When your web services change terms

Dec 23 2011 Published by under Uncategorized

Jonathan Rochkind has written a ton about web services and APIs that libraries can/should/do use. His posts are written from the point of view of someone who understands the programming bit, the data bit, and the library bit. This post is written by someone who watches that stuff with interest and has worked, on occasion, with programmers.

I mentioned some time ago that we got an internal (to my place of work) "ignition grant" to build a system for supporting the listing, searching, lending of personal or desk copies of books. It should be noted that the money was from lab leadership, but we were voted in by lab staff. We have an internal social networking tool that's running on Elgg so we decided to build it to hang off of that. My collaboration partners are from 2 sponsor-facing departments and work in information assurance type CS jobs, not as software developers. My contribution was really in how to track books and how people search for books, and lending books... oh and barcode scanners 🙂

So anyway, after a lot of discussion, we went with the Amazon API to provide book metadata including descriptions and book cover images. Unfortunately, Amazon changed their terms of service in November to require an associates ID. We ran this past various parties at the lab, including legal. No go. We couldn't sign up for an associates id because of other things in the license. So our beautiful system couldn't add any new books! And our grant was long over.

Luckily, some folks in the IT department stepped up to make a fix, but the problem is, what API to use?  I used Jonathan's posts and some other things around the web and came up with WorldCat and Open Library for cover images. So we're now back up and running but with no book descriptions.

Assuming we get the go ahead from legal, we hope to make our Elgg add-on open source and make it available from the Elgg site. If/when we do, we'll probably have screen shots to share and more information. It's a neat idea on another way to find expertise and to support collaboration (and saving money) within an organization.

The moral of the story is, watch out for the terms of service on apis, and keep watching because they can change and then your functioning service can go up in smoke. We feel a lot better about open library and somewhat better about worldcat ... but vigilance is important.

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