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Books Media The Internet

Would You Use an Online Library? 49

Posted by Cliff
from the tossing-away-your-library-card dept.
langeland asks: "I have a friend who is selling subscriptions to an online library of computer literature (for example Books 24x7 or O'Reilly's Safari). He's trying hard to convince me that a library of 3000 books on anything from introductions to various programming languages and reference books to Windows 2003 Server, or MySQL is actually useful. I don't get it - nobody would read a whole book online anyway, so they can only be useful for trouble shooting ad hoc problems (or am I wrong here?). I'm thinking Google is a lot faster for solving problems at the busy job, and you'll probably find good plain web references on most technologies and stick with them. The price for a subscription to Books 24x7 is 400$ a year/seat! Do You have experience with these online libraries? Are they useful and worth the money?"
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Would You Use an Online Library?

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  • Virtual Library? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Firehawke (50498) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:16PM (#8884861) Journal
    Well, it's nice to have physical books, but sometimes space is a concern. In comparison, a virtual library is MUCH smaller to store. Also compare the costs of all of those books to the price for the subscription and it comes out cheaper in the long run. Still, preference would go a long way towards if you'd even consider it in the first place.
  • no way... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by chrisopherpace (756918) <cpace@NOspam.hnsg.net> on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:32PM (#8885095) Homepage
    at $400/seat/year, Google does just fine for me. Wikipedia as well. Google information is *MAYBE* a week old, whereas your friend's information is probably at least 100x that. That's what's so greate about the internet, information always gets updated.
    • Re:no way... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jmpoast (736629)
      That's what's so greate about the internet, information always gets updated

      But whats bad about the internet is the information isn't always validated or correct.
  • by DamienMcKenna (181101) <damien@@@mc-kenna...com> on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:53PM (#8885412)
    My recommendation is to buy some _good_ books for the core technologies you use and use a combination of web sites (via google), mailing lists and IRC for the rest. Books are your best source for how to do things right, mailing lists and IRC are your best source for what to do when it doesn't work right.

    Just my $0.02 from doing this for a few years.

    Damien
  • I tried it... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Greasy Spoon (2317) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:55PM (#8885428) Homepage
    and didn't get that much value from it. I was able to Google the information I needed. Cancelled my subscription after 3 months...
  • Searchable Library (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hords (619030) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:55PM (#8885429)
    I would use a searchable library for reference, but I wouldn't pay $400 a year when Google already works as a good reference for most answers. Amazon has that new "Search Inside the Book" that might end up being useful, but honestly most of the information I need is when something doesn't work. Google it real quick and the answer is usually there. I don't want to read a whole book on the subject for the most part. Maybe it has something to do with that "short attention span and brain damage" randomly shuffling my brain.
  • I have read 2 ebooks (Score:4, Interesting)

    by stoolpigeon (454276) <bittercode@gmail> on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:55PM (#8885435) Homepage Journal
    all the way through. "The Moonstone" by Wilkie Collins and "An Oblique Approach" by David Drake. Both were available to download for free. I read both on my lap top and it took a really long time- I had to have free time, my laptop powered up and be somewhere it was convenient. I would say it took twice as long as if they had been printed copies.

    For reference material- the stuff I use the most I print out and put into binders (Like all my PostgreSQL manuals) I have "Unix in a Nutshell" on CD and in print. I use the print version almost exclusively. Even without a searching tool I can find stuff faster.

    Last but not least- I don't care what the value of all the thousands of books is compared to the cost of the subscription. What is the difference between what the subscription costs and the cost of the books I would have bought or needed? Factor in the lack of usability and that price difference needs to be huge. It still isn't for any such services I've looked at.

  • by perlchild (582235) on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:55PM (#8885439)
    *disclaimer safari subscriber*

    I used to buy the animal books on several topics, mostly perl programming

    Then I got the safari subscription
    imagine this:
    oreilly comes up with fourth edition of dns and bind
    I have paper third edition of dns and bind
    I use safari to get fourth edition, and I don't need the paper one anymore.
    Since a lot of the animal books I use are very sucessful, and get updated every so often, just because I can replace one edition with the next at no charge, I save a bundle of money, provided I don't need hardcopy of the work in question, the web interface to it might actually save me time(mostly searching, although with practice, the internal binary-page search is pretty damn hard to beat, it's the "read entire TOC" that takes a while.)

    Of course, I've been known to read entire online volumes on topics I was less familiar with(I can't say I'd do it with something like the perl cookbook) but so far, Safari is working out for me.
  • Great resource (Score:4, Insightful)

    by duffbeer703 (177751) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:56PM (#8885440)
    I subscribe to O'Reilly's Safari, and find it a really helpful resource.

    Being able to search through a bunch of books and see problems from multiple angles is a really cool thing.

    Yes, it's all on Google... but I think that the quality of information in published books is often better and is very convenient to find.
  • by bbuchs (551229)
    I had a subscription to Safari about 8 months ago. I only kept it for 2 months, but while I had it, it was pretty useful.

    At the time, I was trying to "expand" my skillset, so I got to have access to several virtual books on one subject - for the same price as one physical copy. I also kept a few reference books in my virtual library - again, cheaper than having a hard copy sitting in the shelf.

    In the end, it was only useful for me while I was learning new things - I didn't see it as a long-term solution.
  • Well, I am almost ashamed to admit it but I went ahead and purchased the ATT natural voice pack that comes along with the wonderfully _buggy_ Textaloudmp3. (Really just a voice kit for windows and a crummy Text to Mp3 app) but I was just really tired of the festival voices (which was how I used to do the following:) Slice up a raw text book into parts small enough to navigate through with ffwd and rwd and convert to mp3. Then copy to neuros for ubiquitous listening pleasure.

    How do I get a hold of em? Wel
  • I use Books24x7 at work, thanks to a corporate subscription. It's really handy for when I need to throw something together using something which I know nothing about. I typically find as many sources as I can between that site and the web in general and then dive in. They don't usually have any more information necessarily, but it's nice to have many perspectives at one's fingertips.

    Oh, and a lot of the books that Books24x7 gets really suck.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    The county I am living is affiliated with http://www.netlibrary.com/ [netlibrary.com]. So being a member of my local library (free), i get access to lotsa computer books via netlibrary. Some books may not be accessible, because local library did not purchase it(or something).

    If I cannot find the book online, google and other search engines provide answers to me. Though, not as comprehensive as (e)books, it would serve most of my purpose.

    Next stop would be local user group. Become a member of local user group, they have


    • Yeah, NetLibrary. I just discovered this recently. It works really, really well for me. My local library doesn't have the contract with them; but in this metro area, there's a reciprocity agreement with library memberships. A library card for my town makes me able to get one for the next town over, which does have access to NetLibrary. So I got a card from them too -- registered online, card snailmailed to me -- and now I can do NetLibrary from home.

      If you haven't looked into whether your library, o

  • These online libraries treat you like you are going to take a book and read it cover to cover online. Safari gives you a limited bookshelf that only holds so many books. You can only read books on your bookshelf. You can search all the books in the library, but you can only read the intro for each chapter until it is on your bookshelf. Books24x7 charges a price comparable to if you were going to be buying all those books.

    When we go to the library, or even the book store, they let use browse all the boo
    • The problem is that copyright owners are scared shitless of the internet, and attach too high a value to their works in electronic form.

      "Too high" is my opinion, and since these services continue to exist, the market must think otherwise.
  • by dakkar (128056) <dakkar@@@thenautilus...net> on Friday April 16, 2004 @03:58PM (#8885491) Homepage
    I am subscribed to the smallest service, 5 slots, 10 USD/month. I find it particularly useful for:
    • evaluating books to buy (esp. big references to almost-non-changing subjects)
    • looking up some part of a "cookbook"
    • reading tutorial-style books (that I won't need around when I'm through with them)

    Of course, it's always a matter of balancing the price they ask with the value you get...
    • I just joined Safari, didn't like it.
      Yeah, there is a silent pressure for you to read the books otherwise you're losing money.
      At first it feels great - whooah! - look how many technologies I am going to learn! .. but then pressure mounts in ...

      I found a much better way to read e-books for free.

      It's called P2P

      I must be aging, fancy not downloading pr0n but Tcl/Tk manuals instead! (someone shoot me please?)
  • Very useful (Score:3, Interesting)

    by acousticiris (656375) * on Friday April 16, 2004 @04:01PM (#8885527)
    Our company did a pilot with Books24x7, and I found it to be incredibly useful.
    I thought the same thing you did, but while I was using it I had a revelation: I read alot of crap online already. Being a programmer/analyst/support rep, having a computer library on my computer was far more logical than having the 5 shelves of books behind me. They had some problems... They lacked Photoshop books (in recent versions anyway), and others of their books were a little out of date (though my bookshelves behind me are far more out of date). But even with those deficiencies, I found the service very useful. The search capabilities were excellent. In a technical crisis, I used it to solve a problem and it proved far faster with a lower "signal to noise ratio" than Google or other internet searches. I wouldn't have dreamed of going through the 30 books behind me in a crisis.

    During the pilot I read two books nearly cover to cover (I skipped a couple of chapters with the click of a mouse). But I was also able to gather snippits of very good information out of about 40 of the books they had related to my job. The efficiency improvement would be worth $400 a year.
  • I can see paying for something like Lexus Nexus or some kind of medical information. In that case it might be worth paying for accountable, up to date data that you would have to work very hard to find the traditional ways. Looking for a particular procedure or precedent could take seconds online as opposed to looking through stacks of books.

    General interest stuff like your friend seems to be pedaling should be and is free.
  • I use Safari a little. I use it when I want to get started in something new.

    For instance, last month I got a couple of the BSD books so I could get started learning FreeBSD. I skimmed through the chapters until I had enough to get me going. After that I switched over to using Google though to do some of the real troubleshooting after things didn't work out exactly right.

    That said, Safari has a large selection, but some of the books are a little dated. Sometimes you don't realize that when you're just

  • I get 5 sci-books a month - and get to download them in normall HTML.

    webscriptions.net [webscription.net]- from the publisher Baen. There's some free books there too to get you hooked.

    Baen's books are generally light reading - usually fun and interesting.

  • The reason I like books is that I can refer to them while the window I am working on remains in the foreground on my computer.

    If screen space were cheap, and I could have a couple of tablets/screens that I could use all at once, I would use online resources exclusively, as they are usually faster to use.

    However, I currently only have on monitor, and a lot of desk space. So I'm going to buy books instead to take of this space.
    • Screen space is cheap too. Spend a few hundred dollars on a second video card and monitor, it is great for developers, or anyone who is using their computer for work.

      I can have 1 screen with my code on it, and another with the app I'm developing on it running so I can see what each code change does without having to switch windows.

      Or I can have a help document open on one screen, and my code on the other. Or my SQL Enterprise manager open on one screen, code on the other. I can have my development envir
  • It's not worth it to me, since there is a great deal of material Google can find for me fast and free. But I'm a techie, and techies put stuff out on the internet. This would probably be a really valuable service for things like law (already done), medicine (don't know), construction, and similar professional trades and research areas. Some specialized areas that I can think of that are maybes are travel books, field guides, children's picture books. Naturally it comes down to price for value, though.
  • I am currently a Safari subscriber (thankfully work pays for it) I find it a useful compliment to Google. Yes there are times when you want to read a physical book, but I find that quick lookups are my main need. Yes the info might not be as up to date, but it tends to be better organized. Plus if you need to you can download and print the PDFs. I also find that series of books seem to explain things more consistently. Ever go through the PHP wiki? Lots of helpful comments, hundreds of different coding styl
  • ... because when I need a fact about a newly encountered product, I want a good overview that I can quickly scan for relevant details. I cycle books pretty quickly (I use google after I have some proficiancy with a tool) simply to keep my breadth of knowledge high. I think the price is reasonable (at the $10 a month I pay) as that represents a single technical book, maybe 1.5.

  • I am a paying Safari subscriber (minimal yearly plan) and have found it useful and worth the price. In some of the cases the book search feature worked well for me - couple of projects at work that required specific implementations of something I have never done before. A quick Safari search retrieved the results, I subscribed to the book and had the necessary code in front of me. Granted, the same could probably be done with Google, only would take more time to find, and at that time I was charging per hou
  • An online library with some kind op electronic paper would be an ideal combination.
    Paper will always beat reading of a screen.
    It also cuts back on paper consumption.
  • I've used books24x7.com quite extensively. My university has free access, either on campus in the libraries, or through a University proxy server. Forgetting the price for a moment I think it's an excellent resource. Googling is fine for small issues, but you usually get a very superficial introduction to a subject, or the material you find assumes you already know a great deal about the subject. I wanted to learn MFC, and found nothing through google that was both in depth enough and written for the be
    • I have a Books24x7.com subscription through work. While the selection of content is ok, the books themselves can leave a lot to be desired. For starters, they only have deals with certain publishers (not surprisingly, O'Reilly is not on the list). Often the books are out of date, or just not that good in the first place.

      A bigger problem is the web interface -- for most books you only get to read a couple of paragraphs before you have to advance the page. I want to be able to read an entire chapter at

  • My workplace subscribes to SciSearch [isinet.com] and I find it indispensible.

    Being able to do keyword searches through titles and abstracts of articles from decades past has really been a boon to researchers.

    It's unfortunate that the information is not freely available.

    It would also be great if the full texts of old works were put online so searches in the bodies of these old papers were possible.

    I won't read extensively on the screen; I'd need a handheld, lightweight, portable, bright, better than 300 dpi, at lea

  • From experience, and yes I know how to use google, Safari is outrageously useful. Go do a trial of it if you like and try it on. If every technical topic had a php.net, then that would be great, but they don't, so we have safari. I probably visit it 3 times a week on average.

    Chris DiBona

  • Since I signed on with safari about a year ago, I haven't bought a single paper book. Before that I was easily spending $500/year. Now it's down to $20/month, or $240/year, half what I was spending before.

    There's a few titles I keep in my shelf at all times -- Programming Perl, Java in a Nutshell. Those I will upgrade when new editions come out. I rotate others as necessary (i.e.: one month I find myself using LDAP at work a lot. A few months later, it's Objective C). It works out great for me since
  • My school has a subscription to NetLibrary. I use it sometimes to look up certain things, but whenever I've tried reading an entire book on there, I've given up in short order. Having the physical thing in front of me is just so much easier.
  • by daigu (111684)

    I do research and buy databases of content for a living. I use "online libraries" every day more times than I can count. For many of the databases I use, I have monthly charges in the thousands. A database that is only $400/year is cheap and I woudn't think twice in most circumstnaces about buying it. I have something I buy in print that costs that much - just so I can answer one question that is asked once or twice a year.

    Try going to something like MarketResearch.com [marketresearch.com]. Most of the reports in there are at

  • As I find it hard to get good information from a google search without a lot of work, I do prefer books.

    The problem is that you can't own all the books and can't just drive to a computer book store at any moment.

    Being able to search and have it go through all the books a service has instead of all the useless newgroups is well worth the money.

    Knowing that for $270 per seat having access to search all those books is great. Our initial test of 5 engineers for the last year worked out well.

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