04-08-14 is no Y2K

XP logo melting

Aside from being a little lazy, I’ve also been a little busy to update as regularly as I’d like. However, this week seems opportune to act as both the Foreboding Intonation of DOOOOM and the Gentle Reminder of Something That You Might Want to Think About. Simultaneously, even!

And that is the End of Support for Windows XP. Within a week, we will see the Reigning King of Operating Systems pass on his crown; it will be a very long ceremony, though, as many users are reluctant to switch for one reason or another. Fortunately for libraries, it really doesn’t have to be a painful process!

First, despite the overtures that Windows XP’s slow demise will bring a new era of viruses and hacking, that’s not really the case. April 8th doesn’t mean the same sort of apocatastrophe that was feared during the final minutes of 12/31/1999. It means that Microsoft isn’t going to be doing any more security updates for Windows XP. However, antivirus software will certainly work for a while longer.

Second, libraries aren’t really the primary targets of the zero-hour security holes. The smart and artful black-hat bad guys out there, unless they have some massive guilt complex / revenge lust against libraries from a ridiculously overdue book and being charged massive fines, won’t be seeking to expose gaping security holes in their local library’s network. Many of our libraries are protected further by firewalls, which help screen out the bad stuff from getting in.

Here’s where the interjection “but” comes into play. Think of the Windows XP end-of-support as the beginning of a lottery where you pick sticks daily in hopes of not getting the short one. Each day beyond April 8th that Windows XP machines remain active and connected to the Internet is a day when there is a very slight chance of getting the short stick, and the chance increases the longer you wait. Eventually, the short stick WILL turn up, and that’s when it can become an expensive problem to correct.

There’s a short list of tasks for libraries needing to deal with this issue. First: check to see if there are any incompatibilities with your mission-critical software or hardware. For example: does your circulation system run on any more recent operating systems? Your bookkeeping software? Your printers and barcode scanners?

For most libraries, upgrading to Windows 7 on the same hardware may not be a wise option. I recommend talking with PCs for Maine for computer replacement. Not only are they an inexpensive vendor that’s eager to work with libraries, but they also provide built-in tech support and migration options for their library partners. I advise against upgrading directly to Windows 8 unless you already have a strong familiarity with the operating system and have confirmed that all mission-critical devices and software are compatible.

If replacing the hardware isn’t an immediate option, you might find that TechSoup can provide you with full versions of Windows 7 or 8. You will need to confirm your eligibility to receive donated software through them if you haven’t already, but TechSoup is an amazing nonprofit reseller that libraries should definitely take advantage of whenever possible.

It may be that your library simply can’t afford to spend any money on replacement at this time. You can still speak with PCs for Maine (as they do have the ability to offer computers to a few especially needy libraries), but you will also want to make certain that your Windows XP machines are updated on April 8th or soon thereafter with what will be the final security patch. Also, avoid using Microsoft products such as Internet Explorer on those machines (here is a list of browser alternatives), as they will be increasingly susceptible as well. Finally, for any machines that are absolutely vital to the running of your library, figure out a backup solution.

If your library needs to discover a path beyond April 8th, please contact me and I’ll be happy to offer advice.

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Black Friday Blues

Buy ALL THE THINGS!

Now that we’ve all survived Thanksgiving and its twin “holiday,” Black Friday, we can all relax until Christmas, right?

Except, of course, for the librarians that will no doubt be asked to assist buyers in determining which technological device is best, or how to use them. Black Friday brings technology reference questions en masse to our doorsteps, and we are the ones that help those tentative buyers.

So let’s give a quick look over the smartphones and tablets so that we have a few resources up our collective sleeves when those questions start flooding in:

Smartphones

Some generalities about smartphones, especially if you yourself don’t own one:

1) Smartphones often have a reduced price tag if the person is willing to get locked into a two-year (or more) contract. It’s important to know what cellular service providers offer coverage to the user’s area, and to read the fine print on any contract (breaking the contract generally costs close to the amount you saved on the phone).

2) Contracts are for both minutes (when using the device as a telephone) and data (using the device as a tablet outside of a wireless network). Overages in either area can become very costly, but data is usually the problem-child in this regard. It’s possible to stream a movie to your device, but that may take up a considerable chunk of your data traffic for the month.

3) There is a host of peripheral devices that you may want to purchase with any smartphone: a protective case, car charger, and often other devices such as a Bluetooth earpiece for hands-free calling.

Here are a few sites which offer reviews of the smartphones of 2013:

ZDNet reviews – November 11th article

Engadget reviews – November 22nd article

GizMag feature comparison – November 21st article

Tablets

A few helpful tips for shaping your patrons’ expectations about tablets:

1) Tablets are not small laptops with touchscreens. Tablets are aimed at a user more interested in consuming information and entertainment than generating it. If someone is looking for a tablet that can let them read e-books, play movies or games and browse the web a bit, great. If they’re looking for something that will let them do office work from home, they’d be better advised to look at notebook computers. (Yes, there are functionality apps out there for tablets. Most people I have encountered find using the on-screen keyboard or even a Bluetooth keyboard for more than short emails very tedious.)

2) Tablets also come in varieties that offer cellular access as well as connecting to nearby wireless networks. Tablets that have cellular capability (3G or 4G, these days) will require a data plan with a cellular service provider. Otherwise, internet connectivity is through wireless only.

3) Like smartphones, tablets will typically need more accessories, such as a case, stylus and often a Bluetooth keyboard for typing.

A handful of sites reviewing tablets of 2013:

TechRadar reviews – November 22nd article

CNet reviews – November 25th article

TopTenReviews feature comparison – November 25th article

For children, technology gifts are on the rise. In fact, earlier today, PBS recently posted an interesting article indicating that over half of the parents surveyed intend to give their children a tech gift (tablet or video game console) this Christmas. (Parents of children under two could be advised to research further, as lots of screen time at that age may have developmental effects; they may want to wait until pre-school age.) So let’s look at a few children’s tablet review sites:

PCMag reviews – November 25th article

Forbes reviews – September 11th article

Hopefully these links will give you a few choices of site to reference when asked, “Which tablet / smartphone should I buy for my mother / spouse / child?” Of course, to get some hands-on experience with tablets at your library, you could always request the Maine State Library technology petting zoo!

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in devices

The many futures of e-reading

Future arrows

Back in August, I blogged a bit about the current state of e-books, especially with regard to libraries. However, the future of the e-book is diversifying, and several companies have begun testing new ways of marketing e-books. Some of these methods are intended for direct marketing to consumers rather than through libraries, meaning that libraries will be seeing even greater competition for providing e-books to patrons:

First, let’s look at Oyster, a company whose service has been termed “the Netflix for books.” Their idea is to court publishers into offering as many titles as possible, and sell that access as a monthly subscription to their customers, anyone using Apple mobile devices. Oyster offers access to e-books from its library on an unlimited basis, and has some large publishers backing them: Houghton Mifflin, HarperCollins, and SmashWords (a large self-publishing company). They have also tied in readers advisory functionality, social media and privacy settings.

Following in their footsteps is Scribd, with a similar unlimited-use service with a monthly subscription. Claiming to be the largest global digital library, their service is slightly less expensive than Oyster, and shares a focus on mobile users (though they also have an Android app, which Oyster currently lacks). Scribd claims also to offer supplemental information to its readers: “Scribd’s extensive collection of user generated content also offers subscribers additional reading options that enhance and add a social element to the books they’re reading or have read. For example, after reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, readers can access papers analyzing the different characters in the book, a doctorate paper on tenement houses in Brooklyn, and even a study guide for the book.”

A third subscription option is eReatah, though they do not employ the unlimited use option. Instead, users pay monthly for a certain number of tokens (between two and four), and reading a book costs one token. However, with eReatah, you are permitted to keep the content you have purchased, even should you cancel your subscription. They are also using a powerful algorithm used by Netflix for making recommendations based on previous purchases, making it easier to find new authors or titles that readers might not otherwise have encountered.

For people who are interested in deals on e-books, there’s also services like BookBub, which notify you when an e-book has been steeply discounted (or offered for free) by many of the major vendors. Rather than spend the time perusing the online marketplaces, these services do the work for consumers.

More and more, vendors of library services are shifting toward a pay-per-use model, such as Freading and the Gale Virtual Reference Library. This model seems to be very attractive for libraries that have the resources to support the reading habits of their communities, but retain some of the issues of other models, such as the lack of ownership of titles. However, the cost per use is considerably less than the cost of a single copy of the material, so it can be seen as “micro-licensing” of a sort.

Finally, publishers often find themselves choosing platforms of preference, such as Overdrive3M Cloud Library or Axis 360. We’re pretty familiar with this model, though it seems like the one that makes no one perfectly happy (except the owners of the platforms themselves). They will remain around until a critical mass of e-reading consumers have sided with a different method.

Which future do you think is most likely?

Go wild with our zoo!

Orangutan and tablet

Apologies to subscribers to this blog: in my previous post on the 7th, I said I would be absent the following Monday (the 14th) due to the holiday. I was away at the New England Library Association conference on the 21st, and was doing my best not to share my copious supply of germs during my time there, and did not provide an article. So it’s been two weeks since I’ve shared with you, my adoring followers.

Something that I did share while I was there as an exhibitor for the Maine State Library was the debut of our long-awaited technology petting zoo. What’s a technology petting zoo? As we’ve envisioned it, it’s a selection of e-readers, media devices and tablets that represent the bigger names in each category, from which a library may selectively borrow for purposes of digital literacy education, either for their staff or patrons.

It’s all based off of the initiative that began almost a year ago, when Janet McKenney (my supervisor) and I traveled around Maine to several different locations, informing libraries of upcoming national initiatives such as the EveryoneOn Ad Council campaign. It was also our chance to take the pulse of what librarians throughout the state wanted for training in digital literacy training.

One of the most resounding ideas was the ability to have a collected pool of devices that represented the breadth of technology librarians were confronted with by patrons and asked to instruct on their use. Many libraries don’t have the resources to afford such devices, and even those that could found themselves needing to “catch up” with newer versions. Could the Maine State Library, our librarians wondered, support such a collection?

This is our emphatic reply: yes. In the form of six different types of devices: the Amazon Kindle PaperWhite, the Nook SimpleTouch, the Amazon Kindle Fire, the Nook HD+, the Apple iPad Mini, and the Google Nexus. The first two are pure e-readers, meant for consumption of e-books. The next two are what I have termed “media devices”, somewhere between the specific nature of e-readers but also shy of full tablet status. The last two are tablets, representing both the Apple and Android ecosystems.

Devices alone do not constitute training, and so we’ve taken another step: these devices come with objective-based training pamplets, detailing basic operation of the devices as well as an overview of some of the primary tasks a beginning user might need to know, such as connecting to a wireless network. We’re also offering education in the form of a trainer to accompany the zoo and train either the staff or provide an event for patrons to attend.

We’re very proud of the petting zoo, and have already had a successful deployment, courtesy of Kate Pickup-McMullin at Southwest Harbor Public Library. They borrowed five of each of our iPad Minis and Google Nexuses, deployed them to their staff, and offered events for patrons to learn about the devices from the staff.

Further details about the zoo can be found here, including the links to the use policy, schedule, request form and feedback form. We’re hoping many Maine libraries will take advantage of the zoo. How about your library?

iOS 7: hate it or love it, live with it

iOS 7 logo

The recent release of the new operating system for Apple mobile devices (like iPads and iPhones), iOS7, has a wealth of new features and, as is typical with mass deployment of software, new problems. Many people may find their way to their local libraries for help, if they don’t live within an easy drive of an Apple genius, or know of one personally. So let’s chat for a bit about what’s good about the new iOS, and what you can anticipate from your patrons or your Apple devices.

Good:

  • All Apple mobile devices now have a feature called “Control Center”, which is accessed by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. This is a shortcut to Settings for any app, letting you quickly make helpful changes without going through the Settings app to do so. (http://www.theverge.com/2013/9/18/4741724/ios-7-review)
  • For those who use their Apple devices as personal secretaries, the Today View in the Notification Center gathers all relevant pieces of information for the day in one place, such as appointments, weather, reminders, current stock prices, and so on. (http://appadvice.com/appnn/2013/09/how-to-customize-notification-center-in-ios-7)
  • Multitasking is easier now with the App Manager. Pressing the home button twice used to show the icons of all running apps, and if you wanted to close them, you had to make them dance and wobble. Now, with a double-press, you see a mini-version of the running app, and a swipe of the finger scrolls through them or closes them. (http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow/story/316056/how-to-multitask-in-ios-7)
  • Security is improved, especially in case of theft. Using these changes will let you lock a stolen device so that a would-be thief would need your credentials to successfully re-activate the device. Also, promises of iCloud Keychain (to be released soon) will permit your Apple device to remember your passwords and credit cards, keying them to your thumbprint. http://www.pcworld.com/article/2050765/the-7-best-crime-fighting-features-of-ios-7.html

Bad:

Hopefully, this won’t impact our libraries all too significantly. (The Overdrive app has a new version that plays nice with iOS 7.) If so, let me know what problems you encounter!

(Sorry about the lack of a post last week, and due to the holiday, there will be no post this coming Monday.)

Tablets and laptops and desktops, oh my!

Tablets, laptops, desktops

It’s like watching evolution in progress. First, there was the personal computer, and for the sake of this short history lesson, we’ll only go as far back as the IBM or MacIntosh of the early 1980’s. Then the laptop appeared on the scene not too long after, followed by mobile phones and PDAs. Things calmed down for a bit until touch screen technology became viable for the consumer market, and then came the blending of PDAs and mobile phones into smartphones. Then came tablets, which caused a cascade of children with qualities blended with other devices. Tablets and smartphones are the parents of mini tablets (slightly smaller tablets) and phablets (slightly larger smartphones), while tablets and laptops sired convertible tablets (tablets with attached keyboards) and hybrids (laptops or tablets with detachable keyboards).

So if you’re a library buying new devices for the public, how do you choose where to put your money? Glad you asked.

Most often, the question is about tablet versus laptop; this is the question asked when portability or space are of concern. Most sources suggest that it comes down to the intended use. If the intended use is consumption — viewing websites or movies, checking email, and maybe playing some basic games — then tablets win out over laptops. On the flip side, if someone wants to craft a resume, do online tax filing or tinker with photos, then the laptops come out ahead. In libraries, this can mean the difference between “short-term” and “long-term” computer use, or “children’s computers” as compared to “adult-use computers.”

Things to think about in either case: both laptops and tablets can be tricky to manage in terms of physical security (making sure they don’t leave the building), and tablets are also tough to lock down so that others aren’t able to tinker with their settings (though you can go a long ways with the parental controls of most tablets). Also, tablets are the hardest to troubleshoot of the three, and even replacing a tablet’s battery may mean sending it back to the manufacturer. Laptops are easier to deal with, but are more difficult to maintain than desktops.

Desktops have the greatest space needs by far, but often make for a better long-term investment. Desktops can be comparable in expense to laptops, particularly since monitors can and often will outlive the desktops with which they were purchased, and don’t need to be replaced for many years. If a part fails within a desktop, often it can be swapped out with little trouble. Desktops are ideal for high-end software needs, as it’s far less expensive to buy the necessary desktop components for computer gaming or video rendering than the comparable laptop would cost.

So the long and short of it: tablets are great for basic web browsing (though no tablet currently supports Flash out of the box) and productivity, but are rarely the best choice for workhorse machines. Consider tablets when you want to educate your patrons on the use of tablets, or to give them a fun and easy way to connect to the Internet. Laptops and desktops are better for a more well-rounded service, with laptops winning out when space or mobility is a factor. Desktops are best for longevity or high-end software needs.

What’s your experience with tablets versus laptops? What way is your library headed?

By Jared Leadbetter Posted in devices

The e-ssentials of e-books

e-book

With the new look for the Maine InfoNet Download Library and the imminent update to the Overdrive Media Console app (bonus points if you are registered for the live webinar), it may be time to say a few words about e-books. (I am, of course, making the assumption that readers of this blog know what is an e-book, and why they are important to libraries.)

I’d be very hard-pressed to say anything particularly new or insightful on the subject, and even harder to say anything that won’t be rendered obsolete within a few months, except to make some very broad observations: there is a growing demand for e-books, the larger book publishers have reservations about selling e-books to libraries, and even librarians are finding ethical conundrums when dealing with e-books.

In many ways, e-books have become symbolic of the challenges facing libraries and librarians: an increasingly digital world where libraries are striving to meet demands despite tightening budgets and active competition from the private sector. In Maine, we’ve been very fortunate to have the Download Library (as supported by Overdrive to manage almost all of the technical hurdles), but then supporting patrons with their e-reader devices can be tough on smaller libraries with limited staff and technology training.

Many libraries are choosing a path forward. Some are trailblazing, such as the New York Public Library and the Douglas County Public Library, by negotiating directly with publishers. Most others are working with middleperson “aggregators” of e-books, like Overdrive, MyiLibrary, 3M Cloud Collection, and EBSCO eBooks (available through MARVEL!). Point is, it’s going to be hard for libraries not to do something about the trend toward e-books.

It’s not just libraries that are moving forward to the digital realm: education is facing a push to digitize textbooks due to the number of tablets among high-school and college students. It’s not hard to imagine how this trend will lift e-book demand even higher, as the generation of young digital natives grows into digital consumers. Not only that, but e-book readers will certainly result (and has, already) in more self-publication in e-book format.

Some have already imagined the “bookless” library, where each patron has his or her own tablet, and can browse, borrow, request and read everything in their library’s collection from anywhere. Others will forever maintain that the tangible collection can never be truly replaced. Where does your library fall on this spectrum, and how are you addressing the e-book question?

Meeting face-to-screen

Modern-day videoconferencing?

Now that we’re 21st century, weren’t we all supposed to be communicating by teleconferencing by now? At the Maine State Library, we’re trying to make teleconferencing a reality.

Twenty public libraries in our state are acting as video conferencing hubs, using a device known as a Tandberg. This device is extremely useful for large group meetings, such as Minerva circulation or cataloging meetings. This network of libraries also participated in our Lawyers in Libraries program. Independently, libraries have provided financial literacy workshops, tapped into the Smithsonian, or live streamed a discussion panel on medical issues. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

These twenty libraries are not the only benefactors of video conferencing. Any library with a computer, webcam and microphone, and internet connection can tap into these resources. Not only that, but in doing so, libraries can open the door to faster ways of connecting with colleagues across the state. There’s built-in technical support (between Networkmaine) and one-on-one assistance (Alan Fecteau and I at the Maine State Library) for this service.

If you’d like to be one of those libraries to take advantage of this resource, please visit our video conferencing resource page or directly request accounts (one for you, and one as a guest account for your library).