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


Ebooks in General, Ebooks in Specific

   August 13th, 2014 Brian Herzog

library ebooksIn case you missed it, be sure to at least skim the recent Wall Street Journal article comparing Amazon's new subscription ebook service to other options, including libraries. For me, the big take-away was:

Of the Journal's 20 most recent best-selling e-books in fiction and nonfiction, Amazon's Kindle Unlimited has none—no "Fifty Shades of Grey," no "The Fault in Our Stars." Scribd and Oyster each have a paltry three. But the San Francisco library has 15, and my South Carolina library has 11.

That is great. But you know what libraries don't have? Wamesit: Life in Colonial Massachusetts in the area known today as Chelmsford, by Bill "Doc" Roberts.

Here's how I know this: a little while ago, Bill Roberts called (from Texas!) to let us know he wrote a local history book about Chelmsford. Neat. I wasn't sure if he wanted to donate a copy or have us buy one, but local history is local history, and I'm sure we would have worked something out.

However, when I went online to learn more about it, it turns out it's a Kindle-only ebook - so we basically can do nothing with it. I don't know what his connection to Chelmsford is, and it's a novel rather than non-fiction, but still - being locked out of this because of format is annoying.

So, even though the WSJ article (very rightly) shows that libraries are doing okay when it comes to ebooks, the nature of the still-growing environment still has plenty of room for improvement.



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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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How Would You Improve The Overdrive Interface?

   July 11th, 2012 Brian Herzog

Over the weekend, Stephanie tweeted:

Stephanie's tweet

I thought she was right on (sadly), so I retweeted it. The next day, @OverDriveLibs replied:

OverDriveLibs' tweet

Good on them for paying attention and being open to ideas. Since they're listening, I put together the following list that I think would improve the Overdrive experience.

Granted, I know their web interface is somewhat customizable, so different libraries have different looks and slightly different experiences. And, I know they have a mobile interface, which I'm going to ignore for now. I also won't even talk about Overdrive Advantage, because I don't know how much just seems overly complicated to me due to my library being part of a consortium.

  1. Remove the bookbag entirely.
    It doesn't seem like a whole lot of people shop for and then check out a bunch of books at once. In my experience, most people look for one book at a time, and then download it. This process becomes overly complicated by having to add that one book to the bookbag, review the bookbag, then proceed to checkout to download it. I think Overdrive would be so, so much easier to use if, instead of the "add to bookbag" link, people clicked a link that would take them right to the download process.

    If you make downloading a book easy enough, and then return people back to where they were after downloading is complete, you don't need a bookbag anyway.

  2. Combine the loan-period selection screen with the download button screen.
    Once someone chooses a book they want to check out, they should be taken to a single screen that lets them choose the loan period AND click a button to download right from that page. Combining these eliminates a step, which would go a long way to making Overdrive easier to use. The whole experience should be:

    1. search for book, then click the link to get the book
    2. choose loan period, click "Download" or "Get for Kindle" button
    3. struggle with DRM software*
    4. enjoy book

    I see no reason why the process couldn't be this streamlined.

  3. Change "add to bookbag" link text.
    With the bookbag gone, the "add to bookbag" link needs to be changed. One problem I've seen patrons have is making sure they choose the right format - because format is specified on the left of the screen, but the link they need to click is on the right.

    Overdrive example

    It seems difficult to make a mistake, but I have watched more than one person do it - especially in this scenario: Someone has a Kindle, and they limit to show only available items. The Kindle item is checked out, but the EPUB line says "add to bookbag" - the person is thinking Kindle, and sees the "add to bookbag" link, so they click it. Likewise, I've also seen people download an ebook thinking they were getting an audiobook.

    My suggestions for better link text is:

    Instead of Replace with
    add to bookbag Download Kindle Ebook
    Download EPUB Ebook
    Download WMA Audiobook
    Download MP3 Audiobook
    place a hold Request Kindle Ebook
    Request EPUB Ebook
    Request WMA Audiobook
    Request MP3 Audiobook

    I actually go back and forth between "Download Kindle Ebook" and "Checkout Kindle Ebook" - Checkout has better library connotations, but Download is more evocative.

  4. If someone limits to a format, show only that format.
    I hate that a patron can limit to see only Kindle books, and yet EPUBs will still display, if we have both formats for the same title. If someone limits to Kindle, then hide the EPUB line from the image above (and same for audiobooks).

    And because format is so important, it should be easier to limit to format - for instance, provide a separate interface for each format that libraries can link to, like, "click here to search for EPUB ebooks." And then, all the patron would see are EPUB ebooks, without them having to further limit to format.

    The advanced search format limiter box should include options for "all Ebooks" and "all Audiobooks" options, since someone with an iPad and a Kindle app can use either format. Also, when someone limits to format in advanced search, this should stick even if they click a "Browse by Genre" link too.

    Patrons should be able to save their preferred format in their account settings, so they don't have to keep limiting every time they return.

  5. Change the search algorithm to AND and not OR.
    If you search my consortium's Overdrive catalog for "vonnegut last" there are 42 results. However, a search for just "vonnegut" gets four results, and a search for just "last" gets 38. 4+38=42, which means there is no overlap between those search terms. Most people searching for more than one word except to find items containing BOTH of those words.

    When our Overdrive catalog was new, and we didn't have a lot of items in the collection, using the OR operator seemed like a cheap trick to make it appear that we had a bigger collection than we did. We're past that now, and clogging up the search results with everything under the sun just adds to why Overdrive is difficult to use.

  6. Keyword searches should search title and author fields
    This refers to the keyword search on the advanced search screen. "Keyword" seems like is should search everything, but it doesn't. Why not? If it's not actually a keyword search (like the basic search box on every page), then call it something else. Or better yet, just replace it with the actual keyword search.
  7. Add a direct link to the software download page.
    The Overdrive Help pages are getting better, but the fact that they periodically change means that library staff even need to refamiliarize themselves with how to help patrons. The most common question that sends me to the Help pages is to download Overdrive Media Console or Adobe Digital Editions. However, none of the options on the Help screen mention downloading software, and I can never remember which one it's hidden behind. Just having a "Download Free Software" option on the Help screen, which leads to a device/OS selection, would be great.
  8. AARRGH!
    I know this is beyond Overdrive, but getting things set up on an iPad can sometimes get trapped in a loop: in order to install the Overdrive app, you need to create an Adobe ID, but one of the Adobe webpages requires flash, which the iPad does not support, so you have to use a computer to actually accomplish everything. This doesn't happen every time, and I don't know why it does sometimes and not others, but I've seen patrons trapped in this loop more than once - and Overdrive gets the blame every time (justified or not), which just sours the patron on using Overdrive in the future.

I sure this is just the tip of the iceberg. Since Overdrive asked for input, please suggest what improvements you'd like to see in the comments below or tweet them to @OverDriveLibs.

 


*DRM is a much larger issue, and not entirely under Overdrive's control - so I won't even discuss it here, and instead just focus on their interface and things they can improve. But let's all enjoy The Brads Why DRM Doesn't Work comic once again.



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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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