Posts Tagged ‘e-books’

Ebook URLs: bodge upon bodge upon bodge

Posted on October 3rd, 2012 by Paul Stainthorp

From the Oxford English Dictionary:

† bodge, v.

Etymology:  An altered form of botch v.1; compare grudge < grutch.
Obs. or dial. 1. trans. To patch or mend clumsily.

Chris Leach and I have had to bodge a fix for ebook URLs in our library catalogue, for a third time. I’m getting that feeling that we’ve bodged our way into a corner. (N.B. we’re going to upgrade Athens quite soon – I hope that once we can build our own WAYFless URLs to UK Federation-authenticated resources, on a * root, we should be able to fix this problem ‘properly’. Until then…)

Here’s the problem and a list of our bodges to date:

We import MARC records for ebooks from Ingram’s MyiLibrary platform. They contain perfectly good, honest URLs (stored in MARC field 856$u), tweaked for Athens in the form (e.g.):


Next, to make sure our users see the correct Athens login option for the University of Lincoln…
Screenshot from Athens

…and not a generic Athens username and password box (from where the user would have to click on “Alternative login” and generally go round the houses to proceed)…
Screenshot from MyiLibrary

…we use MARC field mapping feature in our LMS (SirsiDynix Horizon – a feature which operates not unlike the e-journals A-to-Z’s “proxy mask” tool) to prefix every URL stored in MARC 856$u with our standard Athens cookie-setting prefix URL (N.B. this prefix is applied to all ebooks in the catalogue–in fact, any URL in 856$u–not just MyiLibrary ebooks):


This prefix combines with the contents of 856$u to give a compound URL, which is presented to the user as a hyperlink in user in HiP, our OPAC/web catalogue (e.g.):


Problem #1 – that compound URL doesn’t work. It returns an Athens error (presumably because Athens can’t tell whether the variables at the end of the URL belong to, or to
Screenshot from Athens

Bodge #1 – To avoid this error, the second part of the compound URL ought to be %-encoded (the A-to-Z’s proxy mask feature allows for this using {startencode}{endencode} pseudotags, but the Horizon MARC field processor doesn’t have anything like this afaik). So, we changed our import processes/record specification for the MARC records we get from MyiLibrary, %-encoding the contents of 856$u:


…giving a compound URL (including the field prefix) of:


This worked fine for users accessing ebooks from HiP.

Problem #2 – didn’t occur until we started using Talis Aspire as reading list software. When a user bookmarked a catalogue record from HiP, the %-encoded contents of 856$u were causing an error. See explanation here.
Screenshot from Talis Aspire

Bodge #2 – to fix this Talis Aspire error, we downloaded all of our MyiLibrary MARC records (using an SQL query to identify every record where 856$u contained ‘’) and used MarcEdit to partially undo the %-encoding of the URL, to give:


…before re-uploading the doctored records into Horizon. This was enough to fool Talis Aspire into accepting the URL as valid, and as the reading lists prefix each online resource URL with a redirection URL of their (Talis’s) own, the net result is that users can link from a reading list to an ebook. (However, because the URL-as-stored-in-Aspire doesn’t contain the Athens cookie-setting prefix, some users will inevitably be sent to the wrong, generic Athens login page instead of the correct, University of Lincoln-specific one.)

Problem #3 – Most recently, when we started weekly exports of MARC records from Horizon into our new discovery service Find it at Lincoln (our name for the EBSCO Discovery Service) we discovered that the partial-%-encoding still wasn’t enough to produce a valid URL. Find it at Lincoln doesn’t prefix the ebook URLs in any way, and when users clicked on the ‘raw’, partially-encoded URL in a book record within the EBSCO service, they were getting a browser error.
Screenshot of a browser error

Bodge #3 – this is where it gets very messy. As a short-term fix to stop users seeing the browser error every time they tried to access a MyiLibrary ebook from within Find it at Lincoln, we again exported all 1,300 or so MyiLibrary-matching MARC records from Horizon, and again edited the 856$u URLs using MarcEdit.

This time, we added the Athens cookie-setting prefix to each MyiLibrary URL, before re-uploading. We also then ran a separate export of the same records to a .csv file, which makes it easy to do a visual/formula-driven inspection of all 1,300-odd records to make sure there aren’t any duplicates/oddities/crud. This is a useful trick we’ll be using again!

So, the contents of 856$u now look like:


…as such, they should work fine in both the reading lists system, and in Find it at Lincoln (once the most recent weekly MARC dump has been processed by EBSCO). In HiP, however, they still get the MARC field prefix applied, and they end up with a double Athens prefix:


This double-dose of Athens cookie-setting doesn’t seem to do any harm, although I do know that Athens throws a wobbly if a user is referred to an authentication point too many times in quick succession – so I’m wary of leaving things as they are.

There’s also the problem that other ebooks (on our other main platform, Dawsonera) are still being pulled into Find it at Lincoln and the reading lists without an Athens prefix, so unless users have already encountered an Athens institutional cookie, they’re getting the ‘wrong’ Athens authentication point. To get technical, they will see the HTML login form for users with an OpenAthens MD = Managed Directory account. Otherwise known—though it’s not a term approved of by Eduserv—as ‘classic Athens’. At Lincoln we only create classic Athens accounts (with usernames beginning hum_______) in an emergency.

We could perform the same trick with all our other ebook records (several tens of thousands of records, for Dawsonera and a few odds and sods): identify and download them, incorporate the Athens cookie-setting prefix within 856$u, re-upload them, and ditch the Horizon field prefix rule entirely. But: if and when we change our methods of authentication we’d have to process all the records all over again (though to be honest, we’re getting used to it…), and I’m loath to hard-code authentication ‘noise’ into our MARCs.

Other options: we could look at alternatives to Athens authentication (UK Federation or IP/EZproxy) in the case of MyiLibrary; we could speak to Ingram to see if there’s anything that can be done about their slightly odd Athens session behaviour, and/or we could just get on with setting up a new OpenAthens environment that allows us to create proper WAYFless URLs instead of using the cookie-setting method, which is itself a bit of a bodge. We could also see if it’s possible to add proxy-mask-style behaviour to links in EDS (Find it at Lincoln) and Talis Aspire.

For the time being, it’s holding together with sticky tape. Don’t breathe on it too hard.

Reading lists problem with unnecessarily encoded e-book URLs in Horizon: temporary fix

Posted on July 31st, 2012 by Paul Stainthorp

There’s a problem with a small number of e-book URLs in our library catalogue (held in MARC records, field 856$u, for some—but not all—e-books from Coutts MyiLibrary). For complex historical reasons, the normal URL, e.g.:

Has been percent-encoded like this:

This causes an error (“Invalid Web Address”) when you try to import the details into “My Bookmarks” in the reading lists system:
Screenshot of an error message in Talis Aspire

We’re working to eradicate these unnecessarily-encoded URLs from the catalogue. In the meantime, here’s a temporary fix.

  1. Import the record into the reading lists system as normal using the bookmarklet.
  2. Before you click on “Create”, copy the e-book URL from the “Web address” field.
  3. Go to this website:
  4. Paste the URL you copied into the large box on the screen, and hit “Decode”.
    Screenshot of the URL decoder
  5. Copy-and-paste the normal, decoded URL back into the reading lists system.
  6. Click on “Create” as normal and the e-book will be added to “My Bookmarks”.

OAPEN-UK focus group at the British Library

Posted on November 21st, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

British Library staff & contractors' entrance

Today I was at the British Library (allowed in via the staff entrance, no less) for a librarians’–repository managers’ focus group of the JISC/AHRC-funded OAPEN-UK project, which will run to 2015 and which aims to gather “evidence to help stakeholders make informed decisions on the future of open access scholarly monograph publishing in the humanities and social sciences”.

N.B. There doesn’t seem to be a nice, standard abbreviation for ‘open access scholarly monograph publishing’, so to avoid endlessly repeating the phrase I’ll refer to them as ‘OA e-books’ from now on. Today’s focus group was made up of academic library people (from cataloguing, e-resource management, and subject liaison roles) along with HEI repository managers.

OAPEN-UK is an extension of the original Open Access Publishing in European Networks (OAPEN) project which looked at the role of OA scholarly monograph publishing and its potential effect on researcher attitudes, behaviours, business/publishing models – mainly in the Netherlands. Five publishers (a mixture of ‘pure’ commercial and university publishing houses) are on board the OAPEN-UK steering group; between them they have contributed 60 book titles which will form a pilot data study: divided into 30 matching ‘pairs’ of titles (each pair sharing common characteristics), one book in each pair will form the control group (licensed for sale as usual), the other in each pair will be:

“…made available on the OAPEN Library in open access under a creative commons licence. In addition, the titles may be placed / discoverable via the publisher’s own website, institutional repositories, authors own website and will be 100% available in Google Book Search. MARC records will be made available to libraries”

Quantitative and qualitative data—sales, usage, citations, reuse, plagiarism—will be gathered on both groups of 30 (control/experimental), and combined with information from focus groups (including this one!) and user surveys to inform recommendations for future directions in OA e-book provision: aimed at publishers, universities, libraries, and researcher-authors and researcher-readers.

OAPEN-UK header image

The bulk of today’s focus group was taken up with an exercise to identify some of the issues of interest to libraries and repository managers in an OA e-book-‘enabled’ world. The 12 attendees divided into four groups of three and brainstormed using post-it notes (pink: ‘big issues'; blue: opportunities, yellow: questions) on charts divided into four areas for consideration: technical, financial, attitudinal, and administrative. We were then each asked to ‘vote’ on the issues we felt were most important/worthy of discussion, using little red stickers.

I took photos of the four charts:

OAPEN-UK focus group 4 OAPEN-UK focus group 3

OAPEN-UK focus group 2 OAPEN-UK focus group 1

Here’s a list of just a few of the interesting discussions that came out of the exercise:

  • What will be the attitude of subject specialists – if selection isn’t tied up with a financial burden to the university library, will they feel they have lost control of the selection process? Libraries will expect good, accurate, and correctable metadata and selection tools… or will we see a national, shared OA e-books ‘firehose’ feed with little or no selection at the institutional level?
  • How will the vendors of e-book aggregation services and platforms react? And what will be the effect of their reaction on libraries who subscribe to their services? Will we see a model where publishers/aggregators charge for ‘added value’ to a basic OA offering?
  • Does ‘Open Access’ equate to ‘access in perpetuity’? Whose responsibility will it be to ensure continued access? Will we need a LOCKSS/UK Research Reserve-type approach to looking after OA e-books? What should be the role of the JISC/legal deposit libraries/other national bodies in this (to set standards and accredit/certificate universities, perhaps)?
  • Who pays in a future OA e-book ecosystem? We’re not on familiar gold/green journal OA territory. What about author royalties – how will they be collected? Will they suffer, and how? Are libraries being pushed into a new ‘big deal’, this time for e-books (and can OA help)?

Flying Scotsman in sunlight at KGXAt this point, unfortunately—and typically—I had to dash for my train. But I’ll be following the OAPEN-UK project with great interest; it’s one I hope to come back to in future.

Some links:

Building an e-library in a new university in Ghana

Posted on September 9th, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

Kumasi RailtracksDr Kofi Appiah, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Lincoln School of Computer Science, is spending a year in his native Ghana to help establish a school of technology in a new HE institution there: the Christ Apostolic University College ( in the city of Kumasi.

Before he left, Kofi asked me for advice on how he could help the new School of Technology build an e-library infrastructure and/or access to e-library resources for their CompSci students and staff.

I suggested he look at a few things:

What else would you suggest? I’ll forward on any suggestions to Kofi, or you can email him yourself if you prefer.


Michael Hart

Posted on September 9th, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

Reproduced in full from my colleague Sue Watling’s blog. I can’t add anything to this, so I’m shamelessly reproducing it in full…

Michael Hart has died. I heard this via Twitter last night but so far there appears little recognition in the news. This should be a level 1 headline. Hart founded Project Gutenberg which is dedicated to ensuring equitable access to online content. Named after the Gutenberg Press from the late 15th century, which made possible the mass distribution of printed materials, Project Gutenberg aims to do the same with digital text. Books which no longer have copyright restrictions are digitised and made freely available in a range of formats enabling users to search, read and quote content. The project also invites users to participate. Become a Gutenberg volunteer and be sent digitised pages to proofread and check for errors. Volunteers are also invited to burn cds for people without Internet access. Project Gutenberg espouses the principles of open access while remaining focused on content rather than appearance; a philosophy we are in danger of losing in our current celebrity obsessed culture. It is a fantastic free resource; a legacy from the early days of mergence between the Internet and the World Wide Web and the founding philosophy of democratic access.

“As we move towards a highly connected world it is critical that the web be usable by anyone regardless of individual capabilities and disabilities.” (Berners Lee, 1997)

“…if we succeed making web accessibility the norm rather than the exception, this will benefit not only the disability community but the entire population.” (Dardailler, 1997).

The death of Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, is an ideal time to remember these principles. I hope Hart will be both remembered and celebrated not only as someone who recognised the potential power of digital data for democratic access, but who actually did something about it too.

project gutenberg logo

Berners Lee, T. (1997) World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) Launches Web Accessibility Initiative. WAI press release 7 April 1997. Available at

Dardailler, D. (1997) Telematics Applications Programme TIDE Proposal. Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) Available at

Çhaghnoaylleeaght ayns y Lioar-hasht

Posted on July 5th, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

RushenLaa Tinvaal Sonney Diu!

Shoh rolley lioarlannyn ayns Mannin:

Ta mee gynsaghey foast! Please accept my apologies for any mistakes I’ve made, especially with mutations. Corrections and suggestions for improvement will be gratefully received.

Inclusive practice, digital data, and e-books

Posted on April 7th, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

Screenshot of the Blackboard PIP communityI attended Sue Watling‘s workshop, ‘Promoting Inclusive Practice with Digital Data‘, today. (I know that Sue has delivered the same workshop in the past to groups of Library staff.) There’s also a Blackboard community to accompany the workshop.

My particular interest in usability / accessibility / inclusive design, as Sue knows, is around the accessible nature (or otherwise) of Library-digitised and born-digital library subscription resources: e-books, e-journals, and material scanned and digitised under the CLA’s comprehensive HE licence.

In particular, Sue and I have had a number of conversations about the frustrations we share around digital texts: which ought to be inherently accessible and a great asset, but which in practice are often only available in a form (or via a platform) covered in barriers to accessibility. Also around the lack of importance which the University can seem to place on accessibility, usability and access issues.

A little while ago, Sue and I made a start on an e-book usability/accessibility reference guide. To my shame (because I do think it’s important, it’s something that doesn’t get a lot of attention, and it’s something I’m interested in) …I let it fall by the wayside.

I’ve made a start again! It’s made up of a table containing information about the features of the three Library e-book platforms which are available at the University of Lincoln, plus a guide to using e-books. Both parts are publicly-editable Google documents, so feel free to edit them.

List of UK public libraries with downloadable e-books (mashup)

Posted on February 21st, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

This week, I spotted that my local public library service (Lincolnshire County Council) have launched an e-books service. Hooray for them – they’ve also recently upgraded all the PCs and introduced wifi in my local branch library.

With many local libraries being cut or placed under threat, and their technological relevance criticised (often ignorantly), even by the PM, it’s great to see investment going in to library technology in Lincolnshire.

The Lincolnshire county libraries e-books site is at:

(It’s not obvious who provides this e-books platform, but it appears Warwickshire County Council—and possibly no-one else—has chosen the same provider.)

It got me wondering: how many UK public libraries currently provide an e-book download service?

To try and find out, I’ve created a (publicly-editable) Google spreadsheet wiki, containing the names of the 232 top-level local authorities in the UK, along with a column indicating whether or not they provide an e-book download service {1|0}, and columns for the URL and provider of that service.

At the time of writing, there are 48 public library e-book download services listed. If I’ve missed one that you know about, you can edit the spreadsheet yourself.

Screenshot of the public library downloadable e-books spreadsheet on Google Docs

I’ve then used a simple, 4-part Yahoo! Pipe to turn the CSV data output from that spreadsheet into an RSS feed containing only those councils that do provide downloadable e-books.

Screenshot of my public library e-book download Yahoo! Pipe

The finished RSS feed is at:

Screenshot of the RSS feed of public library e-book download services

Next, if I can remember my way round the GeoNames/ Maps APIs, I’ll have a go at plotting the e-book-providing libraries on a map.

Three years of e-book usage at the University of Lincoln

Posted on February 4th, 2011 by Paul Stainthorp

I’m just going to leave this here for safe keeping:

Chart of e-book title accesses (derived) per month between 2008-2010 at the University of Lincoln

(Click on the image for a bigger view.)

The chart shows the growth over time in the number of e-book title accesses (derived) per month between 2008-2010 (over 34 months) at the University of Lincoln, for all purchased and subscription e-book titles.

Algebra, Boole, Computers, Display

Posted on November 3rd, 2010 by Paul Stainthorp

There’s a small book display on the ground floor of the GCW University Library to mark the end of Boolefest (“a celebration of the life of George Boole“), a week-long arts and sciences festival which has been organised by Dave Kenyon in the Faculty of Media, Humanities & Technology.

Photograph of the Boolefest book display in the GCW

It consists of:

Logo of the Boolefest arts and sciences festivalGeorge Boole was born the son of a cobbler in the centre of the city of Lincoln almost 200 years ago, on November 2nd 1815.  Despite having no advanced formal education, he became an internationally acclaimed mathematics professor who developed the theory of binary logic which underpins all our modern technology; from medicine to music via communications and all points between.