Monday, October 13, 2008

Google Books Libraries Establish HathiTrust Repository

LISNews reports that the University Libraries involved in the Google Books project have established a central repository for the 2 million digital books scanned thus far.

Called the
Hathi Trust, and with lead participants the Universities of Michigan and Indiana, the repository will serve as a backup should Google go out of business, or lose interest in the project (as Microsoft did with its Live Books project). "Hathi" is the Hindi word for elephant, who are famously good at remembering things.

A large
scale search feature is planned for the repository, as are a number of other intriguing features, including an API to allow partner libraries to integrate the collection into their local systems, access mechanisms for the disabled, the ability to publish virtual collections, the ability to add (or "ingest") non-Google content, and a public discovery interface.

As full-text search looks to replace the traditional library search methods over the next few years, it's great to have a non-corporate source for the search data. Congrats to the HathiTrust team!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Zotero 1.5 Sync Preview Adds Multi-Computer Sync, Auto Backup

The folks over at Zotero have made available a development release which shows off new features which will make Zotero an even better competitor to the proprietary RefWorks and Endnote citation tools.

Zotero is a Firefox plug in which captures and builds citation information (from a variety of web pages including most major library automation systems), stores this information locally (up to now!) and allows export in a variety of citation styles to OpenOffice or MS Office for inclusion in research papers. Other features allow the storage of PDFs, images and web pages. All of this goes into a searchable database on the user's machine.

As far as this goes, it's a wonderful, light-weight app that is also free and open source. However, up to now it has lacked the online features that make costly and proprietary products like Endnote and RefWorks so valuable for libraries. Unless a student was able to do all the research for a paper and write it in one sitting, the tool has not been too practical in computer lab settings, where the saved data would likely be erased at the end of the session.

But the new version, called
Zotero 1.5 Sync Preview, adds multi-computer synchronization, automatic backups, and support for thousands of existing Endnote export styles.

The Preview edition runs only on
Firefox 3, and like most other development releases, the notes include multiple caution and warnings about possible instability or data loss. (So, probably not a good idea to test this on the only copy of the notes for your dissertation!)

But for the would-be pioneer, the Preview edition shows how Zotero is developing into a real competitor for RefWorks and Endnote in the always cash-strapped, understaffed world of libraries.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Kindle as E-Textbook Reader?

In the same way that campuses have gravitated to the proprietary iPod system for podcasting academic content, there is a move to embrace Amazon's Kindle as an e-textbook platform.

As reported by the Christian Science Monitor, Princeton University Press will publish e-books in the proprietary Kindle format (joining the Oxford, Yale and University of California Presses). Inside Higher Ed reports that publishers are not revealing the financial arrangements behind this (which reportedly involves revenue sharing).

It's also interesting to note that the ebook versions are only slightly less expensive than printed paperbacks, but the real (and probably compelling difference) is that printed books often take two to four weeks to ship, while ebooks are downloadable immediately. I can see this as driving students into ebooks in a big way. There's still the $359 price of the Kindle-- it would take saving a few bucks each on an epic quantity of textbooks to pay for the reader.

There's also that proprietary format that locks students into Amazon's world. The money can be tempting, and the convenience of relying on others to make tough decisions for us can be seductive, but I don't think our interests are identical with these large corporations who view our students as customers. We would do better to promote a non-proprietary format which will not threaten to strand our students at the flip of a marketing plan.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Salinas Public Library to Replace Horizon with Koha

One of the things I learned at the ALA Annual Conference was that the Salinas Public Library has signed with LibLime to manage their move to the Koha ZOOM open source ILS. They have also contracted with LibLime to host their system. They thus join a growing number of SirsiDynix Horizon customers leaving their orphaned ILS for open source solutions,

SirsiDynix's dead-ending of Horizon, coming at a time when LibLime has attractively enhanced and packaged the increasingly mature Koha system, and Evergreen approaches feature-completeness, seems to have provided the open source movement in libraries with a golden opportunity.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Microsoft Ends Book and Article Digitization, Shuts Down Live Search Books

Just saw the announcement that after digitizing 750,000 books, Microsoft is pulling the plug on Live Search Books and Live Search Academic, and it says it's leaving the field to libraries and publishers-- but doesn't mention a rather large competitor still in the game (Google).

Whether this is more about Microsoft's faltering Live efforts, or really shows that there's not enough money to be made here for private industry, is hard to say. I expect Google will answer this question for us over the next few years.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Free Thin Client in Every Box?

Slashdot reports that leading motherboard maker Asus has announced that it will extend the use of "Express Gate" technology (essentially a branded version of the Splashtop embedded Linux system) to all of its motherboards, giving about 12 million PCs per year the option of booting to a lightweight version of Linux.

I was initially thinking this would be used mainly as an exceptionally rich diagnostic environment, but a look at the promotional video reveals a much more interesting possibility. Express Gate will include Firefox, Skype, a media player and other apps, and will boot in a matter of seconds. This will allow users to bypass MS Windows when surfing the web or using web-based applications, thus avoiding unnecessarily exposing their MS Windows installation to viruses or malware on the Internet. Techgage did a good overview of Splashtop/Express Gate after CES this year.

It seems to me that for libraries, this could provide low-maintenance OPAC or lab hardware (conceivably, you could just order diskless systems or pull the drives from used systems being repurposed). Although thin clients often make sense as a public computing platform, the case is often made that adding totally unique hardware devices represents a burden for the IT support staff. Splashtop could allow libraries to choose a single vendor and variations on a single model line for both office workers and public PCs.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sonific, R.I.P. (?)

Visitors to this site may have noticed the Sonific widget, and might have even clicked on it to listen to a track from the album of a friend's band. No more, alas.

Sonific, for those who don't know, provided widgets that allowed bloggers and others to embed free fully-licensed music into their sites, announced they are shutting down today due to a licensing dispute with the music industry's major labels. Sonific's idea was to partner with labels to build a market for music and provide links to label sites where users could make purchases.

Although Sonific had deals with a number of independent labels, the music industry majors didn't want a partnership, and instead wanted Sonific to pay full price for everything as well as to give them equity in Sonific. So Sonific CEO Gerd Leonhard has shut down the service and they are considering their future options.

Sonific essentially provided viral advertising for music labels in tens of thousands of blogs, social network profiles, and other sites. The major labels again missed a chance to provide legal access to their wares in the online world.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Michigan Evergreen to Launch This Summer

The Michigan Library Consortium has selected the open source Evergreen product for their statewide integrated library system, and has also signed with Equinox Software to manage the implementation.

Beginning with a pilot project including three libraries (expected to go live over the summer), Michigan Evergreen will be offered to other consortium libraries later.

Michigan Evergreen is similar to the pioneering Georgia PINES project, a project currently underway in British Columbia, and another statewide project beginning in Indiana.

award-winning Evergreen software is important in many ways-- it allows libraries to take control of their systems in many new ways, for example. But as a consortial product, it is also driving libraries to the realization that in today's market, shared systems can make an unbeatable business case.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

"The Million Books Problem" and Silent Movies

On my commute home last night I listened to an Educause podcast from Scott Kirsner's keynote at NERCOMP 2008 entitled "What Innovators Can Learn From Hollywood".

Since there was a lot of traffic, I had plenty of time to think about what he was saying-- basically how the many technical changes in the movie business have succeeded (when they have succeeded) in the face of stiff resistance from people who were comfortable with the established tools (indeed who were often geniuses in their use).

Advocates of new technologies usually underestimated how long change would take (
Technicolor was introduced in 1917 and took decades to succeed in the market). On the other hand, sometimes even the imagination of technology boosters falls short. When The Jazz Singer" introduced the concept of talking pictures, it was thought of as a niche technology for musicals. Dramas, comedies, and other films worked fine as silent films-- a whole generation of actors and film makers had created an expressive and often beautiful body of work without muddying up the visual with sounds. Why would anyone need to add a soundtrack?

I'd never thought of it before, but the real revolutionary thing was not so much the invention of the capability of making talking pictures as it was that the market quickly decided it only wanted talking films. And in a year or two, that's all that was being produced.

Which leads me to consider the library business today. We're on the verge of an age of pervasive, free access to the digitized contents of the million books being processed by Google, the Open Content Alliance, and others. In this kind of world, how many libraries need to duplicate this access in print? Will electronic access be enough? Will print become the niche market? This "Million Books Problem" is getting a
lot of attention in library circles today.

The key question is will this technology take decades to become the norm, or just a few years? I've been thinking we'd have a comfortable number of years to adapt to changing demands, but what if we don't?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Innovative Interfaces and the Berkeley Accord

In response to my question, Peter Brantley has added a comment about what Innovative Interfaces said when deciding to "abstain" instead of supporting the Berkeley Accord on a standard discovery layer for integrated library systems:

"We generally agree with the comments expressed by our colleagues that there is a significant amount of work involved in fully describing the details of a meaningful interoperabilty mechanism between ILS and discovery. At the same time, we feel that expressing a position on the proposal without the benefit of fully understanding such details is premature. As a result, we respectfully abstain from commenting on the proposal at this time."

Betsy Graham of Innovative has noted in a blog post that III's abstention ended with the phrase, “We look forward to hearing more on this proposal in the near future.”

Innovative is apparently claiming that it's too early in the process for them to participate, and that they will wait for others to do more work before joining.

I guess I don't see how it is in their long-term interest to be the one major vendor not supporting the eventual interoperability standard. So if they do plan on supporting it later, the question becomes just how long they feel that it's better to let their competitors shape it without their input?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

"Berkeley Accord" Maps Route to Opening Library Data Silos

The Digital Library Federation (DLF) has announced (through the blog of DLF Executive Director Peter Brantley) details of the progress towards creating a discovery API for library automation systems.

For a generation now libraries have been amassing data in our integrated library systems using a mix of proprietary technology from the vendor community and our own arcane standards. For years now this value-added "stuff" has been locked away from the public Internet (and our patrons) in data "silos".

Last year the DLF
put together an ILS-Discovery Interface Task Force to work out a way to expose library ILS data to Internet searches. The resulting proposed API (application programming interface) would use standard, open protocols and technologies to provide a common means to harvest bibliographic content and holdings information as well as provide a stable URL link to ILS records.

Last month the task force secured the support of most of the major vendors in the library market, with the notable exception of Innovative Interfaces (which abstained) to a document which they are calling the Berkeley Accord (after the location of the meeting at the Faculty Club at UC Berkeley).

Here are the ten signatories:
  1. Talis
  2. Ex Libris
  3. LibLime
  4. BiblioCommons
  5. SirsiDynix
  6. Polaris Library Systems
  7. VTLS
  8. California Digital Library
  9. OCLC
  10. AquaBrowser
If this project succeeds, it will rank with the creation of the MARC standard in its importance to libraries.

As long as library data falls short of full access from Internet discovery, we will be an extra step away from our patrons, many of whom will not take it.

It reminds me of the rail system in Los Angeles, which stops several miles short of the airport, leaving customers to take a bus the rest of the way, and providing a big opening for the airport shuttle business. We have competitors, too!

(Thanks to Eric Lease Morgan and the NGC4LIB listserv for spreading the news!)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

HP Enters Student Laptop Market with the Mini-Note

Hewlett-Packard has announced its entry in the growing student laptop market-- the Mini-Note.

A direct competitor to the Eee PC from Assus, and maybe student laptops like the OLPC XO or the Intel Classmate, the Mini-Note will be offered with either various flavors of Microsoft Windows Vista or SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop, in prices ranging from US$499 to $849. Base models will come with 4 GB flash drives, pricier models will get 120-160 GB hard drives. All will come with 8.9 inch displays, wireless access, web cams, and VIA C7 processors.

It's great to see this market heating up-- if the OLPC folks started the world thinking about this market, the success of the Eee PC has shown there's money to be made here. The entry of a big player like HP is good news-- getting more of these into the hands of more students will take us one step closer to a transition to e-textbooks.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Santa Cruz Library System Selects Koha ILS

The Santa Cruz Library System in California announced they have selected the open source Koha Zoom integrated library system to replace their aging DRA Web 2 ILS. Working with Koha support vendor LibLime, the SCPL expects their new system to go live in the Fall of 2008.

The SCPL has a central library and nine branches, with an annual circulation of about 2 million items.

Hundreds of other libraries will face the choice of how to replace their aging, dead-ended proprietary ILSs over the next few years, and congrats to the SCPL for choosing an open source solution!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

BookSnap Personal Book Digitizer

In a recent article in Newsweek, Steven Levy writes about the BookSnap personal book digitizer (or ripper). It aims to be a consumer-ready product to allow people to digitize their collections of printed books. Make that rich people-- it comes with a $1600 price tag.

But it seems well thought out, with a cradle to rest the book in that minimizes pressure on the book's binding, as well as software that can snap the pictures automatically as the pages are turned. The end result can be output as a pdf for viewing in an ebook reader.

Levy doesn't quite see this first model as ready for prime time, and it is easy to see that the segment of the market who might be willing to buy a $1600 BookSnap over a $100 flatbed scanner would be vanishingly small, in spite of the added features and ease of use.

But I looked at this and saw a class of device that might someday replace the venerable library photocopier, were it suitably hardened to survive in the hand-to-hand combat of self-serve library machinery. Do that, and one more link in the research food chain can switch from analog to digital.