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Writing Bots

Michael E. Karpeles edited this page Feb 25, 2019 · 12 revisions


Are you frustrated with the number of metadata mistakes on OpenLibrary editions, works, authors, etc? Do you notice the same problem happening over and over? Are you seeing a lot of duplicate Authors which should be merged or fake books which should be deleted? Are there books missing from OpenLibrary that you'd like to import from other sources? These are jobs for bot accounts.

OpenLibrary bot accounts are used to make http POSTs to work, author, edition, subject, etc., pages in order to correct metadata or create/import new records (e.g. books, authors, bookcovers) in bulk.

Applying for a bot account

Follow these 2 steps to apply for a privileged bot account:

  1. First, register a new OpenLibary account which meets the following guidelines: (a) Your bot account should be different from your personal OpenLibrary account and (b) the username of your new account should end with the word "Bot" (e.g. WorkBot, ImportBot). These conventions allow us to monitor / filter through Recent Changes by bots to identify only those changes made by bot accounts. (Since bots tend to repeat the same small operation with high frequency, they would overwhelm the list if shown alongside edits by humans.)
  2. Open a github issue and ask a site admin (e.g. @mekarpeles or @hornc as of 2019) to set your account to have bot privileges and to add your account to the "API" usergroup

Getting Started: Rules

Question Great, I now have a bot account, I can start fixing thousands of problems I've noticed, right?

Answer Hold on! After you have been granted bot access, please do not run a bot script to change metadata in bulk (for more than 100 records) until it has first been reviewed by charles (@hornc on github). The right process is to create a new directory for your bot within the repository, to open a PR, and to add charles (@hornc) or myself (@mekarpeles) as the reviewer.

Question I have a metadata question about how my bot should work, a question about using the openlibrary-client, or I need a code review for my bot. Who do I ask?

Answer @hornc (@charles on slack) is our lead on metadata and is a great person to answer questions about the openlibrary-client and writing/registering bots to fix metadata or add new books to our catalog

Question I have written a bot, am I ready to run it?

Answer If you have written a bot script and think it's ready to be run, the correct procedure is to fork the repository, create a new branch for your bot, add a directory in the project named according to the action your bot will perform, and then submit a PR (pull request) for review. Please don't run bulk modifications until @horn or @mekarpeles have reviewed and approved your script or your bot privileges may be revoked.

Question My bot reads metadata from a source file and then modifies records on Open Library -- should these source data files be saved somewhere?

Answer Yes please -- If you are writing a bot to add new or updated metadata to Open Library from a file(s), those files should also be committed with your script to

openlibrary-client Library

Instead of making POSTs to API endpoints directly using a bot account, the OpenLibrary community has created an official python client library called openlibrary-client which streamlines the process of making metadata updates and writing bots. Bots used to be written using the library, but this has been deprecated in favor of the much easier (and safer) openlibrary-client.

Bot account Etiquette

If possible, bot accounts should not be used directly to make 1-off changes, e.g. from the command line. Changes instead should be coded into bot scripts (i.e. bots) and checked in to the openlibrary-bots repository. This way we can look back in time and see/figure out what exact changes were made (so we can debug if something goes wrong or if we have to modify or update and re-apply the logic).

Example Bots

Here's an example by @hornc of a bot which uses openlibrary-client for merging works/editions and updating records in bulk.

The following are legacy examples which used (which is deprecated) instead of openlibrary-client, but they give an idea of what OpenLibrary bots are, what they do, how they are written, and how they are used. Please refer to the openlibrary-client documentation for more modern examples:

Bot Opportunities


  • A: Authors
  • E: Editions
  • W: Works

Unicode [A, E, W]

  • 'mojibake' A~(c) style encoding errors. From multiple sources

    • Some from Amazon bulk imports
    • Some from external MARC records Some are lossy, others can be reconstructed. Important point to note: there are multiple styles that look similar, but require different translation to fix.
  • Combining diacritics (Github issue ) -Some external MARC records have had subsequent correction, reimportation could catch many such cases

  • NFC Normalisation. Of titles, description, place, i.e. all text fields. Ensure all input mechanisms normalise correctly. UI + import paths. TEST.

Spaces in OCAIDs [E]

Github issue Outstanding items (ocaids with spaces) listed here Check importbot does not create more. Add input validation to UI. PR

URLs in OCAIDs [E]

Not many?

URLs in Amazon ids [E]

Needs checking. Some url ids appear to resolve correctly. Suspicion that some users are trying to insert affiliate links in OL ids. What is our policy on this? Should we be making more effort to ensure only Internet Archive affiliate links are used?

Invalid ISBNs [E]

_10 and _13 Other ISBN fields; can they be used for anything?

  • repair if possible
  • normalise
  • remove if bad
  • test for reuse on multiple editions

Invalid / incorrect other ids [E, W]

Empty Titles [A, E, W]?

  • repair if possible
  • delete if junk data

Titles varied only by punctuation or whitespace [E, W] (where author is the same)

  • remove trailing ".", ":", ";"
  • reduce whitespaces to single sp
  • when one version has a single sp and another has no sp, change latter to single sp (e.g. Hitchhiker's guide --> Hitch hiker's guide)
  • when one version has embedded punctuation and another does not, change latter to match former (e.g. Hitch hikers guide --> Hitch-hiker's guide)

Name Order [A]

The Open Library convention is natural name order as opposed to "Last, First" Is everyone happy with this standard? How should titles be handled? e.g. Sir , Lord, Lady, Mrs. There seems to be variation in the data for this style of name.

Also, how to handle Aliases? I notice the author_role type has an 'as' property. Is this to allow for name variations on a particular book?

Bad alternate names for authors [A]

Github issue

  • Fix

Orphaned Editions

Github issue see plan for 5M Orphans

Works without editions [W] Appears to be a merging task now. These editionless works look to be left over from moving editions (translations are a common example) to another work without converting the original work to a redirect. If there was some way to go back to the the original edition move and complete the work redirection? Perhaps the WorkBot log at might be helpful??

Editions unlinked to works

Appears to occur mainly with apparently editionless works. How common is it? If rare, it should be fairly simple to address manually in librarian mode given a list of such editions.

Authors without Works [A]

Orphaned editions without Authors [E]

Where author is known to IA, from MARC records. Update the records from the original MARC. Many of the missing authors seem to be on books that have editors rather than striaght authors. Is this a cause of the problem? How to correctly represent editors on Open Library works?

Non-Book items [A, E, W]

There were 54,000 bad author records associated with Audio CD imports, see github issue Each author was linked to at least one edition, and often a work. Many of these records happened to be editions without works as the bulk were imported in 2008, from Amazon, when these sort of data issues were common. Most are now corrected.

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