Archive for the 'libraries' category

Kindle Unlimited. Distruction? No.

Jul 20 2014 Published by under libraries

Amazon announced a service where for a monthly fee (currently $9.99) you can read unlimited ebooks a month (from a stock of 600k). John Dupuis has been linking to various stories about it on Twitter. One from Vox suggests the new service might lead to library's destruction what with funding issues what they were a few years ago.

Many others have pointed out the issues with that. The first being that most libraries offer a service free (because of your tax dollars) that lets you check out unlimited books a month for just about any device. Mine limits me to 6 books at a time from one of the 3 or so services they offer and a certain number of "units" or "credits" from another of the services.

If you have the $10/month, though, this would mean no waiting where you often have to wait for popular titles at the public library because of idiotic requirements from the publishers that make these services treat ebooks like print books - one user/copy at a time.

Today, John pointed to this piece by Kelly Jensen on Book Riot. Jensen is all offended at people saying libraries are the NetFlix for books because libraries do so much more. Well, yes, but I just can't get offended. I've found and a local survey has shown that people often don't know what ebooks are, how they can get them, and what is available at their library. They do know about Amazon, but they don't know about Overdrive. Amazon is easy, Overdrive can be hard (once you get going it's very simple, though). I actually think it's helpful and useful and not too reductionist and problematic to refer to libraries as the NetFlix for books. Emphasizing and publicizing this one small service won't cause people with small children to forget about story time, college students and professors to forget about doing research, avid readers to forget about print books. It may, however, bring in new users or bring back users/patrons who have been too busy to come in person or who are now home bound for some reason.

What I do wonder about is licensing. There has been lots of discussion about the big 6 and how they really, really don't want libraries to lend ebooks. Some have done stupid things like say libraries have to rebuy the book after it has been checked out 26 times or so. Others have delays or flat-out won't license ebooks to libraries. (not talking research libraries and STEM books - we can get them if we want to spend the $ and they aren't textbooks). One big publisher gave in recently - but sort of slowly.

Amazon's in a big fight with one publisher with all sorts of shenanigans like slowing down shipping for their books. The authors are all up in arms. It's a mess. With that uneasy relationship, I really am curious about publishers participating in this program. Do they see it differently than the library products? Is it just the same ones that do license for library use? 600k books - but which 600k? Presumably the entire Project Gutenberg library is on there (see "catching up on classics") .... and some other books are featured on the home page. I don't have time to do the analysis, but I'm curious.

$10/month could add up... particularly if the catalog isn't that large. I think it sounds like a good service, but the devil is in the details. What does the catalog look like? Are people out of money to spend on entertainment with all the video downloading services and internet and data and what not? Seems like an obvious move for Amazon (they aren't the first - Oyster and Scribd have similar services). We'll see, I guess.

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Looking at ROI or at least financial justification for SDI or alerting services

Dec 30 2013 Published by under information retrieval, libraries

Used to be that special libraries were the ones always asked to show their return on investment and justify budget expenditures - it was obvious that universities needed libraries and they were judged on the number of volumes (like that was ever a sensible metric for the value of a school!). In the past decade or so public libraries have been under more pressure to show ROI and they do so by showing economic benefits to the community from having library services in an area (there are also many more dimensions used in a nuanced way - see iPac's work). There's a nice (if a tad dated) review by Cory Lown and Hilary Davis here:

The term SDI - selective dissemination of information - was coined in the 60's but no doubt librarians have always performed this function. Whether formally or informally, we are asked to keep a look out for things of interest to our customers/users/patrons, etc., and bring them to their attention. Formally, we might have a budget we charge our time or even resources to and we do a detailed reference interview in which we establish the topic but also the type of information desired, the treatment, time period, frequency, and some gauge of whether the person would rather have some junk but be less likely to miss something (high recall) or is ok with being more likely to miss something but wants only things that are likely to be very relevant (high precision).

With this information the librarian might just set up a search in a database, tweak it a bit, and then walk away. She might have the results come to her and weed them every week. Alternatively, she might actually schedule some time to read the news and look out for things and then write up summaries.  Informally, it might be just that a librarian knows a customer's interests and if/when she sees something, she forwards it.

Once a database alert has been set up and is running, further intervention is only needed if the database vendor changes or if there's a request. The problem with this is that the end customer can (and often will) forget how they came to get this useful little email every week. We found when we needed to clean up our Dialog account that there were alerts from the former librarian who died in maybe 2002 or so (before I got here). They were super useful to the users and they passed them around within their group, but we were able to re-write them using our current site license to the database and save that money. If there wasn't a bill, we wouldn't have known and certainly those engineers had forgotten.

So what if one of those alerts had a gem in it that the recipient wouldn't have heard about otherwise and that caused them to start a new research program or innovate on a project or save money or .... ? Would the library, or more importantly, the people who pay for the library ever hear about it? No.

For the informal mode in which we keep an eye out for customers. That can be really hit or miss. Sometimes there's all kinds of interesting things going on and other times there's nothing. Maybe we point out 100 things of interest for 1 home run. Maybe allowing ourselves the time to look - to read the news, the industry newsletters, the science magazines (like society member magazines like Physics Today, EOS, etc) isn't do-able. That's a huge problem. It looks like you're doing nothing but fooling around on the internet. When you do send something good, they might be like "great - send one this good every week!" or "more like this!"

We were going to start up sector newsletters here, but it's really not sustainable because you have to look around and read for a while to see new and interesting things worth alerting people on. Sure, it's super useful but how many hours go into each home run? The bosses very much appreciate these tips they get, but they do not want to pay for the time for people to look for the information.

My old boss used to say that we needed to be just-in-time not just-in-case and that's total baloney. Libraries by definition are just-in-case. These alerting services are just-in-case. Metrics like number of alerts sent out are not useful. Stories of times these alerts were truly useful and used are great - but you have to hear them and record them.

My library has lost some big battles in justifying our existence so I am clearly not that effective at this. It's a sticky question, I think. My blog posts always peter off like Crichton novels, but oh well. Happy New Year - hopefully we'll still be providing library services in the new year after we're re-organized again, sigh.


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How qualitative interviews saved my job (in brief)

Jun 07 2013 Published by under libraries

Marketing in special libraries is a Sisyphean task - particularly when your physical location and print collection are gone.  In these tight times, we've already done a bunch of collections budget cuts and management was asked to look into outsourcing us entirely or cutting either 20% or 50% of our labor costs. A cross-lab committee was formed to study the outsourcing and they did a survey which had like 20% of the lab's staff reply. The survey wasn't worded as we would have done - definite issues there - but the main result was that the vast majority of the respondents had never heard of us, didn't know what we do, and didn't know our department (IT) provided any such services. So things were not looking good for team library.

Then we did a series of interviews with anyone who checked the box that they'd like to speak to us and with people who had used our services in the past. These results were overwhelmingly positive. They said it would take them three times as long to find the information and the information found wouldn't be as comprehensive. There would be opportunity cost. They didn't have any problem opening their budgets for us to do work for them as it frees up technical staff to use the information instead of just looking for it. This provided evidence for what we already know: items we license are used heavily, finding aids are used from time to time, librarian research services are used fairly rarely, but when they are they are very much appreciated.

So this turned things around. Are we out of the woods? No, not really. Not ever. But for now, we're ok.

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There are e-books and there are e-books

Sep 12 2012 Published by under libraries

In LISland we've been talking a lot about ebooks: DRM issues, the big 6 publishers not licensing to libraries, Kindle and privacy, Kindle and disappearing books/notes, Android devices, Overdrive offering different things to different libraries.... The big 6 publishers wish there were no such thing as libraries and they really don't want to do business despite the fact that libraries do pay and also increase readership overall.

With that said - that really has nothing to do with ebooks in science and technology research settings! All of that really is public libraries and popular books. My parent institution library did a survey this past year and got lots of responses about not having devices and things like that.... OUR books are nearly all done on the journal model:

  • one pdf per chapter (no special device required!)
  • unlocked pdfs (no DRM - can be downloaded, printed, marked up)
  • searchable on Google
  • IP authenticated

The main ones that are not - Safari and Books 24x7 - are just html. Our books are in our catalogs and sometimes are searchable by our discovery services or federated searches. We can buy large collections, too.

The thing is that scholarly publishers rely heavily on the library purchases for things besides textbooks.

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The pluses and minuses of merging specialty branches or collections

Mar 05 2011 Published by under libraries

Many if not most or all large research institutions with distributed specialty branch libraries and collections are closing the branches and merging the collections into the general collection. While we all lament these actions, I wanted to post some pluses and minuses.

Branch libraries tend to focus on a specific research area. For example, chemistry branches have been quite common. The materials that are purchased for the branch are targeted specifically for the research interests of their users and the librarians from these branches typically specialize in searching that area of the literature – even more than liaison librarians do in general research libraries. Some branch libraries are funded in part from department money or have materials that were purchased or licensed by departmental funds. The branches are in or near the departments they serve. Over time the specialized expertise of the librarians working closely with the department and the tailored purchasing creates a collection that is quite efficient for finding information.

In previous years of poor funding and with the big deal packages, the branch libraries have aligned more closely with the dean of the libraries and the entire library system. Licenses for electronic materials are negotiated campus wide, even if the print copy (or archival print copy) remains in the branch. The librarians in general report to the libraries and not to the departments (although I know of one case where this isn’t true).

Some of the negatives of branch libraries. Every point of service costs money. Even if you just have student staffers in the evening, that’s more staff. There’s also the power and lighting. There’s the courier that has to go to a different location. There’s the space that the department is giving up that could be labs or offices or meeting rooms.

Also, what about all of the interdisciplinary work? If you do chemical physics you go to the physical sciences library, if you do physical chemistry you go to the chemistry library (at one point, a lot would be duplicated, but no one has the money for that anymore!). So there goes some of your serendipity, right? The things that would be housed together are now in two different buildings. If you’re an undergrad you have to hoof it. If you’re faculty you might be able to request something be sent over.

When branch libraries are closed, duplicate materials may be weeded, but the majority of the materials will be merged into the general collection. That might mean that they are spread far and wide. Most of them might go to off-site storage (in the case of one at Maryland, they were like, yeah only about 400 people are interested in this publication so we’ll put it off-site – of course, the entire population of the school was 400 people).

Library-as-place issue surfaces, too. Branch libraries are good places for students in that area to study – more so than going to the general branch because they’re with people who are struggling with the same issues.

At the same time, for research areas where electronic resources are most valued, monographs aren’t all that important, and references to historic documents is rare, it probably does make sense to get rid of the branch.

What happens to the librarian?  She’s moved to the general library, picks up a few more departments, and, unless she works pretty hard at it, loses touch a little with the old department as she learns about the new departments.

If you had to make the choice, would you pay to keep the same electronic access or to keep the branch? (don’t believe you’ll get more money for resources from this, because it’s expensive to close a branch and electronic resources get more and more expensive – this is only to tread water)

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Public library ebooks – easier than you may think!

Feb 06 2011 Published by under libraries

I’ve maintained for a long time that ebooks are the wild west and a real mess. That has not changed a bit! If you got a Nook for a gift or have an iPhone, you can be pretty functional pretty quickly. First, I highly recommend checking out this blog: . It has lots of practical advice.

Now, why would you want to get ebooks from the publib? Mine has Mary Roach’s new book and the HeLa book plus things from Pinker and Tyson and Hawking – so fun science reading. It also has business and self-help books as well as lots of good fiction – all paid for by your tax dollars! No out of pocket costs to you. Typically you’ll need to visit a local branch in person at least once to get a card before you can just check things out online.

There are two big vendors for public libraries: Overdrive and NetLibrary. Overdrive seems to really be the biggest, but I suspect NetLibrary will make a comeback once their new evil empire owners really take control. (academic libraries have many, many, many more choices and I heard that ebrary is going for the publib market, but I’m not sure how that’s going).

For ereader devices like the Nook and the Kobo, you typically transfer library books over using the cable connected to your computer. In my case, I have Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) installed on my computer and authenticated to the same e-mail address as my Nook. When you set up your Nook or your ADE, you would have been asked to register at You can change either of these, but they have to match.

When you see an ebook on overdrive you want to read, you click to check it out and in my case, we can pick a 7-day, 14-day, or 21-day loan period. I understand that in the ritzy county to the north, they only get 14-day loans. Then you hit the download button and it shows up in ADE. In library view, you’ll see the cover with a little banner across saying 14 days left or whatever (the file will be there after 14 days, but you can’t open it). Then you plug your Nook or Kobo into the usb port and it appears in your ADE ( a little icon picture of the device), and you can drag your new book over and put it on the device. That’s easy.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, you could download the Overdrive app – but it’s gotten pretty poor reviews. Another option is to download the BlueFire app. Following the steps from before, when you hit the download button from your library’s overdrive site, you downloaded an .acsm file. E-mail that file to your iPhone. Open the attachment with BlueFire and voila! You now have the book on your iPhone. This doesn’t allow you to sync between your two readers, so you would have to remember your place.

It’s actually not so hard anymore. Give it a try.

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Tales of stinky people in the library

Jan 20 2011 Published by under libraries

I’m sure some of the other entries to the Carnal Carnival on body odor will examine the origins and meaning of body odor, but that’s not my goal here. Public libraries and libraries for most universities are open to the public. Public libraries have the mission of serving the community. This includes families and children and job seekers, immigrants, and homeless, among other groups. Some of these people can be very stinky – particularly the homeless, although some immigrant groups that don’t do the whole deodorant thing can give them a run for their money on a warm summer day. I’m hoping to pull together some funny stories here, but first, let’s look at some more serious aspects.

There’s an excellent post by Kim Leeder on the group blog In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The author takes a nuanced view of what service means, and how libraries deal with homeless. There’s an ALA policy on services to the poor, but as the author points out, there’s a lot of hypocrisy. We’re supposed to serve these people – they need our services more than other groups – but we have rules against them and we do not always welcome them into our libraries. The problem is balancing the needs of the homeless with those of the rest of the patrons. The presence of homeless can make other patrons feel unsafe and if nothing else, uncomfortable. And the smell can create a nuisance. Also cited in that same post are some local ordinances that ban body odor in libraries. When I worked in the public library, we definitely had some stinky patrons, but unless they did other things like scream or throw things, we didn’t kick them out.

What should libraries do about stinky patrons? What should libraries do about patrons bathing in the bathroom? Referring to services is helpful, but not enough. Particularly because there aren’t always services and the services that exist come with strings.

I asked the Library Society of the World members on friendfeed for stories and got a different problem: library staff. Librarians who have supervised student workers (and sometimes regular adult workers) have had to counsel employees to wash. There are definitely some stinky undergrads so it’s good that they’re getting this advice. Having staff members in public service positions who are offensively stinky is not a great way to be welcoming. (and welcoming is part of the reference guidelines). Of course there are also people who wear WAY too much heavy perfume causing noses to twitch in people without allergies but causing sickness and lost work time in people with chemical sensitivities.

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Craptacular: stories of poop in the library!

Aug 18 2010 Published by under [Etc], libraries

This post is a round up of stories requested from Library Society of the World members on FriendFeed. It is done both to address a call for weird library things and as a submission for the Carnal Carnival (Bora has set the scope very wide for the inaugural edition).

Libraries get all types of visitors. Some do unpleasant things. These are some stories (some quoted exactly, some re-told). Feel free to share more in the comments.

When I worked in a large suburban branch of a public library we had some real characters (some that might qualify for subsequent carnivals, unfortunately). One decided to poop in a paper bag and leave it in the magazine section. On the floor. The poor janitor opened the bag the first couple of times to see if it was something to be thrown away. We patrolled, we watched, but we never caught him. Eventually it stopped. We also had a bit of, um, finger painting in the restrooms.

Two librarians reported stuff tracked throughout the building. Apparently a mess on the floor in the restroom got tracked. (Health hazard?)

Jason tells of a patron who would leave poop sculptures in the bathroom. (Venus de Milo? or more abstract, one has to wonder)

Miriella tells of a woman with a very upset tummy who managed to coat the toilet and the walls and herself. She then reported it to the desk, apologized, and described digestive problems.

Elaine reports “My husband (not a librarian) caught a guy pulling down his pants about to poop in the stacks at our local library and apparently just frog-marched him out of the building” (wow – that’s gutsy, like I wouldn’t get anywhere near someone taking a crap. Well, anyone out of diapers. Luckily dude held fire as marched!)

Rochelle tells us “At the old place, one of our patrons had taken a card catalog rod to help extract what I have been told was an amazingly long coil of shit, which was, I believe, uncoiled along an upper ledge of a men's bathroom. I only heard the story immediately after it happened and have often been sorry that I did not go in for independent verification. Knowing the patron, I have no doubt that the story was true.” ( a card catalog rod is a metal rod that goes in the bottom of the drawer to keep the cards from falling out when you remove the drawer. Probably about 3 feet long, 1/8” in diameter?  depending on the poop, maybe a broom or mop would have been more effective?)

Dan’s dad did maintenance at a library. A drunk guy came in, went to the corner, dropped trou, and pooped. Right there.

There are also poop-in-the-sink stories. Come to think of it, I believe that happened at our branch. Hey, that branch is not that far from the other place it was reported – serial sink pooper or just common practice in Maryland?

Ew. Just ew.


Two other stories. First, it's been pointed out that if you're on a college campus and you have to poop, the restrooms in the library might be nicer and cleaner than others.

Second, John tells of a dog, while being ushered out of the library, stopping to poop on the carpet.

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Rundown of the new interfaces this summer

Aug 06 2010 Published by under [Information&Communication], libraries

I've been a librarian for a little bit, and I can't remember a time when so many interfaces changed in such a short period of time. I really feel for the academic librarians who have to update all of their training materials. I'm going to run down some here, and then add to it as I hear of more. Some of these are major (RefWorks and others are more cosmetic ChemNetBase)

Already done

  • PubMed - but that was a bit ago
  • CRCnetBase - what a kerfuffle, that was this spring but ChemNetBase was just this past week
  • IEEE Xplore
  • AccessEngineering
  • Embase
  • EbscoHost - this just happened today for my place of work
  • Royal Society of Chemistry journals
  • Sage journals (they were moving a few at a time, not sure if this is complete)
  • Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU)
  • added Human Kinetics (journal pages)
  • moved from coming Safari ebooks (they hope the "vast majority" of books will still be there after the re-org, uh-oh!)
  • moved from coming Books 24x7 (basically the same, new colors)
  • moved from coming SpringerLink
  • moved from coming Wiley Interscience > Wiley Online Library


  • Lexis Nexis Academic (cough - lipstick on a pig - cough), due any time now
  • Science Direct & Scopus > SciVerse, due August 28
  • RefWorks > RefWorks 2.0, due Fall 2010
  • EngineeringVillage (adding citing information to Compendex and Inspec from Scopus)
  • moved from future Faculty of 1000 > combined bio, medicine, & The Scientist, due October 1 (+/- 2 days)

Announced for the future

  • Web of Science, due early 2011
  • ProQuest, CSA Illumina > new ProQuest platform (this is a big, big deal)
  • ACM has a beta of their abstract page - not sure when this is coming

What am I missing?

Updated yet again 8/24 - totally missed JSTOR, but Meredith Farkas sheds a little light there.

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Very cool - American Physical Society offers free access to public libraries

Jul 29 2010 Published by under libraries, scholarly communication

This APS rocks!
Here's the press release from PAMnet:



Ridge, NY, 28 July 2010: The American Physical Society (APS) announces a new public access initiative that will give readers and researchers in public libraries in the United States full use of all online APS journals, from the most recent articles back to the first issue in 1893, a collection including over 400,000 scientific research papers. APS will provide this access at no cost to participating public libraries, as a contribution to public engagement with the ongoing development of scientific understanding.

APS Publisher Joseph Serene observed that "public libraries have long played a central role in our country's intellectual life, and we hope that through this initiative they will become an important avenue for the general public to reach our research journals, which until now have been available only through the subscriptions at research institutions that currently cover the significant costs of peer review and online

Librarians can obtain access by accepting a simple online site license and providing valid IP addresses of public-use computers in their libraries ( The license requires that public library users must be in the library when they read the APS journals or download articles. Initially the program will be offered to U.S. public libraries, but it may include additional countries in the future.

"The Public Library program is entirely consistent with the APS objective to advance and diffuse the knowledge of physics," said Gene Sprouse, APS Editor in Chief. "Our goal is to provide access to everyone who wants and needs our journals and this shift in policy represents the first of several steps the APS is taking towards that goal."

--Contact: Amy Halsted, Special Assistant to the Editor in Chief,, 631-591-4232

--About the APS: The American Physical Society is the world's largest professional body of physicists, representing close to 48,000 physicists in academia and industry worldwide. It has offices in Ridge, NY; Washington, DC; and College Park, MD. For more information:

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