Libraries & The Cloud

Earlier last week this article appeared in PC Magazine discussing the end of content ownership with the offering of cloud computing:

For the majority of consumers, however, they will come to fully trust the cloud and believe in subscription pricing for everything. Ownership will become an anathema as consumers realize they don’t want to risk losing content as they switch services, and they tire of finding requisite space on their own local storage for all those digital files. The benchmark for a good service will be based on the richness of each library. Consumers will pay companies like Amazon, a fixed amount for full-boat, yearly access.

In reading this article, I feel a bit divided. There are things about cloud computing and access that really speak to me; it’s the availability of content from wherever you are. Untethered from a location, it exists where you are. It is a promise of ubiquitous content access, a powerful notion that is quite compelling in its potential.

Where I feel a deviation is at the notion of subscription pricing for everything. My specific concern is if subscription pricing takes the place of content ownership. While I can imagine people signing up for subscriptions for eBooks in the same way that Rhapsody works, the idea that it would be the only model on the market bothers me to no end. I believe in the power of the end user to control their content; this doesn’t happen under a subscription model. It’s the concentration of power over content into relatively few hands that is a concern (although, to be fair, with the cloud and the internet, it creates other pathways to content).

Also, what would it means for book challenges? Could the groups that targeted books like The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian picket corporations into getting it removed? As opposed to a single school district, it means that it could be removed for entire swaths of the population. While I would hope that it would not come to that, it is a potential scenario.

Overarching this is the digital divide, for cloud computing and content doesn’t really matter if people cannot get internet access. Could it lower the bar to access though if they did not have to concern themselves with how to store content locally? Perhaps, since the costs of devices continue to drop (whether it is a Kindle or cell phone or other device). But in the end, if people can’t access it, then it doesn’t really matter.

Now, here’s the question: should libraries start looking to the cloud as the next step of information access? While we should retain physical locations (since providing internet access and printing services still requires computers at a location as well as programming and information literacy classes), how much could we push out into the cloud for the benefit of the communities that we serve?

(h/t: Library Link of the Day)

SunSpec: Inspiration

I have to confess something. I woke up this morning after passing out very early last night and realized that I had not written a Sunday blog post. And while my first thought was to skip it this week (as I have accidentally done in the past), I know that keeping a posting schedule is one of those things I need to do. Otherwise, I just drop out of the habit completely.

Determined to write something, I got out my iPad and decided I was going to write it on that as opposed to my laptop. This would allow me to stay in bed (my laptop is one of those huge 17″ ones) and be able to tap one out while remaining under nice warm blankets. Although typing on the iPad is not as easy as the keyboard and raises concerns about the legendary autocorrect changes, I decided to risk it in the name of comfort.

Then, it hit me. I really don’t know what I want to write about. The blank page and flashing cursor sat in front of me like a crew awaiting orders. As the theme of the Sunday posts are about speculating on something, I could not think of anything I wanted to ponder on. I sat there, staring around the room as if the answer was written on a piece of furniture or a wall. I don’t know how many other bloggers get that feeling, but I’m willing to guess it’s a majority. It is one of those topics you don’t write about… except when you are looking for something to write about.

For myself, inspiration can be a hit or miss thing. Some stories or topics that I come across lend themselves to commentary; I want to share the story and add my own thoughts to it. Other times, the words fight me as I get them from the brain to the page. I know the point I want to make, but the translation from thought to coherent writing becomes a slog. There are some outs; I can just opt to share the story on Twitter and be done with it. Or just write” a brief thought on it and publish it rather unadorned. But usually I try to put something together, an entry of substance even if it feels far too brief.

For those who write as well (either blogging or otherwise), where do you find your inspiration? What helps you in putting thoughts to screen or paper? What are your frustrations?

The Five Laws of Library Staff Meetings

1) Meetings are for use(ful purposes)

The underlying purpose of a meeting is to bring people together when all other possible and potential avenues of communication and decision making are deemed ineffective or inefficient by comparison. In creating a gathering of people (both physically and through technology such as phone, voice chat, or video), it should be a silent acknowledgement that this is the best way for a decision to be reached, an issue or topic to be addressed, or information to be disseminated. 

This point is asking the question “Is a meeting the best course of action?” This is not meant to discourage meetings, but to ponder whether it is the best use of organizational time and resources in the face of alternatives.

2) Every staff member, the right meetings

Are staff members attending the meetings that they need to be in? As in, does it immediately pertain to their purpose within the organization? Is their presence (real or virtual) essential to the purpose and scope of the meeting? Which meetings can they just get the minutes or a summary?

This point is about the proper management of the staff member by making sure they are involved in the relevant loops and aren’t being sidetracked by things outside their purview.

3) Every meeting, the right staff members

Who needs to be at the meeting? How does each staff member attending relate to the issues on the agenda or the purpose of the committee? Is there anyone who should be at the meeting but isn’t?

This point is about having all the right people in the meeting. These are the people who can make decisions, move the conversations, and/or take or direct action on the issues.

4) Save the time of the attendee

Time management in meetings goes in many directions. It can be about moving through agenda items at a reasonable pace; it can be about limiting the amount of time of the meeting since it takes the staff member away from their other duties. It’s the “all muscle, no fat” approach to conducting a meeting; time is a valuable commodity.

This point is about recognizing that time spent by staff members attending the meetings is important. Make it count by having it be time well spent.

5) The meeting is a growing organization.

You can always add or subtract people. You can always add or subtract agenda items. You can always manage a meeting to be more open and conversational or more rigid and contained. You can always add or subtract meeting time on the basis of keeping it brief or letting thoughts take a more relaxed path. The thing that you cannot do is make up time that is wasted when the wrong people attend, have items that can handled better in another venue, or are not empowered to take action or make decisions.

This point is about the mutable nature of meetings and how they can (and should be changed over time); the only thing that cannot is waste due to time and resource inefficiencies.

***

I’m sure people can think of additional rules or modifications to the ones I have written. Share them in the comments.

About that EQUACC Interim Report…

The ALA’s Equitable Access to Electronic Content (EQUACC) Task Force released its interim report today. The group is examining the challenges and potential solutions to “access, use, distribution and preservation” of digital content. The whole report is on the Library Renewal site. A couple of passages popped out at me.

5. Model Projects (Working Group: Linda Crowe, Mark Stoffan, Jamie LaRue)

The Task Force believes that librarians should be encouraged in testing new models for acquiring and providing access to e-content. These experiments will identify successful and do-able projects that will shape the e-content marketplace, reader interest, and carve out new roles for libraries such as publishing. (Emphasis mine.)

I was pleasantly surprised at that idea; why not get involved in content creation? I would be interested in hearing more of the pros and cons of such an endeavor.

EQUACC’s next steps are contingent, in part, on approval from Council as well as the need for additional funding. In that vein, the Washington Office submitted a proposal for 2015 funding on behalf of the Task Force.

Ok, I guess this is where my understanding of organizational bureaucracy, budgets, and funding gets hazy, so I’ll need someone to gently explain this to me. Because my gut reaction is to wonder what happens between now (2011) and then (2015). I’m sure it’s not as awful as my first impression felt, but a little education would be greatly appreciated on this one. 

Overall, I really liked the report. It was a good progress update on the Task Force as well as a succinct overview of all the issues that they are looking at. I wasn’t expecting any solutions to arise from it, but I did feel like the final report will be an excellent survey for current and future digital content issues.

At the same time this report was being posted, Cindy Orr posted an entry in her blog at Overdrive. As pleased as I was with the Task Force interim report, I cannot say the same for Mrs. Orr’s blog entry. The trouble for me starts halfway through. (Emphasis on the parts that really annoyed the hell out of me.)

On behalf of the Task Force, I would like to suggest that librarians study the issues, articulate what we would realistically like to see happen in this arena, and resist the urge to overreact. As Christopher Harris, one of my colleagues on the committee, says in a recent School Library Journal article, what we need is to discuss and talk through these issues, not lash out in rage. Librarians historically get their facts straight and check their sources carefully. We also uphold copyright law.

I would like to add that we need to educate ourselves and act within the arena that exists right now while we plan for, and try to influence the future. That doesn’t mean that we can’t work to revise copyright law, or try to negotiate new models, or change anything else, but it’s fruitless to argue that all works should be available to the public for free regardless of their copyright status.

It also means recognizing that, no matter what we’d like the facts to be, in most cases we don’t own electronic works, but license them. We also need to consider the reality that authors and publishers and wholesalers need to be paid or they will go out of business.

[…]

While venting anger at HarperColliins may feel good, we should try to remember that they were one of the very first large publishers to agree to take a chance on libraries. They have stated that they consider this 26 checkout model to be a “work in progress.”

I hope that we can remember that things in the digital world are still evolving quickly. Models will develop. New publishers will sign on. We’ll work it out if we stick to our principles of doing our homework, following the law, and advocating for a realistic solution in order to assure equitable access for readers now and in the future.

Wow. I think the most unfortunate part of that condescending passage is how it starts off, “On behalf of the Task Force…” So, is what I am reading in this blog entry what the Task Force really wanted to say to the librarian community? If I was to go all Freud on you, the interim report comes across as the superego and this blog post sounds like the id. Everybody calm down! We need to talk more! You don’t have all the facts! You’re lashing out! You’re not connected to reality!

After punching through all the straw man arguments (no one is arguing for free content, authors not getting paid, or circumvention of copyright), I’m wondering what the point of this blog entry was. It feels somewhere between a plea to give Overdrive (and by association, HarperCollins) a break and an admonishment for people moving forward and taking action on the situation.

As to the former, my perspective is that people seem very restrained; the majority of action taken is against HarperCollins eBook purchasing with only few going for a full boycott. The tone is rather civil, the explanations are clear and rational, and it is being carried out in a respectful manner. Overdrive seems to have a free pass on this one, a lucky break for a middleman company in this interchange.

As to the latter, there’s a pretty standard complaint about ALA not taking action quickly. If people take action in their own hands, then more power to them. To me, this call for doing more homework, more dialogue, and more study of the issue begs the question, “How much more time, talk, and information do you need?” For an direct assertion that people are missing important facts, there is no follow up as to what information they are specifically missing that would dramatically impact their decisions. A simple mention about a link to online resources does not make the case. (And for a group charged with examining digital content access issues for sensory and physically impaired, having resources only available online brings its own issues of the digital divide and online vs. offline librarians into the mix. Just sayin’.)

Overall, I’m interested to see the EQUAAC report when it’s done. I hope that it will be a good and comprehensive overview of the digital content issues. It should be the real “hot read” of the annual conference. Of course, who knows what the situation will look like when June rolls around?

Open Thread Thursday: Vendors

I was reading Sarah Houghton-Jan’s post about Freegal* this evening when it reminded me of the wiki/website that Sarah Glassmeyer had set up called LISvendor.info. The idea is to make vendor transactions a bit more transparent and the capability of comparing notes about pricing and practices. This is a bold move considering that some vendors ask for non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) as part of the price negotiation. But in terms of making better decisions on behalf of our communities (whether it be taxpayers, student fee payers, corporate backers, or school boards), it’s an excellent idea to show additional financial responsibility for the money that we spend.

Personally, I haven’t had any issues with the sales reps and vendors that I’ve had the chance to meet either at conferences or in trainings. They’ve all been outwardly cheery people even when I tell them about my lack of buying power. (I have stopped saying that I can relay whatever they have to someone who does since that’s like saying, “I’m not going to go out with you, but I have a friend who might be interested but probably not.”) Most tales I hear are either first or second hand accounts with a skew towards the negative ones. (Which, let’s face it, tend to be more interesting than all but the most positive stories.)

So, this week’s open thread is on vendors. Good stuff, bad stuff, excellent stuff, mediocre stuff. Share with the crowd (and LISVendor.info, while you are at it).

(*Note: Brian Downing from Library Ideas, LLC, the owner of Freegal, has posted a reply to Sarah’s entry.)

MARC Madness: We have a Champion

With a rout of a vote tally of 148-65, I’m proud to declare a clear winner to the 1st (and possibly last) MARC Madness Tournament of Library Terminology. And now, without further ado, our champion is metadata.

The final bracket:

marc-madness-champion

Congratulations, metadata. You are the ultimate library term!

I’d like to thank everyone who voted, tweeted the contest, endured my multiple social media sharing, and otherwise contributed. A thank you to the Library Society of the World for the catalyst to get this together and doing it. It’s been a long haul and I hope people had fun.

I think the right ending is the 1985 Live Aid version of Queen’s We Are The Champions. Thanks again and maybe do this again next year.

Where’s the Logic?

From Teleread:

The Bookseller has some interesting coverage of the London Book Fair, but I don’t have time right now to go over all of it. I’ll focus on the one bit that just leaped out at me. A number of execs—David Shelley of Little, Brown, Richard Mollet of the Publishers Association, and Stephen Page from Faber—explained that fighting online piracy is costing publishers a bundle, and is one of the reasons publishers cannot afford to raise e-book royalty rates as some publishers have been requesting.

From the embedded link above that goes to TheBookseller.com:

[David] Shelley told delegates: "Money spent on print and paper will be spent on specialists to fight piracy. The costs of this are only getting more expensive, and could spiral way out of control. There are also legal costs, when sites refuse to take down content." Shelley claimed the "unknown costs", as well as other new digital costs, would replace the cost savings made on digital.

Huh. So, the cost of printing is going to be shifted to fighting piracy. Those costs can only go up with the possibility that they could become unsustainable (that is what spiral out of control means, right?) Then you add in legal expenses on top of this money equation (unless that’s part of the spiral). And then when you add it all, it would replace (read: equal) the cost savings on digital.

Wait, what?

I’m not sure I get it. But in looking at the publisher margins for ebooks: (as I wrote about in a post about two weeks ago)

How much better for the publisher and how much worse for the author? Here are examples of author’s royalties compared to publisher’s gross profit (income per copy minus expenses per copy), calculated using industry-standard contract terms:

The Help, by Kathryn Stockett

Author’s Standard Royalty:
$3.75 hardcover; $2.28 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -39%

Publisher’s Margin:
$4.75 hardcover; $6.32 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +33%

Hell’s Corner, by David Baldacci

Author’s Standard Royalty:
$4.20 hardcover; $2.63 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -37%

Publisher’s Margin:
$5.80 hardcover; $7.37 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +27%

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand

Author’s Standard Royalty:
$4.05 hardcover; $3.38 e-book.
Author’s E-Loss = -17%

Publisher’s Margin:
$5.45 hardcover; $9.62 e-book.
Publisher’s E-Gain = +77%

They would be taking the money made from this new greater margin and using it to fight online piracy. Which they may or may not be able to do based on the impossible-to-calculate-but-possibly-unsustainable sum of money. But since they have a better margin from eBooks, they have more money to fight piracy.

And that’s why they can’t pay authors a larger royalty.

It’s that kind of logic that makes me think of Eli Neiberger’s idea of going directly to the content makers to purchase the rights. Why deal with a middleman who is hell bent on a Sisyphean task of financially dubious results?? The cost of that madness would be added to the cover price; we (libraries and regular consumers) would be paying to support these ill reasoned expenditures. I’m all for rights holders pursuing actions t defend their intellectual property, but not under the “we must burn down the village to save the village” kind of approach. There has to be a better way.

It’s odd, as I close this post, to think that some publishers actually have issues with their digital content being at libraries. I would think we’d be a lot easier to deal with than your average pirate website.