I spent the first part of this week at the New England Library Association 2012 annual conference, which I found I enjoyed more than others in recent memory. Partly it was due to talking with way more people than I usually do, but the guys from ByWater Solutions, Koha developers, also picked up my lunch tab one day, which is awesome - thanks Nate.
Anyway, I mostly stuck to the technology track this time, which seemed like it was all ebooks all the time. Often, that turned into Overdrive-bashing (for past practices), but there was also a lot of looking to the future of what-could-be. Here are a few notes I wrote down from the various sessions over the three days:
- Followup on Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Last week I posted about this case now before the Supreme Court, and mentioned that Alan Wexelblat of Copyfight would be speaking at NELA. This was probably the hands-down absolute best session I attended, and if you ever get the chance to see Alan speak, jump at it.
He offered more insight on the speculating I did last week - for one thing, this case will be limited to items imported from overseas, and only items that have (or can be) copyrighted. So, things like iPhones (which are patented, not copyrighted) and clothes (which are not copyrighted at all) will not be affected (so no "Garage Sale Police: SVU" any time soon).
Alan also said he expected the Supreme Court to rule in Wiley's favor, albeit with a very narrow ruling. Arguments between October 29th, so keep an eye on it.
- The (not so bright) future of ereaders
In more than one session, I heard people say that 2012 was the peak for dedicated ereaders. They will start to decline in 2013, and from here on out, ebooks will be read on smartphones and tablets, because ebooks will cease to be something special or unusual and just part of peoples' normal lives. As people get more and more used to doing everything on one device, dedicated devices - like ereaders - will be left behind.
Dedicated ereaders have the advantage with cheaper prices and better eink displays, but hardware prices are always falling, and the more people use smartphones and tablets, the more they become accustomed to those displays. Besides, Betamax was better quality than VHS, and it still lost out.
Except maybe in libraries, since the libraries that circulate hardware will only want patrons using them for ebooks. But the death of ereaders was still an interesting observation (and again, a widely-held one, it seemed).
- But if you are buying ereaders...
A few speakers gave kind of best-practices reviews of ereader lending programs in their libraries. One recommendation was that, if you are buying ereaders to lend to patrons, definitely get the extended warranty.
Another model for ereader/ebook lending was to give patrons a gift card in addition to loaning them an ereader. That way, patrons do your ebook collection development for you. And, since the books are being purchased, patrons aren't limited to just what is available through Overdrive, and instead they get to read whatever bestseller they want, right now. A couple libraries in Massachusetts are doing this, and they have not had any problems - the gift card is tied to the library's Amazon account, and patrons are told not to buy more than three ebooks.
However, again, there was the recommendation to buy tablets, not dedicated ereaders at all - they will have a longer useful life.
- The (ever brightening) future of ebooks
Another common opinion was that ebooks really are a major revolution in publishing, whether we like it or not. And by revolution, we're really talking evolution along the lines of cave walls > clay tablets > papyrus scrolls > bound books > ebooks. However, ebooks won't necessarily totally supersede print in our lifetime - more likely, they will be viewed as different experiences, not as mutually-exclusive.
A great example of this was keynote speaker T. Scott Plutchak's story of reading picture books to his granddaughter. She has one favorite book, which they have both in print and on his iPad. She always wants him to read it to her, but sometimes she wants the interactive play of the iPad, and sometimes she wants the traditional page-turning of the print book. I like the view that it's not all or nothing - print and ebooks can coexist. And kids don't see them as competitors, just different. I think I've said this before, but I still use both pencils and pens, and I also still listen to the radio every day. Pencils and the radio are good for certain applications, pens and keyboards and television and internet good for others.
Another analogy I liked was that ebooks are a total revolution in technology, along the lines of sheet music > phonograph recordings. Before Edison, music was distributed as sheet music - people bought it and then played the piano themselves in their own parlors. But after the phonograph, people could buy and listen to a recording. This is a fundamental change in how people interacted with music - it removed the personal experience of playing it, and standardized what version of the song people heard. This isn't a direct ebook correlation, but the basic "this is a fundamental shift in how people interact with stories" is worth considering.
However, one of the funniest lines at the conference came up when a speaker was trying to make the point that new technology does often replace old technology: "yes, people still raise horses, but how many of you rode a horse here today?" Ha.
- DRM is the problem.
Universally, the cause of all ebook-related problems right now is DRM. Not copyright, not technology, not piracy - just DRM. So, the recommendations were always: buy DRM-free ebooks - publishers like TOR and HumbleBundle are leading the way and need to be supported.
- Create your own electronic content
For libraries in Massachusetts, contact the Boston Public Library to get on board with BPL's local resource digitization program. For free, libraries, historical societies, town offices, etc. can have their annual reports, yearbooks, special collections, whatevers digitized by BPL and Internet Archive staff. The items will become part of the Digital Commonwealth and Internet Archive collections, and will be freely available online. This is definitely worth checking out - send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Good quotes relating to this were, "copyright is like a speed limit - it's flexible, so going a little over is okay." And, "copyright is often a gray area - and to us, gray means GO!"
- Training - it's what we do
Lastly, lots of talk about training and tech support - library staff training patrons to use ebooks, the reference desk evolving into a community technology help desk, etc. These ideas are not new, but they bear repeating, because I do think this is the future for libraries.
I did hear one new idea though: one speaker found he was having trouble training senior citizens to use their brand new ereaders, because they had no computer experience whatsoever. No matter how patient and repetitive he was, he could just not communicate with them in the way they needed. So, he got the idea to train one of their peers - a senior woman who volunteered at the library - and then had her show other seniors how to use technology. He said results were instant and fantastic, because she, being from their generation, was naturally more attuned to speaking at their level. Great idea, up until he told us what he called it: "The Old Lady Support Group."
In all, it was a great conference. My only complaint is that I couldn't get to all the sessions I wanted to see. Presentations are being posted online, so please check them out for more information.