Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Power of Displays

We buy books on spec. Admittedly, it is well-considered and informed speculation, but it is speculation nonetheless. After six months, books are no longer considered “new” and are sent into the stacks. It upsets me when books enter the stacks without ever having circulated, because the odds of them being discovered when they are out of sight are much diminished. Thus, a dilemma for libraries is how to display new materials so that they are irresistible.

Lacking the appropriate furniture for physical displays, we have tried virtual solutions to this problem. For years we have produced monthly web pages featuring new fiction and new non-fiction materials. But it is a big leap from discovering a new book on the library web site to making the trip over to obtain the book. Most people want instant gratification, and for that, nothing can out perform a good physical display.

At the end of the fall term, we did some brainstorming around the question: Given that we can’t afford new furniture, what do we already have that can be used to promote our new materials? After much discussion, we decided to recycle our old index tables, which were in storage in the attic. They are not perfect. They are quite unattractive, actually. But we felt that in this case function trumped aesthetics. What they do have going for them is that they have a slanted top, at a convenient height for noticing books.

We loaded one of them up with new non-fiction materials, with topics ranging across the disciplines. Each of us chose a few titles from our assigned “liaison” areas for the display. The second display shelf is being used for thematic displays. The current display is targeted to students enrolled in History 310, who are presently coming up with topics for their research papers. The featured books are intended to spur topic ideas, across a wide range of interests.display

Scanning the display and replenishing the titles has become part of our opening routine each morning. The books are flying off of the display shelves. Sometimes students look at the books in the library, sometimes they are checked out. Either way is OK with us. Our new materials are finding an audience. And now we are back to brainstorming how to achieve the same result with better-looking display shelving at an affordable cost.

Introducing ebrary!

ebraryThe OWHL is pleased to announce that we have just added 47,000 full-text electronic books to our collection. These academic titles are provided by ebrary, and are well aligned with our curriculum. Here are some reasons why we are so excited.

1. You can find these books in the OWHL catalog, or you can search the collection directly through ebrary on the A to Z list.
2. You can refine your topic by selecting any “facet” suggested for your search. You can get to these books from anywhere, at any time, even when the OWHL isn’t open.
3. The collection offers unlimited simultaneous user access—so if a whole class is interested in the same topic, the students don’t have to fight over the books.
4. You can search within each book, getting immediately to the “best parts.”
5. You can highlight text on the screen, add notes, and save all of your annotations with one click.
6. You can get help with citations for the sources you use.
7. You can use “text to speech” and have the text read to you.
8. You can find out more or take a “test drive” by stopping by the Help Desk at the OWHL.

Thinking about the future of reading

Yesterday I had the opportunity to speak at a meeting of the Merrimack Valley Library Consortium considering the implications for libraries of e-readers and downloadable electronic books. I was pleased to be invited, because it gave me the chance to clarify my thinking about this complicated topic. I spoke about the OWHL’s experience with our two Kindles and new nook and our plans for a set of 5 Sony PRS-300’s that we have just ordered. I talked about the diverse electronic collections that we currently have, and our plans for future collection development. And then I confessed that I had far more questions than answers, and what I really wanted to do was to share the questions with the group, to see what my colleagues are thinking about these topics that keep me up at night.  Despite an excellent discussion, the questions mostly remain unanswered.
So I have decided to pose them to you.

1. Can we foresee a point in time when we (libraries) no longer collect physical books? What is the time line? What do we do with the print collections that we currently have?

2. With the pressures on our budgets, how long can we afford to collect the same book in redundant formats? (Print, Large print, CD audiobook, Downloadable audiobook, eBook?) If we have to give some formats up, which ones will go? How do we decide which formats to collect for any given title?

3. We belong to a library consortium. Our delivery systems were set up to facilitate the sharing of physical items. What are the implications for Inter-network Transfers of the explosion of electronic content?  Freed of geographic limitations associated with physical transfer, could we share materials with a much larger group of libraries?

4. The FCC has indicated that it views broadband access as a right, and has published a 10-year plan to get us to ubiquitous, very high speed connectivity. Consequently, we should anticipate that residents of poorer communities who are currently electronically disenfranchised will  have the ability to download books (and movies, and audio.) In this case,  how long should we continue to collect CDs and DVDs?

5. What are the implications for shared collections (such as our in NOBLE) when individual libraries decide to purchase (or lease) electronic materials under contracts that limit the materials to that library’s patrons?    How should the records for these materials appear our shared catalog?

6. Should we provide subscription access to e-book collections for use on the user’s own device? (We currently do this for downloadable audio)  If our patrons can select and download titles from these collections without coming to the library, how can we add value to the transaction?

7. Given that many of the books that we select never circulate, should we dedicate a portion of our book budget for the purchase of ebooks to be installed (and loaned) on library e-readers “on demand?”  If we do this, what counts as a circulation, the loan of the device, or the use of the title?

8. It’s not an ereader, but will the iPad change everything? Can we afford to acquire ereaders before we see what happens with the iPad?

Feel free to share your ideas.

For Special Collections, Digitization is a Win/Win

Sometimes the goal of providing our users with access to materials conflicts with our responsibility for preserving those rare and delicate materials.  Many of the valuable materials in our Special Collections are old and fragile, and could be damaged by even the most careful use.  We would like to make these materials available digitally, but have neither the equipment nor the resources to undertake a major scanning project.  Fortunately, the Internet Archive,   a non-profit digital library containing almost two million books, already includes full-text electronic versions of many of our titles.

Consequently, we can provide access to the materials by linking from our catalog record for the print volume to the Internet Archive record for the electronic version. For example, go to the OWHL catalogue and look for Elizabeth Stuart Phelps’ The Gates Ajar (1869.) Notice that the record contains an Internet Archive icon.  This means that with one click you can go directly to the full text of the book.  You can read the book online, send it to your smart phone, or download it in a number of formats—including those for the Kindle and other ebook reading devices. All illustrations, marginalia, or other markings in the original book are reproduced exactly.

Unlike Google’s Book Search project, the Internet Archive is non-profit.  Internet Archive records never contain ads, and the materials are very stable.  Tim Sprattler, our Special Collections librarian, is systematically working his way through our collection to add these Internet Archive links to all of our Special Collection books that have already been scanned as a part of the project.

But what about our Special Collections materials that are not part of the Internet Archive?  That is where non sibi comes in! The project continues to grow as libraries send their unique, public domain materials to be scanned.  Fortunately for us, one of the scanning venues is at the Boston Public Library.  Tim will be headed there over the spring break, with a set of about 20 titles to add to the project.  To offset expenses, donating libraries pay 10 cents per page for the scanning services.  The first collection to be scanned will include  the novel My Three Years at Andover by James Lee Perrin, PA 1902, writing under the pseudonym Ewer Struly. In addition, we will contribute several small books that were part of a series of lectures written by Samuel Read Hall, the first Principal of the Teachers [English] Seminary at Andover. The first edition of Lectures on School-Keeping, published in 1829, has already been scanned.  We will be contributing the 3rd edition, published in 1831, which includes a chapter on how to locate a school and lay out a classroom.


I was devastated to learn yesterday that I was outbid in an ebay auction on an original piece of art titled “Inorganic,” drawn by my daughter-in-law.   Matt and Robbi have introduced a periodic auction  on their blog Idiots’ Books where they feature one of Robbi’s creations for sale most weeks.  I love her stuff, and am convinced that when she becomes famous they will be worth enough to make up for what happened to my 401-K last year.

But this round of bidding wasn’t about making an investment.  I had wanted to buy the picture for my grandson Orin’s birthday second birthday, coming in May.  As the bidding intensified, I queried both of my daughters to make sure that I wasn’t bidding against one of them.  The competition was fierce, and ultimately I was done in by ebay’s automatic bid feature. I set my top bid pretty high, thinking that if I needed to spend more than that to get the picture, Lindsay would probably rather that I just make a contribution to Ori’s college fund.   It is always difficult to go down in defeat.  What rubbed salt in the wound was ebay’s artificially intelligent attempts to make me feel better by offering to let me buy, by way of consolation,  many other items, mostly textbooks, with the word ‘inorganic’ in the title.  The silver lining is that in bidding up the price of “Inorganic” I helped Robbi come a little bit closer to what her art is actually worth.

Drowning in email

Remember how they said that technology was going to make our lives easier?  I am at a loss as to how to manage my work-related email.  And I am not on any of those list where people circulate jokes.  I have moved all of my “current awareness” to RSS.  I have a separate personal email account, so friendly correspondance and advertisements from places where I have shopped online go there.  I even have a system for managing email.  I log in before work in the morning and quickly go through all of my new mail, flagging things for follow-up, and deleting everything I can.  I repeat the process around lunch time and again before I go home.  Sometime during the day I try to deal with flagged items.

But the sheer volume is overwhelming.  Last week I was out of town at a professional meeting and received an email message with my budget information included.  I can’t “flag” messages when I am using the web client.  I was online every day during my absence from the library, and did my best to keep my mailbox organized and up to date.  But by the time I returned to the library on Monday, the Andover “pace of life” took over and my budget information got buried.  I found it on Wednesday afternoon.  Unfortunately, I also found out that it was due on Wednesday.  This morning, I “emptied” my deleted mail.  I do this weekly.  There were 897 items.

I am a librarian, and so one of my skill sets is organization,  but I am ready to concede defeat.  Email has taken over my reading life, and it is not my favorite genre of reading.  Because I never finish it before I leave work at the end of the day, I have gradually increased the time that I spend at home reading it.  Given the time that it takes,  I barely keep up with a daily newspaper and I feel guilty whenever I pick up a book.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that spring break is coming soon.  The library is open, and I will work during spring break, but the volume of email slows to a manageable level when other people are on vacation.  One of my fantasies is to take an entire day over spring break just to read.  I’d begin the day with an unhurried reading of the New York Times (via TimesReader) followed by a leisurely reading of the current New Yorker.  Then I’d move along to a non-fiction book (in print) followed by a few hours of absorption in a fiction selection (on an ereader.)  I’d follow that all up by listening to a downloadable audiobook while riding a stationary bicycle and dreaming of spring and a utopian future without email.

Reading a book on the nook

The Oliver Wendell Holmes Library not only strives to meet the needs of our users, we also aim to anticipate those needs. Consequently, we have been staying abreast of recent developments in electronic books, and cautiously experimenting with e-reader devices and materials. Currently we have two Amazon Kindles and a Barnes and Noble Nook. One of the Kindles is a “first generation” model, and is available for loan to interested faculty and staff. The other is a Kindle DX (the large version) and is dedicated to our online subscription to The Boston Globe. It is available for use in the library by any member of the community.

E-reading devices have recently been getting a lot of publicity, and while e-books still make up a small percentage of total books sold, the “adoption curve” is increasing steeply. The devices claim to offer a reading experience comparable to that of a book, with several advantages. The first advantage is that they offer instant gratification. Many e-reading devices connect to electronic bookstores via 3G cell phone networks, without any monthly charge for that service. Therefore, obtaining content is as easy as searching for a title and pressing a button. Another advantage is portability. The devices are able to hold hundreds of titles, which certainly simplifies packing for a long trip. Finally, it is possible to instantly re-size the font, even while reading. That advantage alone has won the loyalty of middle aged readers.

The newest addition to our e-reader inventory is our Nook. From our perspective, the Nook has several advantages over the Kindle. First, it uses the ePub format, which is becoming a standard, rather than the Kindle’s proprietary format. Consequently, it may be used to offer thousands of public domain materials. Second, it “works” with Overdrive, the leading supplier of electronic books to libraries. We anticipate being able to offer a set of titles through Overdrive in the near future. Third, it permits materials to be “shared” from one Nook to another. This is a critical feature from the perspective of libraries, and is not possible with the Kindle.
But how does it stack up against a “regular” book in terms of the “reading experience?” To answer that question, I undertook to read a book on the Nook.

The Nook is a slim, lightweight device about the size of a small paperback book. It has an uncluttered face with a two-part screen. The upper screen features e-ink and serves as the reading area. The lower, smaller screen is a full-color touch screen, and serves for navigation. I deliberately did not read the manual, as I wanted to determine how easy it would be to use the reader. It was entirely intuitive. A “sleeping” Nook presents a digitized portrait of a literary luminary, and you are prompted to press a button to “wake up” the Nook. Once it is activated, the navigation screen presents four icons, and allows you to go immediately to your book in progress. If you are only reading one book, it returns you to the screen where you left off. If you are reading two or more books, you simply set bookmarks so that you can return to the right screen.

E-ink, as advertised, provides a pleasant reading experience. It would be easy to forget that you are reading on a device if the Nook had a book-like cover that permitted you to hold it like a book. Instead, it is a bit like holding a large cell phone. While that is a bit disconcerting to me, since I have considerable muscle-memory devoted to the book-holding position, it is unlikely to faze younger readers.

The navigation within a book is entirely simple. Buttons at the level of your thumbs allow you to “turn the page” with either hand. Other buttons permit backtracking, but they are positioned so as to minimize accidental use. While there is an instant delay as the screen refreshes, it is probably no more disruptive than turning a physical page. I am now 2/3 of the way through a book that was originally printed in 384 pages, and I have not had to recharge the battery. The book that I am reading electronically cost the OWHL $9.99. The print copy retails for $25.95, and the audio download is priced at $29.70. We have purchased both the e-book version and the audio book version. So far, we haven’t purchased the print version.

As our collection development policy evolves to encompass these new formats, we would very much like to hear from members of the PA community regarding your interests and preferences.