OverDrive – an App for Reading, Audio Books, and Streaming Video

(This review was based on the iPhone 5 app)

It’s Stardate 20170222. As reading week approaches at warp-speed you might be planning some recreational reading as a welcome break from your course-work. Perhaps you are aiming to beat the winter blues and looking for an audio book to listen to while working out? OverDrive is an ebook, audio book and streaming video platform for McGill users and alumni containing thousands of titles from which to choose. Although items you borrow can be read on a laptop or desktop computer, the OverDrive app offers a user-friendly experience once installed and authenticated, and is available for Android, Apple, and Windows platforms. The app also has the added benefit of not requiring Adobe Digital Editions software as is necessary for desktop use.

Getting the app up-and-running is a bit tricky. Once the app is installed you need to authenticate your device with McGill’s account using either your regular username (easiest) or library card number (if you do not have a McGill email). We have posted instructions on how to do this here. Once your device is authenticated the experience is seamless and very user-friendly.

Open “McGill University Library” from the app top left menu to browse and search titles.

Access your “Bookshelf” just underneath in the menu to display thumbnails of borrowed titles (whether book, audio or video) that helpfully show the expiry date which differs according to format (14 days for books and audio books, 5 days for videos) for a total of 30 checkouts. For each format you have a choice of reading/listening/watching in your browser or adding to the app, but the experience is so seamless with the app that unless storage is an issue, this is the best way to go to read or listen to content.

To return a title before it expires, simply press and hold on a title in your Bookshelf and a “Return to Library” option appears. Press on “Return to Library” and agree to the “Return title early” option and the title will disappear from your title list.

Happy reading!

Out of space? Mobile-responsive sites won’t take up storage on your device!

We’ve been seeing a growing trend for providers of e-resources (ejournals, ebooks, videos, and the like) to adapt the display of their content to mobile devices rather than create a whole separate app. Many of the platforms to which McGill Library has subscriptions use these mobile-adapted web interfaces.

Responsive websites have the benefit of seamless access–either you’re on the McGill network or you can use EZproxy or VPN, but the result is the same. A second benefit is the reduction in storage space requirements. Is your 16GB device just a little too full for comfort? No space? No worries! Mobile websites do not download data onto the device so will not affect storage. Some websites will offer you the option to add an icon to your home-screen but this is simply a web link to the website, rather than an app in itself. If you do use these web icons from your home-screen and you are not physically on campus, you will need to use the Cisco Anyconnect VPN client to make sure the resources knows you are a McGill Library patron.

Here are some platform websites that are adapted for all kinds of mobile devices and won’t eat into your storage quota:

The mobile landscape in general is adapting to user behaviour with some vendors changing focus from apps towards responsive websites, and sometimes a website is all you need. If you’re online, you’re good to go!

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Quick pick – Quartz

Quartz

There are a lot of different ways to get your news but here is something…well…different.

Quartz is an app that sends news teasers as friendly texts. It will ask if you want to know more or move on to something else. If you want to know more it texts again with info, images, video, etc. It is basically heavily digested news snippets but you can also click through to the source.

It is pretty chatty and if it runs out of news it will give you a quiz or something else to do – try it out.

App of the Month – ACS Mobile

Do you want to stay up-to-date on your favourite journals from the American Chemical Society (ACS)? The ACS Mobile app might be just the thing you need.

ACS Mobile ACS Mobile

The Library has a full electronic subscription to ACS and you can take advantage of this all-access pass with this app. The first step is to select the journals that you would like to follow from their list. The latest content will be loaded, with easy viewing of article titles, authors, and colour images. An interesting article can be saved to the My ASAPs area for a later date, or you can click on a title to read the abstract. Selecting the full text option brings you to the published version of the article. Reading is a breeze with the pinch to expand gesture.

Be sure to download the AnyConnect app to be able to turn on the McGill virtual private network (VPN) and gain access to these journals on your mobile device (VPN info here).

I had the habit of following C&EN in a browser and I’ve since moved to the app, although it does allow me to open articles in Safari. I find it much more comfortable to read the latest news headers on my phone now and I feel more up-to-date. I hope you will too!

App of the Month – ACM Digital Library

Conference proceedings and society newsletters are notoriously tricky to locate in library discovery layers. As with serials in general, conferences can change names to reflect changes within disciplines, not to mention all those society and conference acronyms. All of which poses not insignificant challenges when searching for such content.

The ACM Digital Library app from the Association for Computing Machinery goes a long way to answering this need. It’s a really great way to get to the journals, magazines, newsletters, and conference proceedings published by the ACM. Content on their main platform is mirrored on their app and full text is available to McGill as part of our ACM Digital Library subscription. Released for iPad, iPhone, Android, and Windows devices, this is a free app but users must first sign up for a personal account with ACM using their McGill email address.

The strength of this app is really the streamlined discovery interface offering both browsing and searching content. Its display, text font and size make for easy reading, whether on pad or phone (I tried both), and the app includes links and search options for upcoming conferences with general information, organizers (for example, who is the Program Chair for TEI ’16?) and schedule, where available.

User-customization is also offered. Icon links to favourite ACM journals, magazines or newsletters can be added to the app homepage screen, and binders can be created for reading lists and downloaded articles which are then available offline. Users can also post comments to other app users and share to Facebook or Twitter.

As nothing is ever entirely perfect…there are two caveats which should be mentioned:

  1. This app consistently froze on my iPad if I tried to do anything else (such as change apps, or following a screen lock). Basically, minimizing the app to switch to another one, will make it freeze when re-displayed. I didn’t notice the same problem on Android but on an iPad, you have to swipe away the app to unfreeze it and start over, highly annoying to say the least! Hopefully a future update will take care of the issue.
  2. I found that although the app had my account recorded in the settings, I wasn’t permitted to download full-text at some point. Logging in to my account on the main ACM Digital Library site seemed to reinitialize the app under my login and full-text access was immediately restored. Like the frozen app issue, this was rather frustrating to have to deal with.

That being said, it’s still one of my favourite apps, due mainly to the well-designed interface and attractive text display.

5 apps for relaxation

Let’s face it, this time of year can be stress-inducing: exams, projects to complete, holidays, New Year’s resolutions!

We do have activities at the libraries that can help. For instance, the dogs will be visiting us, we have puzzle corners, knit knacks, and we’ll be opening the games exhibit for a fun afternoon next week at Schulich Library (Wednesday, noon – 2:30 pm). If you are never without your mobile device, you might also find these apps soothing.

I love to recommend apps that are not only on my phone but that are actually getting some use. Here are five free iOS apps that I regularly go to to lower my blood pressure:

1) TaoMix: This is where you build your own relaxing sound mix. Select different types of sounds, from birds and insects, rain and wind, to city and human noises (human heart), and then move each sound closer to or further from the inner circle to affect the volume. You can move on to other things and the mix will play on. I like the fire camp (it’s getting cold outside).

2) Pocket Pond: Drag and drop fish and lily pads onto your pond (and maybe take a few deep breaths). Create ripples in the water and feed your fish or just listen to the sounds of nature. For a little excitement turn the thunderstorm on from the options under ‘i’. There is now a Pocket Pond 2 but it is asking me to feed the fish every day and I can’t handle that kind of pressure right now.

3) Colorfy: A colouring book app for adults. It would be great to have time to colour in an actual book but this app does the trick. Choose from categories of pictures, including florals, animals, and gardens.

4) Jigsaw Puzzle: Jigsaw puzzles relax me but it is tough to live around a puzzle on the dining room table. Try this app with a daily free puzzle and other free puzzles. Alter the puzzle sizes up to 225 pieces and scatter loose pieces outside of the play area.

5) Paperama: I have a lot of games that I turn to to clear my mind but they can end up being pretty stressful. This paper folding game is nice and gentle. Give it a try. (As a bonus, if you love cats and you have some time to kill, try Nom Cat!).

Alarmy (Sleep If U Can) app

A common nightmare most students have and it is likely to follow them years after graduation is oversleeping on exam day. Every student rely on a different strategy in order to make sure, they are on-time to their exam. I remember when I used  several different alarm clocks which were set to go off at intervals of 15 minutes. So if I turned one of them off without really waking up, I waked up when the next alarm went off. Of course, it was a long time ago.

I have started using Alarmy (Sleep If U Can) app. Apparently, it is called the “World’s Most Annoying Alarm App” but it works. It basically forces you to wake up on-time. It is a neat alarm app since there are 4 methods on how you choose to turn off your alarm.
1) take a photo – The photo must be the same photo you took when you set the alarm; 2) shake your phone the number of times you set to shake your phone when the alarm goes off; 3) solve a math problem – You can choose the level of difficulty when you set your alarm. You can also choose the number of math problems you must answer in order to turn off the alarm; and 4) the boring default method (i.e. like any other alarm clocks).

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I usually take the photo of my coffee machine when I set my alarm. In the morning, I must go to my coffee machine to take the same picture to turn the alarm off. While I am there, I make my coffee and I have no excuse to turn of the alarm without waking up.

Google Play /  Apple Store

Overall

Pros:

  • Very original
  • Effective
  • Easy to use

Cons:

  • Not all features might be known to new users. Under the setting make sure “Auto silence” is off and “picture sensitivity’, “Shake sensitivity’, and ‘Alarm volume’ are set to an appropriate levels.
  • It is not free for iPhone users. It costs $2.29 on Apple Store.
  • The ads are annoying.