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February 15, 2007

Online Books

I often receive emails asking if I am familiar with a certain piece of software or if I can help with a piece of software that I am familiar with, though not an expert. The list includes Adobe In-design, Latex, LAMP-related questions, podcasting, and more. Some questions I can answer, others I refer, but mostly I thought I would take the opportunity to point to some solid resources available to everyone on or off campus.

First, before I go too far, a plug: anyone on campus can always come to a CaseLearns course. These courses range from all day classes to two or three hour workshops. Topics covered include Adobe In-Design to Video workshops. For more information, including the Spring 2007 listing of courses, see http://library.case.edu/caselearns/.

The main resource that I wanted to bring to everyone’s attention is Safari Tech Books Online. This resource is available from any Case machine or any machine running the VPN client, by going to http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com/. For example, at Safari, when I ran a quick search on podcasting, and then clicked the “Multimedia” category, I was offered a selection of 28 books and 7 articles on the subject. For LAMP, in the “Internet/Online” category, I was offered 86 books, 9 articles, and 2 Safari guides.

For those of you who learn by reading and doing; or prefer the quietude of your office while learning something new, Safari is for you!

Podcast of this entry

Safari Tech Books Online Features
Safari offers Case 3,500 full text books on programming, IT, multimedia, along with easy access to the full text, individual chapters, or directly to code snippets. Publishers on Safari include such well-known names as O’Reilly, Sams, Macromedia, and Adobe Press; but there are many more.

Safari started offering this product in 2001 and offers products from 1993 to the present, including forward-looking works, like Adobe Photoshop CS3 Beta First Look with Adobe Bridge and Camera Raw…products that literally take you into the future (CS3 will be formally released in late March).

The Safari site is very well organized with a set of navigational menus along the left side of the interface that allow you to drill down into each of the 23 categories: from Artificial Intelligence to Multimedia to Software Engineering. Additionally, users can select to perform a quick search of the entire site or an advanced search combining numerous fields and even year ranges. With the quick search, users can search a subset of the site, including site section titles, book titles, authors, ISBNs, publishers, and even code fragments, for the hardcore programmer who just wants to find an answer. An added bonus is that when you type in your search query you will see an “autofill” feature below the search box that suggests entries—I’m not sure if this is based on searches previously entered or keywords that Safari has defined.

When a search is run, users are shown a Search Results screen that first tells you how many results there are and shows you your search criteria. Below that is a “Define Sort Criteria” slider that allows you to jockey between “Results by Popularity” or “Results by Text Relevancy.” Out to the right of that is a “Results by Content Type” box that gives you a flash overview of your search; for instance, I ran a quick search on “xml” and received 2771 books in 46601 sections (a section being a subdivision of the book or book chapter); but the box told me I had 2771 books, 887 articles, and 25 Safari Guides. The slider, when adjusted for popularity, changes the ranking of the books visually, and in the results area you can choose to have the results displayed by Section, by Book, and can select to view or hide the book covers.

Articles
Safari states that “Safari's related articles offer targeted treatments of technology topics that complement our existing library of more than 3,000 books. All articles are written by experts in their fields and presented via trusted sources. Currently in Beta release, O'Reilly Network and IBM DeveloperWorks are featured as our first sources for this editorial content.”

Guides
“Safari Guides deliver notes, tips, warnings and tricks in a variety of key topical areas.”

Within each Item
For books, once you are reading, the navigational features are quite similar to those in the main search area. The search solutions change, offering the ability to search the whole site, or to search within the book. Below that, the left side of the site features navigation within the book—by section or chapter; including the ability to enter a page number and move directly to that point in the book.

At the top of each page, within a book, you can quickly “Return to Search Results,” you can print or email, and you can add a note to or bookmark a page.

When you select a book for the first time, a thumbnail image of the work appears at the top, along with a button to “Start Reading Online” or to purchase the print book at a 35% discount. Below this information, there is a tool bar that allows you to view the Table of Contents, see the Index, or download the Example file used in the book. The examples are in zip files for easy, bulk download. As well, there are navigational arrows for the previous and next page contained in this toolbar and users can zoom on page, print a page, and switch to an HTML view.

Search terms you may have entered are highlighted in the text and can be easily turned on or off using the “Show/Hide” feature at the top of each page. And within the page view, navigation is simplicity. There are forward and backward bars alongside the page text: innocuous but immanently useful.

If you have not taken a look at Safari Tech Books Online, I strongly encourage you to do so, and take advantage of an excellent service provided by the Kelvin Smith Library.

Posted by twh7 at February 15, 2007 09:15 AM

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