or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk




Another Announcement from OverDrive

   April 1st, 2008 Brian Herzog

OverDrive logoHot on the heels of its announcement of mp3-based and iPod-compatible audiobooks, Overdrive is introducing a new product line: Large Print Audiobooks.

Designed to cater to the elderly and vision-impaired library patrons (just like our print large print collections), OverDrive has contracted with various large print book vendors to convert their catalogs into large print audio versions.

I think it is great that vendors aren't always trying to cast wide nets to scoop up as much profit as possible, but instead are providing products based on the needs of our smaller patron groups.

The only catch is that, like large print books, the audiobook files will be larger than their normal versions. Also, larger headphones are required, too, to accommodate the extra sound.

Still, it's great. You can keep up with more announcements on the OverDrive News page.



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Information Wants To Be Free

   March 18th, 2008 Brian Herzog

free informationIn the wake of the recent announcements of companies ditching DRM* as a mechanism to control access to audio files, the New York Times is reporting that Sports Illustrated is opening up access to its entire archive.

The Times did this itself not too long ago, as did Atlantic Monthly, but SI's project is supposed to go a step further - not just text, but they're making available their photographs and video and everything. They're also including a handy search interface that lets people search by athlete, team, coach, year, etc.

Hopefully, more and more periodicals will start making their archives available, too (after all, Information Wants To Be Free). This of course would dramatically change the relationships libraries have with long-time vendors like EBSCO, NewsBank and Proquest, but information is information. If all the information is free, then the real value-added piece becomes the interface.

By the way, I found about this through The Huffington Post. I've also read recently about a few more free online resources:

*update: OverDrive just announced (at PLA, anyway) that they, too, are finally moving in the right direction. In June they'll start offering mp3 files - which, best of all, will be iPod-compatible. And they'll finally come out with a Mac interface, too. Read the entire announcement [pdf, 70kb].



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Databases Stats and WebFeat Express Trial

   April 3rd, 2007 Brian Herzog

I don't really like being a repeater for products and advertising, unless I think they are helpful. I've never used WebFeat before, but from what I know about it, I would love to.

I recently received a marketing email from them, offering a free trial, with a pitch that caught my eye:

...The WebFeat Express 2.0 trial isn’t just a canned demo – you’ll be able to...add your own databases and subject categories...

This is of particular interest to me now. My consortium's reference committee met last week, and we were told that the directors are looking to cut our database budget. The consortium itself only pays for three databases (NoveList and History Reference Center [HRC], both from ebsco, and Overdrive), and want to do away with one of them.

These are three very different resources, so this alarmed me. So, too, did the way they were being compared to each other. We were given a sheet with the cost for each database, the number of sessions for the Ebsco databases, and the number of audiobooks downloaded in Overdrive. They then divided the usage by the cost, to come up with a per usage dollar figure, and suggested cutting the most expensive one.

The figures came out like this:

Database Total Usage Cost Per Use
HRC 3776 $6.28/session
NoveList 3697 $4.69/session
Overdrive 4342 $4.38/checkout

Now, there's all kinds of extra information that goes along with this breakdown. But, based on this comparison, it seems like HRC is the most expensive, so we should get rid of it.

My issue with it, though, is that a session is not the same as a checkout. In the ebsco databases, patrons will access the database (a session), search for their keywords (searches), and then read articles (end product). In Overdrive, patrons will access the catalog (a session), search for audiobooks (searches), and then checkout something (end product).

See that subtle difference? In the comparison above, they are looking at sessions in HRC and NoveList, but the end product in Overdrive - the proverbial apples to oranges comparison. To meaningfully compare these three, I think you have to look at sessions across the board, or searches across the board, or end product across the board.

So, they should compare the audiobook downloads in overdrive to the number of articles viewed in the other two - which I think would significantly bring down that cost per use number. This is my statistics rant. Having an undergrad degree in Market Research, I am sensitive to such things.

But back to WebFeat: regardless of the cost per use breakdowns, I think the real problem is that we generally do a poor job of promoting our databases. Most patrons don't know what "database" means, nor when to use one. And our websites don't help much. This trial lets us see what searching with WebFeat would be like, with the databases we currently subscribe to.

Which is why a product like WebFeat (and SchoolRooms) is great - it incorporates all of these resources into a patron's information search without the patron even realizing it. It gives the patron access to information from resources they didn't know existed, without them having to go out of their way to find it. In the future, I hope library ILS are all designed this way - a single, unified information search.

That should be our bottom line goal, not just bringing down cost per use figures or inflating our database statistics.

database, databases, ebsco, history reference center, libraries, library, novelist, overdrive, public libraries, public library, webfeat, webfeat express, webfeat express trial



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Reference Question of the Week – 3/18

   March 25th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Sometimes, existing knowledge just does not translate well when things change. And, having worked hard to obtain that knowledge, people are sometimes reluctant to let it go.

This seems especially true in libraries. Some of the convoluted procedures and jargon we come up with are not just barriers to entry for new patrons, but also barriers to evolution for experienced patrons who have learned our complex requirements.

This week's reference question was posted to the Maine Libraries Listserv, but I thought it was worth sharing here. I thought it was both funny and sad, but also intriguing:

patron: Is there any way to interlibrary loan a downloadable audiobook?

(I've actually encountered this before myself, with the Boston Public Library's eCard program. My consortium subscribes to Overdrive, and so does the BPL. We have different downloadable audiobooks in our collections, so my patrons (since anyone in Massachusetts can get a BPL card) essentially has two collections to borrow from. It isn't quite interlibrary loaning, but it is worth knowing.)

Why it's funny:
This question makes me laugh just because it's such an unusual idea - right on the border between clever and naively optimistic.

Why it's sad:
As clever as this might be, it also sounds like someone trying to circumvent the system - which always bothers me. But too, it could just as easily be a case of the system failing the needs - if we can freely share books, magazines, videos, CDs, DVDs, and pretty much everything else in the collection, why can't we share digital audiobooks? Such strict copyright laws exist for electronic media (which laws covering other media don't even approach in restrictiveness) that it's frustrating to me to see this shortcoming. What this patron wants is possible with current technology, but is prohibited by the current business plans of corporations.

Why it's intriguing:
But even still, the idea of interlibrary loaning a digital audiobook is interesting. Aside from the file size, why shouldn't libraries be able to loan around their digital audiobook collections? They could be emailed or made available in a password-protected section of our website. This is another case where, if libraries banded together and spoke with one voice, we could possibly force change so we can get the tools we need to best serve patrons, rather than just take the tools that vendors develop.

Like with opacs - as companies like Sirsi/Dynix decide to drop entire product lines [pdf], librarians are developing tools like Evergreen and Scriblio (formerly WPopac) that actually address the needs that exist, not just make sense in a boardroom.

audiobooks, digital audiobooks, downloadable audiobooks, dynix, evergreen, libraries, library, opac, opacs, overdrive, pines, public libraries, public library, reference question, rome, scriblio, sirsi, sirsi/dynix, sirsidynix, wpopac



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