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Download your favorite song… For FREE!

February 12th, 2013 No comments

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Westchester Library System recently added a new service that allows patrons to download DRM-free music for free.  The service is called Freegal, an amalgamation of the words “free” and “legal”, because that is exactly what it is.  This is a free and legal way for people to access their favorite music, any time, any where, from the place they are familiar with, the library.

So the question I get the most is, “How is this free?”  or “Is it really free?”.  The answer is easy.  It is free for the patrons to use.  WLS has purchased this service and the owners of the music rights are reimbursed for our patrons use.

To start, download the Freegal app from your devices app store (i.e. Google Play on Android or the App Store on iOS devices).  The app is free.  From there, you find your library, enter your library card and away you go!  Patrons get three downloads per week and can make wishlists for future downloads.  Many patrons using the service already log in every week to claim their free downloads.

The next most common question I get is, “So how good is the music?”.  ITS GREAT.  There are millions of songs from tens of thousands of recordings artists.  Everything from Pitbull to the Philharmonic is there waiting for your ears.

If you don’t have an Andorid or iOS (APPLE) device you can also download and listen on your computer.  Visit the Westchester Libraries website, and click on the Freegal link.

Happy Listening!

New Years Resolutions from the Library

January 3rd, 2013 No comments

This year, thousands of people received a new tablet, smart phone or eBook reader as their holiday gift.  And, with these new gifts, they’ve been able to download fun apps to keep track of all their New Years Resolutions!

We can help with your New Years Resolutions, especially if one of them is a 2013 reading list! In Westchester, your public libraries have all the E content you need for your new device. Click on to WestchesterLibraries and choose Catalog to search for books that you want to read, or other great digital content such as movies and video games.

The library card is really a gift that keeps on giving, and will definitely keep you on track to accomplishing your year-long goals!

eBooks are great, especially at your library!

December 27th, 2012 No comments

 

Digital content is everywhere you look and as it continues to grow, print media is falling by the wayside.  Many small local newspapers have already closed and the most recent big announcement of Newsweek ending its print operation soon, only highlights this more.  This is also being felt in the book publishing world and has a major impact on libraries.  It is significantly cheaper to produce and deliver an electronic book to a consumer then with a print book.  It is also far more convenient and cheaper for the consumer.  Considering the average bestseller is about $10.00 cheaper in electronic format than in print, and that a major brand name eBooks reader can be purchased for less than $100, a regular reader can quickly realize savings without having to cart around the heavy paper book or store when they’re done.

It wasn’t long after eBooks hit the mainstream that library users wanted the same convenience.  In Westchester, libraries are delivering this service to their patrons and it is being met with overwhelming popularity.  There are more than 13,000 eBooks available for patrons to download.  All they need is a library card from a library in Westchester.  And how popular is it?  In 2011, library patrons downloaded just over 87,000 items from our catalog.  This year, we’ve already circulated well over 120,000 as of the end of September.

As wonderful as it is to be able to offer the service, it is not without its challenges.  All of this material must be licensed from the publishers.  It comes at a significant cost, much more than print media.  The library must pay the publisher for each simultaneous use of a book in electronic form.  Therefore, if we want to make it possible for two people to read the same book at the same time we must purchase two licenses.  Sometimes it is challenging to explain why someone must wait for digital copy of a book.  However, we have found that once people understand that the material is licensed and that they have to wait in order for the checkouts to not violate the publishers rules, they are happy to wait their turn.  In 2013, WLS is undergoing an even further expansion of its eBooks offerings to the public.  It is also begun a more complete integration of eBooks into its online catalog so that people can find what they want for one simple search.  We launched a new online catalog in October!

It’s often asked if this means the end of print books and of the physical library building.  I don’t think so.  Libraries will likely always have some books and sometimes nothing beats holding a print book in your hand.  I also don’t think the physical library is going extinct.  However, it is evolving.  The concept of the library as community center is already becoming a reality.  Visit your local library and check out the programs that they are offering the public.  It has been a long time since the library is only a place for print books.  It is now a place where people go to experience books.  Story times, book groups, and the like, are commonplace in every library.  Libraries are a center for innovation, a place for research, a portal to discovery and much more.  Part of that discovery and innovation is the introduction of eBooks into the library model.

Give the gift of literacy!

December 18th, 2012 No comments

The gift giving season is upon us.  As a technology expert, I’m often asked for recommendations and gift ideas.  As is usually the case, there’s no shortage of new techno gadgets and gizmos on the market this year. However, I also like to recommend gifts that have a practical purpose, in addition to being fun to use.

Literacy rates in New York are frightening.  Statewide more than 20% lack basic literacy skills.  While in Westchester County the statistic is slightly better at 13%, there’s still much to be done.  Giving children a great tool to help them learn to read at as early an age as possible, while also giving them a toy they’ll love to play with, seems a perfect fit. This year, for children ages one through eight, I recommend Tag and Tag Jr.  Reading System Products from Leapfrog.This product is nothing short of amazing;  it teaches everything from the very basics of letter identification, phonics, and sounding out words, to reading their very first full book!

So this year, consider giving the gift of literacy to a child you know.  This also would make a great gift to donate to the many wonderful toy drives such as Toys for Tots. Here is a link so you can find the nearest Toys for Tots drop-off center.

Happy Holidays!

Robert A. Caluori, Jr., Director of Information Technology

Laptops, Tablets and Ultrabooks, Oh My!

December 12th, 2012 No comments

If you love technology it’s a great time to be in the market for a new mobile device.  There are so many new laptops, tablets and smart phones on the market now one could spend every moment from now until New Year’s Day trying to decide what to buy.  Here are some things to consider when buying that new device.

Laptops vs. Tablets: Many people struggle with the decision of buying a laptop or tablet.  “Will a tablet do everything you needed to do?  Do I wanna lug around a full size laptop?  I don’t need a laptop, I love my smart phone, I just want a bigger screen!” These are all things that go on inside our internal dialogue when shopping for that new device.

You’re not alone!

Lately, the decision to buy a tablet over a laptop is becoming easier.  If you’re an Apple user and use your computer for basic functions such as Internet browsing, word processing, e-mail and chatting, the answer is an easy one.  The iPad is a cheaper, more portable, and equally as functional replacement for the old laptop.

However, if you’re not an Apple user and don’t want to become one, you have many options available to you.  Microsoft has recently released Windows 8.  Fully functional, touch friendly, and available in a wide range of new devices, it may just be the perfect choice to replace the old laptop.

New technology from Intel has also brought to market a line of new devices called ultrabooks.  These new devices feature the power of a laptop with the convenience of the tablet in one device. Lenovo, Dell, Microsoft, Sony and many others, have devices on the market with these new features and technologies.

If you have an Android smart phone and are comfortable with its functionality and just want a bigger screen, you may want to consider an Android tablet.  It’s like your smart phone with a bigger screen.

If you still struggle with what to buy, the best advice I can give is to visit your local electronics store.  Usually all it takes is a few minutes with your hands on the device to tell if it will work for you.  You should be able to intuitively use a tablet within 5 minutes without instruction.  If after 5 minutes it is not an intuitive experience, then the device is probably not for you and I would recommend checking out a different device.

There are so many different devices on the market that there surely one for everybody.

Rob Caluori, Director of Information Technology

Open Source Software in Libraries

December 6th, 2012 No comments

 

By now most people have heard of source software.  Products like the Android operating system for smart phones and OpenOffice the open source alternative for the Microsoft Office product suite have shown the general public what is possible when the development community maintains software rather than a corporation.  Open source software has also made an impact on libraries.  Several projects have made significant progress and are making their way into mainstream operation in public libraries.  Going beyond basic desktop productivity software such as word processing there are now open source projects for functions such as the integrated library system which is used to manage patron and item data, reserves and bills as well as the online catalog, server and desktop operating systems help desk ticketing systems, self-checkout interfaces  and even phone systems.

So what is open source?  Why is it important?  Is it really free?  These are very important questions and the last one is very rarely discussed.  Open source software simply means that the code used to make the software is available to anyone who wants to see it or change it to better suit their needs.  It used to be that large corporations had no hand in open source software however that is quickly changing.  Companies such as Oracle and Google have embraced open source software, but that is a subject for another day.  Sometimes off the shelf proprietary software just doesn’t do what the organization needs.  Open source software is important because it allows organizations to develop custom solution without having to start at square one.  Oftentimes needing a custom solution is not unique to the base requirements are the same.  An organization can easily use an open source project as their base and develop a custom solution around it.  It’s not really free.  Open source software does not eliminate costs it transfers cost from the acquisition of software to its customization, maintenance and support.

There are many great open source projects that can be used in libraries.  One such project is called VuFind.  VuFind is an open source catalog develop that Villanova University.  The university library there use it as their main catalog.  It was so successful that they released into the world and many libraries and library systems use it today.  Westchester Library System uses VuFind for the catalog that is used to serve the correctional facilities within the county.  There is no Internet access in the libraries in the correctional facilities in Westchester.  The WLS IT department modified the VuFind software to provide an offline, standalone catalog that can be used without an Internet connection.

To another great example of open source software is Asterisk.  This software allows a server to be used as a VOIP PBX phone system.  VOIP phone service is significantly cheaper than traditional phone service and using this software allows the library system to save money on its telephone services.

WLS is also exploring the use of open source self-checkout software for use in our member libraries.  Currently self-checkout solutions are very expensive mainly due to the cost of custom hardware.  The solution WLS is pursuing will use less expensive off the shelf hardware along with the open source self-checkout interface to deliver the less expensive alternative to the libraries.  Due to the fact that the hardware is off the shelf, ongoing maintenance costs should also be reduced.

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