Organization & the Digital Collection

I’ve been spending a great deal of time recently harmonizing our database lists between our different online locations. I recently completed a first draft of a unified database list. Tech limitations have been the main driving force behind this exercise in excessive librarian geekiness. While updating our OPAC requires learning web design circa 2002, it is simple HTML. The “easy to use” backends of vendor tools have been causing me significantly more problems.

On our legacy OPAC we have divided the databases up onto general categories to point faculty and students toward general sources and more specialized databases by program. This is the setup most of our patrons are used to. I am working on duplicating and standardizing these categories across all of our services, including our OpenURL resolver and our federated search. It is in these tools where most of my complications have shown up.

With Serial Solutions recent update and merger with WebFeat we gained a lot more control over how our data is displayed. Nonetheless, there are some frustrating gaps in the configuration options.

While I can create the display order for our databases, I can’t actually create categories on the “search by database” page. Where I can create categories, the names of the databases are obscured.

Serials Soloution, in their efforts to make the backend easier to use are determinng policy and practice for our library. We’re engaged in a decades long experiment in throwing Ranganathan’s First Law right out the window. Our libraries are now digitally chaining our items, limiting knowledge to forms, digital locations and uses permitted by the content owners. Some of this is ignorance, but much of this change from physical ownership to digital licensing is being pushed past us because Librarians are not paying attention to the implications of licensing arrangements.

What’s the soloution? I’m not entirely certain, but I have some ideas. If you have a chance to work with a consortium, do so. If your purchasing budget is such that you can effectively bargin with vendors, choose those with more open policies. Work with open access programs at your University to reduce the stranglehold vendors have over some types of content. Complain about poor design decisions, the lack of cutting edge options and the paucity of open API’s to your software vendors.

Our new book chains are not the only option as we transition from physical books to a digital age.

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The Scroll and the Codex: Two Different Views on Ebooks

Due to the rather unique collection in our library and our location, we depend pretty heavily on electronic journals and ebooks. I am dealing with a lot of problems with pdf ebooks for research at the moment, and I also read a lot of fiction (Mobipocket and an old Palm T|X at the moment) in ebook format, and I’m struck at the differences.

We are at a transition period in how we consume information, and it appears that we have simply carried forward the information access issues that existed at the turn of the last millenium.

I’m talking, of course, about the scroll and the codex.

A scroll is a single long sheet with words printed from top to bottom. A codex is a book as we would recognize one. I’m dealing with both in interfaces optimized for the scroll.

PDF ebooks have been particularly difficult to deal with. To have the text at a readable level, you have to zoom in significantly. This puts the top and bottom of the page outside of the viewing window of most modern computer screens, especially with the standard 17 inch screens at most workplaces. AJAXy interfaces like Library Press Display make even less sense on small screens. This is because our standard screens work best with an internet-pages, which imitate a scroll.

The small screen on my palm T|X suffers from the same problem, however using the Mobipocket reader converts everything into a scroll.

The scroll is fine for end-to-end reading. It has it’s own built in bookmarking feature. However, it is useless for reference purposes.

The codex is great for reference purposes. It bookmarks well, but not as good as the scroll. It’s more portable and durable than a scroll.

Why are we forcing something so revolutionary and different, viz the electronic book, into these two formats? Using PDF files, which force a codex form on a scroll, or plain text/mobipocket/EPUB files which roll out like a scroll, but suffer from a serious lack of precision in layout and destroy the benefits of the codex.

So, what’s the solution? I’m just a librarian, not a software engineer. Stick with the format that fits. Scroll-type ebooks are great for novels.Forced-codex PDF files are good for making sure that the text and pictures look good when they’re printed out (and very little else). Paper books still have a pretty good advantage over both despite the weight  and size problems. We still don’t have a format for printed words out there that takes the advantage away from the evolutionary, revolutionary, incredible paper book.