Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Making the Move to eBooks

I've been away for a long time and I think both of the people who subscribe to this blog have mentioned my absence in passing. Promoting, acquiring and implementing new products like Primo Central, Libguides, and Digital Commons, takes a lot of time. Always in the background has been my more direct liaison work. I am several other librarians are getting the message loud and clear that the schools want ebooks. Well, we are working on it. In fact, a recent offering from Netlibrary they call the Science and Technology Subject Sets looks very intriguing to me. These subjects include:
Astronomy & Physics
Biology & Life Sciences
Chemistry & Materials Science - 2010
Energy Technologies
Engineering & Technology
Environment & Earth Sciences
Green Technology

These titles, if purchased, would be readable on a broad variety of devices and not just via computer. As liaison to the CCEC, I'm particularly interested in the Green Technology section. This seems to be a hot topic right now and we could probabaly use the additional titles in our collection. One of the key incentives to increasing our netlibrary holdings is that title for title, the netlibrary ebooks are more popular than our print collection. Now, if only we could get Patron Driven Acquisition going, then I would really have more time to write.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Does the Rise of Mobile Computing mean the Fall of the Library Lab?

We are entering what some call the Post-PC era. That is a time when people move away from traditional desktop computers to a new form factor. The most recognizable are the iPad and iPhone but many other examples exist. While that may or may not be the ultimate destination of the world's consumers, it is a basic vision shared by others. It's not a ground breaking one either. The growing power of the smartphones along with increased sales suggests that many of our students now possess the ability to access all of the library's content in the palm of their hands. It is reasonable to assume that the number of students with this ability will continue to rise. So how does this effect the library and the 357 public computers it supports and what will the students need in terms of computing from the library in the future? In order to answer this, we need to understand what the current and future generations of smartphones and Internet tablets can do.

The modern smartphone or Internet tablet is, essentially, a hand-held computer. It has a keyboard, either physical or virtual, a high resolutions display (often greater than DVD quality) and a host of applications including a modern web browser and is typically smaller than the ultramobilePC or netbook. While many of the applications are specialized or focused on entertainment, it is the web browser that defines the device. With a modern web browser students may access the catalog, library databases, read ebooks, work within Blackboard, and create documents using web tools like Google Docs. They can do almost everything on a device like the iPhone or Nokia N900 that they can do on the library lab computers. Exceptions, for the moment, include specialty software packages like SPSS and Minitab thought these are not likely to be too far behind. In fact, Zonetec's Synergy 3000 Statistical Process Control is available as a web application. While Synergy 3000 is not the tool of choice at this university, it successfully demonstrates that the capability for web-based statistical applications exists. Simply put, if you can do it on a desktop computer, you can do it on today's hand held device.

So what does the student body need with a computer lab? From the perspective of the individual student, they need to be able to create and print large bodies of work. Neither the physical thumbpad nor the virtual keyboard lends themselves well to typing thousands of words in a format one would wish to deliver to a professor. However, many use thumbpads to produced thousands of words in text messages with their cell phones. As for format, creating a polished document on a 3.5" screen is another chore most would not undertake willingly. However newer smartphones are capable of taking advantage of touchscreen technology to perform complicated text editing and younger users are growing up accustomed to using these tools. So it would seem that specialty applications not withstanding, the library lab is more of a convenience than necessity to the individual student with most of the computer's value coming from the full sized keyboard.

But what about handheld computers? Handhelds, it would seem, do not lend themselves well to group collaboration efforts, another critical function for our student population. What group of students would willingly sit crouched about a 3.5" screen trying to make sense of the others edits? Interestingly, smartphones like the HTC Evo 4G (among others) supports HDMI out so a group could connect one of their phones to a large screen monitor or TV for all to see. Likewise they could attach a USB hub and multiple keyboards for the text input. Imagine a group of students, each with their own smartphone or tablet, collaborating on a research paper using a web-based application and seeing the changes in real time because they could connect one of their phones to a 50" LCD in a library group study room. That technology exists today. Additionally most of today's top tier devices include cameras and video capture capabilities so students wishing to create or add video to their projects could do so with their hand-held. That's a feature the overwhelming majority of the library's lab computers currently do not have.

Connectivity is critical to the modern world and has been a long standing draw for libraries. However, the current generation of hand-helds now offer speeds of up to 5Mbps which is likely what most users experience at the university on the wireless guest network. It is far less than a wired connection but plenty for streaming video or working online. The upcoming 4G standard is expected to reach speeds of up to 20 times the current rate. As a result, the library will not likely have much to offer on this front in the intermediate future

Given this, the library lab appears to be a technological tool whose day is rapidly approaching an end. But the facts do not fit this vision. Let's begin with what we know about the library in its current state. The library labs are heavily used. In fact, use is going up with an overall increase in logins of over 40% from CY 2009 over CY2008 (see Core Lab Data 1 below). During peak peak hours (10AM-6PM M-TH) the library must open 2102A as an overflow room and has recently begun opening 2102B as well. The library is also home to 80% of all of the printing performed through the campus pay-for-print system. We also know that the students want more group study space. This has been a top request for years on the library surveys.

So why are the labs so popular when they can seemingly be so easily replaced? One primary reason for this is simple, the sophisticated hand held device that provides the kind of functionality to replace the desktop has not made it into the hands of the mainstream market. One of the most popular of these devices, the iPhone (including the iPad and iPod Touch), has less than 1% of the total web market share. So, the long-term desirability of the library lab environment appears to spring from its specialty applications and space as well as supporting the technology have-nots. These features, however, do not explain why the library is, by far, the most popular lab on campus.

Core Lab Data 1.
Lab                       CPUs          2008 Logins          2009 Logins          Growth
Reference                36                  58,821                    74,023                25.84%
West                       128               205,070                  271,336                 32.31%
Periodicals                 5                   8,264                    10,739                 29.95%
Group Study             18                  1,876                    14,564               676.33%
Classroom A             40                  4,401                    12,285               179.14%
Classroom B             40                  1,240                      3,401               174.27%
Laptops                     37                  4,048                      8,043                 98.69%
TOTAL                    304               279,672                 394,391                 41.02%

The library offers one thing that the other campus labs do not. Library patrons have a one stop shop for all of their information and content creation needs. No other lab on campus offers personal research support, application assistance, bibliographic instruction, or access to unique physical materials. The library is the only place a student needs to go to research and create. It is for these reasons that we are compelled to continue to support large numbers of computers in the library. Unless the library is willing to branch out to other locations and provide the same level of service and materials, it will remain the only one-stop solution for student research needs. Given the demands placed upon lab computers and the call for increased group study area, the logical response is to plan for more collaborative space without reducing the current count of computers. The anticipated growth of UNF from ~16,000 to 25,000 students over the next few years is another matter to consider.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

LibX Updated for Solr

Last week FCLA replaced the search technology behind our OPAC. The new open source Solr seems to be working well and is expected to save money over licensing the commercial product Endeca. Unfortunately it broke our Libx plug-in and the other liaisons have quite clear that they want it fixed. I am pleased to say that this has been resolved. If all works properly, your browser should alert you to the new update but, if not, you can get it from the links to the right. So go get it and start searching.