reference books

Library Journal Review of Herman and Weisenburger’s Gravity’s Rainbow Analysis

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My newest review for Library Journal has been published. This starred review looks at Luc Herman’s and Steve Weisenburger’s analysis of Thomas Pynchon‘s Gravity’s Rainbow from the point of view of theorists and ideas prevalent in the Long Sixties. Their book is called, Gravity’s Rainbow, Domination, and Freedom, and is forthcoming from University of Georgia Press.

I am always challenged reading Thomas Pynchon, critical approaches to his work and appreciated the opportunity to review this book. Thank you Library Journal.

GRdomfreedom(Please click on book-cover thumbnail above to get the review from Library Journal)

Upcoming Phantom Library (a taste)

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I have been reading this blog post by Alonzo McBride and rereading PHANTOMS ON THE BOOKSHELVES by Jacques Bonnet. Great book.
There are plenty of relevant points in the small text to library collections and knowledge/resource organization.

I do, however, want to highlight a few lines right now.

“…to return to the library. Once it has been established, it [the library] tends to become an unavoidable transit zone for reality, a sort of vortex that sucks in everything that happens to us” (100).

Ponder away…

Bonnet, Jacques. Phantoms on the Bookshelves. Trans. from the French by Siân Reynolds. NY, NY: The Overlook Press, 2010.

Thank you for reading.
Jesse L.
Twitter: @jltaglich

E-Reader Implementation Issues

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E-readers have become standard objects used by patrons of libraries – academic and public alike. There are a slew of devices with which one can read and listen to their electronic audio and text-based books. Interfaces vary, variations in digitizing touch-to-action exist and screens are different. Some, such as the Nook by Barnes and Noble Booksellers and the Kindle by Amazon, are marketed specifically as internet friendly readers. Then there is the mini-Ipad, the Kobo reader and different builds of hardware on the Android platform such as the Nexus. The Nook even has ‘apps’ designed to work on its platform – a hybrid of Android and proprietary software. Each of these readers and/or features is not unimportant. I could even bring up differences in tablet readers and e-ink devices. I won’t. I want to talk about differences in implementation of reader software. I want to look specifically at real differences in e-publication formats, how they change what reading is as an activity on an electronic device and how formats are tied to reader software. No, I’m not here to break down code or look at processing algorithms. Fascinating stuff of course. But that analysis goes elsewhere.

There are many formats in which to read publications electronically. There is HTML, EPUB, Kindle and PDF (and a few others for readers popular around the globe). PDF works with lots of reader software, though not all. Kindle, of course, works only within the Kindle device or reader app because it’s a proprietary code. EPUB is not. It will work with readers as far afield as the NOOK, any Android Device and readers such as Kobo or the one sold by Sony. There are lots of publishers who, in an effort to expand the range of creativity in reader choices, publish only in EPUB. It’s generally considered an “open-source” coding for text. There are differences, however, in implementation of use of EPUB or PDF – wherein we note the crux of this piece of writing.

EPUB is designed to work with many readers. But the way it works with different readers changes depending on the vender of the electronic item. For example, two popular reader software applications that are compatible with EPUB and PDF and have been used by public libraries in my area: the first is the most popular eBook vender, Overdrive (which is a vender and a reader application); the second is Bluefire (which is a reader only with built in links to online spots to buy books or to download public domain titles).

overdrive.         bluefire

I currently read on a Google Nexus 7, touchscreen obviously (though I use my stylus to turn “pages” a lot) and I use both the OverDrive and BlueFire applications for EPUB and PDF texts. OverDrive is not as convenient a reader to use as Bluefire because it is tied to its connection firstly as a reader of books borrowed from the library. The application itself has a GET BOOKS tab through which books can be searched in libraries’ eBook collections. OverDrive works as a portal to the library’s catalog of eBooks. BlueFire is not as tethered. It operates as a third party option available to the reader to choose which reader to use if the option is allowed by the objects being considered or publisher controls etc. OverDrive does not list the actual format of the books in its library while Bluefire does – to the right of the title OverDrive just says eBook while Bluefire lists EPUB or PDF. The difference is no inherently wrong. Bluefire simply has slightly fuller metadata while OverDrive probably sees itself (just a guess here) as a reader use by the populace who (they think) don’t care about “technical” aspects of the text in front of their eyes.

The issue of metadata certainly marks a difference between these two readers. But it does not mark the most important distinction in my fBook (f for figurative 😉 ). The most important implementation variant between these two readers is the difference between content/quantity representation models in use – specifically the way in which each reader represents pagination in eBooks. OverDrive DOES NOT use page numbers – a fact which I believe to be problematic for reasons of making reference to books read, annotations made for future reference and ability to cite. In fact, this is an even more problematic feature of OverDrive because as more and more texts are being consumed in eFormat, if one’s ability to cite books for reference and scholarly purposes (professional or amateur researchers) is restricted, the reference to other books and facts built for new writing will be challenging. Bluefire does not have this issue. It lists the eBook as containing pages 1-whatever). OverDrive chooses instead to subdivide every section of the eBook into page sections that are counted as percentages.

For instance, instead of showing the first page of Chapter 3 of a book I am reading on Physics starting on page 40 as it does in the paper text, it represents this “page” as “Page 1 of 19” with Chapter Progress of 5.3% and whole book progress as 13%. The page number itself really means nothing in relation to the whole eBook and percentages have nothing to do with reading page-to-page. The lack of ability to cite this text – again, a feature tied to its use by the populace who OverDrive believes does not care to do reference work – is a major problem. But it’s also a contradictory stance because I bet the same popular reader is just as happy to be able to know what “page” they’re reading. I can’t imagine anyone really cares about what percentage of each chapter is finished within the overall book except as an arbitrary number to call out. These percentages smack of computer modeling and lack the granularity of real page counts. Bluefire does not have this problem. It has some of the same ability to jump from section to section by using a dropdown contents tab. But it makes reference to pagination within the overall structure of the content being read. This feature increases the granularity of the reading experience and makes citation possible with the use of as few marks as possible in the citation.

Thank you for your time. Take a look at different eReaders and don’t hesitate to reply here or at Twitter. I am always open for discussion and learning.

Book Review: The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Ed.

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Technology in the Library and Lifelong Learning

Review of Nicole C. Engard’s (with Rachel Singer Gordon) The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition. Information Today, Inc. 2012. ISBN: 9781573874533

tasl.bookcover

One of those ever-famous quotes from library school is that librarians and librarians-in-training must be life-long learners.* The reason for referencing this quote in this review is one of the methods through which Nicole C. Engard gathered anecdotes and examples for her work, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition (TASL) was via a survey sent out to libraries and systems librarians. A general response suggested by many of the respondees was they never expected to be bored. Engard deliberately makes this point 2 or 3 times across the book in varied contexts because one of her main points is systems librarians may go by different titles at their respective institutions, but they are also in charge of teaching staff, teaching patrons, spending a chunk of their scheduled time at the reference desk or some other task in “traditional” library services and keeping current on all kinds of tech services – a task which shows every sign of continual exponential change. Engard’s goal is to explain the types of issues that may fall under the description for Systems Librarian and also the real work/learning load associated with the position.

TASL is divided in two major sections: The first four chapters, titled Systems Librarianship 101 – 104, are followed by 8 chapters with specific titles focused on subtasks and the granularity of higher level involvement and projects. I would suggest one justification for this structure is a quote by Eric Morgan in his penned Forward, “Working with technology is as much about collection development as it is about knowing how to use computers” (xvi). Technology in libraries is not about adding more “stuff” for staff and patrons to learn – though more learning is hopefully the inevitable result. Technology is built into more facets of library work and library services because it reflects the types of resources that are in current use and in demand by patrons. As a pathway to being involved in culture, learning about whatever topic, or checking e-mail, networked systems of all kinds must be maintained in order to make that pathway easier to traverse. Hardware, web applications and other e-formats are simply used in tandem with resources such as magazines, newspapers and books.

Engard makes clear, however, throughout the book the need for constant education. Not simply personally in efforts for life-long learning. This notion we have already mentioned and will be touched upon once more below. Rather, education designed to bring all staff in-line with expectations held by patrons. In other words, many patrons need help with various aspects of devices, software and some hardware. Many libraries (or library systems), including the one at which I currently work, schedule technology classes in order to teach patrons skills as diverse as how to use subscribed databases for genealogy, how to navigate their e-readers to use the library’s e-collections and how they might use social media to collect ideas for new reading interests. And there are so many others Engard details in the book. The point is it takes educated staff members, confident with these same technological resources in the library’s collections/services arsenal to assist patrons. Also, when a patron comes to ask a question, it is okay for the librarian and the patron to learn something together. But, honestly, the staff member should be the “expert” up to a point and Engard suggests it’s up the systems librarian to collaborate with the rest of the staff and make sure this is the case.

How the local Systems Librarian works and what he or she accomplishes is partly up to her and how distributed the technological work load is in the librarian’s respective setting. There are no set tasks declared in the book. There is not an absolute description of what A Systems Librarian is supposed to do because needs vary so greatly. And in this, Nicole C. Engard’s book, The Accidental Systems Librarian, 2nd Edition, has its greatest strength. Sure it lists a ton of web, journal and book resources to learn network troubleshooting, research techniques and modes of instruction. But it emphasizes life-long learning as the mode of interaction across technological “borders,” changes and constant problem solving which fine-tunes that learning.

A strength indeed.

*This is a phrase I come back to pseudo-regularly as I find it of high value to my own motivations.

PS: A copy of my review has also been published at LibraryThing.

Comment on British Library Printing Guide

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I finished reading Michael Twyman’s THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO PRINTING: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES, my first book-length read in this area. My intention with this post is to bring attention to this item and the series because M. Twyman’s writing is ridiculously easy to read and I assume the others are just as easy. I plan to invest time in the rest of these books over the next several months. Some comment will be made here as the history of printing is part of the history of libraries, book arts and rare books and this writer is committed to mention of rare books, special collections (of which rare books and book arts are sub-fields) and libraries. The University of Toronto Press has published several more books in this series. A few of them are: THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO BOOKBINDING: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES by P.J.M. Marks, THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO MANUSCRIPT ILLUMINATION: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES by Christopher De Hamel and THE BRITISH LIBRARY GUIDE TO WRITING AND SCRIPTS: HISTORY AND TECHNIQUES by Michelle P. Brown.

Looking forward to learning more in this area and blog readers should expect mention of these works in the future.