API as metaphor for library services

Lately I’ve been reading and thinking about APIs as a metaphor for library services. It’s useful for thinking about (1) the library’s role in facilitating a culture of remix and reuse and (2) the library’s place as a component in a distributed network architecture. I think a brainstorming session to concretize the metaphor by articulating some GET, PUT/POST, and DELETE requests to libraries as a server or from libraries as a client would be really helpful for articulating the values of our profession.

In the latest post to Library Journal’s Peer to Peer Review blog, Barbara Fister writes about the library as the people’s API. In it she takes issue with Steve Coffman’s article The Decline and Fall of the Library Empire by building on Hugh Rundle’s post about libraries as software. She argues that the library is not only “software” rather than “hardware” but more specifically non-proprietary software:

The library is not the Apple Store, or Amazon. At its best it’s open source software, an adaptable API for knowledge and culture, letting communities engage with ideas through rewriting, forking, and reinvention. In the People’s Library, the people are not customers or assets. They are the library, and the library is theirs.

Fister isn’t the only one to construct an elaborate API metaphor. In response to a tweet by James Gleick suggesting that Occupy Wall Street could be seen as an API, Alexis Madrigal wrote a full-length feature for The Atlantic called A Guide to the Occupy Wall Street API, Or Why the Nerdiest Way to Think About OWS Is So Useful:

A key feature of APIs is that they require structure on both sides of a request. You can’t just ask Twitter’s API for some tweets. You must ask in a specific way and you will receive a discrete package of 20 statuses. We decided that breaking down the inputs and outputs of Occupy Wall Street in this way might actually be useful. The metaphor turns out to reveal a useful way of thinking about the components that have gone into the protest.

Basically, Madrigal defined a lot of GET, PUT, and DELETE requests for the #OWS movement. I’d love to remix the metaphor for libraries. What would be the GET, PUT/POST, and DELETE requests to or from libraries, if we think of them as a component in a distributed network architecture?

Categories: Libraries, Proceedings of THATCamp, Session Proposals, Your Categories Are Inadequate | Tags: , |

About Chelcie Rowell

My professional background before entering graduate school in information science was in writing tutoring, and I thought I wanted to become a reference and instruction librarian. Increasingly, however, I'm interested in digital curation. I'm becoming less uncomfortable at the command line, and I'm trying to dip my toe in RDFa/microdata/LOD for libraries, archives, and museums.