What if your book read itself to you?

November 9th, 2009

Hi, this is Matt Dilworth. I do reference here in the library.

I’d like to write about a tool the library just upgraded – Ebrary, a database for electronic books. Do you use a Kindle, or Google Books? This is kind of similar. You can get into Ebrary from the library’s main page – click on eBooks from the left-hand menu, then choose Ebrary.

When you search for a book, you get a list in order of how relevant Ebrary thinks they are to what you typed. But in this new version, in the table of contents, chapters are now ranked according to relevance as well as whole books. You can even look at the results screen by chapter rather than by book – cutting out a lot of aimless page-turning before you get to the good stuff!

From the InfoTools menu, you can copy, print, search something from the book with Google or Wikipedia, translate a chunk of text, or get a definition of a word. Ever wonder what an obscure French phrase in the middle of a passage meant, like Ceux qui rient le vendredi, pleureront le dimanche? Or roll your eyes when an author trots out a word like hippopotomonstrosesquipedaliaphobia? One click will let you in on the secret, too. One of the many benefits of reading online!

With an account (it’s free), you can highlight, write notes in the margins, and the like – just like a real book. Better still, you can email those highlights and notes to friends or professors – it’s like photocopying and passing around a page of notes, but without paying for it!

The Ebrary Unity Reader gives you a few more options. Just click on the Ebrary Reader button and it opens (or installs, if you’ve never used it before – don’t worry, it’s painless). One of the coolest new functions of this Reader is speech – just select what you want read to you, and then click the speech tab on the upper right. The speech function is great for people with vision impairment, or muti-taskers who want their eyes free. There are only two voices now (“Bob” and “Alice”), but more are promised. Books that read themselves! What’s next, cities on clouds?