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Freading Ebook Library from Library Ideas, LLC

   February 8th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Freading: a new look at library lendingLast week, a salesman from Library Ideas, LLC, came to demo their new ebook product, Freading. This is the same company that has the DRM-free music download product Freegal, so I was curious to hear their approach to ebooks (tl;dr version is their excellent FAQ).

Ebooks are more popular than ever in my library, and our Overdrive ebook catalog (which we share with 36 other libraries in my consortium) just cannot keep up. Patrons are disappointed that everything they want to read isn't available for immediate download (either because the publishers won't deal with Overdrive or because other patrons already have that ebook checked out).

And that's how Freading is different: instead of the Overdrive model of building your library ebook collection by purchasing one ebook that only one person can use at a time, the Freading model gives immediate access to their entire 15,000+ ebooks, and any number of patrons can download the same ebook at the same time.

A Better Model?
I really like this model much more than Overdrive, because patrons never have to wait for books, and right off the bat you're offering a huge collection. Although there is the question of sustainable cost, which I'll get to later.

They also have a lot of kids books - at least, more than we currently offer with Overdrive.

Another huge plus is that I find the interface and whole download process way easier than Overdrive. You can check it out at http://freading.com - it's not the most elegant interface, but the process really is just three steps:

  1. Search for an ebook
  2. Click to view the ebook details (title, author, summary, etc)
  3. Click to download (all are epub, some are also pdf)

Yay for not having to "add to bookbag" first, and all the other extra steps.

Multiple authentication methods are available, so there is also the step of the patron entering their library card number. Then, downloaded ebooks go through Adobe Digital Editions just like Overdrive, and patrons would use that to transfer to their devices (or their app for smartphones and tablets).

Some Drawbacks
One major drawback is that it doesn't work with the old-style Kindles, but it does work with Kindle Fire and pretty much any other ereader. This is almost a deal-breaker, as about 70% of the people I've been helping use basic Kindles.

Another drawback is that they don't have books from the major publishers in there. They do have books from 45 publishers, but I searched for our most popular Overdrive ebooks, and none of them were in Freading. So at best, this would be a supplement to Overdrive, until the bigger publishers get on board.

Which, according to the salesman, is just a matter of time, because of the payment model Freading uses. In their model, libraries will be paying every time an ebook is downloaded (rather than buy it once and use it indefinitely like Overdrive [except for HarperCollins]), so theoretically the publishers stand to make more money this way.

Side note: check out Cory Doctorow's American Libraries article on revamping copyright, and also the White House petition to reform U.S. copyright law in regard to libraries. (via)

Something else is that, even though I like their interface, it amounts to being yet one more place patrons need to check to cover all their bases. I asked about MARC records to put in our main ILS catalog, (which we do for ebooks from Overdrive and Safari), to make it easier for patrons to find the ebooks we have access to. The salesman said they can do it, but it's still in process and should be available by PLA in March. But then there's the question of whether we want to dump 15,000+ new records into the catalog, on the off-chance someone might want it.

Pay-Per-Download Model
Within Freading, "paying" for downloads all happens on a "token" system. A token is $0.50, and it takes different amounts of tokens to download different types of books. Their breakdown is:

Ebook Type #tokens/download Renewal
Ebooks published less than 6 months ago* 4 tokens ($2.00) once for 1 token ($0.50)
Ebooks 7 months - 2 years old 2 tokens ($1.00) once for free
Ebooks older than 2 years 1 token ($0.50) once for free
*Publishers do make exceptions for bestsellers or popular books - the example he gave was Water for Elephants which, although it is more than 2 years old, is still a 4 token book.

Patrons would each get, say, 5 tokens a week (this can be adjusted by the library). Unused tokens continue to rollover for 4 weeks, and then are lost (so if you had 1 token left after week one, week two you'd have 6 tokens, but week one's extra token, if not used, would disappear in week five). Libraries can also cap the total number of tokens their patrons can spend a month, to control how much money the library spends.

I looked into my library's Overdrive stats for Jul-Dec 2011. We averaged about 356 downloads a month. If the 4/2/1 token breakdown is averaged at 2 tokens, that means we'd be spending about $356/month on downloads, or about $4200/year. It's hard to estimate, because I think Overdrive stats are way down because so many people are on waiting lists, but if Freading doesn't have a lot of the popular titles that Overdrive has anyway, then it might be a wash (not to mention subtracting out all the Kindle users).

The other cost to factor in is a one-time setup fee of $150. After that, libraries only pay for downloads, not a platform fee or annual subscription or anything else.

How it Works for Patrons
Once someone does download a title, they have it for 2 weeks, and then it automatically expires (like Overdrive). At any point after that 2 weeks, the patron can renew the book once (whether it be immediately after the first two weeks, or months later - and see table above for renewal costs). After the one renewal though, the price goes back to regular, and they would need to spend more tokens to check it out a third time.

We haven't decided whether or not we'll go with this product, but I certainly think they have a lot in their favor. The salesman said three libraries in Connecticut are already running it (http://www.westportlibrary.org is one), and I found an article saying their count is up to 50 and lists some other libraries.

And again, check out their FAQ for more information on how it works. Hopefully I got all the details right, but please weigh in if your library is using this - or NetLibrary, or any other ebook service.



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Details Create the Big Picture

   October 13th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Walking in someone else's shoesThanks to everyone who took part in Work Like A Patron Day yesterday, and I hope you got something out of it.

I wasn't able to spend as much time with it as I had hoped, between meetings and projects and helping patrons (it was a busy day yesterday). In the time that I was WLAP'ing, I didn't notice anything major, but just a lot of little things - hence the title of this post, which is a quote from Sanford I. Weill.

  • At the public workstations, I'm always straightening our scrap paper and pencils holders, but when you sit down to check your email, it's easy to get tunnel vision and not even notice that stuff - maybe I'm just more of a neat-freak than necessary
  • The tunnel vision also filters out most of the noise and bustle of the library - which, in my library, there can be a lot of. At the reference desk the noise makes me tense because I worry it might be bothering other patrons, but when WLAP'ing, it didn't really seem that bad. Actually, it just seemed like I was sitting in a very busy and active library, which was great
  • We have an overhead public address system in my library, and you can clearly tell which staff are comfortable using it and which are a little intimidated, by the tone of their voice during announcements
  • The woman who used the study room before me smelled strongly of mint
  • Another staff person pointed out that we need to clean the front of the building - it looks okay in this picture, but the "Chelmsford Public Library" engraved in the stonework is getting obscured by rust from the roof

I was a little disappointed I didn't get to spend more time with this today, but it's certainly not just a one-day event. I try to do this any time I can all year round.

Thanks again to everyone who participated, and please share any highlights of your day.



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Work Like A Patron Day 2011

   September 27th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Working like a patronIn 2008, I announced the first "Work Like A Patron" day - I've been mostly quiet about it since, but David and Jessamyn have both talked about the idea lately, so I thought I'd offer it up again.

The point of Work Like A Patron day is to remind librarians that libraries are for patrons, and it's important to gauge the result of our efforts from their point of view. I know lots of people do this on a daily basis anyway, but for my own benefit it helps to make a special effort to view the library through a patron's eyes.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Work Like A Patron day takes place on the Wednesday of the week six months after National Library Week. That was April 10-16, so this year's Work Like A Patron day will be Wednesday, October 12 - that's just two weeks away!

Ideas for Working Like A Patron
I know every library is different, and lots of people routinely do these things, but here are a few things I do to get out from behind the desk and experience the library like a patron:

  • enter and leave the library through the public entrance (not the staff doors)
  • use the public restrooms
  • try doing some work on the public computers
  • call the library's main number and negotiate the phone system
  • reserve public meeting rooms for meetings
  • return your items in the book drop
  • navigate the library's website as if you're not already familiar with it
  • follow all library policies
  • read posted signs to see how helpful they are

Obviously, not everything will be applicable to every library, and not all library staff can do their work away from their desks. The real point of Work Like A Patron day is to just spend some time experiencing the library like a patron, not like a librarian.

Share your Experience
I'm always curious to hear about it, so if you'd like to share what you did on Work Like a Patron day, tweet with the hashtag #wlap or add a link to the Library Success wiki Work Like A Patron page. Or, of course, share in the comments below.



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Library Media Box and Other Vending Machines

   September 1st, 2011 Brian Herzog

Library Media iBoxMy friend Chris forwarded me a news story about a DVD vending machine being installed in the library in Strongsville, Ohio - but instead of a RedBox, it vends the library's DVDs.

Some libraries do have a RedBox, but that approach never sat well with me - it seemed like an uncomfortable competitive fit. But an easy-access vending machine that distributes library materials? Great.

I contacted the Cuyahoga County Public Library system for more information, and here's what I learned:

  • The machine holds 700 DVDs (or CDs, and larger capacity also available), and uses special black cases instead of regular DVD cases
  • Theirs is from Public Information Kiosk, Inc. (distributed by 3M), and they chose it over competitors (Brodart also has one) because they felt it had the most RedBox-like interface, thus should be easy for people to use. Also, PIK developed some custom graphics for them, and looks sleeker and snazzier all around, rather than just looking like a regular vending machine
  • The machine is indoor-only, so they placed it between the inner and outer doors of the library lobby - the outer doors remain unlocked 24 hours a day, so patrons always have access to the machine
  • It's still new to them so they're slowly rolling out features, but the machine is designed to handle checkouts, checkins, and even holds placed through the online catalog - neat
  • One drawback they have noticed is the machine's use of the company's own 2D barcode system, instead of the library's barcodes - this requires extra work in cataloging, and also causes some inaccuracies with records (showing the wrong cover art when there is more than one movie with the same name, movies showing up in unexpected places in the genre listing [ie, Wall-E listed as sci-fi])
  • More details on the product spec sheet [pdf]

This is the first of two machines they purchased, with an LSTA grant from the State of Ohio intended to explore ways to meet the needs of underserved patrons. These machines are ideal for serving patrons where a library branch can't be built.

The second machine will be installed in a local hospital, serving as another 24x7 library location. Similarly, a library in Iowa is considering installing one in the headquarters of a large local business - another nice example of bringing the library to the patrons (although it also sounds like something you'd find in the Googleplex).

These vending machines serve other uses too - after conducting a patron survey on how to deal with DVD theft, the Arapahoe Library District in Colorado in the process of installing installed them to help protect their collection.

Library Vending MachineAnd other libraries have been using vending machines for awhile. In Connecticut, the Oliver Wolcott Library has had one since 2010.

However, my favorite is what the Ottawa Public Library is doing - putting vending machines at their commuter rail stations and community centers (via).

In the age of downloadable ebooks and streaming video, using vending machines to distribute physical library materials might already seem outdated. But don't forget, public libraries serve a spectrum of patrons, all with different interests and needs. After all, despite the popularity of smartphones, our public fax machine is used just about every day (our microfilm machine and typewriter aren't exactly idle, either).

Anything we can do to make library services available outside the library's building and operating hours - in a variety of ways to meet a variety of patron needs - is a good thing.



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Reference Question of the Week – 7/10/11

   July 16th, 2011 Brian Herzog

NO Stairway to Heaven signThis question made me laugh - partly because it is so odd, and partly because it's not the first request like this that we've had.

We received the following email from a patron with a Subject of "Request for a room" (I edited it a little for clarity):

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Request for a room

I would like to do some recordings with my guitar and voice (moderate volume) using a hand held recorder. I am currently working on a set of folk songs. Is there a isolated room in the Chelmsford Library where I could record during my weekday lunch hour?

One of my coworkers had a good response:

"isolated room" and public library - not a good combo.

We don't have anything in the library that is even close to being sound-proof enough so that his guitar playing wouldn't be heard by other patrons. Which may or may not actually bother people, but I would feel bad telling him yes, then having someone complain after he got all set up and going and then making him stop.

So the staff came up with a list of alternative potential places around town that might be able to handle this, including the local community center, performing arts center, and even the local cable television station (which at least has actual studios).

We sent a message back saying the library couldn't accommodate his request, and referring him to the list of other places we came up with. I haven't heard back if he found somewhere to go, but it would seem to lend some folk-cred if you record your album in a public library.

I do always feel bad when we reach a limit on how we can accommodate people, but at the same time it makes me happy that people continue to think of the library for just about anything.



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We’re Starting Up A Jelly

   July 12th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Jelly logoThere's a new program starting this week at my library - a Jelly.

What's a Jelly?!
A Jelly is a casual yet organized assembly of people who choose to work in a social atmosphere - with other interesting and creative people to talk to, collaborate with, and bounce ideas off.

The idea for the Chelmsford Jelly actually originated with a patron. He approached our programming librarian and asked if the library could host a Jelly. After researching online to find out what the heck a Jelly was, we agreed - we're providing a room and some publicity, and he's doing everything else. He's also set up a meetup page for the Jelly to manage it.

I think the idea of "coworking" is a good one. There are lots of people now who, for whatever reason, do work at home, in coffee shops, in parks, whatever, instead of going into an office. There is a lot of freedom in that, but sometimes it helps to be around people who are also doing work. The coworking approach is just that - working around other people who are also working. They're not necessarily working together, just near each other - near enough to enjoy each other's company, use as a sounding board, share lunch, and share the experience of working. Basically, social networking in person.

For us, the Jelly will meet every third Friday from 11:30-4:30. We're not sure how successful it will be, but since the library's core mission is providing community space for patrons (and this program requires extremely little effort on our part), we want to support this program as much as possible.

Update: At our first Jelly, I think there were about 4-5 people who came to work, and stay for part or all of the day. But I was told there was a steady stream of other people who just popped their heads in to see what it was, or, as one man said, "to see what kind of people come to these things." I think this will become more popular as word spreads over time, so I'll post an addition update after a few sessions.



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