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March 2009

I Didn't Know You Had That... Part 2

March 31, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (0)

Back In the Old Days...

Scanned Globe [& Mail] newspaper front page from the past (date unknown)
We made passing reference to them in the previous post in this series, but did you know you can get the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star going back to the 19th century from the Toronto Public Library website?  Both are available through a similar interface (you'll be asked for your library card number, so have it ready or get a library card if you don't yet have one--it's free).

Most online newspaper archives present articles in a web-based format that removes them from their original context (position above or below the fold, surrounding ads, etc), but these ones actually present searchable high-resolution scans of the original newspaper pages.  This means you can do things like see a copy of the front page of the newspaper for the day you or a family member were born, or admire the vintage ads surrounding the articles.  This format isn't as easy to browse as some others, but it's a lot closer to having a real copy of the newspaper (from back to 1844 for the Globe--how cool is that?) in front of you than a lot of other web-based resources of this sort.

Last Time On "I Didn't Know You Had That..."

This is an ongoing series highlighting interesting resources, features or other aspects of TPL's web services.  If you've missed previous parts:

I Didn't Know You Had That... Part 1

March 24, 2009 | Alan H. | Comments (4)

Book Cover Image - UXL Graphic Novelists Book Cover Image - Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia

The Disclaimer: Many of the links in this post will prompt you for your library card number and your PIN, so have your card ready (or your number memorized).  If you don't have a card it's easy and free to get one if you live, work, go to school or pay property tax in Toronto.

The Preamble (you can skip to The Good Stuff if you just want to see some cool web stuff TPL has available that you might not know about)

A challenge libraries face in providing web-based information is the extreme diversity of sources and the requirements to access them.  Along with the open web (the kind of thing you find with Google or another search engine) there is a huge range of subscription-only services that require payment to access and are not typically indexed by search engines because of this.  The library purchases group access to a wide range of these services, allowing you access from home to a wide range of content unavailable on the open web, using your library card.  This includes everything from newspaper archives (some going back to the 19th century) to auto repair manuals to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Ideally we would like a  (relatively speaking) uniform means of access to all our web content, similar to what we have for our books.  But the current common means of access to books is the result of hundreds of years of development of storage methods and well-established systems for organizing them on the shelf and providing topical access to them in catalogues.  The web is a much younger information source than books (and it can sometimes be hard to find the right book as well!).

So we work with tools that are better than nothing, but still not ideal, such as union searching (doing simple searches of multiple subscription sources from different vendors in one go and presenting the results in a single interface).  As the web matures and standards for accessing information from subscription-based sites become better-implemented among vendors, we are hopeful that we can purchase or build better tools for providing access.

The Good Stuff

This is a roundabout way of saying that TPL's website is a gateway to tons of great content that you can't find for free on the web, but it can be difficult sometimes to get the word out.  Safari Books Online has been mentioned on this blog previously, but we're going to be posting regularly in the future to highlight other resources available through the website that you may not be aware of.

The first we'd like to highlight is the Gale Virtual Reference Library.  Gale is a major reference book publisher and a substantial amount of their reference books (totaling hundreds of thousands of pages of content) are available to you as a TPL library card holder from anywhere that can access the web.

The front page of Gale Virtual Reference Library is a list of available categories of reference books (along with almost universal search box).  Clicking the + beside a category (Arts, Business, Technology, etc) will expand the category to show the individual reference works available.  There's a lot, but some notables are:

Business > Business Plans Handbook (Volumes 1-14 available).  An extensive collection of business plans used by small business entrepreneurs seeking funding.  Useful to students studying business and potential entrepreneurs.  A wide variety of plans for different business enterprises are compiled in the 14 volumes available so far.

Environment > Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia (17 volumes) and Grzimek's Student Animal Life Resource (21 volumes) are tremendous surveys of the animal kingdom (the Encyclopedia is nearly 10,000 pages).  The Student Animal Life Resource is more appropriate in level to the higher elementary grades compared to the Animal Life Encyclopedia (written for an older audience).  Great for school projects or for general interest.

Literature > UXL Graphic Novelists (3 volumes).  Over 600 pages in three volumes containing biographies of illustrators, comic book writers, manga authors, cartoonists and others in the broad field of the "graphic novel".  Fills a gap for students writing about graphic novelists or their works, and of browsing interest to readers of the genre.

This very small selection of the reference books available through just the Gale site is somewhere in the range of 20,000 pages of reference material!  There's a lot more there for all sorts of topics--have a look.  And this is only one site out of dozens that you have access to as a TPL cardholder--we'll be featuring more in the future on this blog.

Staff from the Toronto Public Library's eServices team talk about recent changes, future plans and ideas and issues you raise about the library's online and mobile services.

What the Web Team is reading on the web