn’t that libraries don’t produce or own this kind information about their books. But they lack a good system for sharing and reusing reviews. Also they lack a good way for linking reviews to the books they describe. A book review blog post may contain a link to the matching catalogue record, so that a reader can locate or reserve the book, but there is no room in the library catalogue for linking the other way. There is no field in the MARC metadata format to link a book to a review.

The Book reviews project at Oslo Public Library aims to collect book reviews from many libraries in one database, and to make them easily accessible, so that they can be looked up and reused whenever someone needs them. A user, in or outside of the library, should be able to fetch reviews through an open web service API or through RSS feeds, so that he can easily incorporate book reviews into websites, blogs, info screen services or application software.

The collected reviews are stored as open linked data in the library’s RDF store at The reviews are described with metadata, and linked to books in a linked data version of the library catalogue. This flexible format allows us to enrich the catalogue data with things like links to book reviews. It also allows us to link different editions of one book together, so that you can find the same book review no matter if it is the paperback or the hardback edition you are looking up.

As part of the project, we are also developing a web application for putting together and distributing lists of reviews, based on catalogue metadata. You could for example compose a list of reviews of books by a particular author, or you could make a search for reviews of children’s fantasy books, and export the resulting list as an RSS feed to be displayed in your blog.

During 2012 the project has run as a preliminary work, supported by the Norwegian National library. An attempt at getting an overview of the production of book reviews in Norwegian libraries, suggested that we are talking about quite considerable amounts. In the first phase of the project we focused on six different sources for reviews: Five different services from Oslo Public library, as well as the now discontiued national Opening the book project, Ønskebok. So far this adds up to a total of nearly 4000 reviews. In an extension of the project we aim to cooperate with other libraries to gain more material, and we expect that the total number of reviews will at least double.

Om Asgeir Rekkavik

Bibliotekar ved Deichmanske bibliotek. Avdeling for kunnskapsorganisering