Peer2Peer (campus) library

Libraries are in general a necessity in academic work but also for personal use. The main benefit they provide is to offer books and articles so you can either peek at them to consider buying your own copy, or you could take the book with you for a certain time and read it. In providing these services to the customers the library needs to have an extensive amount of different books – as well they need to have several copies of each book, especially popular books. The amount of books existing today is wast – and the library is restricted by both space and especially budgets. It is thus no surprise that not every book ever made is available in the library. This holds true especially for brand new books or books without a general interest field (i.e. not enough potential “customers”). This provides a problem with the easy solution being to buy a copy of the book even if you do not know for sure that it is a good book. Secondly the library face a problem with very popular books when they do not have sufficient copies to service all their customers. Figure 1 illustrates the essence of this.

Figure 1: Traditional library system
Figure 1: Traditional library system

At universities the staff consists mostly of people that read a lot and in turn they own a lot of books. In some cases they even receive free copies of books as a medium for advertising. These books are of course located in shelves at the owners office. In general they are almost never read, at least not continuously – so it’s fair to say they have a lot of “downtime” in terms of the most efficient use of the book. Combined this forms an untapped resource. What if all these person-owned books were to be made available for the library customers? What if the library could integrate with this resource? Figure 2 illustrate the concept I propose in which the library is integrated with a peer2peer library.

Figure2: Peer2Peer Library
Figure2: Peer2Peer Library

There are of course some issues which needs to be addressed in this idea. Firstly the book owners need to be willing to lend out their books to potentially complete strangers. I believe this is an issue of trust and security that your book will be treated well and returned. Overcoming this can be to integrate/adopt the library system in which you need a student card or similar to loan the book – and by which you are identified as the loaner. If the owners are willing, the books still need to be made available in a library database. This is a tedious task which needs to be as easy as possible. Solutions for this is to use the barcode/ISBN-code to look up the information on the book – this requires a barcode reader which is not common to have. However advances in mobile phone cameras enables software to interpret the image and “read” the barcode. Webcams found on almost every laptop provides also the possibilities of software “scanning”.  Although not always perfect this is one possibility of overcoming the problem of self managing the peers own library.

In a P2P library the books are scattered rather than gathered at one location. This is a problem when searching for a book. An essential requirement for the search results is often that it is nearby (i.e. at the local library and not in another city’s). Thus, some spatial consideration should also be included in a P2P library system. This could be as easy as taking the (work) address of the loaner/owner and assume the book is there – or at least not very far away. Search results should of course include and rank accordingly.

I believe this rather novel approach to the traditional library enable the use of the untapped resource of “shelf-books” as well it expands the books available to book-loaners dramatically without additional cost. However this should be awarded back to the book owners in some compensation (i.e. prizes for every 25 book made available or similar).

At NTNU the library is refurbishing the library system – this is one concept they should consider!

Is this a good idea? The main problem is the willingness of book-owners. Are book-owners willing to lend out their books? How could this willingness be supported/motivated? Will such systems work outside of an organization? For instance publicly available?

Map interface for bus routes

Ever found yourself struggling to figure out the bus routes when you are planning to get from A to B?

Obscure bus stop names are almost a de-facto standard, at least in Norway – and quite often they do not have a name (or any other identifier) at all. Even if you know the bus stop name from where you are going to take the bus and the destination, you don’t always know where these stops are.

In Trondheim a natural language system has been developed called BussTUC (Buss The Understanding Computer) or more commonly “Bus Oracle”. Here you can write, in natural language, a question about bus routes. I.e. “When is the next bus from busStopA to busStopB?” and similar. The answer is quite good, and is correct according to the current routes.

However, the problem occurs when you don’t know the bus stop name – but you know where you want to travel, or approximately where you want to travel.

To better fit this Atle and I developed a prototype of a map interface to BussTUC. In essence it is a map where you can click where you are and where you want to go. The system then finds the nearest bus stops to this and suggest the closest, all represented visually in the map. While using the map interface to input where you want to go, suggestions of relevant query to BussTUC are suggested – and a link to submit the query is provided.

The system currently knows about almost all bus stops provided by Team Trafikk and works quite well.

Extensions to the system are:

  • Enable for mobile devices – primarily location-enabled devices
  • Add the spatial route-data suggested by BussTUC in the map (i.e. draw the actual route)
  • Speed up BussTUC or develop own route suggestion system based solely on spatial information

Suggested improvements (numbered for identification purposes only):

  1. Display all nearest markers regardless of selected (emphasize the one selected) [Thanks to anders]
  2. Enable user to define “near” using circle (or similar + visual representation
  3. On the fly display of near markers when hovering mouse (i.e. indicate what to expect from query)
  4. Enable user to config how many markers to display near a point
  5. Clustering/star-shaping overlapping markers (ClusterMarker)
  6. Visual-magnifier over selected areas (i.e. similar to: Map Magnifier)
  7. Retain simplicity of system, regardless of functionality (i.e. enable configuration)
  8. Release Open Source (CC, Public Domain, limited license?) [Atle, Magnus]

The system is developed in PHP, JavaScript with a PostGIS enabled database. Source code is available by contacting me or Atle. Give it a try and give some feedback!

Screenshot of BussTUC map interface
Screenshot of BussTUC map interface

The system is (unfortunately) not affiliated with Team Trafikk and is a prototype not designed to scale very good.