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




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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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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NELA-ITS Workshop on Ebooks

   June 11th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Book PodiumI'm at the Portland (ME) Public Library today, for the ebook workshop from the New England Library Association's IT Section.

I'll be live-blogging, so check back for updates, and also follow others with #nela on Twitter.

Notes from Elizabeth Thomson

  • Idea for using ereaders in libraries: buy one for the ILL department, for them to download public domain books to and loan, instead of the patron waiting weeks to request all those out-of-print books from far-away libraries.
  • Idea for doing ebook collection development: buy the trash romance or how-to sex manuals that someone would by too embarrassed to buy or check out or be seen reading on the subway
  • "The Kindle is about reading, not the device." It seems to me the iPad is the opposite - it needs to dazzle people with movement and flashy colors, which either enhances the text, or terminally distracts from it, depending on your point of view.
  • Ebooks needs a business models - publishers, bookstores, libraries need their own. People buying print books because they feel guilty or don't want bookstores/libraries to die out is not a business model. People will do what's most convenient in the end, regardless of how they feel.

Notes from Tom Corbett, Cushing Academy

  • Libraries need to be in the reading an research (information) business, not the book inventory business (just like people who used to be in the horse and buggy business instead of the transportation business went out of business)
  • Cushing's logic: books are no longer the best approach for their goal (supporting 9-12 students), library staff were focus on the wrong skills (inventory management rather than information access and aggregating data), provide 21st century education with 21st century tools (kids also learn how to use technology, which is important for the future)
  • "It's not information overload, it's filter failure"
  • Brutal Facts:
    1. Most high quality information will never be free
    2. Information in the 21st century is almost entirely created and delivered digitally
    3. By it's nature digitization ties information technology and information literacy together
    4. The filters and skills need to successfully navigate the digital world are not the same as the pre-digital world
    5. Libraries need Digital Rights Management (DRM)
    6. There will be a better medium for reading than paper (it's the content, not the paper)
    7. It doesn't really matter what libraries think. Markets happen. (Kindle is Amazon's #1 best-selling and highest-rated product)
  • Digital content delivery should be "just in time" not "just in case" (which is what print is, and also Overdrive's model of collection-development-by-ownership) - focus on managing access, not managing collection inventory
  • EBook Library gets it right with "non-linear lending" - you get access to hundreds of thousands of titles, and libraries pay rental fee when the book is checked out (also option to buy if a title is heavily used). You get X number of hours of book use, which can be mixed and matched amongst titles that get used - you pay for the use of your patrons, not an inventory of ebooks

Notes from Jeffrey Mayersohn, Harvard Book Store
Speaking about the Espesso print-on-demand machine. This is the way of the future, because Amazon has way more inventory than can be kept in a single location.

But the single location is the advantage that bookstores have - local staff, local interest, and with print-on-demand, local production of that same large inventory. Use bookstore shelves to be well-curated showroom.

Books never die, because with print-on-demand, everything stays in print. Also much easier for new authors to promote their self-published books.

  • 1/3 (about 34) of Espresso machines are in libraries (many also in academic book stores)
  • Replace copies for very old, out-of-print copies
  • Provide copies of rare book collections to patrons

What's next?

  • Full color interiors
  • Expanded public domain access
  • Expand access to "current" books
  • Continued publishing of local authors

Notes from Emily Smith, Belmont Public Library
Donor provided 16 Kindles to circ at library

How we circ:

  • 14 days, 1 renewal (same as book)
  • Local requests only, check in and out at Belmont circ desk only - must turn it on to see it works at check out and check in
  • 1 per person, $1 fine per day, $259 replacement cost, $15 charger, $35 cover
  • No age restriction, but we mostly buy non-kids title to limit kid interest, and circ them from the adult section
  • Circ in padded bag with charger, laminated policy, Kindle with leather cover, Getting Started guide
  • Put VHS box on shelf with titles listed on back, and when someone wants Kindle they bring the box to the circ desk, where Kindles are kept

Selection

  • Purchase alerts, holds list, bestseller lists
  • 75% fiction
  • Amazon requires credit card to purchase, which the library doesn't have, so we have corporate account (which is paid via purchase order and gift cards and person account - it is complicated)
  • We deregister when it circs, and ask patrons not to register to their account (which they can do, and add content, but if it doesn't get deregistered then other patrons can buy books on that first patron's account

Problems

  • Turning it on/off has been a challenge for some patrons - switch is very small. Some patrons put it to sleep rather than turning it off, and screen saver kills the battery
  • Some patrons delete books accidentally - library can get the books back free, but it is a pain
  • 5-way control is difficult to use, but people eventually figure it out
  • Doesn't work with Overdrive, not all titles are available through Amazon, and not all titles have text-to-speech
  • Be sure to get the 2-year extended warranty, which makes replacing damaged devices easier

Notes from Gerry Deyermond, Memorial Hall Library (Andover, MA)
Use Audible.com for eAudio digital audiobooks, and circ library's Otis players as well as download to patrons' devices.

Most users are 40+. Patrons can request downloads by email, and work out time with staff when to come in to download. Use Excel to track circulation (players circ for 3 weeks).

MVLC also uses Overdrive - this has picked up the slack for patrons who can't get to the library Almost 10,000 iPod-compatible book circs since 9/2009; almost 1,000 ebook downloads since 5/2010.

Notes from Chris Cooper, Southern New Hampshire University
Use 2-pronged approach to ebooks

  1. Ebook Downloads for popular works: Sony eReady and Kindle, patron-driven - library will buy any book under $25
  2. Ebook Databases for academic/professional titles: databases such as NetLibrary, Books 24x7, Sarafi Tech Books, ACLS Humanities ebooks to support business, IT psychology and other programs

Ebook Downloads

  • Successes: Positive publicity (mentioned on campus tour), efficient use of funds, broad popular content availability, show engagement with technology
  • Challenges: Consumer product, work flow issues (only tech services can load books, which slows things down), rarely find academic titles students need, number of units (5 kindles, 2 eReaders), registration, damage to devices

Ebook Databases

  • Successes: 24x7 remote access, professional publications, up-to-date and complete (no missing CDs), integration with the catalog (easier to find), e-reserve, full-text searchable (huge advantage for research)
  • Challenges: DRM eccentricities (each database is different, none are very good), multiple interfaces (patrons want content, so unfamiliar interfaces are a barrier and we lose people), cost (always have annual contracts - difference between owning content and buying access to content), finding specific titles (we can always find content, but not always exactly what they want)

Questions and Answers from Panel Discussion
Any childrens books on ebooks? Like Tumblebooks?
Belmont didn't put them on, because we want adults to be more careful with the devices. Nashua uses Tumblebooks and people like them. Cushing still actively collects print picture books.

Do teachers "silo" their class material and not use library eresources?
They do, because they always have, but we're working with them to show them how they can use ereserve and other tools for class. The focus needs to be on the students, and what works best for them.

Do people purchase or lease Espresso machine?
Harvard Book Store leased it, but other people buy them. However, there are also leasing companies.

How has the School Library Association viewed what is happening at Cushing?
They're both skeptical and interested, and want feedback on how it goes.

What kind of budget does Cushing have?
The space redesign and purchase of ereaders came out of the capital budget, not library budget. This year the econtent budget is coming from the library budget. It all happened before Tom was there, so not sure of the figure, but it's hundred of thousands of dollars.

If students have their own laptops/devices, why does the library offer ereaders?
Kindles only do reading, whereas other devices have lots of distractions built-in, and we want to focus on literacy.

How have faculty accept the change, technically?
To do this well, the administration must require adoption, but there was a lot of buy-in from faculty. There is also ongoing back-and-forth discussion, so we're all working together to meet the goal requirement.

By deauthorizing Kindles, does that turn off Amazon's big brother aspect or monitoring, and can use track highlighting and other activity for statistics?
We delete most patron activity, and never thought to track it.

Do you backup Kindle books?
Once you register a Kindle, all the books stay in your account and you can download them as many times as you want. You can backup locally on your server, but you need to sync it to your computer, and is just more difficult that relying on Amazon.

How do you provide students access to color content, like graphic novels?
We don't really - we never had much of a graphic novels collection and students haven't asked. But it's a trade off, because there are things the devices let you do that can't be done with print.

Espesso machine - what is the cost, and is there a backlog?
Cost of each book depends on source - publisher books (in copyright) are same price as book on the shelf (machine does this automatically, and store loses money on some books); for Google books we charge $8.00, which averages 400 pages, so we were losing money so now it depends on page count - $10-$20 average cost now; self-published set price with author, usually $9 cost and $15 retail, which is better for authors than they would get with a publisher. You can also order online and we will delivery locally via bike-delivery

Do Kindles need certain staff to make them work?
Only for downloading and fixing - check in and out goes through the circ desk so any staff can do it, including the 4-5 minute demo of how it works and checking to see if the titles are there

Are you concerned about the lack of physical ownership of Kindle content, and whether you'll be able to use it in the future?
Belmont: not really, because all the titles we have we also own in print, and are popular, so we think that when the interest in these titles die off, we won't need them any more
SNHU: We expect that to be the case, and it's all about cost - if we get the value out of the book via circs, we don't worry about the future
Cushing: We don't worry about it

What percentage of SNHU is eresources? And is it growing to accommodate Cushing students who expect digital resources?
Databases and downloads are right about the same, but nothing drastic is happening - print is staying steady.

What factors drive book sales for Harvard Book Store?
The general economy is very noticeable in the bookstore, but sales have increased each month this year. I haven't noticed any real affect with the advent of ebook readers - most customers say they like books, but use ebooks for travel (so in that respect it is a niche product). Sales of new hard covers (the most expensive) are the sales that are increasing. Our author events (over 200/year) really drive sales - not unusual to draw 600 people - authors can't sign ebooks

Libraries can offer more than one device, as a way to allow patrons to try the technology and use Overdrive titles.



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Ebooks and Resources

   March 16th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Shelf Check ebook comicI've had ebooks on the brain lately for a few reasons, so I thought I'd pull together some resources I've been bookmarking.

But first, my reasons:

  1. My consortium will soon be offering ebooks via Overdrive. This is good, as Overdrive ebooks are compatible with Sony Reader and the Nook, but will still include existing Overdrive drawbacks
  2. The IT Section of the New England Library Association is devoting our spring workshop to ebooks. Speakers will range from libraries already circulating ebooks and ereaders to a certain library that made waves by going digital to a book store that takes digitized books and makes them print again. It will be a great day, and I'll post more details soon.

Ebooks are certainly in the cards for libraries, and hopefully not like these comic strips. In no particular order, here are a few ebook-related links worth reading:

Ebook Reader Reviews and Guides and Deconstruction
A nice introduction to ereaders and ebooks, "7 Things You Should Know About E-Readers," from EDUCAUSE, focusing on teaching and learning:

Reviews of ereaders from various sources:

The eBook Buyer's Guide to Privacy from the EFF talks about how each of the most popular ebook readers rate as far as privacy, tracking of purchases, sharing of information, etc.

I've seen a little discussion on the topic of "why digital," and this is a good evaluation of how and when and why technology matches content:

Ebook Price Wars
This is worth watching, because low prices means lots of people purchased the hardware, but rising prices means people will be coming to the library for ebooks instead of purchasing the content themselves.

Ebooks for Downloading
A few places where people can download ebooks for free - please list additional resources in the comments.

Of course, as soon as I finish typing this post, I'm going to pick up the old-fashion made-of-paper book I'm reading and enjoy flipping through the pages.



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Kindles, Orwell, Libraries, and Ownership

   July 21st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Kindle, burningHopefully by now everyone has read David Pogue's NYT article about Amazon deleting Orwell's books from its customers' Kindles. Even though it's been covered elsewhere, I wanted to throw in my two cents.

First, yes, it was shocking Amazon did this. Not that they could do it, but that, 1) they felt it was necessary, and 2) they just went ahead and did it. @librarythingtim linked to a good explanation of the whys and wherefores.

Hopefully libraries considering adding Kindles to their collections will take note. I'm not against ebooks, but I think too many people equate them physical books - and they are not that.

They are information, and libraries are right to pay attention to them. But customers, obviously, don't own them in the same sense they own a physical book. Ebook vendors have gone out of their way to convince us of this, but DRM technology is simply designed to the contrary.

In the library world, ebooks are more akin to databases than real books. We have access, not ownership. Database contents and interfaces change beyond our control (although usually we're notified first), but we're okay with that, because we understand that. Overdrive downloadable audiobooks are very similar - Overdrive says we "own" the books we buy from them, but if we ended our contract and lost access to their interface (or they went out of business), how useful would those ebooks be?

So I think it's the same with the Kindle. It's a technology not at all designed for libraries anyway, but lots of patrons are asking about it. However, what would library staff say to the patron who brought in their on-loan Kindle to complain that 1984 is just gone?

Or worse, what if down the road Amazon decides it doesn't like libraries loaning Kindles loaded with books, and just shuts down libraries' accounts and deletes their books? It might credit the money to their accounts, but is that only good towards the Kindle Store? And what could the library do with their expensive, empty gadgets?

But I do think libraries need to try to make this work. We just need to recognize that we have very little control in this arena. And then, we can develop policies and procedures around it, or we can work to change it. I vote for change.



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