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Wednesday, 11/30/05

Though no one thought to inform me, the Seattle Public Library started offering patrons free access to O'Reilly's Safari Bookshelf service, apparently in September. This is a pretty big deal -- web-accessibly searchable, readable copies of nearly complete catalogs from O'Reilly and most other tech book publishers worth mentioning. Safari's pricing for the general public is reasonable but adds up.

I haven't found any clear documentation indicating what I can and can't expect from the SPL Safari license. I'm not sure if it recognizes me as an individual by my library number (required for access), or whether I'm lumped in with all other SPL patrons -- the site identifies me only as "remote access". I'm also puzzled at the moment by inconsistencies in the available titles.

For instance, searching for "Ruby" at the O'Reilly-hosted site comes back with four entries, though the same search through the SPL Safari gateway returns none. All four are in the list of titles that the SPL-licensed version claims to offer, so this may just be a short-lived glitch. In any case, even with a few rough edges, Safari access is a terrific benefit.

Less successful is the library's foray into ebooks and DRM-laden downloadable audiobooks. Some of the ebooks are PDF-based, which will work on Macs as well as Windows, as long as you let Acrobat dig its spurs into your sides and ride you around the room like a mean little girl renting a pony. Others are formatted for some Windows-only DRM system called Mobipocket.

All of the audiobooks, to my consternation, are Windows-only and iPod-hostile, though the vendor-hosted web site goes well out of its way to avoid stating that plainly.

Wackily, the "Overdrive Media Console" used on Windows to facilitate and constrain audiobook use appears designed solely to enforce an artificial scarcity, modeled on physical goods. If three people have already "checked out" 101 Habits Of Highly Effective Speakers you can only place a hold until one of them "returns" it. This is like paying extra for a Model T that poops and gets sick.

Still, one out of three ain't bad -- Safari Bookshelf is a unique, valuable resource, and audiobooks can still be checked out of the library in CD form (which I recommend for Lemony Snicket titles). Huzzahs all around. 08:50PM «


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