Monday, February 28, 2011

Understanding Database Subject Headings


From the University of Calgary

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Different Kinds Of E-books

E-books for the library and e-books that you as an individual can buy are different because of market segmentation by the publishing industry. They believe (probably correctly) that they can make much more money if they sell a product - cheap e-books - to consumers and prevent libraries from getting it.

A library could buy the latest New York Times bestseller at a local bookstore and put it on their shelves, but it can't do the same thing in the Amazon Kindle Store or iTunes. The difference is that there is simply no way to limit how many people can read a paper copy of a book, but there are ways to limit how many people can read a digital copy. Books that you purchase yourself for your computer or e-book reader have a license that restricts how you can share the book, and sometimes there are technological limitations (called Digital Rights Management or DRM) as well.

E-books that are available to libraries have a license that allows us to let multiple people read them. Sometimes only one person is allowed access at a time, but most of the time we get a license to let an infinite number of people read at once. These licenses are often five or ten times more expensive than what you'd pay for the same book for yourself. What's more, you can't just download the book to read on your own computer or e-reader; you have to read it online. This is so you can't make illegal copies and share or sell them.

And on top of that, many books that you would want to read as library e-books simply aren't an option for us to acquire. Either the publisher is convinced that they can make more by requiring people who want to read the e-book to purchase their own copy, or they realize that not enough libraries will purchase the e-book to pay for the costs of creating it.

So if you have been wondering why we often have to say no when you request a particular e-book title be added to our collection, this is why. It's a matter of economics and copyright law evolving at a slower pace than the expectations we've gotten from our day-to-day use of technology.

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Monday, February 14, 2011

What is Open Access?

The term Open Access refers to scholarly articles that are available to be read without the reader having to pay for a subscription to a journal.

Scholarly journals traditionally pay for the costs of operation by having the reader pay to access them (or having a library pay on the reader's behalf.) The problem with this is that scholarly journals have become so expensive that academic libraries are having trouble affording them.

Open Access means that the costs of publishing an article are borne by somebody other than the reader. In some cases, the author pays to have an article published (once it is accepted, of course.) In other cases, research institutions pay for the costs of running a journal or an article repository, because they feel that it is their contribution to the academic community and will pay for itself in other ways. But however the costs are covered, Open Access means that the articles are available online for free, available to anyone who wants to read them.

Note that this does not mean that they are in the public domain! Free to read does not mean free to put up on your own web site, or re-use as your own.

So how do you access Open Access articles? Well, some of them are indexed in the Library's databases like any other articles. But there are two main ways to search for Open Access Articles:
  • Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) has a search engine that will let you search for your topic keywords across all the peer reviewed (scholarly) Open Access journals that are out there.
  • Google Scholar lets you search across all articles indexed in Google. That will include articles that are only available in subscription databases like the Library has, and also scholarly article repositories maintained by universities and other research institutions.
The Open Access Movement is growing every year. When I was in grad school, it was still a little controversial - people wondered if anyone would ever feel they could rely on scholarship found for free on the web. Now Open Access journals like Public Library of Science are leaders in their subject areas. It turned out that what mattered wasn't the heft of a print journal, or the cost of a subscription, but the quality of scholarship and the reliability of the peer review process.
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Monday, February 7, 2011

Why Can't I Get Broadband Internet At Home?

Most areas of New York state do get broadband, even if only from one provider. (In my area, it's Time Warner or Verizon DSL.) But if you live in a rural area, you might not be able to get broadband internet access. Why is this, when so much of daily life is now conducted online, in ways that just aren't supported by the old copper wire connections?

While broadband would be even helpful to the people who live in sparsely populated areas than to those of us who can easily travel to libraries, colleges, stores, banks, and other services, there's no way the internet service providers could turn enough of a profit providing service to them. They would have to lay many miles of cable and send trucks out to service those remote locations, and all that for a few hundred new customers? It wouldn't even begin to pay for itself.

And broadband internet is not covered by public utility law. That means that the government can't create incentives or penalties to pressure internet service providers (like ComCast, Verizon DSL, and Time Warner) to provide service in sparsely populated areas.

If you are interested in this issue, check out this link: http://www.mediaaccess.org/
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