Ten Years of the OpenBook Plugin for WordPress

Ten years ago I was writing book reviews online and liked to insert a book cover image in the webpage. I would download a cover image from Amazon and link back to the Amazon page. This practice was encouraged by Amazon; it was good for sales. Amazon was quickly becoming the central repository of book data. One could see a time when all online book catalogs became advertising for Amazon.

I decided to create an easy way for people to link to an alternate source of book cover images and data. I built the OpenBook plugin. The Open Library repository of the Internet Archive was selected as a data source because it was a non-profit that used open source practices including open data. WordPress was the content management platform. I published a technical article in the Code4Lib journal. The article generated a lot of interest in the library community. At the time, libraries were paying to insert book data into their online catalogs, even though it promoted the sales of books.

Three major version upgrades were performed, adding features such as automatic links to related book websites, HTML templates and a stylesheet to standardize the appearance, a WordPress ‘wizard’ to preview the display, and COinS to integrate with external book services like Zotero and OpenURL resolver. I published a second article (pdf) in NISO.

As an open source product, OpenBook enjoyed lively growth in new directions. A Drupal version was created. I was contracted by BookNet Canada to develop a similar plugin for their book repository; BNC BookShare continues to be maintained today. The OpenBook code was posted to GitHub and has been branched for enhancement.

OpenBook has had influence outside the technical sphere. In my initial design I considered using OCLC’s WorldCat as a data source. OCLC is a non-profit serving the library community, so it seemed a good fit. I hesitated because only librarians could add or edit records. As I dug further, I found the OCLC business model appeared to own the data, i.e., not an open data source like Open Library. My assessment was correct. In 2009 OCLC updated its data license to tighten its ownership. The library community exploded. An article in the Guardian asked why you cannot find a library book in your search engine, and explained that it had much to do with OCLC’s closed approach with library records. The article contrasted the closed approach of OCLC with the open approach of Open Library, and mentioned “a plug-in for WordPress that lets bloggers automatically integrate a link to the Open Library page of any book.” <blush>

An online search shows that OpenBook has been cited in three books for librarians:

  • Jones and Farrington (2013). Learning from Libraries that Use WordPress: Content-Management System Best Practices and Case Studies.
  • Jones and Farrington (2011). Using WordPress as a Library Content Management System.
  • Stuart (2011). Facilitating Access to the Web of Data: A Guide for Librarians.

In a moment of inspiration a few years ago I envisioned a cloud service evolution of OpenBook, with adapters to multiple content management platforms and data sources. This new OpenBook cloud service would remove the tight coupling with WordPress and Open Library, truly liberating book data. There was an immediate positive response when I blogged about the idea. Alas, time.

I decided to sunset OpenBook. After two years of inactivity, the plugin was automatically dropped from the WordPress search index. Recently I have been writing on the subject of book covers and peeked at OpenBook’s status. WordPress reports 600+ active installs. Nice. I took a few minutes to test the plugin’s compatibility with the current version of WordPress. Everything tested positive. I updated the plugin’s version numbers and republished the code. OpenBook is again available in the WordPress plugin search index.