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




Reference Question of the Week – 1/1/12

   January 7th, 2012 Brian Herzog

As we have come to expect over the last couple years, the first few weeks after the Christmas holidays means a rather dramatic spike in the number of questions about ebooks. The effect this year seemed more profound that usual, which led me to this conclusion:

Tweet: I think "how do I download ebooks?" has just surpassed "where is the bathroom?" as the #1 reference question #timestheyareachangin

This year, my library planned a program on using ebooks with library resources for the first Saturday in January. The plan was for me to talk about Overdrive, and give live downloading demos for a Kindle, iPad, and Nook. Also, we invited a sales associate from the local Radio Shack to come talk about the non-library aspects of ereaders - buying ebooks, the differences between the devices themselves, and hopefully answer a few hardware tech support questions.

Our meeting room is big enough, and ereaders are small enough, that I didn't think just holding one up would really help people in the back see which buttons to press. I got the idea of using a camera, pointed at a Kindle or Nook, to project what I was doing to it up on a screen, to make it more visible. I have a little external webcam that I plugged into a computer, and clamped it so it's pointing straight down at a table (where the ereader will sit). Then I found this software called FSCamView which does nothing but take the feed from the webcam and display it full-screen on the laptop. Then, plugging the laptop into a digital projector shows whatever I put in front of the webcam up on the big screen. How could that go wrong?

And since my library is lucky enough to have two digital projectors, I also plan to have a second computer to project the Overdrive catalog. This way, hopefully, people (even in the back) will be able to watch me search the Overdrive, checkout an ebook, download and transfer it to the ereader, and simultaneously see it actually show up on the device.

Here's what the setup looked like 20 minutes before we started:

Presenting with two screens

We presented from the podium in the right corner. Slides (and websites) on the computer were projected onto the wall in the center by our in-the-ceiling projector, and the webcam/projector/ereader setup was on a little table next to the podium, projecting onto the screen on the left side of the photo - you can see an iPad up there now.

It worked well enough for our purposes, and I think people were happy to (sort of) see what we were doing. The problems we had were that the camera wasn't very high resolution, and the lighting was tricky - not to mention glare off the devices.

Even still, the program was a huge success. We had over 100 people in the room (which seats 80), and had to turn people away. On the spot we decided to hold a repeat program in a couple weeks for all the people who couldn't attend this one. I think everyone learned something, and many said that after seeing the steps it takes to download ebooks from Overdrive, they now understand and can do it themselves. Yay for that.

I'm going to keep fiddling with the webcam/projector setup, because there's got to be an easy way to improve that. Then it'll be fun to think of other programs that might benefit from projecting physical objects up on the wall. Hmm.



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Reference Question of the Week – 10/31/10

   November 6th, 2010 Brian Herzog

Do you ever wonder how I spend my Saturday nights? Why, advocating library services, of course - here's a Twitter conversation that occurred last weekend about 10pm (read from the bottom up):

Twitter conversation

The two points I'd like to make about this are:

  1. Libraries provide free and legal access to things patrons might otherwise "improvise" access* to. But that is only marginally helpful because...
  2. ...the target audience for many library services don't always (or ever) think of the library as a source. So how do we promote ourselves to bring patron and service together? That is frustrating.

I felt pretty good after this exchange, and the patron was happy to not violate copyright to get the content he wanted. Until now I've been pretty passive about this, but perhaps it's time to more deliberate about engaging in "social reference."

Incidentally: I saw his tweet because I have a Twitter search rss feed for the word "library" in any tweet within 10 miles of Chelmsford. That picks up people outside of town, but we get a lot of non-residents in my library, so it all evens out. Besides, on the internet, all reference is local.

 


*I get daily traffic to my website from Google searches such as "overdrive media hacks," so people are definitely looking to improvise.



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A Few Notable News Stories

   March 25th, 2010 Brian Herzog

I usually don't like just reposting things unless I have something intelligent to say about it. Regardless, here are a few news stories I noticed recently that seem to be flying under the radar (intelligent commentary optional):

 

Raj PatelThe Life of Raj Patel
Sure you've heard of Raj Patel and his books The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved - but did you know he is the messiah?

Neither did he, but the folks of Share International are treating him like Brian, despite his denials, because they know Only the true Messiah denies His divinity. (via)

 

Overdrive Announcements
Overdrive logoTwo Overdrive stories: one about LEAP, their New Program for Visually Impaired Readers, and another about a program to Offer Honor System eBook Lending for Libraries, so no DRM. Both worth investigating.

 

Free Music, as in Free Lunch, as in No Such Thing
Freegal logoAlso on the DRM theme is a Library Journal article about a new music service called Freegal, from Library Ideas, LLC and Sony. Interesting in that this service will

  • have no DRM, just plain old mp3 files
  • require no content manager software
  • trust people to follow copyright law, instead of just assume they're criminals
  • charge libraries per download, rather than an annual subscription (or rather, a "minimum annual commitment" which can be managed on a weekly basis)

All good news, but I'm curious to see how the pricing model works - it's not like anything else used in libraries, is it? And who out there thinks a website called "freegal" might get blocked by sex filters?

 

What Do You Know About Knowr.com?
Knowr logoNot a news story, but I got a press release about Ooga Labs' new Knowr.com, billed as a "Question and Answer site that ties to the users social graph ... to create a vibrant knowledge network." What I liked about it is their approach:

At first, we had thought that people ... could use our service to share what they know with each other, both within their own particular industries, and in exciting, boundary crossing ways. With a little research, we saw that these groups already have vibrant communities online.

Then we quickly noticed teens and other Facebook super users are using services like this to conduct informal interviews of each other and celebrities.

I'm not entirely sure what it does, or why, or that it isn't already being done, but I did like that they decided to use existing web platforms (in this case, Facebook) to integrate with, instead of building a whole new networking tool. Good approach.

However, since it requires a Facebook account, that leaves me out.



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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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Potential, Tested

   February 26th, 2009 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic Strip from 9/27/08In December, I had a series of posts concerning Overdrive's mp3 audiobooks. At the time, they were brand-new to my library, and I hadn't had a chance to experiment with them. Now I have.

Since Overdrive was previously so top-heavy with the DRM, I was curious just how "mp3" their mp3 files would be - would they be totally open like mp3 files should be, or would they be pseudo-mp3s, still with some kind of DRM wrapper or innards?

I never feel like I really understand something until I'm able to take it apart and put it back together to see where the flaws are, so here are the results of my experimenting:

During the checkout process (which still requires five clicks to accomplish after finding a book and entering my library card number), Overdrive hits you with their mp3 terms of service. Items 3 and 4 below are what really come into play here:

The title(s) and file(s) in MP3 format ("Content") you have selected to download are licensed to your Library under an agreement with OverDrive, Inc. who is authorized to supply the Library with the Content by publishers and other copyright holders. Prior to accessing the Content, you are required to accept and agree to be bound to the Terms of Use as described below.

Please read the following carefully and click 'Yes' to accept to continue for access to the titles or 'No' to decline should you not agree.

  1. I agree to be bound by the applicable laws that apply to my use of the Content and the library download media service ("Service"). I acknowledge that the Content embodies the intellectual property of a third party and is protected by law. All rights, titles, and interest in the Content are reserved, and I do not acquire any ownership rights in the Content as a result of downloading Content.
  2. I will only use the Content for my own personal, non-commercial use. I will not, perform, sell, distribute, transmit, assign, sell, broadcast, rent, share, lend, modify, adapt, edit, sub-license, or otherwise transfer the Content.
  3. The license granted to me to use the Content is for a one-time limited right to borrow the Content for a specific, library designated, limited duration ("Lending Period"). I agree and acknowledge that at the end of the Lending Period all rights to access the Content expire and terminate.
  4. At the end of the Lending Period, I will delete and/or destroy any and all copies of the Content, including any copies that may have been transferred to, or created on portable devices, storage media, removable drives, CDs & DVDs.
  5. I acknowledge that the library is providing access to the Content as a service to me so long as I and other users of this Service abide by these Terms of Use. In the event the library, OverDrive, or rights holder determine you or other users of this Service are violating these Terms of Use, the Library and/or OverDrive reserves the right to suspend or terminate your ability to use the Service and to borrow Content.

Click 'Yes' to indicate that you agree to these terms and to proceed to checkout.

Click 'No' to indicate that you do not agree to these terms. You will be directed back to your bookbag where you can remove MP3 title(s) should you want to check out titles in other formats.

The legal limits are clear, but I still wanted to know what was possible. My patrons ask me these things, and I think an informed answer is better than "I dunno, I never tried it."

So I downloaded the rights and the mp3 files for the book Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow, and waited our two week loan period. After the two weeks, when I tried to open the book through the Overdrive Media Console (OMC), the software deleted any obvious trace of the mp3 files from my computer. If I wanted to listen to the book again, I would have to download all 327MB of it again - which is no small time investment.

I was surprised that the OMC deleted it, but decided that since the software knew the path to the mp3 files, it might be the only weapon Overdrive has to enforce their terms of service.

So I downloaded the book again. This time, in addition to opening the book through the Media Console, I also copied the mp3 files into a different directory, and saved one to a flash drive. I wanted to see if Overdrive would seek-and-destroy any and all copies of the files, or just the copies it knew about in the one designated directory.

After another two weeks, I open the files in the OMC, and they were duly deleted. However, when I browsed to the files in the alternate directory with Winamp, those played just fine. The files on the flash drive played, too (I don't have an iPod so I couldn't test what happens there - but my guess is nothing).

This reaffirms that these are in fact true mp3 files. Overdrive is therefore relying on the delete-what-we-can-reach tactic, and that Overdrive users have agreed to the terms of service and so are obligated to delete anything the OMC can't reach.

So once again, the Unshelved strip is in effect - in the world of publishers and copyright, there is a stark difference between possible and legal.



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Reference Question of the Week – 12/14/08

   December 20th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Unshelved Comic Strip from 9/27/08When I started this blog, I never really expected anyone to read it. Even now, I know a few of my coworkers check in to see what I'm saying about them, but otherwise I'm surprised when someone from the library community notices what I say.

So I was doubly surprised to meet a patron who reads my blog (you know who you are).

Last week, a patron came in to ask me about the new iPod-friendly mp3 files now available to MVLC patrons through Overdrive. He had read my announcement(s) with interest, but was especially interested in this comment from Jeff:

...There is actually four different ways you can hack the drm to get permanent check-outs too.

The first thing I thought of was this Unshelved cartoon, and explained to the patron that although something may be technically possible, that doesn't make it legal. And that library staff cannot show people how to break the law.

He was disappointed, but usually people interested in hacking enjoy challenges, so I think he's going to try to figure out what Jeff was talking about on his own.


ps: For those keeping track of such things, I'm traveling to Ohio for the week of Christmas to see my family. I'll be back in the new year - see you then, and I hope you have a nice holiday.




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