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

Reference Question of the Week – 1/1/12

   January 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

As we have come to expect over the last couple years, the first few weeks after the Christmas holidays means a rather dramatic spike in the number of questions about ebooks. The effect this year seemed more profound that usual, which led me to this conclusion:

Tweet: I think "how do I download ebooks?" has just surpassed "where is the bathroom?" as the #1 reference question #timestheyareachangin

This year, my library planned a program on using ebooks with library resources for the first Saturday in January. The plan was for me to talk about Overdrive, and give live downloading demos for a Kindle, iPad, and Nook. Also, we invited a sales associate from the local Radio Shack to come talk about the non-library aspects of ereaders - buying ebooks, the differences between the devices themselves, and hopefully answer a few hardware tech support questions.

Our meeting room is big enough, and ereaders are small enough, that I didn't think just holding one up would really help people in the back see which buttons to press. I got the idea of using a camera, pointed at a Kindle or Nook, to project what I was doing to it up on a screen, to make it more visible. I have a little external webcam that I plugged into a computer, and clamped it so it's pointing straight down at a table (where the ereader will sit). Then I found this software called FSCamView which does nothing but take the feed from the webcam and display it full-screen on the laptop. Then, plugging the laptop into a digital projector shows whatever I put in front of the webcam up on the big screen. How could that go wrong?

And since my library is lucky enough to have two digital projectors, I also plan to have a second computer to project the Overdrive catalog. This way, hopefully, people (even in the back) will be able to watch me search the Overdrive, checkout an ebook, download and transfer it to the ereader, and simultaneously see it actually show up on the device.

Here's what the setup looked like 20 minutes before we started:

Presenting with two screens

We presented from the podium in the right corner. Slides (and websites) on the computer were projected onto the wall in the center by our in-the-ceiling projector, and the webcam/projector/ereader setup was on a little table next to the podium, projecting onto the screen on the left side of the photo - you can see an iPad up there now.

It worked well enough for our purposes, and I think people were happy to (sort of) see what we were doing. The problems we had were that the camera wasn't very high resolution, and the lighting was tricky - not to mention glare off the devices.

Even still, the program was a huge success. We had over 100 people in the room (which seats 80), and had to turn people away. On the spot we decided to hold a repeat program in a couple weeks for all the people who couldn't attend this one. I think everyone learned something, and many said that after seeing the steps it takes to download ebooks from Overdrive, they now understand and can do it themselves. Yay for that.

I'm going to keep fiddling with the webcam/projector setup, because there's got to be an easy way to improve that. Then it'll be fun to think of other programs that might benefit from projecting physical objects up on the wall. Hmm.

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Reference Question of the Week – 12/11/11

   December 17th, 2011 Brian Herzog

There's a Party in My Pantry coverThere isn't actually too much to this week's question, but it kept making me laugh.

The phone rings Friday morning, and an an elderly woman's voice asks,

Patron: Hello, can you help me find a book?
Me: Sure, what's the title?
Patron: There's a party in my pant...

At this point she paused for a second. And now remember, this is coming from an elderly woman - which is conflicting with the usual Anchorman association to that phrase. But then she continues.

Patron: It's a cookbook - oh yes, the title is There's a Party in my Pantry. Do you have it?
Me: [checking the catalog] No, it doesn't look like we do. But let me search online to verify the title.

I search Amazon and find that it's only available as a Kindle book. Just to be extra sure it's not actually a print book too, I search WorldCat, which has no matches.

Me: I'm sorry, it looks like that hasn't been published as a printed book, only as an ebook.
Patron: How can you tell?
Me: Well, I searched for it on Amazon, and it only shows a Kindle version, not a print version.
Patron: [pause] Oh. Can I use that on the Nook too?

That line surprised me a little bit - it shouldn't have, but I was still thrown off by the pants party thing. But anyway, I quickly searched Barnes and Noble's website and found that yes, there is a Nook version. I searched our Overdrive catalog, but unfortunately we didn't have it there.

So I told the patron there was a Nook version available for purchase. We talked a little more about why it was only available as an ebook and not a print book, why it cost only $2.99, and what she would need to do to read it. She seemed satisfied, but did mention she was going to ask her son to buy it for her (which again made me laugh, because I'm immature and the image of this mother-son exchange makes me giggle).

I'm sure it's just the time of year, but this was the first of about ten ebook questions that day - mostly "here's my Kindle, now how do I download to it?"

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Most Popular Computer Ebooks (at my library)

   September 22nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Safari Computer EbooksSince getting back to work this week, I've been trying to get caught up on emails and feeds.

Stephen's Lighthouse linked to the top 25 most downloaded titles on Overdrive - which reminded me that I had recently done our year-end database usage stats, and compiled highest-access titles for our Safari Computer Ebooks database.

Our top 12 most-accessed books were:

Title, Author Accessed
Sams Teach Yourself Java in 24 Hours, Fifth Edition, by Rogers Cadenhead 706
CISSP Exam Cram, Second Edition, by Michael Gregg 684
CISSP Study Guide, by Eric Conrad, Seth Misenar, Joshua Feldman 677
The Green Screen Handbook, by Jeff Foster 577
Java: A Beginner's Tutorial, by Budi Kurniawan 462
Adobe InDesign CS5 On Demand, by Steve Johnson - Perspection, Inc. 358
SAP MM HANDBOOK, by Kogent Learning Solutions, Inc. 356
Microsoft Excel 2010 Step by Step, by Curtis D. Frye 340
Sams Teach Yourself Android Application Development in 24 Hours, by Lauren Darcey, Shane Conder 305
Beginning iPhone and iPad Web Apps: Scripting with HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript, by Chris Apers, Daniel Paterson 278
Ruby on Rails 3 Tutorial: Learn Rails by Example, by Michael Hartl 270
IT Systems Management, Second Edition, by Rich Schiesser 220

The Safari stats interface doesn't make it really easy to identify this. Finding the number of sessions isn't too bad*, but we have to report the total number of "circulations" for these ebooks - which to me means the number of times each one was accessed.

I was able to run one report that seemed like a master total usage report, which I think indicated that 433 of our ebooks have been "hit" a total of 12,256 times.

Also interesting, if I'm reading these reports right, those 433 books are only about 1/8 of the collection, meaning 7/8 never got touched even once. Also, of those 433, 250 were accessed five or fewer times (totaling 410 circs), and the top twelve books (which all had >200 "hits") have a combined total of 5233 circs. Which means that 12 books account for a little under half of our total activity.

That is shocking, but also should be a fairly good indicator of what the leading technologies are right now (at least for my patrons, and among the selections available in our Safari catalog) - and a good reason to supplement our Safari access with print copies.


*Incidentally, we had 963 patron user sessions for FY11

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CIL2011: Ebook Update and Outlook

   March 22nd, 2011 Brian Herzog

Ebook Update and OutlookMODERATOR: Dick Kaser, VP Content, Information Today, Inc.
Leslie Lees, VP of Content Development, ebrary
Ken Breen, Director, eBook Products, EBSCO Publishing
Rick Rosy, VP & General Manager, Library Services, Ingram Content
Group, Inc.

Ebook publishers talk about the ebook models available from their companies - here are a few points I took away:

NetLibrary and EBSCO

  • 1997 ebooks - came on a CD with a 100+ print user guide
  • NetLibrary brand is going away
  • Ebooks are available for preview on EBSCOhost
  • 3 Users Models - Single User, Three User (Single User with lending), Unlimited
  • Patron model will have lease model - lend books for 1, 7, 14, or 28 days at a time, with payment made for every time a lease is done
  • EBSCO continues to listen and evolve

Ebrary and ProQuest

  • Subscription model - 50,000+ backlist titles available, instant digital library, unlimited access
  • Perpetual Access Archive - purchase and own many titles, many front-list titles, source through various vendors
  • Patron-Driven Acquisition - reduce cost, save selector time, and ensure titles get used (patrons choose what library buys) - model similar to Netlibrary
  • Short Term Loans - rent titles and mediate use (model similar to Netlibrary)
  • Future holds that ILS' will eventually stop being inventory control software, and more access control to a variety of formats

MyiLibrary and Ingram

  • Nashville is a nice place
  • Use model single owner, multiple owner, and patron-driven acquisition
  • Among large academic library, 43% have an ebook copy of the physical book they also own - shows ebooks and books coexist peacefully
  • Focusing on how to keep access to information (ebooks) safe and available no matter what - especially with academic libraries

Overdrive ("and their relationship with the devil")

  • There's been a lot of controversy lately, but the future of ebooks, and the current state of things, is extremely strong
  • Overdrive sees itself as a library advocate - to fight for library rights and provide a marketplace in which all types of libraries have access to econtent
  • Continually innovating - mobile apps already available for Apple products, soon coming to Blackberry, always updating Overdrive Media Console software, always adding new content (new titles and new publishers) to the library - it's all about providing options
  • You will see more and more DRM-free books - there will be more self-publishing options
  • Most Overdrive libraries are experiencing 600% circ growth - Jan-Apr 2011 will see more circs than total circs for 2010
  • If you can, attend Digipalooza - this is the best opportunity to sit down with Overdrive and publishers and have your voice heard and your opinions known

Questions & Answers

  • What's going on with DRM and ebooks? How does that mechanism work?
    Overdrive: More DRM-free is coming. Copyright is set by the publishers, not Overdrive (OD advocates for libraries). Adobe is the main mechanism to make download, transfer, and file expiration possible

    Ebrary: some publishers are more willing than others to loosen policies in some channels - we're pushing for more consistency across the board

    Ingram: Most publishers require DRM, but some large consortium have been able to negotiate reduced-DRM or DRM-free options - this shows that money talks

  • Could you please develop a standard so ebooks download to all devices easily?
    Adobe isn't actually very good, it was just the first one. Overdrive is working on direct-download options, and Adobe is working to improve. Each ebook supplier having their own proprietary software is a problem, and difficult for libraries to get full support. Vendors usually do this because of the standards they are trying to meet. Overdrive has a front-line tech support in beta with NYPL(?), and will be available soon - hopefully by ALA.
  • Do all of you work with the same publishers?
    There is probably differences between Overdrive (which focuses on public libraries) and those vendors that focus on academic libraries
  • Do you allow more than 10 pages to download/print before new charges?
    It is growing - standard options seems to be about one page, one chapter, or any 60 pages

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A Little Rant on the Current State of Ebooks

   March 10th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Rant = Open Mouth Insert FootI haven't been following the #hcod ebook topic as closely as I should be. But, my post earlier this week, a couple conversations I've had, and the ABC article with quotes from Kate, has prompted me to spell out what it is I don't like about what HarperCollins is doing - forgive me if someone else has already, and more succinctly, made these points.

I don't like a 26 checkout limit
The logic is that 26 checkouts is basically a year life span on a book, many books never get checked out 26 times anyway, and if a library does have to buy another copy after that, it'll be at a discounted "paperback" price. I dislike this because

  • 26 is pointless and arbitrary
  • if HarperCollins is allowed to set a 26 checkout limit now, what's to stop them a year from now saying, "according to our records, most ebooks only get checked out fewer than 13 times anyway, so we're lowering the limit from 26 to 13"
  • this kind of limit does not at all address the real threat to ebook sales - piracy. So far, attempts to fight piracy using DRM have succeeded in nothing but making digital content more difficult for honest people to use, and applying this kind of limit continues that tradition. DRM is a different conversation
  • in HarperCollins' Open Letter to Librarians, they say

    Selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book eco-system...and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors...

    The "in perpetuity" argument doesn't hold water because

    • no matter what, eventually demand for a book will fall off - regardless of whether a library has access to it or not. However, if a book stays in the library past peak demand, there remains the possibility of someone stumbling across it, enjoying it, and then seeking out additional books by that author. Self-destructing ebooks remove any chance for those future potential sales
    • new books are always coming out, so people are always making new purchases - this is where profits are made, and this is entirely unrelated to whether or not older books self-destruct

But really, it's not about a checkout limit at all
To me, it's not about the 26 checkouts - it's about owning something after you purchase it.

So far, all talk of ebooks has been about "buying" them, which implies ownership. Hence the huge uproar when Amazon deleted copies of 1984 that people had purchased, as those customers realized they had no ownership over the stuff they paid for.

And when we started buying downloadable audiobooks through Overdrive, it was always my understanding that anything we buy through them is ours, and if we leave Overdrive we can take it with us. That is what we've come to expect, because that is what we've been told - now HarperCollins is trying to change that. Taking away that right - ownership - is something I definitely see as worth fighting.

Libraries don't need to own everything we offer
Although I prefer outright ownership (like all the other books, CDs, DVDs, etc that we purchase), that isn't the only model we work with - all of our databases are just licensed, for instance.

If publishers want ebooks to be the same way - something we just pay for access to, but don't actually own - then fine, but they need to structure the market and mindset that way. They could sell licenses to access their "ebook catalog" and let people download them at will, just like database articles. Or, structure a model in which patrons get to browse the entire catalog and libraries pay per download, instead of "purchasing" titles up front and adding just those to our "library." There is definitely a license model that can work, but what HarperCollins came up with is not it.

So what ebook model will work?
One possibility I see with potential is the app store model. Smartphone apps are basically commodities, and sell very cheaply in huge numbers. Apps might only cost $0.99, but developers still can earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on them.

Ebooks could be sold the same way - instead of selling a few at $25 or more, selling a lot at a low price generates more revenue.

That price is also probably more in line with the actual cost of production, and is justified when you remove all the marketing the publishing industry does, and instead rely on the same kind of marketing that makes apps successful - good products thrive on word-of-mouth, and consumers seek out the niches they want. Lower ebook production cost should lead to more and varied ebooks, which fill more niches of peoples' interests, which means more opportunity for more authors to sell more books, thus higher sales.

What's holding up the progress?
I think core problem is that the shift from print to ebooks is a shift that doesn't translate well to the publishing industry's established sales channels and marketing programs. I'm not remotely an expert on the publishing industry, but it seems like they have a huge infrastructure in place to sell print books, and don't want to change. It's the same reason why energy companies have been so reluctant to explore alternative energy sources - they're comfortable with the infrastructure they have, so they defend it. It's more efficient for big businesses to be massive monocultures, rather than diddle with a variety of small and diverse avenues.

The publishing business model needs to be molded around how ebooks work, rather than try to fit the ebook peg into their existing print sales and marketing channel hole. Until they work that out, there will always be problems.

A prime example of this is another quote from in HarperCollins' Open Letter to Librarians:

If a library decides to repurchase an e-book later in the book's life, the price will be significantly lower as it will be pegged to a paperback price...

In the world of ebooks, there is no analogy to hardback and paperback - it's an ebook from day one forward, period. The fact that HarperCollins is still clinging to the old way of thinking about initial and secondary pricing structures - what they're familiar with - shows that they're not actually in a position to generate a new sustainable model.

To boycott or not to boycott
I support a boycott of HarperCollins because I disagree with their policy. I understand they are a business, and the only way to get a business' attention is to impact their bottom line - or, to vilify them in the public spotlight.

The catch is, I don't think libraries actually have as much purchasing power as people think - so the "attack the bottom line" approach might actually backfire if all libraries boycott them and their sales aren't really impacted.

But the more uproar we cause with this, the more it will be in the news, and the greater awareness the public will have about the shifting sands of ebook policy - not only in regards to libraries, but also the nature of ebooks overall.

Hopefully, it will highlight to people that they don't own the ebooks they buy either - which, I think, gives them less incentive to buy them at all, which in turn gives them more incentive to use library ebooks. This is where a significant drop in sales will occur - when people don't see the inflated price publishers are trying to charge for ebooks as a good enough value for something they are merely renting.

Which, of course, is why libraries need to have a place at the table while this ebook eco-system emerges. We do have a role to play, because the success or failure of ebooks in libraries depends on the buying preferences of our patrons. We must speak up, and cannot just roll over and let publishers dictate whatever policies that maximize their immediate profits to the exclusion of all else.

The future of small potatoes
Right now, ebooks are just a fraction of what libraries do. Granted, that is largely due to how difficult ebooks are to use, but still - it is an ever-growing area. And undoubtedly, digital and wireless are how services will be delivered in the future. The opportunity for libraries is to leverage our role as a pooled community resource, to purchase and make available those things patrons either can't or won't get on their own, and then deliver it in a way that suits them. That is the model we need to insist on.

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A Few Notes on the Current State of Ebooks

   March 8th, 2011 Brian Herzog

Boycott paintingI've stayed mostly quiet on this whole HarperCollins/Overdrive ebooks situation, mainly because what I have to say is negative, and doesn't add much to what others already said. But I noticed a couple things in the last few days that I wanted to share.

First, my consortium is (one of many) considering boycotting HarperCollins ebooks. This makes me happy: happy in that I think it's a good move, but also happy in that lots of other librarians are thinking like me.

Also, Sarah has had a couple good posts - one from Thursday about the ALA's apparent inaction on this issue, and another Monday with a sample letter to express opposition to HarperCollins' policy.

But it seems as if the ALA isn't as totally out to lunch on this issue as they may seem. Michael is blogging the ALA's Electronic Content Access Task Force Retreat (official ALA page). The first post didn't mention this ebook debacle directly, but I can't imagine a group of librarians meeting to discuss electronic content access and not tackling this issue head-on, so I have hope.

Something else I recently learned about is the ALA's Emerging Issues website, which has a section devoted to ebooks. There's not much meat there yet, but at least it shows this issue is on the ALA radar, which is also a cause for hope.

Ultimately, I don't know how this will play out, but I can't really see library access coming out on top when it comes to ebooks - at least not without legislative action. But I do strongly believe that this should be the modern watershed moment for the ALA - if you can't be the voice of American libraries and resource clearinghouse on such a critical issue, there is no real reason for your existence.

For some more views on ebook lending, check out Well done, HarperCollins: librarians must change old thinking (via LISNews), and the Ebook Library's non-linear lending model - perhaps the way forward is in one of those.

Update 3/9/11:
I saw the dispatch below on a listserv after I posted this:

American Library Association tackles new challenges in the e-environment
March 08, 2011

Recent action from the publishing world in the e-book marketplace has re-ignited interest and sparked many questions from librarians, publishers, vendors, and readers. Two ALA member task forces - the presidential task force on Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) and the E-book Task Force - were recently created to address these complex and evolving issues. EQUACC met this week in Washington, D.C., to provide ALA with guidance and recommendations for a coordinated ALA response to the challenging issues.

In light of recent publisher changes affecting libraries' ability to provide e-books to the public (e.g., restricting lending of e-books to a limited number of circulations) and the refusal of some publishers to sell e-content to libraries entirely, the task force will:

  • Work to establish meetings between ALA leadership and publisher and author associations to discuss model lending and purchase options for libraries.
  • Establish mechanisms for interactive and ongoing communication for ALA members to voice concerns and pose questions to ALA leadership.
  • Establish communication and solicit input with other ALA member divisions and units, including the Office for Intellectual Freedom.

In addition to the above, the task force recommends that ALA pursue the following:

  • Conduct an environmental scan to understand the current landscape and project future scenarios.
  • Work with appropriate partners within and outside of ALA to improve access to electronic information for all, with a particular focus on people with disabilities.
  • Identify and support new and emerging model projects for delivering e-content to the public.
  • Develop a national public relations and education campaign highlighting the importance of libraries as essential access points for electronic content.

ALA members and the public can communicate with ALA on these issues through a new website dedicated to the challenges and potential solutions in libraries for improved access to electronic content. This site will be live within 10 days, and the URL to be announced at launch. These efforts reflect on libraries' long-standing principles on equitable access to information, reader privacy, intellectual freedom, and the lawful right of libraries to purchase and lend materials to the public.

ALA calls upon all stakeholders to join us in crafting 21st century solutions that will ensure equitable access to information for all.

Also, Jessamyn linked to http://readersbillofrights.info/, which is worth checking out.

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