Monday, December 31, 2007

Using the Library

I've been trying to get back to using our local library more. I used to be a big user of the library, but getting in and out of the library with little kids is such a pain that I stopped. This article about generation Y's return to the library was interesting. Here are 5 neat fairly new things I like about using the library:
  1. One of Jeff Scott's tips was to use Library Elf. I just signed up and it's pretty cool. Sort of like Mint.com for library books. It can monitor all of the library cards in your family from one account. It will email and text message you before books become overdue, when items on hold are available, etc. It even makes an RSS feed available to you.
  2. Both of the two closest branches to us (Jimmie B. Keel and Austin Davis) have free wifi access now. But the wifi was just about crippled by the restrictions they place on it, at least when I tried it. Jimmy B. Keel didn't allow https access at all, so I couldn't access any of my email or log into any services that are nice enough to not send your passwords around unencrypted. Austin Davis did allow https though so I can at least get to email and other useful services. Neither allowed VPN tunnels or SSH or anything, so there's no real way I can work from the library unless I'm just doing doc or Windows-only work.
  3. The library has a subscription to Ancestry.com Library Edition so I can do world-wide genealogy research for free (instead of paying $30 a month). You can only access the service from a library computer though. I'm not sure how I can save copies of historical documents (birth/death records, censuses, etc.) using a library computer. If I can sort that out, it'll be really sweet. I sat there with my laptop open using my own Ancestry.com account (expired but you can still edit trees) to edit my tree while I used the library's account to do research.
  4. Our library subscribes to Overdrive Digital Library Reserve, a service that lets you download audio books and music. (They also support video and ebooks but I guess our library didn't subscribe to that). The audio is Windows Media only and of course it's wrapped in digital rights management (DRM). As long as you're going to only listen to the books at a Windows PC, that would work. I had problems getting it working on my laptop but got past that. PocketTunes on my Treo can't seem to get the rights to play the files at all. My SanDisk Sansa Express plays the files fine but no iPod can play them at all. Some audio books have the option to burn to CD but that's not very practical for a 7 hour audio book. The DRM-ed audio books expire after one week which is pretty short for something like the 18-hour A Short History of Nearly Everything.
  5. The hold system hasn't changed in years, but it still works great. I can get online and find the books I'm interested in. I place a hold and when they're available anywhere in the system, they get sent to the branch of my choice so I can pick them up whenever I'm there. I used to use this all the time. Even if the book was available at the branch I go to, I can place a hold to reserve it and avoid the hassle of searching for it (or remembering to go get it). This works great if you stop by the branch regularly like once a week.
Updates:
As I mentioned in my comment below, I was able to hit Ancestry.com's library edition from my own laptop. That let me save historical documents to my own laptop easily. Or at least it would be easy if it wasn't being so slow. Both times I've tried the library edition, queries have been a lot slower than they usually are for me. But that might just be because it's the middle of the day and I'm used to using Ancestry.com late at night.

The other day we had some DNS issues on our broadband so I popped over to Jimmie B. Keel to see if I could at least get my work email from there. I'm now able to access secure https sites there fine so maybe that's fixed across all the library wifi spots. I also discovered that while I couldn't use our normal VPN tunnel to work, I could get in using our newer Aventail SSL tunnel, which I guess is able to mask itself as https or just http. It worked great. I haven't seen anything in the library policy that would prevent it, so this might make library branches an alternative "work from home" location.

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