Friday, April 23, 2010

container vs. content

Jason Griffey brought this up during a WebJunction/ALA webinar on gadgets and libraries yesterday. And I think it's a key question for libraries in this day and age. It used to be that the container and content were singular - books and periodicals. That made it pretty easy, you bought the container and got the content within it. This lasted as long as the container. You could extend the life with mending and/or binding but that was about it. Then we started microfilming, scanning, etc. putting the content into new containers to preserve. But there's always been the unanswered question of what happens to the content when the containers are no longer accessible or viable.

This has all gotten even more difficult of late with the advent of container-dependent ebooks, audiobooks, video, etc. Just a few years ago, librarians were complaining of having to buy the same content in multiple formats - hardcover, large print, audio... Now we're also worrying about multiple containers. And we don't even own the content anymore. Instead we're just buying licenses to access it under often restrictive conditions.

I came away from the webinar yesterday thinking that librarians can't afford to get distracted by the containers. These are bound to change all the time. This year is supposedly the year of the tablet and ebook reader. No library can reasonably be expected to provide all of these various devices to their patrons. Librarians are rightfully concerned about the cost of replacement of damaged devices. Do you charge a patron for the cracked screen on a $499 iPad? What if s/he can't afford to pay for it? Do you then send out a collection agency and/or cut off borrowing privileges? I can't see that this is a road we want to go down. Nor do we want to have to spend large portions of our budgets on expensive devices that will only work with a limited amount of content.

I feel very strongly that we need to be focusing on the content itself. We don't want to get into this DRM (Digital Rights Management) game where Barnes & Noble purchased ePub content will only work with B&N ebook readers. We need to be pushing for open standards and content that will work with as many containers as possible. We are not pirates if we want to to purchase one digital copy of a book and lend it to our patrons who use Kindles, iPads or netbooks. And once the dust settles a bit and there are some functional under $100 ebook readers, we need those to be able to support all of our digital content.

This is the fight we need to be leading right now - protecting access to intellectual content. It is about the content. We can't let all the shiny new containers get in the way of that access.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Spot and Earthmate Devices

This post doesn't really have any direct relevance to the library environment, but it does for montanans who like to enjoy the landscape. This is security for your person rather than your PC.

I have picked up a couple of interesting devices these past few months and I think it'll be useful to share what I've found out. These devices are the Earthmate PN-40 and the SPOT.

I first picked up the SPOT ( several months ago. The idea with the Spot is simple. First, it knows where it is, because it is a GPS device. Second, it can send any of 3 types of messages. All the messages are pre-recorded. That's it. The device is a little bigger than a cell phone and it has 4 buttons: Power, OK, Help, and 911.

When you first get the device, you register it at the findmespot website. You assign emergency contact numbers, and other similar information. You also compose the text that is sent if you send a message. My "OK" message is "Everything is fine". My "Help" message is "Better send help".

I'm frequently out in the woods alone. When I'm out, I send "OK" messages every morning and evening. If a problem were to come up that my climbing or hiking buddies could help with, I would send a "Help" message. If a really serious problem were to come up, I would press the 911 button. The "OK" and "Help" messages go to whoever I configure them to go to when I regestered the device. So my wife gets both email and text messages twice a day letting her know that "Everything is fine".

The SPOT also has an add on tracking feature I use. I put the spot into this mode and it registers my location every 10 minutes and copies that location to a web site that my wife can logon to and see how things are going. At the web site she sees my location superimposed on a topographic map. This helps her sleep better at night. But it makes it harder for me to sneak off to Las Vegas for a few days when I tell her I'm going into the Bob Marshall. I find this feature useful because I can come back after a trip and see just where I was.

The other device I recently acquired is an Earthmate PN-40. This also is a little bigger than a cell phone. The purpose of this device is to get you information while you are on the trail or road trip. It is a GPS device and it has a small screen. It also has software that lets you download USGS quad maps to it.

The only thing I don't like about it is how fast it sucks batteries dry. It uses 2 AA batteries and will deplete those in a single long day of constant use. But I love everything else about it.

The screen is easy to read in direct sunlight. If you leave it on, it is recording your total distance traveled, or if you just turn it on occassionally, you can just use the waypoints feature to record specific locations.

For example, when we are on these long day hikes, my wife never has a clue about where she is or which way to go to get back to the car. We record the location of the car when we leave it in the morning and all day long we can see the distance to the car and a direction arrow pointing to it. Of course the straight line direction to the car is not necessarily the correct direction to go, but it is a start to know which way to go.

If you are using this in a car, you can plug it into a USB port and keep it powered on that way instead of using up the batteries.

Of course I love all these new devices, but I also note that my day pack now has a full complement of new devices to weigh it down. I have my digital watch and SLR camera, the cell phone, and now the SPOT and the the PN-40, extra batteries, and don't forget the manuals. It's a little different than the daypacks I was packing 35 years ago.

So this summer get away from your computer and enjoy the marvelous country we live in. And consider these devices to help make sure you are able to get back again. Be careful out there.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

mp3 player recommendations

I use a cheap little SanDisk and it works okay. Sometimes it has problems with putting the parts in the wrong order, but you reset it and it works fine.

Michelle Fenger


Creative Zen Mozaic works great for me.

Maggie Meredith


I'm using a Creative ZEN 8gig that I'm very happy with. (About $75.00 on sale from Costco online.) Easy to use. Can download both MP3 and MWA formats. Have enought space with 8gig that I have 7+ books at a time. I just delete when finished.

In my vehicle, I use a SoundFly FM thingy (can't remember what it's called) to broadcast the books to channel 100.1 on my car's FM radio so I can listen there. Plugs in to cigarette lighter -- OK, I know there's a better name for it than that, but what is it?

Oh, yes -- Even if ZEN is out of juice (battery charge) the SoundFly will power it so I can continue to listen until I can connect ZEN to a computer with USB and charge it up.

Diane Van Gorden


My daughter loves listening on her iPod. She loves her iPod for her music and not having to have something different is great. Before we could put WMA titles on the iPod, we had a different MP3 player just for audiobooks. It worked okay, but was a pain to have to have two devices.

Now, she can go from music to book to music when she is on a trip and she is just more comfortable using the device that she uses all the time for other things.

Susie McIntyre