Reference eReviews | November 15, 2013

BiblioBoard, from BiblioLabs;; to request a trial please go to:

By Cheryl LaGuardia

Content BiblioBoard is an app and epublishing platform offering public domain content arranged in subject anthologies. The app allows individuals and institutions to publish content and brand it via the BiblioBoard channel. The platform launched in August 2013 with 100 anthologies of public domain content, including Rise of Student Activism, 1960–1963; Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: A Historical Collection; Legends of History: American Women; and Vaudeville and American Burlesque: America’s Early Entertainment. Each digital anthology contains a bundle of 75 or more books on a topic, selected by BiblioLabs staff, along with images, newspaper and journal articles, letters and, in some cases, multimedia content. BiblioBoard is available on the web, and the BiblioBoard Library app works with the iPad, iPad mini, Kindle Fire HD, Nexus tablets, and the Galaxy Tab mobile devices.

BiblioLabs’s free self-service authoring tool, BiblioBoard Creator, lets users create multimedia anthologies and sell or give them away via the BiblioBoard app. The company hopes to attract libraries and museums with digital collections (whose copyrights it owns) or with public domain material they can use to generate revenue. The BiblioBoard Creator tool allows institutions with unsearchable archival collections to provide access to the public as well as generate revenue. Partners in this venture thus far are the British Library, the American Alpine Club, the San Diego Air and Space Museum, indie press Red Wheel/Weiser, and the University of Colorado, among others.

Usability The opening BiblioBoard screen has two top toolbars with links such as browse all, favorites, recents, bookmarks, tablet, main browse, visual browse, and a simple-search box. Below the toolbars are three tiers of collections (they rotate carousel-style): “Featured,” “Categories,” and “Modules.” “Featured” is simply a set of anthologies derived from the overall content. “Categories” has nearly 50 subject areas such as antiques and collectibles, comics and graphic novels, humor, history, literary collections, and true crime.

“Modules,” at the bottom of the screen, contains the material BiblioBoard sells to libraries and includes the “Core Collection,” the British Library 19th-Century Collection, Folk and Americana, and African American History. More modules will be released in the future.

Although the accent here seems to be on browsing, I started exploring using a search for ghosts and got 81 wide-ranging anthology results such as Ghosts and Spirits: The Supernatural in Fact and Fiction; Castles: An Anthology; Oscar Wilde: His Life and Works; and Fiction House Comics: A Golden Age Comics Collection. Individual complete works available include Ghosts: Being the Experiences of Flaxman Low; The Ghost of Dunboy Castle; Wilde’s The Canterville Ghost; and Ghost Comics, Issues 2 through 11.

The images in this database are superb, and the books and comics are easily readable. The content is mostly the full text of public domain books and incorporates such items as Xingu and Other Stories by Edith Wharton, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, and Frankenstein: The Modern Prometheus.

Items of other types include a reproduction of William Blake’s watercolor of Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a reproduction of a painting of the actor David Garrick as Richard III. The truly unusual result was “Sitting Bull’s Arrest Telegram”—an image of the envelope (marked “Confidential”) and the 1890 telegram within it addressed to Col. W. Cody, from Maj. Gen. Nelson A. Miles, ordering “the arrest of the famous Sioux Chief Sitting Bull.” I didn’t expect to find that, but a scope note explained its presence in these search results: “The envelope and telegram found inside it ordering for the arrest of Sitting Bull, who was under suspicion for plotting to leave his Indian reservation to join a new Native American religious movement called Ghost Dance.”

Next I looked through the modules, starting with African American History, where I found the anthologies African American Novels and Novelists: 1852–1923, Curated by Jon-Christian Suggs (a “collection of more than 30 novels includ[ing] works by Sutton E. Griggs, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Oscar Micheaux and others”); Racial Injustice in America, 1840–1920: For the History of Injustice in the United States Course (“a collection of pivotal texts and commentary pertaining to the long history of racial injustice perpetrated against African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries”); Slave Laws and the Slave Trade: A Historical Collection (“various books on the subject, first edition legislatures, drafts, poetry, speeches, correspondences, abolitionist handbills, posters, images”); and African American Poets: The Literary Struggle for Freedom (“over 50 books, images and letters in nine curated collections”), among others.

Perusing the British Museum module, I came across The American Civil War: An Anthology, which contained an 1890 article from The American Advocate of Peace and Arbitration, Volume 52, titled “Losses in the Civil War,” as well as 11 photographs taken by Matthew Brady, Alexander Gardner, and others; and memoirs, diaries, and some letters.

At several points, I wanted to go back to the main opening screen and had to “back screen” my way out, as I didn’t always have access to the main BiblioBoard icon. Having that omnipresent would make browsing simpler.

A search for “mystery” revealed the anthology Classic Mystery Novels: A Literary Collection, and I was lost in reading for quite a time. I eventually surfaced and discovered (while taking a good look at Agatha Christie’s The Secret Adversary) that the main page for each book in the anthology includes citations for the work, a MARC record for the book, and a section for taking notes about the item.

Pricing Pricing for public libraries is tiered based on population served, while pricing for academic libraries is tiered based on FTE. Prices start at $500 per year for small organizations, with custom quotes for larger institutions.

Verdict The platform is a solid one, combining ease of access and discovery with excellent display features. The content is good, rather spotty at present, but as material is added, it should be a more well-rounded product. If the BiblioBoard Creator authoring tool is as easy to use as this BiblioBoard platform, this could be a very cost-effective way for libraries and museums to publish and distribute their digital content.

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

Knovel Elsevier;

By Bonnie J.M. Swoger

Content Online reference books face steep competition from Google, Wikipedia, and other free online content providers. This pressure is visible in the sleek redesign of the Knovel engineering reference and ebook platform.

With a Google-like single search box, the platform provides easy access to the data and information found in Knovel’s wide collection of science and engineering ebooks and databases. The complete collection contains over 4,000 reference books and databases from more than 100 publishers in 30 subject areas. Topics include biology, chemistry, physics, earth science, software engineering (just added), and just about every engineering discipline I could think of (and many I never imagined). Students and practitioners researching adhesives, biotechnology, ceramics, and food science will find needed reference data, as will engineers researching sustainable energy, textiles, and welding.

The platform includes chapter-by-chapter access to reference books, as well as to Knovel’s unique interactive tables and graphs. In addition to the subscription content, Knovel also offers several free tools: a unit converter covering more than 1,000 units of measurement, an interactive periodic table with information from the Los Alamos National Laboratory, a search widget that can be downloaded to a user’s computer or embedded in a webpage (like a subject guide), an Excel add-in to search Knovel directly from a spreadsheet, and the ability to add Knovel to a browser search engine.

Usability At universities with engineering programs, Knovel is widely known for the high quality of its content. Unfortunately, in the past, the product was also known for having a horrible user interface and a slow way of looking at materials. Confusing menus and awkward searches made the original Knovel online platform an unpleasant experience.

The new platform changes everything. In a September 9, 2013, press release, Elsevier vice president Ella Balagula (whose company acquired Knovel earlier this year) stated that the platform had been “completely rebuilt from the ground up.” It shows.

The new Knovel homepage has a Google-like single search box, but the dark styling gives the page a more serious look than that of Google. A rotating series of sample searches appears in the search box to demonstrate the types of queries that can be performed (users may employ Boolean operators, truncation symbols, quotation marks, etc.); the sample searches disappear after clicking inside the box. Patrons can do a search, use the new “data search” to look for physical property data, or browse for titles, all from the homepage.

Once the user starts typing, suggested keywords and book titles pop up beneath the search box, similar to Google’s autosuggest tool. A search for “carbon,” for example, reveals the suggested keywords “carbon fiber,” “carbon dioxide,” and “carbon nanotube” and the suggested book titles Carbon Capture and Storage and Physical Properties of Carbon Nanotubes.

The results can be refined in several ways. A secondary search box enables users to search within their results, and it’s also possible to filter by type. Knovel distinguishes among ten types: book titles, text sections (parts of a book, including entries from dictionaries and encyclopedias), conference proceedings, engineering cases, interactive graphs and interactive tables, Excel spreadsheets, material data sheets, worksheets, and calculators. By default, users are shown results from their subscription but can optionally view hits from the entire Knovel catalog. Results are sorted by relevance, which usually means that book titles (an entire book on the search topic) appear at the top of the list.

Textual content can appear either as HTML or as PDFs. Knovel provides the best of both worlds with its PDF content. Users can download (and print) information chapter by chapter, but a built-in reader allows them to skim material without opening up a PDF reader. The reader uses Flash, however, so most patrons with tablets will need to download the PDF in order to read the content. Search terms are highlighted in text (if data are searched, the relevant rows in a spreadsheet are highlighted), and handy arrow buttons at the top of the page enable jumping among individual instances of the search terms. Through the use of built-in tools, users may zoom in or out and save content to My Knovel, the platform’s personalization feature. Keyboard shortcuts make it easy to page through chapters.

Citations can be exported to reference managers, but a lot of metadata was missing from the books I tested. Generic citations are available, but students would have to add several pieces of information in order to meet the dictates of any of the major citation styles.

The new data search gives users the option to build queries based on materials, properties of interest, or both. Property information can be searched to see if specific content exists or if certain values are equal to, greater than, lesser than, or between user-entered values. The tool searches Knovel’s interactive graphs and tables for the requested data. An indicator box at the bottom shows the number of search results and lets users adjust their query as needed. The interactive tables that appear in the search results can be edited, and data can be downloaded to the user’s computer for later analysis or simply copied and pasted into a spreadsheet. Just about anything—book titles, chapters, searches, interactive tables, data search queries—can be saved and organized using folders.

Pricing Subscriptions start at $10,000 and vary substantially depending upon what Knovel’s customers select and how many users they have. Verdict Knovel is an expensive platform, but the high quality content has little competition. The newly redesigned platform is easy to use and fun to explore, and its fresh interface will encourage novice engineers to turn to Knovel rather than Google for reliable engineering data and information. The platform is recommended for universities with large engineering programs and companies with the need to access this information on a regular basis.

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, Readers can contact her at