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Knovel and Machinery's Handbook, 27th Edition: The Pitfall of the Plug-In

.: In an e-mail sent last week, Knovel informed its subscribers of the following:

We are writing to share with you the exciting news that on Monday, Sept. 19th, Knovel will release the 27th Edition of Machinery’s Handbook. This fully updated and expanded edition of this important title will add greatly to the value of our service for your patrons.

In order to fulfill our contractual obligations with the publisher of Machinery’s Handbook, we are obliged to protect the files from unauthorized copying, downloading, and printing. Knovel makes every effort to maintain as few barriers to the content on our service as possible. However, in the event your patrons seek to view secured content in this title, they will be asked to download a security plug-in called FileOpen for Adobe Reader. This is a one-time download and once installed, the user will not be asked to download it again.

Unfortunately for those trying to get access to this title from a computer lab terminal, OPAC terminal on a public floor in a library, or a computer on a locked-down company LAN, the plug-in won't load, rendering the 27th edition of Machinery's Handbook unusable and non-functional. The e-mail goes on to say:
Knovel has made every effort in the on-screen instructions for how to download this plug-in to cover every eventuality your patrons might face, and to lead them through the process simply and effectively. We are letting you know in advance so if you receive questions you will know how to answer them, and so you are aware of why your patrons are contacting you. We have prepared a special link for you to preview how the process works.
followed by:
We will seek to maintain the simplest possible access to our content in the future. If we are obliged to secure further content, we will let you know in advance. Please be reassured that once your patrons have downloaded this plug-in, it will secure access to any other content which may require FileOpen in the future.
The bone to pick here isn't necessarily with Knovel, but primarily with the publisher, Industrial Press. The problem is, this new restriction is transparent to any user. Someone trying to use the 27th edition will hit a brick wall, and be forced to turn back, so to speak. Knovel is leaving the 26th edition in the db, but for those who need the most current and accurate information from this title, the only option is to use it from a personal, IP-authenticated computer, and deal with a series of click-throughs to use this title. Users today want the shortest path to their resources of choice.

There is another problem. Despite having downloaded and installed the plug-in yesterday on my laptop, when I tried to look at text within the 27th edition this morning using Firefox, a window popped up with "The FileOpen plug-in is not installed." Three clicks later, I reach a screen that verifies I have the plug-in installed, allowing access to the .pdf files in the book. Using Internet Explorer, the plug-in was recognized as having been loaded, and I was taken directly to the book. So a problem exists with the plug-in and Firefox. For any library system using Firefox on their terminals, this would be another headache with which to deal.

But most library systems either power down at closing time, and/or reboot their servers overnight. The effect of this would be that the next day, the plug-in would need to be loaded on any station where a user was trying to access the 27th Edition, again. Er, but, the plug-in most likely couldn't be loaded in the first place, because library and computer lab terminals are locked-down to prevent the downloading and installation of potentially malicious software, therefore...we go round in circles.

I hope Knovel, purveyors of a major and important product for science and engineering libraries, can solve this for us. Locally, this is critical, as I am teaching three classes in mechanical engineering next week, and in each one, I will now need to mention that this major mechanical engineering reference work cannot be used on any station in any library or computer lab on campus. Plus, those of us subscribing to Knovel need to advise our information staff that the title will not work on OPAC stations, unless we work in a library which allows for the downloading and installation of plug-ins on public stations.

The longer view is that this plug-in, of course, is another example of Digital Rights Management. In an academic or learned setting, where students are working towards degress and advancing their education, this kind of restriction does way more harm than good. I would guess that most students are not interested in downloading the entire book, which numbers above 2,750 pages. Knovel advises us that the plug-in will prevent "unauthorized copying, downloading, and printing", but in an education setting, what does that mean? Our library signs a licence to use the db, including this title, meaning our users are authorized to use the product. If one or more of them decides to print or download a section for further study, isn't that the raison d’être of the product anyway?

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