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




Notes from ALA Midwinter 2010

   January 19th, 2010 Brian Herzog

ALA Midwinter 2010 exhibit hallHere are a few random notes from the weekend - the best part of the conference is talking with other librarians, and of course the free stuff.

Apps: Past or Future?
Despite not having a cell phone, I still ended up talking a lot about apps at the show. Gale has a great approach for AccessMyLibrary. Check out the Librarian in Black's writeup, but what I liked about it is the geolocation authentication: it shows you all libraries within 10 miles, and lets you into their (Gale) database - no typing in library card numbers.

At the LibraryThing party, there was lots of talk about LT's new Local Books app. Some people loved it, and some people didn't (especially the Android user I talked to, who couldn't find one for his phone). This also led to an interesting discussion on whether or not apps are even needed - one theory was that if the mobile version of your website is good enough, then you shouldn't need a separate app. Therefore, a good app does some kind of mashup not possible on the website.

Then again, I also heard that apps are on their way out in 2010.

eBooks: Present and Future
This is an area I've been paying attention to, and I still learned a lot. The eBooks that Overdrive offers are in epub and pdf formats, and circulate just like their audio books. But the best part is that they work on the Sony Reader and Nook - I did not know that. Apparently they have lots of both fiction and non-fiction titles, so I'm going to explore this avenue for my library.

Gale also offers eBooks, but I forgot to ask about the format. What I did like was that they aren't limited to one user at a time - they were more like a database, where anyone can log in, search and use them.

I also saw a demo of B&T's new eBook software, Blio (pronounced blee-O). I kept hearing they were coming out with something great, but I thought it was a physical eBook device - it's not, it's just the software. But the software really was pretty great:

  • will work on computers and mobile devices
  • it does full-color
  • videos embedded in books (so a book on the circulation system shows videos of how the body works)
  • quizzes in books for review
  • text-to-speech in multiple voices, so different characters have different voices
  • can highlight words as it reads, or will pronounce words you click on (to help kids or ESL students learn to read)
  • has full-spread view of kids picture books (so it looks the same on screen as in print, with all the pictures and text - the pages even flip as if you were holding the book)

They're concentrating on the consumer version first - the software is free, but it sounded like books will be on the expensive end, due to the enhanced content. Whenever I asked a library-specific question, the answer I got was, "oh, we're still working on the details of the library model."

So, yay for a successful conference. And in this case, successful = two shirts, three books, earbuds, notebook, pencils, pins, and lots of candy.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



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.



Tags: , , , , , , , , ,



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!



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,



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.



Tags: , , , , , , ,



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



Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,