There’s an app for that!

Browzine Mobile technology, which includes the proliferation of mobile apps that can be leveraged for research, teaching and learning purposes, has fundamentally changed the way people look for, access, evaluate, and manage information. This past summer I was lucky enough to attend the annual three-day Osheaga music festival. When I received my tickets (RFID bracelets) in the mail, the envelope included information on downloading the Osheaga app. The app was great. It included the three-day schedule, artist biographies, site maps with stage locations, all kinds of multimedia content, and you could use the app to activate your RFID bracelet, which could then be used to enter a whole slew on contests and promotions. It occurred to me more than once during those three days that tailored apps are going to become more commonplace in many aspects of our lives, including libraries!

Although perhaps not as exciting as a three day outdoor summer indie rock concert, the library has created a recommended mobile apps web page, which contains apps selected by librarians that are particularly useful for research, teaching and learning. The web page is still in its infancy, however, we decided to focus on apps which facilitate access to, and use of, collections and resources the library is already subscribing to, as well as apps that will help students and faculty in their daily work. To this end, we have sections on Reading apps, Citation Management apps, and Productivity apps, as well as discipline-specific apps. I predict that the discipline-specific apps section will grow quickly over the next little while, as subject specialist add sections on apps specifically useful in their respective disciplines, as our colleague Jill Boruff has done for health sciences.

The group responsible for the apps web page is also charged with promoting important apps. The first two apps that we’ve decided to highlight are BrowZine and PressReader. BrowZine delivers thousands of academic journals to your iPad or Android tablet. BrowZine works by organizing the articles found in Open Access and subscription databases, uniting them into complete journals, then arranging these journals on a common newsstand. The result is an easy and familiar way to browse, read, and monitor scholarly journals across the disciplines. PressReader is an app that is used to access and download the over 2,000 full-content newspapers & magazines accessible via our PressDisplay subscription. This app works on both smartphones and tablets. To download newspapers you must be on the university network, either on the McGill WiFi, or from home using the Virtual Private Network (VPN).

Please check out our recommended apps page every once in a while to see what new apps have been added, and please feel free to send me any app suggestions that you may have for possible inclusion.

Print or Electronic Books? That is the question!

"Let me see, let me see; is not the leaf turn'd down Where I left reading? Here it is, I think."

Well actually, there really isn’t any question at all. In my humble opinion, the advantages of owning an electronic version of a book instead of a print copy far outweigh the disadvantages. In a perfect world, without budgetary restrictions, we would purchase a print version and an electronic version of every title we select for the library. We would also have a copy of every book ever published if we lived in that world! Since this isn’t the case, librarians are frequently faced with the decision of which format to buy. Sometimes there is no choice because no electronic version is available, however, increasingly an electronic version is available for purchase.

Based on my experience helping folks at our service desk, some people prefer reading in print, while for others, if it’s not online it’s as if it doesn’t exist. Although, I have noticed that when the print copy isn’t available people are generally very happy to have access to an electronic version. Often, especially during paper time, scholars just need to access a chapter, a section of a book, or to verify the pagination for a citation, all of which can be done remotely from home, which is particularly great in the middle of winter! For the record, I prefer reading books in print, especially fiction, however, I have read many eBooks on my Kobo and iPad and have become accustomed to this as well.

There are a variety of technical factors that can limit access to eBooks. Sometimes these issues can discourage people from trying to access or download eBooks after a negative first experience. Many of these access issues are related to digital rights management (DRM). Even our DRM protected eBooks are generally easy to access and download, once you follow the instructions and figure out how they work. After that, they are really quite simple to use. Many of our eBooks have no DRM, and allow for unlimited viewing and downloading, which is like having as many copies as you need for your clientele at any given time. As far as I’m concerned, it’s really this last point that gives eBooks the edge over print. Also, the majority of our students now own mobile technology, such as an eBook reader or tablet, which allows them to take advantage of our incredible and ever expanding eBook collection.

Regardless of how you feel about eBooks versus print books, both formats will be essential parts of the collection in the Humanities and Social Sciences Library for the foreseeable future.

Let us know what you think. Do you prefer reading eBooks or Print? What do you think are the advantages and disadvantages of both formats?