Saturday, May 30, 2009

ILL-ing eBooks

In a staff meeting, just the other day, we were discussing the changing focus of the library - evaluating the benefits of eBooks. For once we were all in agreement that our students want more eBooks and better access to the ones we have. However, one thing that we did not consider is the importance of ILL and how this move to electronic resources will affect our ability to lend to other libraries.

It was not until I read Steven Harris' blog post called "Interlibrary eLoan," in which he discusses the possible benefits and the many road blocks we face in approaching ILLing in a library with more and more eBooks, that I gave this pitfall any consideration.

How are we going to continue to have the ability to help other libraries when we cannot loan out our eBooks? The DRM and other copyright considerations are mind-boggling, but Harris points out a few ideas - incorporating eBook reading devices into the equation and getting the licencers of the eBook databases (NetLibrary, etc) to change their licencing plans - would work, but their implementation is far beyond us and the immediate needs of our library.

The promising answer, though it too is not an option... yet, is to provide what Harris calls a "DRM-protected PDF" that "[e]xpires after a given time period."

I like considering the scanned PDFs of articles that we send out: they are understood to be imperfect, temporary, one-time copies of particular resources that we own which are to be used for educational and academic reasons only. If we could get that concept and apply it to the ILLs - we'd be ready to go!

There are a few implementing problems - well, more than a few. The eBook databases we use make creating a PDF of the file nie near impossible, not to mention the part about making the files temporary.

But, my biggest concern is that we do not own the eBook in any sense of the word. We lease our materials from the database. When we stop paying for their services, we stop being able to access the information. It is not for us to make a copy, no matter how temporary, because we are not seen as the owners of the material in the first place. Until we get the mp3s or buy the actual eBook without the assistance of the database, our hands are tied.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Care - Great Tutorial for Students and Patrons!

Book care is a love of mine - ever since my college days where I had to tape curriculum back together for the Ministry Resource Center.

Here is a lovely video, put together by GMU, that illustrates the proper book-handling technique for students. I think this would make a lovely addition to online tutorials for students/patrons and will be a great aid in training Student Assistants!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wolfram Alpha... and other searches

The big tech/library news lately, it seems, has been asking one basic question: Can anyone beat Google?

My answer: Nope... wait, should I have sugar-coated that one? I'm just confused about why anyone would try, let alone claim that it has been done!

Until you can give the public a search engine that works as well, that builds a niche as well, that fulfills a need as well, you are not going to upset Google.

The latest to try, Wolfram Alpha, is an interesting concept and a nice try, though, ultimately, it does not live up to all the hype. Google gives you everything you could possibly need/want/never want in a link providing search. Wolfram Alpha, on the other hand, sets out to interpret the data and give you only the information you need - often creating a page that never existed before you did the search.

This is great when you have a calculation to make or need some background information. However, I share Farhad Manjoo's concern that Wolfram Alpha is too bug-laden and too narrowly defined to work well as a Google replacement. Some searches work well - like my birthday search (who knew I was born during a full moon?) - but too many others - like my search for the closest QFC to Northwest University - fail.

What does this mean for Librarians?
~ Yet another tool in our arsenal! Though some of the random searches I did failed, I am very refreshed by the ones that worked. The first thing I thought of when I saw its interface was how similar it was to an encyclopedia or a world fact book. If you are looking for specific, concrete data, this is where you should go - hands down. Like Wikipedia, it would be a great electronic resource to use in identifying search terms, figuring out general statistics, or planning a research survey.