Browser Extensions for Link Checks, Accessibility, and Research

Browser extensions can help with all sorts of daily tasks, speeding up mundane work like link checking or finding research articles.  James Day at Library Technology Launchpad describes 6 Chrome Browser Extensions Every Librarian Needs, such as DOI Resolver or Google Scholar Button for research, Grammarly to proofread online writing, or Wayback Machine for viewing archived webpages.  I regularly use browser extensions myself (usually in Google Chrome) for link checking, and I’ve learned about a few interesting extensions for checking accessibility and for locating and organizing research articles.  Here’s a quick rundown:

Viewing valid, redirected, and broken links through Check My Links.
  • Link checking: I do periodic manual link checks for some online resources, and usually I’ll start the check by running the Check My Links extension to highlight which links on the page are live, redirecting, or dead.  I always try to manually click through all links (since sometimes a valid redirect may still lead to a page where the desired content is no longer available), but opening every link one at a time is an enormous pain.  Thankfully, there are browser extensions like Linky or Linkclump, where you can highlight or select a section of a webpage and automatically open all links within that selected area in separate tabs.  This can save a lot of time.
Accessibility testing for a webpage using WAVE.
  • Accessibility testing: When sharing online material from a government resource, the content needs to meet Section 508 requirements for accessibility.  The content needs to be equally accessible to anyone with disabilities (visual, auditory, cognitive, etc.), which means that content creators need to keep a number of guidelines in mind to make sure their content is fully compliant.  The browser extension WAVE can be used to evaluate accessibility of web content, and it will highlight any errors or alerts for accessibility issues on a webpage.  It will even identify issues with color contrast which may be hard for users with visual limitations to see.  See the Medium article Free web accessibility tools round-up  by Carlin Scuderi for a great list of accessibility check tools (including a few more Google Chrome extensions).
Options menu for Unpaywall.
  • Research tools: 
    • Unpaywall: One browser extension I keep hearing about on library listservs, Twitter, and blogs is Unpaywall, which automatically searches for open access versions of paywalled journal articles.  When viewing an article on a publisher website, the extension automatically searches across “thousands of open-access repositories worldwide” to find full text (and legally uploaded) versions of the article (check their FAQ section to learn more). Unpaywall sounds like a very helpful tool for a librarian or researcher who needs an article from a journal that their institution doesn’t subscribe to, but who doesn’t have the time to wait to receive the article through inter-library loan.
    • Refigure: I recently learned about this tool from INFOdocket.  This extension seems more geared towards scientific researchers than librarians, but it was just too interesting not to mention. Refigure “aggregates and organizes different scientific figures amongst users”, which sounds like an innovative way for researchers to collaborate, organize, and share a more visual type of research data that may be overlooked in traditional databases.

There are so many browser extensions available (just in the Chrome web store alone!), it can be difficult to separate the useful from the useless.  That’s why I’m grateful for librarians on Twitter, library news resources, and listservs (like MEDLIB-L) for the many helpful recommendations on new extensions to try.


Searching Databases with the 5 Senses: Beyond Searching with Words

The intellectual property search field really opened my eyes to how database searching isn’t just limited to keyword searches.  Sometimes, you need to go beyond searching only with words…you can search by drawing chemical structures to find patents mentioning similar compounds, or you can find similar designs or logos through a reverse image search.  If searching with visual elements is possible, then is there also technology that allows people to search through a database using other physical senses? Here are a few examples of tools allowing users to search by visual, auditory, tactile, taste, and scent criteria:

  • Sight – This is the easy one…reverse image searching is very common, especially using Google Images.  For Google, it’s as simple as uploading a photo or entering a URL for an image to find a list of matching or similar images.  The Pinterest Visual Search Tool has the added interesting feature of allowing you to zoom in and only search for a specific part of an image. Check out this video and presentation When image, colour and texture is content: the potential of visual search for an interesting case study of making 3 million designs from the

    UK Board of Trade Design Register visually searchable.


    Visual search tool on Pinterest.

  • Hearing – Technology to search by sound also seems to be relatively established, with apps like “Soundhound (previously Midomi), Doreso and others […] using a simple algorithm to match an acoustic fingerprint to a song in a library.”  Of course, Google also has its own sound search app.
  • Touch – For tactile search to exist, first we would need computer screens that allow users to “feel” specific textures and sensations.  Haptic engineering (according to Discover magazine) “focuses on applying tactile stimulation to our interactions with computers”, and this engineering field may lead to a future where we can search for and share textures and sensations with each other online.  I was only able to find one example of actual tactile search technology in a fascinating paper describing Twech: A Mobile Platform to Search and Share Visuo-tactile Experiences.
  • Taste/Smell – I wish Google Nose really existed, but unfortunately that was just a brilliant April Fool’s joke.  Searching by actual taste and smell doesn’t seem to be a realistic technology yet, but some databases do exist where users can search for the chemical components behind flavors and scents.  For example, BitterDB allows users to search “over 550 compounds that were reported to taste bitter to humans.”  You can also search for perfumes by “notes”, like citrus smells, flowers, woods, mosses, and more.

The technology is already available for image and sound-based searching, and we may soon be able to share and search tactile sensations over mobile devices.  I still look forward to the day when I can search for anything tasting like banana pancakes through Google…I’m sure that day is closer than we expect.