Friday, April 5, 2013

JHU: Complementary Services

In Shakespeare's Romeo & Juliet, there are two families whose "ancient grudge break to new mutiny, where civil blood make civil hands unclean." Between the prologue and the ultimate scene of reconciliation there is tragic bloodshed, betrayal, and other such wonderful things which run rampant through the Bard's work. This famous feud between the Montagues and Capulets is echoed in the current library world when it comes to the subject of print and digital. The future of the codex and the topic of content are heated topics at this time, and it seems that everyone has an opinion on which format will "win". At Johns Hopkins, it seems as if they've skipped the immature bloodshed and youthful passion that dominates much of the tragedy and skipped straight to the unrealized future of the young lovers' relationship: difficult compromises, communication, and teamwork.

Star Trek: Voyager's astrometrics lab

Both print and digital content thrives in the Eisenhower library. There are true stacks in the building, reaching for stories into the depths and encircling the heights of the library, and their e-book library consists of about a million items. Some other academic libraries have the feeling of being a step towards a more futuristic version of libraries, but Eisenhower has a feeling of gravity and depth to it which can't be replaced by any amount of smooth information interfaces or Majel Barrett-Roddenberry/Siri hybrids. Prospective purchases may be requested by students, faculty, and librarians, and each request is taken into consideration by the academic liaison. Electronic resources are purchased for as many campuses as is practical, and physical materials not in the building may be requested through interlibrary loan and from the off-site shelving facility.

Seeing this made my day

In order to maximize space, the librarians have reduced the purchasing of print books to about 25% of their total yearly acquisitions. There could be many reasons for a library to not make the jump to exclusively purchasing e-books, the reason given to me by Adriane Koenig (Sr. Academic Program Coordinator) was much simpler: many students still prefer print, and e-books don't always fit the needs of the reader. Different publishers have different rules for how their e-books can be used, and the learning curve of identifying these varying terms can be steep for students and faculty alike. Often it's easier to simply hunt through the stacks to find the trusty olde print copy.

Special Collections at the Eisenhower Library

While terms of use and physical access are both that students have had difficulty accessing their desired e-book, there is another barrier to access: formats. Adriane also noted that there are some "misperceptions surrounding the [electronic] resources, and that may be because there is no standard format." While Kindles may be able to download one type, Nooks download another, and iPads yet another. Apps can be downloaded and some middle ground discovered, but this massive and confusing venn diagram still leaves many out in the cold. On top of this, some e-books may be downloaded to computers, but the software used may not be cross-platform (for PCs, Apples, and *nix systems), which causes even more confusion for those who desire access. The solution the librarians have been tossing around casually is to have a kiosk where students can scan a QR code and print off the corresponding chapters, or tidbits from e-books regardless of format - but even this change of formats may not be allowed under fair use. Overall, their approach to the issue is matter-of-fact and straightforward: Until things are more accessible for our students, both e-books and print will continue to be purchased side by side.

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