barcode photo -> library services

I commented on Lorcan Dempsey’s blog about something I’ve been wanting to do for a year or so.

Allow someone to take a picture of an ISBN barcode that’s on most post-ISBN books, and send it to library software to get library services. Imagine if you could hold a book barcode up to your mac laptop camera (I have no idea how to write software that grabs such a picture), or snap a picture with your cellphone and MMS text it to a library number (I still don’t have a phone with a camera, but I think that kind of thing is possible?), and get a page like this (via Umlaut).

It’s not a trivial project, but it’s a feasible one, it’s definitely do-able.  Anyone want to find the neccesary open source software and write the neccesary glue to create an open source package that will receive an ISBN snapshot, decode the isbn from the barcode, and send the ISBN to a link resolver?  Good internship for a computer science student, yeah, come on, you know you want to.

8 thoughts on “barcode photo -> library services

  1. Nice, thanks Art! That zebra package does seem to be the best open source package for barcode reading. I’d want to do the exact same thing Rukavina’s done, but send the resulting ISBN to Umlaut instead of a custom script that just checks Amazon (Umlaut does that and so much more, including finding a copy on our shelves, and an ILL form).

    I really want to do that some day.

    It’s still not exactly clear to me if there’s a good general purpose solution for allowing people to send a photo from a mobile device to my software. If you have a cell phone with a camera, is there usually a way to send a “text” mesage including a photo to someone? If so, wonder how to set up our software as an end point for that.

    Scot at NYU is already working on a plug-in for Umlaut that will allow you to Cell phone text yourself the location on library shelves for an item. Imagine, text Umlaut with a photo of a barcode, get a txt message back with the availability and shelf location of the book! And a URL to get more services like an ILL form, if your device has a full web browser. That would be AWESOME. And fairly do-able, I think, if I had just some time for it.

    Hmm, one trick is going to be that Scot says the _free_ methods of having software send a text message require the software to know what cell phone provider a number belongs to. Which there’s no way to figure out automatically (for free) having only the cell phone number. So I’m not sure how Umlaut would know this, to be able to respond to an incoming MMS/SMS message with a reply.

  2. I don’t think you can send a picture via text message. A text message is just that, text, and it’s limited to 160 characters.

    On the other hand, you can email a picture from your cell phone. I tried it from my cell phone, and the email does have enough information to identify the carrier,at least in my case (Virgin Mobile). When the email arrives, the sender is identified as, where NNNNNNN is my cell phone number, and vmpix identifies the source carrier as Virgin Mobile.

    I’d love to have something that would map an ISBN into availability, even if I had to type the ISBN myself, but that would require a screen scraper to get the availability information out of the $#%$! OPAC, and so far I haven’t been frustrated enough to build a screen scraper myself.

  3. You’re absolutely right about MMS, and I was wrong. It sure looks like you can send a photo from one phone number to another. My phone won’t let me see the message internals, but it does also look as though you only get the source phone number, without any indication of the source carrier.

    The OPAC I use is III WebPAC PRO. What makes it ugly for screen scraping is that the library belongs to a consortium, and WebPAC only shows the first ten or so libraries on the book page. You can get availability information for all the libraries on another page with a very ugly URL, but that page is missing the notes about which libraries have ordered the book. I’m a patron, so I can’t mess with the OPAC directly, but it wouldn’t matter if I were a librarian, since the web site belongs to the consortium.

  4. III is unfortuantely notorious among library hackers for having extremely limited machine access to functionalities. At some point I’d think (hope?) this would hurt them in the marketplace, but apparently not yet.

    There’s likely still a way to do it involving z39.50 instead of screen-scraping, but z39.50 is a pain in the neck.

  5. “get a page like this (via Umlaut)” LINK IS BROKEN

    The page you were looking for doesn’t exist.

    You may have mistyped the address or the page may have moved.

  6. This is very similar to a project I’m taking on as an independent study in LIS school. I think you (jrochkind) responded to a post of mine on Code4Lib. I’d love to speak so we can compare notes.

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