Saturday, 26 November 2011

Final Thought: Digitization Projects

There were books before Gutenberg printing press, just as I'm sure there were digital archives before Project Gutenberg.  Interestingly they have both served the same function; the printing press marks the popular dissemination of the book and Project Gutenberg marks the first of the free, large-scale digital archives. For those manning the presses in those early days the work was dangerous and messy. I imagine the early work of Project Gutenberg was characterized by the tedium of old school data entry and, later, finicky scanners. Beyond its early creation date (1971). I think the sheer amount of effort invested by so many volunteers is what makes this archive noteworthy. It was started and persevered during the years when digitization was just plain hard.

Screen Capture of Project Gutenberg's Homepage

So forty year later, Project Gutenberg has ten affiliated partners internationally (such Project Gutenberg Australia) and over 38 000 works available for free download. They provide ebook editions of public domain materials in many translations and usable formats. The more material that moves out of copyright, the larger the collection grows.  If something is considered a classic work, it is probably available there.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Fifth Thought: Smartphones and Libraries

When it comes to smart phones and the modern library the greatest potential (I think) lies in the creation of specific apps to help patrons with their various needs. The Ottawa Public library (OPL) employs just such an app that allows users to access the catalogue, manage their account and read ebooks all on their wireless device. The obvious advantage is that patron need not be tied-down to a library workstation or their own PC in order to conduct their research.

The downside of this kind of service is that it does typically require a micro-transaction. When people think of libraries they generally have the expectation that service will be free, while the same cannot be said for the wireless app market. The implementation of a library app like this almost demands that the library has a wi-fi system to provide on-site users with wireless internet access. It would be a contradiction to reach out to wireless users with an app useful everywhere but the actual library.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fourth Thought: Open Souce Software

When it comes to open source software, my most satisfactory experience has been with OpenOffice. Found here, this free software is an alternative to Microsoft Office and other commercial word-processing suites. For my purposes, which has mainly been word processing and some spreadsheet dabbling, OpenOffice is great. Additionally, I do all my browsing with Mozilla’s Firefox and I read all my pdfs with their Foxit reader. I switched to Firefox when they introduced tabbed browsing and for its general faster performance than Internet Explorer. I started to favor Foxit when Adobe Reader's Text-to-Speech started slowing down every file I loaded. (I think they changed this some time ago but old habits die hard.)

The only limitations of open source software is that it is the work of diehard volunteer programmers which makes updates and patches less predicable then the yearly releases from commercial software companies. Likewise, customer support really only exists in the form of questions posed on website message board which are,in turn, moderated by volunteers. I think the only major downside with open source software is that it requires designers to donate more of their time if they want software that remains current. OSS needs to be either a perfect standalone product (unlikely) or the fruit of collaborative and ongoing efforts.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Third Thought: Content Enrichment

From a technological standpoint Content Enrichment is the next logical step. The limits of MARC records were the limits of hardware capacity and speed. With these limitations demolished by the capacity of modern servers, a catalogue augmented in the way is able to offer a wider array of features and give better insight into what a resource is about. I would have carted far-fewer books home on the bus during my undergrad if I was able to immediately screen the sources.

The only real issue (I think) is that creates another niche service to which libraries will be forced to subscribe. Book vendors and e-subscription providers now have content enrichment groups for company in the network of groups that charge libraries a premium so that they can, in turn, meet patron expectations. I will not call CE a necessary evil, but it is a necessary trend. Even the academic publishing market has become so inflated that a librarians would be forced to devout large amounts of time and effort to achieving the same result as is being offered by the private and specialized firms. In the long run better service always has a price.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Second Thought

I am jumping a bit ahead of the course schedule but since this a “free post” I would like to bring up the issue of wireless access at the library. For my purposes I'm talking specifically about the QEII library. I'm not even going to raise the issue of is it a good idea because on a large campus like Memorial wireless internet is necessity. The issue I'm addressing in this post is how wireless access can seem problematic.

I work some of my TA at a station in the Commons renewing students computer accounts and helping them with their writing. From that position I've had a chance to see the large lineup for wireless help that sometimes develops. Some time the line can get up to ten people—all holding their laptops in a forlorn and frustrated manner. Thus, its obvious that there is a need for computer support or at least computer savvy librarians in the modern library because, if I may employ an imperfect analogue, many people (and me a lot of the time) are treating their laptops and handheld devices in the same why they use their cars. They know how to use them up until the moment something goes wrong. I'm not being critical, it is simply the common practice. I think everyone has a friend or relative (My brother Dave) who is usually conscripted when serious troubleshooting is demanded.

The question becomes “Why not have open wireless on campus and dispense with the whole problem?” I guess there are two answers. The first is that the free wireless is available only to MUN students and library users. In this sense the access is a service lumped in with tuition and the benefits of university affiliation. The other is that unprotected networks open the door to malicious users and Wardrivers that could harm the network (and by extension the collection) and threaten the privacy of student records. In the long run expired wireless keys and a busy computer support desk are less of a headache than scenarios encrypted access protect against.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

First Thought

I had no real problem with setting up a blog even though my previous experience was only as an occasional reader. They have made the steps in creating basic blogs very intuitive and posting very comfortable. My greatest challenge when if comes to any sort of composition has always been settling on a title for the piece and a suitable pseudonym to write under.

When it comes to a library's position on a blog, blogs fall into the problematic realm of all electronic resources. There are too many that are too frequently updated to be consistently analyzed. I think blogs about a single underlying topic are easier to get handle on and less prone to tangential posts. Personal blogs tend to read like an open diary to world. All blogs (even this one) are well within the realm of editorial content. This mean that the accuracy, authority, and even plain content are the responsibility of the blog's author and some bloggers will be more rigorous in this area than others. Unlike with newspaper editorials, the opinions presented are not balanced by other, dissenting opinions or ideas unless the author chooses to present them. In this sense, a blogger (and his audience) will only get as much out of the blog as is invested in it