The library elves head up the Amazon with lots of paddles

I'm a big fan of the Los Angeles Public Library online catalog. I order books and the library elves race around this enormous city picking them up. The whole passel gets delivered to my local library and all I have to do is stroll in and check them out. It's so civilized!

I noticed this week that the catalog has a new addition. Each book's listing now includes a link to that book's Amazon reader reviews. Interesting...

I know there are those who consider Internet phenomena like Amazon reader reviews, Wikipedia and the dreaded news blogs bad things, dismissing them as "group think" that stifles "real" creativity. They claim the reviews and blogs offer dangerously unsanctioned opinions and should be avoided. I am not one of those people. I was a history major in college, with a special focus on the seventeenth-century -- the Golden Age of the Pamphlet. Every loon with a few pence got a printing press and went nuts on a street corner, passing around copies of whatever crackpot idea struck his, and occasionally her, fancy. As with today's blogs, some of those loons really were loons, and some of those crackpot ideas really were crackpot. But other crackpot ideas seem less cracked today: democracy, religious freedom, stuff like that. Dangerously unsanctioned ideas can be a very good thing. You never know who's doing the sanctioning.

Anyway... I asked the LAPL Webmaster when they made the addition and what kind of discussion they had on the subject. Here's the reply.

"We added this feature in October of last year. We did have discussions about it, and while some possible concerns were raised, in the end we felt the benefit to our patrons was the most important thing."

That's a politic reply, and I don't blame him. But wouldn't you love to hear some of those discussions and concerns in dirty detail? The next paragraph was more interesting...

"The system uses the ISBN number to make a request to an Amazon server for reviews. If there are none, the patron is invited to make one when they click the link. If there are, the last 5 are brought back from the server when the patron clicks the link, and another link is created to link back to all the reviews. It is using an API Amazon makes available to other web sites."

The entity driving this rather remarkable change is Amazon itself. One might think Amazon and libraries are natural enemies in the world of book delivery, but of course, they aren't. I often buy a book on Amazon after reading the library copy. And if the library system now takes me directly to Amazon, and shows me a bunch of reader reviews, it's even more likely I'll simply buy the book in the first place. The library elves are fast, but Amazon Prime's free two-day delivery is even faster! Plus, I can sell the book -- again on Amazon -- when I no longer need it.

Dang, that's one smart company.

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