AudioBlocks, VideoBlocks; Knovel | Reference eReviews, June 15, 2015

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AudioBlocks, VideoBlocks
AudioBlocks, audioblocks.com VideoBlocks, videoblocks.com
To request a free trial, please call 888-944-4455 for AudioBlocks and 866-282-5360 for VideoBlocks

By Cheryl LaGuardia

CONTENT AudioBlocks and VideoBlocks are stock audio and video subscription services targeted at educational users: teachers, media specialists, instructional designers, web designers, etc. AudioBlocks offers more than 100,000 royalty-free music tracks, sound effects, and loops, all of which can be downloaded and used in any educational project. VideoBlocks presents over 115,000 professionally created, studio-quality HD video clips, After Effects templates, motion backgrounds, and stock footage—also with lifetime usage rights, royalty-free. There are no download caps in either service, and both are updated twice monthly with thousands of new clips and/or tracks.

usability I visited AudioBlocks first. Upon logging into my trial account, I arrived at the “members dashboard,” where I could “manage [my] profile, view and edit [my] subscription information, and see what’s new.” This is also where I could view recommended music, sound effects, and loops, or browse different kinds of music (by moods, genres, or instruments); sound effects (ranging from alarms to wood); or loops (including brass, guitar, orchestra, percussion, piano, and woodwind). The search box allows researchers to browse the entire collection or a specific subject.

While brainstorming unusual sounds, I searched all collections for “vampire” and found 34 results, ranging from “vampire blood lust scary” to five different “bat” sounds and a “bat” call. (I also liked the “old creaky door open” and the “monster vampire hiss”). All of these sounds were high quality; clear and unmistakable. I opted to save the audio in an album by clicking a + icon on the clip, and was offered choices to save the sound as an MP3 or WAV file.

Next, I browsed various kinds of sounds, exploring moods such as aggressive, inspiring, playful, and relaxing, and finding clips named, “dark skies of doom,” and “haunting cinematic music.” I also enjoyed genres (“the haunted alley” under horror was very effective) and instruments, which contained a remarkable number of surprisingly evocative ukulele clips. Sound effects was a hoot as I entertained my border collie with a variety of dogs effects. Loops are categorized idiosyncratically, although even the subjectively named “minor dirty grubby funk” did sound like just that.

Meanwhile, the homepage of Video­Blocks features a search box asking: “What are you looking for today?” with options to search “all,” “footage,” “backgrounds,” or “After Effects.” Above that box is a toolbar with options for “explore,” “my downloads,” “my purchases,” “project folders,” “my account,” and “submembers.” Above that toolbar is another search box labeled, “search for videos.”

I opted to “explore,” which led to a screen inviting me to “browse by category” (footage, backgrounds, after effects). Selecting footage led to numerous subcategories (animals, holidays and celebrations, nature, sports and recreation, transportation, etc.) of which I chose slow motion. This resulted in more than 1,000 downloadable clips including one titled, “slow motion fall leaves fluttering.”

The image quality was superb, as were the motion and composition of the video. Clips can be downloaded in Motion JPEG or MP4 formats, and among the details listed for this clip (as for all clips) were the frame rate (29.97 frames per second, or fps) and duration (0:16). The backgrounds (which include categories such as abstract, energy, music, and shapes) are stunning: I was mesmerized by “glowing rain motion background.” Equally compelling are the After Effects templates, too numerous to list here, but they are conceptual and need to be browsed to feel their full impact, which is palpable. I can imagine these being used to quality advantage by web designers in libraries to improve the accessibility and aesthetic appeal of web-based content.

PRICING Pricing starts at $5,400 for a departmental package of both AudioBlocks and VideoBlocks for 100 unique users with unlimited downloads. The cost rises according to levels of FTE for campus deployment (this pricing is specifically geared to two-year and four-year higher education institutions). VideoBlocks is also running an early adopter program in 2015 that includes IP authentication for seamless campus-wide access. Please get in touch with Bob McDonald, bob@videoblocks, for fees specific to your institution and more information about the VideoBlocks Early Adopter Program (VEAP).

VERDICT The only cavil I had from start to finish with these files is that I wished the VideoBlocks site could be a little more informative. Given the outstanding value of both the content and online experience with the products, greater description of them on the site would likely draw more customers to these files. They are incredibly easy to use, have mass applicability for a variety of educational media projects, and will be useful to students and faculty across the disciplines, from grade school through post-graduate studies. I strongly suggest anyone reading this review get more information about VEAP.

Cheryl LaGuardia is a Research Librarian for the Widener Library at Harvard University and author of Becoming a Library Teacher (Neal-Schuman, 2000). Readers can contact her at claguard@fas.harvard.edu

ljx150602webrefbonnie

Knovel
Knovel; Elsevier B.V. app.knovel.com/web/
To request a free trial, please email support@knovel.com

By Bonnie J.M. Swoger

CONTENT Since its founding in 2001, Knovel has built a reputation for providing high-quality engineering reference information. The company was acquired by Elsevier in 2013, leading to a significant revision and redesign of the website. User experience was improved and information is now easier to find. The file was previously reviewed in this column in November 2013 to outline the major interface updates available at the time. In the past year and a half, Knovel has concentrated on increasing the content available in the platform, adding several new tools.

Since the 2013 update, users have the ability to integrate a Knovel search box into various software tools, enabling easy searches from a web browser search bar or within Microsoft Excel. The company has made a point of creating apps that help engineers use Knovel from within the tools they regularly use. “Quick search access” is now available within the common engineering tools AutoCad, AutoDesk Inventor, and AutoDesk Revit. Elsevier has also created a software development kit for Microsoft SharePoint, permitting users to search Knovel at the same time as they perform a SharePoint query for internal information.

Another innovation is the introduction of a new type of content: interactive equations. Knovel selected equations from its reference materials and turned them into interactive worksheets. Patrons can adjust the variables and receive updated calculations. For example, a keyword search for “filtration” allows users to discover the equation for Darcy’s Law, then insert their own variables to see the results of the calculation. Knovel provides a citation indicating which reference work the equation came from. Users can save this information in their “my Knovel” accounts or download the results of their calculations for later use.

At the time of the last review, Knovel advertised that their complete collection offered databases from more than 100 publishers and in excess of 4,000 reference books. Recent additions increase the number of publishers to 120, and a perusal of Knovel press releases suggests that new content is added regularly.

In a preview webinar, I saw how Knovel will incorporate journal articles into the platform in the future. This will be a welcome addition, especially for fast-moving fields in which the most recent research has not yet been incorporated into books or reference material.

usability The Knovel homepage has one of my favorite search boxes across all databases. A series of sample queries appears in this single-search box, demonstrating the types of information that can be found as well as the use of quotation marks, truncations symbols, and Boolean operators. The searches disappear once the user clicks inside the box. I wish more databases provided this kind of simple, unobtrusive assistance, especially resources with complex content such as that in Knovel.

Knovel doesn’t provide an advanced keyword search, but a query builder is available to help users find data. The “Knovel data search query building” assists engineers with building complicated queries using a simple drag and drop interface. Patrons can search for a type of material (graphite, for example) and then add relevant properties (such as the coefficient of friction). Results come from the tables inside the reference works included in Knovel. Because most of these tables are interactive, my search results displayed only the rows related to my query. This can be particularly valuable for zeroing in on information contained in large tables.

A key feature of Knovel has always been its interactive tables. Instead of merely looking at static tables from reference works, it’s possible to change how the data is displayed or download it to Excel or CSV for more advanced analysis. This information can also be saved to a “my Knovel” account.

By default, results are sorted by relevance, which sometimes brings older material to the top of the list. This is great, if the standard reference information hasn’t changed, but it doesn’t always work in quickly evolving fields such as nanotechnology. Still, users have the options of sorting a results list by date or searching within a set. Results can be filtered by information type (text sections, graphs, tables, equations, etc.), but other filters aren’t included. I found myself hoping for topical or subject-based filters, especially with broader searches. Even subject experts can use help selecting the right search terms, and a topical facet filter could be beneficial.

In its 2013 redesign, Knovel incorporated multiple ways of viewing text-based content. Text is available via a Flash-based in-browser reader or PDF. Search terms are highlighted by default in the in-browser reader, and PDF content can be downloaded chapter by chapter, enabling offline access to information and the ease of transferring this material to another device. Although the Knovel platform is accessible on a tablet, the Flash-based text browser is unavailable on iOS devices. PDF material is easily downloaded to a tablet and can be read within a browser or a PDF reader. An iOS app, “My Knovel ToGo,” is available, but I was unable to examine it for this review.

PRICING Knovel’s enterprise subscription packages begins at $10,000, with pricing based on the size of the subscribing organization and its FTE.

VERDICT Academic and corporate libraries will want to carefully consider how often their patrons might use this database in order to justify the cost. For institutions with large engineering programs, the cost may be a worthwhile investment. Large engineering firms with a need for access to reliable reference information can also benefit from a subscription.

Bonnie J.M. Swoger is the Science and Technology Librarian at SUNY Geneseo’s Milne Library and the author of the Undergraduate Science Librarian blog, undergraduatesciencelibrarian.org. Readers can contact her at swoger@geneseo.edu

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