or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk


Library Renewal: Developing Econtent Options

   January 6th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Library RenewalHave you heard about Library Renewal? It's been percolating on liblogs lately, and sounds like a great (and sorely needed) initiative.

From their website:

Our goal is to find new econtent solutions for libraries, while staying true to their larger mission.

Concise and focused, and something libraries really do need. They will be hosting a series of events, will offer speakers, and invite librarians to participate via Twitter, Facebook, blog, and their mailing list.

An initiative like this is long overdue for libraries. A lot of the services we offer are not quite good enough, let alone outstanding - and it is only by banding together that we'll be able to force positive change. Thanks to the Library Renewal board for getting things started.



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Tech Trends from MLA2010

   April 29th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Locked BikeI was at MLA2010 yesterday and participated in a panel discussion of Top Tech Trends (it was good, and if I find the other talks online I'll link to them). The two trends I chose aren't exactly new, but are two things I think will have an impact at the reference desk. They deal with ownership of the resources we offer to the public.

[note: this post might not be news to anyone, but the links from which I drew my information are worth reading]

Trend One: Subscription Databases
This has been a pretty happy segment of the library world for a long time, and libraries probably are familiar and comfortable with subscribing to and offering this kind of content. But in the last couple years, new exclusive deals signed between publishers and database vendors has limited access to many popular periodicals (this also happened last year with Consumer Reports).

EBSCO was the focus of much criticism, but Library Journal reports that the publishers are also interested in exclusive contracts. I don't mean to vilify them, because businesses will always act in their own self-interest. But I couldn't tell what bothered me more: loss of access to these periodicals, or corporate press releases [pdf] saying these contracts were in libraries' best interest - there is a difference between "all libraries" and "libraries that are our customers," which is a distinction database vendors don't seem to make.

We non-customers can't afford to keep buying more and more subscriptions because these exclusive deals demand it, so our patrons lose out. The bottom line is that it took resources away from many libraries, and I'm sure this isn't the end of it.

Trend Two: Ebooks
People might be sick of hearing about ebooks* already. However, since it contains the word "books," there is a natural expectation for libraries to offer them, so you can either jump or be dragged into this discussion.

The problematic trend is that the "e" part of ebooks makes them an entirely different animal from print books. Lots of people are trying to figure out how libraries can offer them to patrons, but ebooks have the potential to drastically change the publishing industry (including a power struggle within the distribution chain), and there's no nice model right now that seems to include libraries.

Another problem (for libraries) is that the two most talk-about ebooks readers (the Kindle and the iPad) are also the most restrictive. Like publishers and database vendors, Amazon and Apple are companies acting in their own self-interest, and what they're interested in is sales. Their tactic to maximize their sales is to control where the customers can get ebooks - which excludes libraries.

At least right now: the same thing was true with the iPod and Overdrive audiobooks - when we initially signed up with Overdrive, they did not work on the iPod (which is what all of our patrons had). Eventually Apple relented, so I'm hopeful they'll also eventually open up the iPad to outside ebook sources.

However, there is a case to be made that the iPad is not designed for reading anyway.

Statistics for the Future
Ebooks are popular, but right now they only account for 2-5% of overall book sales. That seems small, but library sales are about 4%. Ebook sales will definitely grow, whereas library sales probably will not. Since the future of ebooks will hinge on decisions made by businesses, libraries will need to speak up to make sure we have a role in this market.

Bonus Trend: HTML5
Something I forgot to mention in my talk also related to the iPad: watching videos online using Flash might be a thing of the past, because the iPad does not support Flash (per Steve Jobs). Instead, the iPad is looking to HTML5, and so is Google. The most obvious impact will be in Flash-based like Youtube and Hulu, but it's worth reading about HTML5 to get an idea of what the web might look like in the next few years.

 


*I don't know if there is an official style guide for these things, but I decided to always spell "ebooks" the same way I spell "email." If it starts a sentence the first letter gets capitalized, but otherwise it's always all in lowercase, as opposed to eBooks, e-books, etc.



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Paying for Content Or Paying for Format

   September 24th, 2009 Brian Herzog

hollowed bookBoingBoing pointed to an article on the difference between paying for content and paying for format. Publishers want us to pay for content, so they can charge the same price for online information. But historically, we pay for format: hardbacks cost more than paperbacks.

The same is true in town halls and libraries with public records. People have a right to free access to the records - but, if they want their own copy, there is likely a reproduction cost. In which case, they aren't paying for the records (content), they're paying for the paper the records are printed on (format).

Interesting. (And it also brings up the slippery slope of double-taxation: if the paper is purchased with taxpayer money from the library budget, then why does a taxpayer have to pay for it a second time?)

Machineman nutRelated to this is what author Max Barry is up to with his latest book, Machine Man. He's publishing it in real-time, one page per day, and readers can subscribe to rss or email to get the first 43 pages for free. Beyond that, it'll cost $6.95.

I like that an author is experimenting - that's where good ideas come from, rather than just forcing forward the status quo. I also like that, when it is published in traditional book form, it will (likely) be different from the day-to-day feed. Which makes sense, since he'll have had time to think about it and rework* the real-time "draft."

And what Barry is doing is evidence again that what we pay for is format. If I pay the $6.95 for the content of the rss feed, then it stands to reason that when the printed book comes out, I should get it for free, since I've already paid for the content (unless, of course, it is significantly different from the feed).

I can see why the supply side of the publishing industry wants to charge the highest price they can for content, regardless of format. But technology, context, and past practice just doesn't support that model. But then, business = ++profit != logic.

 


*I'm fascinated by the evolution of the story, and how an author changes and rearranges the plot and characters in between drafts. In fact, here's what I think would be a good idea (although, it would take the right kind of author to make it work): publish a book with every draft of a short story, with annotations on the changes. Having a author not only put out there early versions of a story, and also explain what changes were made and why, would be fascinating insight into the creative writing process.

From what I know of Max Barry, he could pull it off, and it'd be worth reading. Neil Gaiman is another author that comes to mind. But maybe this is a market limited to only me.



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Video Everywhere

   November 6th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Too Much Joy's Donna Everywhere videoIn the last few weeks, I've seen a lot of announcements concerning video content being added to online resources. Both InfoTrac and NewsBank have recently made email announcements about content they've each added to their databases.

InfoTrac added many full-text resources to the General and Academic OneFiles, some of which include video segments. NewsBank's announcement was more thorough - here's an excerpt from the email:

In response to the rising demand in libraries, NewsBank is adding video news content to our online news resources-at no additional charge to our customers. The complete package from respected media distributor Voxant includes the following sources: The Associated Press, Reuters, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, local affiliates of ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox, as well as coverage from Canadian Broadcasting, Agence France Press and more. Your institution will have access to video clips from all or a select group of these sources, depending on your subscription.

Beginning on Monday, October 20, the videos clips will be added to NewsBank resources. Users will be able to:

  • Play news videos within the NewsBank interface, in the same space used to display text articles
  • Select specific videos from a comprehensive results lists that also includes NewsBank articles, or restrict their search to "video only"
  • Access recent and archived news videos at your institution or remotely
  • Email links of specific videos to friends, or embed them in a presentation

I find it curious that they say this is in response to demand from libraries. From the few tests I did, most of this newly added video content is already available free online, so I'm not sure where this demand was coming from (or why the vendors choose to listen to this particular demand instead of other things libraries have been demanding).

If a patron wants to watch a news show online, I can't see myself showing them how to navigate the library website to find the right database, log in with their library card, navigate the database for the right title, and then find the episode. It is just easier for me and the patron to use the station's own website or YouTube as a resource.

And speaking of YouTube, Library Stuff linked to a YouTube announcement on c|net today: "YouTube will begin offering feature films produced by at least one of the biggest Hollywood movie studios possibly as early as next month." Combine that with Hulu.com and other websites, and that's a lot of available video content.

For the database vendors though, I would prefer they concentrating on making their resources more user-friendly and useful by "uniquing" them, instead of providing content that is already available from other sources.



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