Tuesday, August 12, 2014

My experiences using e-book/audio book platforms and subscription services

I took some time over the summer to experiment and explore a number of online e-book and audio subscription services. In addition, at the time I began my exploration, an article emailed to me from my network entitled "What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative" (see Randall, 2014) also inspired me to think more about my experiment. The result is this preliminary report on my experiences using three e-book/audio book platforms or subscription services: Reading Rainbow, OverDrive and Audible. The limitation, I have only attempted to use these platforms on one device, the iPad.
  • Reading Rainbow app for iOS - free version
  • OverDrive - free through my public library
  • Amazon's Audible - 30-day trial version

I begin with the Reading Rainbow App downloaded from the App Store. Reading Rainbow was a television program when I was a kid, and now that I am a parent with girls that like to read, I decided to check out this app. Rather than being an app that talk about books and featured children performing reading, the app was essentially a "Library of Children's Books, Kids Videos & Educational Games" (See the i-Tunes review). After the long introductory video, the app visually organizes books by islands of interest (located in the sky) with interesting titles such as "the Animal Kingdom", "Genius Academy" and "Action Adventure & Magical Tales". The child can then navigate to an island of interest and access books and educational videos in that genre or topical island. In addition, the readers in the free version can check out up to five e-books into their virtual backpack. The reading experience is not only one where narration is provided, but to some extent, limited interactivity is built into the picture books, where readers can touch the page and experience certain (motion and sound) effects.

While Reading Rainbow was a hit with my first born who wanted me to subscribe so that she could access more books and return the books she had already read, I could not bring myself to do so, knowing that I had a free public library 15 minutes away from where I lived. Yet, considering that we had limited time to spend at the library each week borrowing books and that my first born devoured the books borrowed within 2 days, it seemed that access to e-books would perhaps be a better option for such a voracious reader. This brings me to the free library alternative, OverDrive.

In 2012, I blogged about my first experience using OverDrive (See that blog post here). However, at that time, I used OverDrive, I did so using the laptop. This time however, I used OverDrive with the iPad, and I must say, OverDrive is better used with iPad than a laptop. Just the portability alone and the fact that you can curl up into a chair without something warm or hot (especially in the summer) in your lap makes the iPad or tablet computer a better option for reading e-books or listening to audio books versus the laptop.

That said, to get started, you have to download the app and get your library card in hand. (Setting-up can be quite a daunting process compared to Reading Rainbow's app). Once you are set up and learn your way around the app and the library's website, you are good to go. OverDrive is definitely not as intuitive and easy as ReadingRainbow, where you can just navigate to islands of interest. Rather, navigation here requires browsing images of book covers or tapping on hyperlinks organized by genre. However, the plus side is that you can search for what you want (whereas Reading Rainbow forces you to just explore what they have available). While OverDrive was great for downloading both e-books and audio books, I do not think it sparked the enthusiasm of my firstborn as much as Reading Rainbow. Nonetheless, my firstborn enjoyed listening to the audio books and hopefully learned some new words and how they are pronounced or sound, compared to just reading the text by herself.

Another thing about OverDrive is that the collection is limited. For one reason or the other, the selection of books was particularly limiting for my peculiar interest in Judeo-Christian theology. I found few books (7 from four authors) discussing Jesus. On the other hand, I could not access the Word of Promise audio Bible that I had previously borrowed in CD-form from the same public library and had to settle for a less dramatic King James version. As such, I conclude that OverDrive perhaps may not be a platform to go for a specific hobby-related interest, but more what is the popular interest. Another down side to this, is that you only get 14 days to listen to or read the books borrowed. In addition, some books that you may be interested in may have to be placed on hold as someone else is currently reading or using the file. So you might have a queue waiting for an e-book or audio book to become available.


That brings me to Audible. Audible requires setting up an account with Amazon or signing into your existing account with Amazon. That said, I was offered a 30 day trial version of the service, enabling me to download the app and experience it. It is from this app that I was able to access the Word of Promise audio Bible, which I downloaded and was able to listen to even without Internet Access. The strange thing about this was that my CD player and radio died 2 days after I downloaded the app (must have been jealous).

Compared to OverDrive, Audible seemingly offers a greater variety of books for one's peculiar hobby-related interest. Further, you do not have to wait in a queue for a popular book. You can essentially get any book that you want for either a monthly or annual fee. Randal (2014) mentions that Kindle Unlimited charges $9.99 a month, but the fee for subscription to Audible is 14.95 per month. With this price, I will just stick it out at OverDrive and perhaps just buy the e-book that I really want that the library does not provide access to.


Now listening to audio books is like listening to the radio. When I was a child, there used to be radio dramas. And listening to audio books, (especially fictional ones) or those that employ dramaturgical or theatrical elements, reminded me of those days when I'd listen to radio dramas. Yet, I am a more visual person, and eventually tune out audio as background noise (apart from the interesting fiction books like the ones my firstborn were listening to). Further, I can only listen to one book at a time and could not fathom downloading a new audio book daily, weekly or monthly. What this means is that I would have to download books that I'd want to hear for a year, and then listen to each book until it is completed, before going on to the next book. As such, I don't think paying $14.95 per month is justified for listening to audio books, just the same way that I am unaccustomed for paying to listen to radio stations with their annoying ads.

That said, I end my report on my experiences here. Up next (in the future) is my report on the experience using Google Play as a platform for accessing e-books.

Reference:

Randall, T. (2014, July 31). What’s better than Kindle Unlimited for $120 a year? This free alternative. Bloomberg Retrieved from http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-07-31/what-s-better-than-kindle-unlimited-for-120-a-year-this-free-alternative.html

Monday, August 4, 2014

What the iPad and Tablets are good at?

So if you haven't gotten a tablet device as yet, I guess this post may be useful in helping you decide whether or not the device is a good fit for you and your lifestyle. Here in bullet points, I summarize what the iPad in particular and tablets in general are good at. While I conclude that the iPad is bad for typing, tablets in general are good for media consumption, and for some types of media generation. Here is my list of what the iPad is good for:

With tablet technologies you can:
  • read e-books
  • listen to audio-books
  • surf the web (with quality of web surfing limited to those sites that provide a mobile website)
  • check email (with quality of email access dependent on the email provider providing a mobile email app)
  • play games 
  • watch video
  • take or capture photographs or video


However, you can't use the iPad to replace a laptop or PC. In fact, the iPad is best functional when synchronised with other devices (such as an iPhone, PC or laptop). This especially because not all Websites and Web services are fully functional when viewed by a tablet. Secondly, there are certain things better down on a laptop or PC with a large screen and a keyboard that is large enough for you to type 60 to 120 words per minute.

Mobile apps coexisting with the printed book?

I had the opportunity this summer to explore mobile apps on the iPad. In addition to experimenting with the tablet and mostly free mobile apps, I also completed my online course on "the future of storytelling". In this course, one of the final segments was on transmedia storytelling, which mentioned how the narrative of a traditionally published novel was extended through the use of mobile apps. Through this particular segment, I learned about MirrorWorld and Mirada. In this blog post or entry, I briefly introduce both MirrorWorld and Mirada, with some discussion of how these represent a new trend of convergence between traditional book publishing and mobile app development.

To begin, MirrorWorld is one of the works of Mirada in modern storytelling that mixes both traditional and technological techniques to expand on a story world first told by a novel. According to Mirada's About page,  Mirada is "a studio designed for storytellers" (Mirada 2014, "About"). They specialise in "synthesizing archetypal oral tradition with modern technique" (Mirada 2014, "About", para. 2). Mirada further dubs Mirror World as the "World’s First Living Storybook" (Mirada 2014, "Cornelia"). In my understanding of Mirror World, Mirada built a mobile app that functioned as a story engine or database that permits users to explore the story world and be immersed into an interactive experience while exploring the story. For more information on this (or if you want to check out the app for yourself), explore the following websites:


However, I just wanted to opine here that after seeing Mirror World and learning about the development of the app to expand on the novel, I think the future of traditional book publishing will persist. Hence, future books being published will have accompanying apps. These accompanying apps will expand the story world of the traditionally published book visually and otherwise. What this means in my opinion is that the printed book is not yet dead, but will co-exist in the future with apps that expands upon the narrative that the book tells.


References:

Mirada (2014). About. Retrieved from http://mirada.com/about

---(2014). Cornelia Funke’s mirror world: Crafting the World’s First Living Storybook.
Retrieved from http://mirada.com/stories/mirrorworld

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Can graduates consult fresh out of library school? A few thoughts

For June, I have been putting together my thoughts and research on consulting and consultants in domains outside of library and information science (LIS). I have also been informally talking with independent information professionals and formulating ideas about my dissertation project, including possible conclusions and recommendations that I might want to contribute to the field. In this blog post, I want to share some of my thoughts (that I may not necessarily include in my final project). These thoughts are basically centered around providing answers to the question:
Can graduates consult fresh out of library school?

In a recent conversation with a library student about my research, I mentioned that I am studying  library consulting as a phenomenon. The conversation lead to her asking me several questions about library consultants and library consulting. One such question was whether or not library consultants need to have experience working in the field before doing consulting. Currently, it is the dominant paradigm that library consultants cannot be students "fresh out of library school". This view is not only held by MLIS students, but also practitioners and professionals. It is also embedded in the literature that basically defines a consultant as an "outside expert" that provides problem solving advice. Yet, my view is why does it have to be seen this way?

When I look at MBA graduates, they leave business schools and immediately join management consulting firms, with little or no experience working in actual businesses. When I consider this, my argument is that how we teach MLIS students could also prepare them for consulting without actually working in libraries. In my radical proposal, a consultant does not necessarily need work experience, but could tentatively have two other criteria:
  1. an outsider perspective and
  2. a specialty

When I look at MBA education and even management consulting literature, students are prepared for consulting. They learn methods and processes to do consulting through books such as



Another thing about MBA education (I know these things partially because my wife did an MBA), is that they work a lot with real life cases or case studies. So while MBA students do not have work experience, they use these cases and case studies to practice their consulting methods and principles. Sometimes, MBA courses actually insist that students actually engage real companies and organizations and prepare their own cases and proposals for solving the problems in those cases. Considering this, I wonder if library schools could borrow some of these practices in library education in order to prepare library school graduates for consulting.



Then when I look at law education, I see law students as studying mainly cases. Is it possible that library school graduates could substitute work experience by being exposed to studies of various "library cases"?

I also look at the fact that sometimes consultants are engaged in organizations for their specialty. Sometimes, this involves their knowledge of a particular software, collection, or of a particular subset of users (say for instance LGBT users, or African-Americans, or Muslims, etc.) or because of their specialty in a particular language. In other words, there are cases in which work experience is unnecessary to consulting, particularly in cases where MLIS graduates already come with a bachelors degree in a previous area of studies. In other cases, MLIS graduates may have a niche hobby that enables them to be an expert or specialist in a particular area, such as Comic books, Graphic Novels, Star Trek or some game specialty.

Finally, I look at my own experience as a MLIS student, where I actually performed information brokerage, information consulting and library consulting before graduating from library school without knowing that what I was doing had formal names and procedures. In some of those instances, the outcomes were not as successful as I would have wanted them to be. However, now that I have researched consulting and have come across principles, process models and methods for consulting, I felt that I could have been more effective in my library and information brokerage and consulting roles early on in my career. Had I been taught how to be an effective consultant in library school, I feel that I would have gotten better results in all those early freelance projects that I did as a student before graduating from library school.

Conclusion

It is therefore my opinion that while the dominant perspective in my discipline is that library school graduates cannot enter into consulting directly after exiting library school, that this is not a function of them lacking work experience, but a function of the library curriculum not preparing them for such roles. My main support for this argument is that MBA graduates consult without work experience, and this is because they are provided with adequate curriculum and informational support. Secondly, I have argued that consultants are not only important because of their work experience, but sometimes because of their knowledge derived from their hobbies or personal experiences. Library students doing their Masters, with a degree in another subject, are highly likely to possess some niche area or subject that they are quite conversant if not an expert on. Finally, I feel that my own personal experience could have been enriched by a course that would prepare me for effective consulting. (Coincidentally, I am aware of recent grads that are also doing consulting and am sure that they too would benefit from such a course). So I say, let's think more about this.


Reference

Kurian, G. T. (2013). Consultant. The AMA dictionary of business and management. New York: Amacom.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Talking with the vendors of InMagic Presto & MinISIS

Day 3 SLA 2014 conference June 10: Talking with the vendors

I had four unofficial priorities for this conference 
1. Network with library and information consultants
2. listen to talks presented by library and information consultants
3. informally talk about my research ideas with library and information consultants
4. experience SLA for the first time

However, on attending I found that I just went with the flow (giving up my own agenda) and sought to make the most of the experience. This included:
talking and networking with employed librarians, which enabled me to receive valuable career advice and counselling
formally joining AIIP (paying the student membership fee)
purchasing Mary Ellen Bates' book on Building & Running a Successful Research Business
learning whatever I could from each presentation at the conference (especially those relating to social media or my other research interests)
and finally, talking with vendors to get updates on their products and what’s going on with databases today

It is the latter official goal that I want to discuss some more in this blog entry.

I spent the time listening to presentations from and chatting with the vendors of library systems and technological solutions. In total, I counted 4 vendors that I actively or passively engaged to learn from:
1. Intellixir LCC,
2. Elsevier – Scopus
3. Minisis
4. InMagic 

In addition, I sat in a session where librarians shared their stories about how they made the best of SharePoint for their Intranet and library services, which deserves its own blog post.

However, in this particular blog post, I want to discuss the 2 vendors that I spoke with who actually had clients in the English-speaking Caribbean: Minisis and InMagic. In fact, because I was aware that my colleagues from the region used these vendors, I took the time to learn about their updates and upgrades.

InMagic Presto for DB/TextWorks

I spoke to Jason Buggy from Lucidea and had him demo the new Web-based interface upgrade for InMagic dubbed Presto and was impressed. New features include being able to incorporate blog entries and other social media such as discussion fora into the catalogue results. That’s right folks; the industry is ahead of academia, as they are already providing features for including blog entries and discussion forums in a library’s catalogue. Of course, the entries are based on what the librarian collects and vets. 

In addition, a new feature that I also saw was that Presto enabled one to include the profiles of experts (picture, contact information and blurbs of experience/knowledge) into the catalogue or OPAC results. That’s right; the inclusion of people information in the OPAC results as well, so that one can showcase the knowledge experts or knowledgeable people sources 

You can check out a brochure on Inmagic’s Presto here: http://www.inmagic.com/products/presto-technology/

Minisis
With news that the National Library of Jamaica is moving beyond WINISIS and on to OCLC’s WorldCat, I was a bit curious as to what’s happening with MinISIS, which is a related platform. So I had a chat with Christopher Burcsik. While for this software, I did not get a demo of the features, I got some background information about the company and MinISIS. For instance, I learned that MinISIS was Canadia. In fact, the brochure that I accessed states that "MINISIS Inc. is a multinational corporation headquartered in Vancouver, BC, with regional offices in Ontario, Tunisia, and Trinidad and Tobago" (p.2).

While MinISIS was once free and based on UNESCO’s open-sourced WINISIS, its development was later funded and sponsored by the Canadian Government (personal interview). Eventually, the Canadian Government cut the funding to the software, forcing MinISIS to change its model from a publicly funded free software development to one where it had to charge fees to be viable. According to the brochure, MinISIS is a social entrepreneurial venture. While they charge fees for the software, they continue to support the development of the software to support the needs of libraries, archives and museums across the world that still depend on and possess databases based on WinISIS records. 

I also got some insights from Burcsik, who argued that open source development of library software is not sustainable [especially for developing countries I would add]. He pointed out that there would be need for constant evolution and update, including creating new patches to prevent against viruses and hacking, for which librarians would not be experts in  [The whole time he was talking this, I was thinking about University of Prince Edward Island library’s Islandora open source project and wondering if Mark Leggott would strongly disagree]. Burcsik also made the point that WinISIS basically could not survive beyond the efforts of the founder. As such, he suggests that only commercially drive software by companies driven by profits can continue to develop sustainable products for libraries (personal interview).

When I raised the issues of OCLC, it was suggested that OCLC, though claiming to be a non-profit entity, was actually between a non-profit and profit-making entity. It was also suggested that OCLC perhaps makes far more profit than MinISIS. This may be something that I might need to look into further. 

Reference:

Minisis Inc. (N.d.). Minisis Inc: Celebrating over 40 years of innovation in database technology [Computer file/Brochure]. N.p.: Author.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Social media insights from Zena Applebaum @ the SLA 2014 conference

Day 2 of SLA social media insights


Day 2 of my first Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference and I'm thinking to myself, "this is where I belong". Here I am, attending several presentations where information consultants have similar assumptions regarding using social media tools to find information as I do. Mining blogs, Twitter and other social media platforms for insights seem to be the norm in the information consulting industry. To information consultants, social media presents a very important and free information source in addition to paid commercial databases.

Zena Applebaum, Director of Competitive Intelligence at Bennett Jones LLP, was one such presenter that gave a talk on this subject. Two things fascinated me from her presentation entitled "Social media-Turning noise into action":
1.     The assumption that social media can be information sources from which information should be collected 
2.     That one can develop a social media collection and acquisition policy (or procedures) to make decisions about what social media data or information one could collect.
It is these points that I want to briefly review and talk about here in this blog entry.

First and foremost, Applebaum argues that social media sits between the spectrum of primary research and secondary research. She further argues that social media provides access to people essentially talking about themselves and others without the researcher eliciting those responses. She further suggests that on social media, there are both individuals and institutions that provide information. Her questions are not so much whether or not such information can be trusted or what's the value of such information, but how do we get at that information. This is in contrast to my discussions with some academics and in academia (including a few librarians), who are suspicious of social media information and ask can the data be trusted and how can we know whether or not the social media information is authentic or meaningful. Further, I've found that from informal discussions within limited academic circles, that there are doubts about collecting and storing such information, as social media information is deemed to be either too trivial, ephemeral or lacking the authority of traditionally published/secondary sources and primary sources.  

The second thing that impressed me about Applebaum's talk was that she laid out what seemed to be guidelines for getting or acquiring social media data. In her presentation, she discussed the need for competitive intelligence specialists to have a framework for monitoring and collecting relevant information from social media. This begins by determining what she refers to as "key intelligence topics". According to Applebaum (2014)

Key Intelligence Topic - (KITs) are those topics identified as being of greatest significance to an organization’s senior executives, and which provide purpose and direction for Competitive intelligence operations. 
How do we determine these topics? Applebaum suggests that we conduct a series of interviews of a representative group of users from which we ascertain the relevant topics to monitor media and social media for. Then we are to grouped these topics into appropriate categories and get our stakeholders (the senior organizational executives/users) to allocate a priority to the same. Hence to begin the process, Applebaum recommends that we analyse who are our stakeholders (or users) and what decisions do they make. In addition, we must also ask:
•What knowledge do the users need?
•What intelligence can we provide?


The second step in the process is to define what she terms the "collection plan" (Using my collection development training, I would call it the collection development/acquisitions policy/procedures. However, her term may indicate less formality in the process). This involves determining the producers of the information that one needs and how to locate them. In Applebaum's presentation, this analysis of the sources that need to be monitored involves asking:

•Who has the information you need?
•Who is their audience?
•What social media will they use?
•How do you search those platforms?

In my own experience as a librarian, the first two steps are similar to the process that I go about when identifying and determining which publishers (and vendors of commercial databases) to contact for what materials are needed for my library. The last point relates to how do I find those publishers (or vendors) in order to make those purchases (nowadays, we just deal with agents rather than contacting the publishers directly. Unless we are collecting rare books or items)


So when I examine this, I conclude that the skills of collection development are as relevant to social media information as they are to books and other items collected by libraries. In basic collection development policy we decide the purpose of our collection, its scope (and or limitations) and the types of decisions that we will make as to what sources to acquire or omit from the collection. Further, while we may not write it into our policy, we may implicitly establish procedures or a process to go about acquiring items for our collection. All this reinforces the idea to me that librarians can apply their skill sets (acquired from experience with traditional media and library sources) to new media and information sources/resources. The issue is whether or not we deem social media to be sources that we must collect, store, preserve and provide for our users to access.

References:

Applebaum, Z. (2014). Social media – Turning noise into action. Presented at Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from http://sla2014.sched.org/event/db8c0c4fe1b010468310ab57b62d9eda#.U5aEzfldUrW.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Social media sites are essentially "databases"

I once read that Facebook was a database (Arthur, 2009). I have even read that blogs were databases (Miles, 2005). And now I've heard that LinkedIn is a database. My new conclusion is that all social media are databases!

My conclusion came after reflecting on some tips on LinkedIn and other social media use from Sean Campbell, CEO of Cascade Insights. In his presentation at SLA, Sean discussed the subject of how to get a hold of people to talk to using social media (Campbell, 2014). His basic premise is that people talk about their work life story online using social media. If one wants to know about an industry, one can use social media tools to find those who talk about this industry. He argues that social media [specifically LinkedIn] are databases from which we can mine and extract individuals, groups and communities that talk about subjects relevant to providing insight for industries. As Sean puts it, the ordinary LinkedIn User does not see their profile as a database, but to LinkenIn employees, a person's profile is but one record in a large database of people information. 

The same can be said for Facebook. According to Garde-Hansen (2009), Facebook is a "database of users and for users" and each user's page is "a database of their life" (p. 141). Garde-Hansen (2009) therefore argues that while users experience Facebook as a place where they upload "non-textual content (their profile image, the profile images of their friends, shared photographs, functional icons, gift images and application icons)", this hides the "visibility of Facebook as a pre-programmed set of pathways to a database" (p. 140-141).

This truth also applies to Twitter and Google (and basically all social media sites). In a 2013 Wired magazine article, it is mentioned that Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google "teamed up to create what they call WebScaleSQL, a custom version of MySQL designed just for large scale web companies" that operate large databases (Finley, 2013). Further, blogs and blog content management systems, according to Miles (2005), also draw upon and store content of text, images, data and media objects from a database, and chronologically arrange or displays the content through templates accessible through a Web browser. So the truth is, that while we experience a clean, customised and personalised screen when uploading our user-generate content and viewing the stories told by our friends and others, we are essentially viewing records of a database that we update and input data for. In this regard, if we join any social media site, we essentially become data entry personnel. 


References:

Campbell, S. (2014). Sourcing with social media – For competitive intelligence and market research teams. Presentation at the Special Libraries Association 2014 Conference, June 8-10, Vancouver, BC. Retrieved from

Finley, K. (2013, Mar. 27) Google and Facebook team up to modernize old-school databases
Wired Retrieved from http://www.wired.com/2014/03/webscalesql/

Garde-Hansen, J. (2009). MyMemories?: Personal digital archive fever and Facebook. In Garde-Hansen, J., Hoskins, A., & Reading, A. (p. 135-50). Save as… digital memories. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Miles, A. (2005, May). Media rich versus rich media (or why video in a blog is not the same as a video blog). Hypertext paper presented at Blogtalk Downunder, Sydney, Australia. Retrieved from http://incsub.org/blogtalk/?page_id=76. [Last Accessed 23 August 2012].