Libraries and Amazon

Libraries and Amazon. Not exactly two words that are spoken in the same sentence without being to the detriment to the latter. Especially when the latter is also one of the largest book retailers in the world with a popular ereader that is heavy on the DRM and (most notably) currently incompatible for library ebook vendors. 

But libraries working as Amazon Associates?

By the time I got home today, the Butler Public Library had removed the banner on their home screen announcing their partnership with Amazon (hence, no screenshot). You can still see the text indicating that if people click on the link and buy things from Amazon that the library can receive up to 15% of the price. At face value, that doesn’t sound like a bad deal to me. It’s a way to generate some additional funding without additional work by library staff and gives library supporters a way to give to the library as part of any online shopping they do with Amazon.

(It’s also not the only case of this type of partnership; this other example being from about four years ago now.) 

Even as I typed the words of the last two sentences of the preceding paragraph, I can hear the chaffing of a thousand hands wringing from librarians coast-to-coast. Oh, we can’t get involved with a retail operation. That wouldn’t be right for the image of the library to be seen as endorsing one merchant. This kind of association pulls us away from our mission of information and education to that of retail and endorsement. We can’t possibly assist a corporation that could be the demise of libraries. And we certainly cannot partner with a company that is stodgy regarding copyright and takes a dim view of content.

Ok, that last sentence is one to which I would concede the point.  But I would press on and say that there are other points to consider. First, this type of arrangement places libraries in a unique ‘try before you buy’ position that doesn’t exist anywhere else. You liked the book or movie you borrowed? You can buy it here. Don’t want to miss an issue of the newspaper? Try a trial home subscription and see if you want to subscribe. Same thing for magazines. It creates a dynamic in which you can borrow it from one place (the library) or buy it from another (Amazon). And if you decide you were going to buy it anyway, why not do it through the library and give them a piece of the sale? There is an upside to positioning the library in line with Amazon.

Second, it knocks down the notion that Amazon and libraries are in competition or at odds with one another. Only if you squint and declare that both are involved in handling the same sort of materials could they actually be perceived as competing institutions. Amazon is a retailer, trying to put as many products into the hands of consumers as humanly possible. They sell stuff. They do not answer people on how to find information unless that information is how to buy more stuff. They will not help you with your resume (unless you want to buy a resume book), they will not help you learn how to use a computer (unless you want to buy a computer book), and they will not tell you where the bathroom is (maybe if you went to one of their centers, but probably not). The library is a public institution with a mission of literacy, education, and information. The library’s commodity is service in this goal. It won’t sell you the stuff within its walls (unless it happens to be on the book sale), but it can tell you where to find it. We will help you with your resume, how to use a computer, and, yes, where the bathroom is. Libraries and Amazon are simply not in the same business; the goals and aims of the organizations do not collide. There is no conflict of interest or intent.

Third, if you still have a problem with Amazon, you can take that kind of arrangement and work out a deal with local businesses. Imagine if a patron took their checkout receipt to the store and purchased the item on it; in return, the store gives a portion of the sale to the library. It recreates the same arrangement with Amazon and keeps the sale within the local economy. For whatever the library offers, there can be a benefit offered through a mutually beneficial arrangement with a similar business or service. The limitations are only the ones you put in place. 

And lastly, in a financial environment that could simply be described as ‘arid’, the capability of libraries to raise money from an assortment of sources is imperative. The idea that one source of income is somehow less desirable than others due to the point of origin (retail) is a bit absurd considering how readily libraries will compete for prizes offered by vendors. If you have any remaining doubts on this particular point, open up any state or national library conference program and take note of corporate sponsorships of events, awards, or even ice cream giveaways. Librarians and libraries don’t have a problem taking money from these sources nor should they. When one is trying to keep the doors open, any income is still income. And while some may think that it is better to close than to sell out, I doubt the surrounding community would feel the same way.

Certainly, it’s a touchy subject for a library to partner with a corporation such as Amazon in that capacity. However, in my estimation, the pros outweigh the cons. It generates revenue for the library, it positions the library to offer a ways for patrons to purchase items as well as donate the library, and it can be modified to work for local businesses. Not every business that is involved with the same materials is a competition for libraries; in fact, it behooves libraries to find more of these types of partnerships in order to survive and thrive. There are business and corporate partners who have an eye towards doing good things for communities. All it takes is a little outreach on the part of the library to make it happen.

So, go on. Click on that link without guilt. It’s going to a good cause.

Selling Myself. Literally: Results

I’m a bit overdue for this post since I had previous ongoing updates (first, second, third), but I wanted to share the data that I collected.

For a short recap, I decided to try out a short Facebook ad campaign to promote my Author page on there. With a budget of $30, I gave it twenty eight days to promote the page. The only changes I made in the campaign were from targeting people who either have an interest or like “librarians” to “American Library Association” and lowering the maximum bid. (You can see how the data changes on December 8th when I made that change.)

Here are the screenshots of the Facebook reports of the ad campaign:

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Clicks by gender:

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Clicks by region (highest percentage is at the bottom, for whatever reason):

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I’ve looked at the data of the final results and it seems that there would be a consistent building of fans to the Author page as time went on. It’s certainly a lesson in brand building in trying to attract people to have you as part of their Facebook feed. While I didn’t try other configurations for ads, I found that you can seriously low bid and get your ads seen. They may not run every time you want to them to, but you could easily set aside a specific amount of money, set the bid low, and just wait till you run out of the budget money. It’s pretty cheap, cost effective, and you can target the audiences that you want out of it (whether by interest or demographic). It’s totally within the budget of any library or librarian out there who wants to market their online identity or library services.

In stepping back and looking at the experiment from a distance, I was thinking about how librarians approach those who self promote in libraryland. It does remind me of some of the talk around library rockstars and promoting the people who staff the library. I still get a feeling that the preferred method of self promotion is letting one’s work speak for itself. And while there is a humble merit to such an approach, it is so passive in its nature as to be practically inert. The hope that someone will come along and then promote it by word of mouth or other social means is a risky strategy that gives up ground when there are cheap, easy, and effective ways of reaching people.

And why is self promotion seen as exclusively a bad thing? While there are certainly cases of ego massaging that go on (as is true in all the other professions in the world), no apparent connection is made between the ability to promote oneself and the ability to promote other things around you. If you can promote yourself, you have the capability of promoting something else. While there are differences between promoting a person as opposed to a product, material, or service, the types of communication mediums and methods do not change. I find it strange that people would talk about library relevancy in modern life and either ignore or shun ways of promoting it. If the people don’t know what the library has to offer, how will it be relevant in their lives?  

Overall, I’m glad I did the experiment. It was fun to track the data and do a bit of fine tuning to assess the impact of this kind of small scale marketing. If it gets anyone thinking about how they can promote their library or library staff members, then it’s a good thing. There are a ton of talented people and exceptional libraries out there; they just need someone to point them out to the rest of the public.  

N-Word

The whole hubbub about the creation of an edition of Huckleberry Finn with the word “nigger” changed to “slave” reminded me of a reference interaction I had about a year ago. I was sitting on the reference desk at the library when one of my regular patrons came up with a question. They were looking for a book of Flannery O’Connor short stories for their reading club. There were a few specific stories that they wanted to read and they wanted to know if I could find a collection that had the four they were slated to read. The rest of the exchange went something like this:

Patron: “I need a book that has following short stories: (story name 1), (story name 2), (story name 3), and [pauses and lowers voice to near whisper] The Artificial Nigger.”

Me: “Excuse me? What was that last one?” [I actually didn’t hear him his voice was so low]

Patron: [a little louder but still leery] “The Artificial Nigger.”

With a bit more searching, I was able to find the patron a pair of collected volumes so as to get all four stories for them. For someone watching the interchange, it had to be a bit ridiculous to observe as we would drop our voices down low every time we mentioned the title of that particular short story. It was, after all, part of the name of the short story they were looking for. We weren’t referring to anyone by that term; we weren’t usually it in a manner that made light of it. But, as we both knew and understood the hurtful history of the term, we acted on the fact that it was not a term that we wanted to be overheard saying without the benefit of the context of the conversation.

In reflecting on that brief exchange and the term in my own life, I have an odd relationship with the word. On the one hand, I’m a WASP that grew up in the New Jersey side of Philadelphia suburbs. I’m pretty mindful of the term in having only a handful of black classmates. It’s one of those terms you didn’t use unless you wanted to provoke a fight. I was taught early on that it was one of the worst slurs that you could say to anyone. To an extent, it was a word that could transcend context and be partially unacceptable even in the most meaningful exchanges (like the one I had with my regular).

On the other hand, one of my favorite movies of all time that I was introduced to in high school is the Mel Brook’s classic “Blazing Saddles”. My friends and I loved that film and as such would quote it to each other, including the New Sheriff scene (amongst others that featured the word “nigger”). We wouldn’t censor ourselves at all when it came to the language. We knew and understood what the term meant there. Even at a high school age, we could understand why the word was acceptable in one context and not in many others.

In looking at this new edition of Huckleberry Finn, it is not the changing of the author’s words that concerns me the most. The publishing industry has released edited and re-edited version of literature for hundreds of years that change around the wording of the original. My principle concern is the mindset behind the changes as it concerns the reader. Specifically, it is a lowering of expectations in how the reader will interpret and react to the terminology as presented in the original text. In other words, that the word is so unacceptable that it cannot be presented to any audience for fear of being misunderstood or taken as being personally offensive.

I believe that the real crime in this case is dumbing down the text of a work of literature like Huckleberry Finn through word substitution. It shows a lack of respect for the reader’s intelligence to deny them the chance to make an informed decision as to the text, to be able to take the meaning of the original context, and make their own decisions on it. It lowers the bar for everyone in making a sweeping decision that since some may find offense it should be forbidden from all. It seeks to create a ‘one size fits all’ text when literature has the capability of pushing boundaries and comfort areas. In essence, the change of the word “nigger” to “slave” in Huckleberry Finn seeks to unravel the very purpose of literature as commentary on life and society as a whole.

While the cry of censorship has risen out from the ranks of libraryland, I think the better line is that we owe it to our readers to say that we have faith in their ability to tackle hard subjects. We go to bat for works of literature that present uncomfortable and/or controversial issues so that they (not others) can make decisions as to the meaning of the text. With Mr. Twain’s work, it is no different now than it was then'; it is important to acknowledge that and act accordingly. The continued opportunity for future generations of understanding and interpreting depends on that.

IMMD

This made my day:

neilg-likes-my-shirt

While my graphic designer friends are quick to point out that I am the ‘creator’ of the shirt and not the ‘designer’ since I came up with the overall concept (works for me!), the message is still pretty sweet. I owe a gigantic debt of gratitude to Courtney Young for wearing the Endangered Libraries shirt when she introduced “A Special Afternoon with Neal Gaiman and Nancy Pearl” at the ALA Midwinter Meeting. She had told me that he liked it which is what started the very short exchange pictured above. It really made my day!

You can still get a shirt at the ALA store, either in person now in San Diego at the Midwinter Meeting or through the website.

[IMMD is short for 'It Made My Day’]

Sunday Speculation: For the Love of the Game

Photo by Erik Mallinson/Flickr

There is no denying it: I am a gamer.

I adventure in World of Warcraft. I take capture points and blow up people in Team Fortress 2. My iPad is full of games from World of Goo (SO. GOOD.) to Scrabble to Warpgate to- well, you get the point. Lots of games.

I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons at a pretty young age. My mother’s family was big into card games and my friends would play lots of a board games. With the advent of Atari and then later Nintendo, the console game system started to feature into my play activities. A family Commodore 64 was where my brother and I would play even more games. College had a combination of console (Playstation), computer (the first Command & Conquer blew my mind and lots of Quake), and some other games (Hearts and a violent card game known simply as “Egyptian Ratscrew”. Don’t ask.) Post college saw involvement in live action roleplaying games (also known as LARPs) in addition to the other platforms (console, computer, board, card) listed above.

Gaming has been a part of my professional life as well. I worked to co-create a video game collection in my library system. The circulation for the games has been tremendously successful. I’ve been pretty proud of that and work towards giving people a new way to look at the library as well as a chance to see what else we have to offer.

Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of articles that talk about the importance of play in development (both human and other animals) and the benefits it has on mental acuity. Personally, I’ve never understood while people give up on play so easily. Or maybe it’s just that the concept of play changes over time for some people.

So, I have a simple question: how do you play? What do you consider to be play? And how has play changed for you?

The Empire Strikes Books

Andy Priestner, Cambridge University’s business school head librarian, takes a look at how a futuristic society from a long time ago in a galaxy far far away handles information. It’s a juxtaposition of electronic data that is shelved like the physical objects, as if to give people a familiar and comfortable display despite being advanced well beyond such needs. (Additional note: I don’t think in any of the six movies do you see someone picking up anything to read it, but I could be wrong.) I really dig what visions of future societies entail when it comes to how information is accessed, handled, and stored. The Star Wars movies are no exception.

The video above is one I saw awhile back. I just thought it was a great little exercise in how and how not to do a reference interview using the movie. Check it out, it’s short and a fun one.

(h/t: Library Society of the World & Blastr)

Internet No Longer Just For Porn

From Pew:

This is a study regarding where people get their news as broken down into four categories. The line that gets the most action and the most interest is the red Internet line in each one of the demographics. I mean, look at it in the upper left graphic (the under 30 set); it just shoots through the roof. For me, that just goes to show the continued importance of internet access as a community resource. The cost of internet access has not continued to significantly decline in the last few years. As such, I do not think it is a stretch to imagine that this will be a continued justification for the existence of libraries, both as an internet access point as well as a place of computer information instruction.

Furthermore, it’s a trend that is worthy of additional investigation. Can current libraries plan their programs and classes around this trend? Can they shift marketing focus onto internet access? What does this mean in terms of information literacy? All are worthy questions for further examination.

Otherwise, the charts tell us nothing that hasn’t been widely reported about the decline of other media: television, newspapers, and radio. I would surmise it would be due to the ‘on demand’ nature of the internet. It will be interesting to see how these medias will morph over time.

(h/t: Andrew Sullivan)