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




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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Online Book Signings

   April 1st, 2009 Brian Herzog

Although the Kindle and other ebook devices are growing steadily in popularity, there is one advantage that libraries and bookstores still have: author visits and book signings.

Getting to listen to and meet an author in person is a great experience. And it's something that you can only do in person - right? Not any more. Amazon has announced a new program in an effort to recreate this experience for its Kindle customers.

The new "Online Book Signings" portion of their Digital Text Platform lets Kindle customers watch a live webcast of an author talking about their book, and ask the author questions via realtime chat.

But the best part is that people who buy a Kindle version of the book will also be able to get it personalized and signed by the author. A demo (Kindle not required) of three titles is below - click a title, type in your name, and then download the signed book to your Kindle. Pretty neat.

The World Is Flat cover
The World Is Flat
by Thomas L. Friedman
The Graveyard Book cover
The Graveyard Book
by Neil Gaiman
Just After Sunset cover
Just After Sunset
by Stephen King

This might start a whole new market for digital autographs - so collect all three!



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When Information Is Like Currency

   March 24th, 2009 Brian Herzog

digitized moneyI heard an NPR call-in show this weekend about the new Amazon Kindle, and the callers seemed to fall into two categories: they liked it because it was new and did things books don't, or they didn't like it because it wasn't a book.

However, there was one point that the callers and host never seemed to make: books, magazines, newspapers, Kindles, skywriting, paintings, etc. are all just different ways to convey information.

The difference with the Kindle is that the information never needs to change formats as it moves through the supply chain. The author can type a manuscript on a laptop, email it to an editor, the editor forwards it to the publisher, the publisher creates properly formatted final copies, which the reader downloads and reads.

It can all happen without the information ever being manifest in the physical world.

This reminded me of how most money works now - paychecks can direct-deposited into a bank account, purchases made with a credit card, and credit card payments can be automatically withdrawn from the bank account. It feels like we don't even need to be involved, as everything is electronic and automatic. I would say that all of my "wealth" is just on paper, but it's not even on paper - it's just stored in memory.

scrooge swimming in cashSo I could be a rich as Scrooge McDuck, but it seems the days of swimming in cash are over.

Which seems to be part of peoples' reluctance to the Kindle - there's nothing tangible about an ebook, so it doesn't feel real. Newspapers and magazines seem to fit well with the Kindle, because they are inherently temporary, but books have more of a permanence that ebooks just haven't recreated yet.

They need to convince me that an ebook copy is going to last longer than the quick life cycle of these devices.



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Stephen King on the Kindle

   January 24th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Amazon.com's KindleI know a lot has already been said about the Kindle, Amazon's new book reader. I more or less gave it all a miss, because I am kind of a Luddite when it comes to techno-toys. Go figure.

But a friend of mine forwarded me an article from this week's Entertainment Weekly, in which Stephen King reviews the Kindle. This caught my attention because King has long been out front exploring and playing in the post-print/electronic book world.

It's a short article, and worth reading. King's bottom line is:

[It's] a gadget with stories hiding inside it. What's wrong with that?

His point is that, although a physical book does have its own intrinsic value, it's the text, the story or the information, that's the most important thing. I agree. He says that in the case of the Kindle, once you get used to the device, you forget about it and let the story encompass your attention.

He wasn't "using a Kindle," he was reading a story. And that's what's important.

Phonepedia logoAnother recent development in the "it's the information, not the package" department is Phonepedia. Casey mashed up a voice-recognition front-end with Wikipedia. People call a phone number, ask a question, and the Wikipedia article answering that question is then texted/emailed to them. Information Without Borders in action.

But back to the Kindle: from what I gather (from outside the article now), the biggest drawback seems to be that Kindle-compatible books can only be purchased from Amazon, and only used on the Kindle. Their Whispernet apparently makes it very easy to do, but when you're locked into a technology like that, it essentially is building in a short lifespan. Just ask anyone who bought a laser disc.

From a consumer point of view, it seems like a neat product. But from a library point of view, it just doesn't seem applicable. The adjustable font size is great, as are automatic subscriptions to newspapers and magazines. But for for circulating books to patrons, it just doesn't seem to fit.

amazon, bisson, books, casey, ebooks, electronic, kindle, king, libraries, library, phonepedia, public, stephen



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