Electronic Eye December 2011
Electronic Audio State of Flux: Transferring from NetLibrary to Audiobooks on EBSCOhost
This was my third year for hosting an all-school read, as a part of our continued anti-bullying initiative. Every student was asked to choose a book from a collection of sixteen titles, all with the general theme of valuing differences and diversity. Since I feel strongly that students should have a choice to read what appeals to them, regardless of their reading ability, I have to rely heavily on audiobooks to support struggling readers.
It is a challenge every year to gather together enough audio titles for all the readers who need them. We use Playaway devices with the digital file already loaded on them, “old school” audio CDs, and digital file downloads on a very small collection of loanable mp3 players, and it always seems like a cobbled together solution that is so complex that students can’t navigate it on their own.
A simple solution would be to tell my students a Web address of an online resource that I subscribe to and provide them with a small amount of “just-in-time” tech training. Two years ago I subscribed to NetLibrary, along with the other librarians in my state-wide consortium, and thought I had found the answer. Alas, there were technical challenges that had to be overcome. The major problem was that downloading an audio file onto a portable device was a frustrating multi-stepped process, starting with checking out the file, downloading it onto a computer, and then using a program like Windows Media Player or iTunes to sync it to the device. Most of the files that were available on NetLibrary were Windows Media compatible, but not compatible with Apple devices such as iPods, iPhones and iPads.
Then the entire NetLibrary online resource was transferred over to EBSCOhost this summer. This review looks at the finer points of Audiobooks on EBSCOhost (http://www.ebscohost.com/audiobooks/home). Libraries can tailor this database in many ways to fill the needs of their own patrons. So, it’s important to note that the database that I’m accessing for this review is one that has been tailored for purchase by the libraries in my state consortium.
The best part of Audiobooks on EBSCOhost is that it is part of the very robust EBSCOhost interface. This visually pleasing interface includes a prominent center section that advertises the newest additions to the collection, as well as featured audiobooks. This section encourages greater browsing and surfing.
A navigation bar on the right offers specific categories for browsing. These broad categories include “Fiction: Science Fiction and Fantasy” and “Biographies and Memoirs.” Unfortunately for young adults, “Children’s and Young Adult” fiction and non-fiction are lumped in together. It can be a little disconcerting for young adults to see Sarah Dessen titles in the same list as Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew. Users have the ability to further limit category browsing by clicking on specific subjects and by copyright date.
The EBSCOhost interface also has a search capability called “SmartText.” SmartText searching allows the user to enter phrases, sentences, and even paragraphs and EBSCO’s search engine pulls out the important keywords and returns results that are close in match to the search query. It’s a little like natural language searching on hyperdrive. It is also a great way to find “listen-alikes.”
The EBSCOhost system also empowers users to create their own profiles and save their work. They call this functionality “My EBSCOhost” and it is very easy for a user to set up and manage their own account. “My EBSCOhost” accounts are necessary in order to check out and download audiobooks. Libraries can turn on the ability for users to put audios on hold. The “My EBSCOhost” personalization functionality is configured on the top right of the screen and users can easily keep tabs on what audios they have checked out, and for how long, as well as where they are on the hold lists for particular items. In order to create a “My EBSCOhost” account, users authenticate within their network and then library administrators have the option of providing them with access outside of the network.
The largest upgrade from the NetLibrary interface to the EBSCOhost interface is the efficiency of transferring audio files to portable devices. This is done via a program called “Download Manager,” which is available for both Apple and PC and nicely interfaces with either Windows Media Player or iTunes. Users can specify which type of device they will be using in the “My EBSCOhost” preferences and then the Download Manager detects their device automatically. I tested out Download Manager with iTunes and was impressed by how seamlessly it works. Once the “Download Manager” was installed, it was very much a one-click process. The status of the download and transfer is clearly stated on the screen. The user will experience no concern that the system isn’t actually doing what it was supposed to do.
There are presently two formats present in the database: .wma files, which require you to use Windows Media Player, and .mp3 files, which can be used on Apple products as well as Windows Media. After December 31, 2011, there will not be any titles that require Windows Media Player.
The most exciting part of this online interface is that there is an app for both the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch and Android market. Once a user has downloaded the app, they use a function on the website that sends out an e-mail with the authentication code. Users then have to open up their e-mail on their mobile device and click on the authentication code link. I did try this out on both an iPhone and an iPad and the server timed on both devices during this review. I’m still excited about this functionality, however. This is exactly what needs to happen to make audiobooks more available to a greater number of individuals.
In sum, EBSCOhost for Audiobooks is an interface and database that I can get excited about teaching to my users. Their comfort level with the product will be strong because the Download Manager makes transferring a file to a portable device a one-click process and, with the introduction of the app for the iTunes and Android market, I can see users starting to enjoy it.
Now if I can only keep it from switching to something else . . .
After working for eight years as head librarian at Marymount School of New York in New York City, Kathleen Meulen is now a librarian for the Bainbridge Island School District in Washington state. Please e-mail comments to email@example.com.