Plugging in

A year into it, about 11% of browsing is now being done with Firefox; it’s been downloaded over 100 million times. Though not impervious to security problems, Firefox is a safer bet than wretched old IE. Besides, fear isn’t the only reason to pay attention to differences between browsers. Faith and serendipity still count: open-source Firefox inspires nice little plug-ins.

A visit to the sprightly Shifted Librarian today alerted me to a good example: a plug-in that helpfully installs a library search engine right into the Firefox browser. Here’s an example: after quick installation of a plug-in, a search field for the Ann Arbor District Library catalog lives right below the search engines that come loaded with Firefox by default:

The Ann Arbor District Library already offers nifty RSS functionality. Now, thanks to a volunteer programmer, users can track the library’s holdings in another convenient way. The AADL search plug-in sticks to keyword searching, and tucks that Google-like simplicity into a user’s own (Firefox) browser. Since the plug-in is open source (of course), it can be tweaked to work with any number of other library catalogues. In fact, of course, many other libraries offer their own version of this Firefox search plug-in.

And how does it work in practice? I installed the AADL search plug-in (a one-click process) and searched the library catalog for good old “Lord Byron”:

The results were underwhelming, to say the least: sound recordings of gospel singing beat out anything by or about our famous poet, merely because of accidental proximity in contents listings (“The Presence of the Lord” by Byron Cage). But such are the perils of swampy, flat ‘keyword’ fields. It would be churlish to blame the creator of this plug-in for this particular OPAC’s wheezy treatment of keywords. He’s made a ‘last mile’ connection to the user, and it puts new pressure on the library to make its keyword search more relevant.

And what of that creator? Turns out he’s a high school student named Matt Hampel. If Firefox can leverage budding talent for non-commercial, communally-oriented ends, isn’t that enough reason to switch?

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