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


Overdrive is Spreading, and Libraries are Along for the Ride

   July 3rd, 2014 Brian Herzog

bing-overdriveThis seems like something that shouldn't be big news, but I think it's cool and long overdue.

I read on Go To Hellman one of those "finally..." posts - Eric had a great idea a long time ago, and now suddenly it's been implemented. The idea:

I imagined that popular websites would use fancy links to let their readers get books from their local libraries. And that search engines would prefer these links because their users would love to have access to their library books.

And now it seems that Overdrive is making this happen - in two ways:

  1. When you do an apparent book search Bing (like, the girl with the dragon tattoo book, the right sidebar has a "Read this book" section that includes preview & download links to Overdrive. It even suggests libraries based on your IP, so you can check it out - in my case, it guessed right with "Merrimack Vally Library Consortium"
  2. With the "read online" feature that was added to Overdrive during their last upgrade, people also have easy access to an excerpt. You can see it in the Bing example, and embedded in this Huffington Post book review (also with a "Get book" link)

Good stuff. Not exactly new - LibraryThing, WorldCat, and other book websites have been linking to libraries for years. But this really brings libraries to the forefront of your casual internet browser in a much bigger way - and it doesn't just link to a catalog record for a print item, it's immediate electronic gratification.

It's not everywhere yet - when I tested it tonight, the same search on Google had links to purchase the book from a variety of places, but none to libraries.

And also, these links only go to Overdrive, which, in many cases, is only a fraction of a library's electronic resources (which itself is only a fraction of our overall collection). Still, it's a start, and I'm excited.

Now we just need to get people to use Bing.



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Massachusetts State-wide Ebook Platform: Coming Soon!

   April 24th, 2013 Brian Herzog

Library EbooksHere's something that will hopefully have a significant impact on libraries in the future: there's a state-wide ebook initiative getting underway in Massachusetts.

This project was begun after hearing about the Douglas County (CO) Libraries "host your own ebooks" platform (and why). However, instead of just a single library system, Massachusetts wants to involve all the libraries in the Commonwealth.

Also, the end goal is a little different than Douglas County. Instead of hosting all the content we buy ourselves, the Massachusetts Library System (who is spearheading the project with support from the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners) is looking to develop a "discovery layer" interface that can search multiple vendors' ebook catalogs.

That way, patrons will just have one place to search all available ebooks, no matter which publisher or vendor they come from. This is good because the project includes all types of libraries - public, academic, school, special - which all have different ebook requirements. In the public world, people like to download fiction; in the school world, simultaneous online access to textbooks is required. This model is designed to accommodate the gamut.

My library is one of 50 pilot libraries that will begin testing this summer. The initial collection should be approximately 10,000 titles, negotiated directly with as many content providers as possible.

The current status of the initiative is, I believe, that proposals from vendors are still coming in. The project seems like it has a very quick timeline (see the project timeline & FAQ [pdf]), but I think that's a good thing.

In addition to the Colorado project, the Califa Consortium in California is also engaged in a similar endeavor. The Massachusetts project is unique in that it is the only state-wide program. Hopefully, as projects like this become larger and more numerous, libraries across the country will be able to adopt or join to give libraries a larger voice in the future of ebooks.

This is definitely something I'll be talking more about in the future. It's still early days yet (for the pilot libraries), but we're excited to get going.



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Infographic: Can Print Books and Ebook Coexist?

   February 20th, 2013 Brian Herzog

This infographic came out earlier this month, but I thought it had some interesting statistics on the coexistence of ebooks and print books:

Print vs. Ebook infographic


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A New Overdrive Interface is Coming, Are You Ready?

   October 3rd, 2012 Brian Herzog

Overdrive's Next Generation Digital Library - See Book Read BookI think I'm a little behind the curve on this, but since there were so many great comments on how to improve the Overdrive interface, I thought this would be worth talking about.

It looks like the new Overdrive interface really is coming, scheduled to hit libraries during the holidays - perhaps the worst time for staff to be learning a new interface, but if it's progress, it's worth it.

I haven't seen Overdrive's Webinar on the new interface, but I do plan to watch it as soon as I find a spare 60 minutes.

However, other librarians in my consortium have watched it, and it looks like there's some good stuff in there. Most interesting to me is the "one-click download" requiring no software installation or activation. That's huge. Apparently that component isn't quite ready yet, but should make our patrons lives (and therefore our lives) much, much, much easier.

But one of the new features did bother me. The new interface apparently includes a "Buy It Now" button, which will be located directly under the "Add to Cart" button. The Boston Public Library has been demo'ing the new interface for most of this year, and here's what it looks like (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" screenshot

When someone clicks that green "Buy It Now," a windows pops up with a list of stores (click for bigger):

Overdrive "Buy it now" popup window

Pardon my French, but I fucking hate this. There's been conflicting reports about whether this "Buy It Now" button is optional or not, but I sincerely hope it can be turned off.

Certainly there's an argument to be made for it: if publishers know libraries are going to directly be driving customers to them, they might be more inclined to actually deal with libraries. There's also the convenience to the patrons who don't want to wait for the library's copy to be returned, and can afford to just go buy it themselves.

This seems wrong to me. It makes libraries Overdrive's bitches, because now we're drumming up retail business by preying on immediate gratification. Which is absolutely idiotic, because technologically there is no reason anyone should ever have to wait for an ebook. Implementing this feature just encourages the backward-thinking currently gripping the ebook world as they try to cling to past revenue models.

What would be awesome is if the patrons were given the option of buying a copy for the library. They get it first, then they can donate it to the library for others to use, if they want.

There's also the line that libraries will be getting a kickback from such sales, in the form of Overdrive credit. This is a complete non-starter for me, so I won't even address the idea of libraries profiting from our shortcomings.

But speaking of revenue streams, it looks like the new Overdrive interface also prominently features banner ads - here's the BPL's advanced search page (click for bigger):

Overdrive featuring banner ads

Notice the two "Advertisement" right under the black menu bar? Sigh.

But I don't want to be all doom and gloom. In all fairness, I haven't seen the webinar and don't know a lot of the facts - this is just all from using BPL's site. When I called BPL, they were much more positive than I felt. The "Buy It Now" button was initially a little jarring for them, but they've had no problems or complaints, and do see credits quarterly, which shows patrons have no qualms about using it.

I am also not sure what other new features are included in the new interface, but since Mike Lovett of Overdrive was so encouraging in his comments last time, I'm hopeful the good outweighs the bad (or better yet, all of the "bad" is opt-in).

So, I encourage everyone to check out the Overdrive Next Generation Digital Library webinar. And as always, keep a running list of "how to make this better" to send to Overdrive to incorporate into the next iteration.

And for further reading on ebook topics, here's a few recent things to check out:



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Reference Question of the Week – 4/1/12

   April 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Sleep modeOne night this week, a father brought his eight year old daughter to the desk, along with her new laptop and Nook Touch, and asked that I show her how to download ebooks. This was, hands down, the most interesting ebook instruction I've ever given.

Happily, everything went smoothly - usually the biggest hurdle is actually finding an ebook the patron is interested in downloading, but in this case, there were quite a few kids books that caught her eye (she struggled to decide between Junie B. Jones Has a Peep in Her Pocket and Barbie and the Three Musketeers).

We checked out and downloaded one, but when it came time to transfer it to the Nook, the father realized that he had left the Nook's cable out in the car. The daughter stayed at the desk with me while he ran out to get in. While we were waiting, I asked the girl if she had any homework to do that night.

She said she had expanding math to do, which they were just learning and she really didn't understand. I told her I had never heard of "expanding math" before (which was true), and asked her if she could show me. We got some scrap paper and a pencil, and the practice problem she came up with was 104 - 57. She explained it as she worked it out, and when she was finished the paper looked something like this:

104 = 10090 + 0 + 14    
- 57 = 0 + 50 + 7    

    90 + 0 + 7    
        50        
        40 + 7 = 47

This seemed slightly over-complicated, but I was able to follow her, and she actually explained it quite well. I had just never heard it called "expanding math," I guess. But when her father came back, his reaction made me laugh. He just stared at the paper, and commented that he's never seen her doing homework like that.

Anyway, cable in hand, we were back to ebooks. We plugged in the Nook, transferred the ebook with no problem, and they were delighted to see the text and pictures on the Nook's color screen. They went through the whole process again, this time downloading Go, Dog. Go! for her little brother, and again, everything worked smoothly.

The dad reminded the girl that she had homework, and said it was time to go. He started putting the Nook away, and told her to pack up the laptop. When she clicked Start > Shut Down, I overheard this exchange:

Father: Oh, you don't need to shut it all the way down, just put it to sleep.
Daughter: I don't like putting it to sleep.
Father: Why not?
Daughter: [leaning over and whispering] Sometimes it has bad dreams.

Again, a puzzled look on the dad's face, but mixed with a little humor, because it was a random and funny comment.

After they finished packing everything up, the only thing left on the desk was the scrap paper with the girl's math problem on it. The dad picked it up to take with him, saying,

Father: Come on, it's time for you to teach me how to do your homework.

And they walked away from the reference desk holding each other's hand.

All in all, this was one of the most ridiculously saccharin slice-of-family-life scenes I have witnessed at the library. The bad dreams comment kind of bothered me, but hopefully they will bond while doing her homework together.



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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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