Library Books on the Kindle, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Amazon

This evening, I talked with Jason Perlow of ZDNet about libraries, Amazon, eBook lending, and the future of the eBook as a medium. (We hit a lot of different topics so I might be missing one.) Jason had written an article nearly a year ago concerning the revolution of eBooks creating a digital underclass; his position was that with push towards digital, eventually there would be a turnover to exclusively digital content. In making things only available that way, it would create a new variation of the digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots. I had written a reply to this article asking why the rise of one format would necessarily kill another and talked a bit about the current (at the time) relationship between libraries and eBook lenders. With the Kindle coming to Overdrive last week and the announcement of the new Amazon devices this week, Jason wanted to touch revisit those articles and talk about the future of eBooks as it relates to libraries and the rest of the world. While I will provide a link to that discussion once Jason makes it available, there are a few thoughts I wanted to talk about.

First and foremost, Amazon is not actually lending these books. They are simply making their device and file format available to Overdrive. This is still an arrangement between publishers, Overdrive, and libraries. So while Amazon is renting out ebook versions of textbooks, they are not lending out fiction or non-fiction books. Historically, Amazon isn’t a company that makes a business deal for something they plan on rolling out in the near future. If they were to start lending books, my feeling is that they would either buy Overdrive or create their own lending enterprise.

In either case, Amazon would need to make deals with publishers for permission to lend content. Given their track record on the pricing front as publishers shift to agency pricing models, this would be a pretty interesting negotiation. Also, publishers would need to be convinced that eBook lending would be a viable revenue stream; since they have taken to considering borrowing as a lost sale, this would be an additional hurdle.

I find the rumors about Amazon (or some other company) developing a Netflix-style eBook lending program to be equally intriguing. Was there a outcry when Netflix started up as librarians expressed concern about losing DVD circulations? I’m guessing there wasn’t. Even so, it’ll be a premium service limited to Amazon Kindle owners (leaving out the other 60% of the market).

Second, I believe that Amazon opened up the Kindle to Overdrive for one very good and business related reason: information. Amazon is notorious for not releasing any numerical information, whether it is the number of Kindle books sold or the number of Kindle devices on the market. They believe in the power of information and data collection and have wielded it well in developing their products and services. In running the lending portion of library eBooks through their website, they capture a data point that their competition doesn’t. While Sony, Apple, and Barnes & Noble don’t have a clue as to what people are reading or borrowing on their devices, Amazon gets to expand its consumer knowledge. What they will do with the information that they gather from library lenders, I don’t know; but I have a feeling that we’ll see something in the next year or two (even if it is just an improvement on their recommendation algorithms).

Now, when it comes to any patron personal information, that has the easiest resolution. As library records are protected by state laws, it would be a matter for the state’s attorney general to make certain that they are not receiving such information. Although, since patrons need to an Amazon account to borrow through the Kindle, the company already has a ton of information as it is. What are we afraid of, that Amazon will get their library card number? Since those individuals have already given their bank and/or credit card numbers to Amazon in order to purchase Kindle books, I think the library card number would be the least of their worries.

I have to admit that I don’t entirely get the “libraries got a raw deal” vibe that is wandering around the blogosphere. Yes, the Kindle is still locked in proprietary hardware as well as using DRM software on its content. This was true before and after Overdrive made the deal to gain access to their devices. What exactly changed to make this situation worse for libraries? While there are protests to the contrary, there is nothing compelling libraries to purchase Kindle eBooks from Overdrive (or any books, for that matter). I’ve said it before on eBooks and I’ll say it again: if you think it’s a bad deal, then don’t buy it.

For those bemoaning that they are doing it for their library users, either consider such rationale to be an absolution for a purchase that you consider to be (to be diplomatic) ill-advised or find better use for your time than trying to climb up on the indignation cross. There is nothing stopping you from working on better educating decision makers and supporters, finding alternate eBook solutions, or negotiating for better deals with Overdrive. This pouting like a child who didn’t get a particular flavor of chocolate ice cream is not going to change the status quo nor will it make the profession look worthy of engaging in negotiation as to the future of eBooks.

While it may not be the ideal, it cannot be denied that bringing Amazon (and its 40% of the eReader market share) on board with library lending doesn’t raise the profile of libraries with it. Rather than simply buying every book, Kindle users now have the option of borrowing it through their local library. It’s not perfect, but even in giving that capability it puts libraries back into the minds of people who might not otherwise be library users. For them, it’s another selling point; for us, it’s another visit to our website where we advertise our programs, services, and materials. It’s an exposure opportunity that didn’t previously exist.

I meant it when I wrote it with Sarah when it comes to the eBook Users Bill of Rights: I want books to be available on any platform in any format and without DRM. But I can’t and won’t take any shortcoming to that goal as a sign of surrender; it just means that I have to push a little bit harder for a little bit longer. The resolution of this goal will not measured within the duration of a cable news cycle, but in the subsequent generations and how they perceive information access. Amazon has opened their device to library eBook lending; let’s see what the next thing we as librarians can do to bring them around to our position.

Banned Book Bullshit, Revisited

Like Thanksgiving each year, Banned Books Week brings the library community together like one giant intellectual freedom loving dysfunctional family. Gathering around the proverbial communal dinner table, an unavoidable recurring conversation gets raised about what the week actually means in this day and age. The usual questions are trotted out (Can books really be banned anymore? What does censorship actually mean? And why do we call it Banned Books Week anyway?) like old family quarrels, acting as the fodder for print and online commentary. Whether used to snipe at each other or provide the starting point for actual meaningful discussions, the conversations (and some shouting matches) provide an intriguing insight as to how librarians relate to intellectual freedom as a value. Just like an familial eavesdropper at this family function, I find some of the positions expressed to be rather interesting.

Take the one about the name itself: Banned Books Week. It’s a misnomer, they will say, because what books get banned these days? It’s a position that is completely blind to the historical timeline and context of the event. The event was created as a response to a rising number of book challenges and removal in 1982. Considering that it was created during in this pre-internet-as-we-know-it and digital nascent age, the number of alternate venues for books were limited (especially for rural communities). What options, if any, could an individual have? Yes, I’m sure that if they really wanted the book they could track down a copy , but let’s not kid ourselves as to the effort required to do that. It might as well be banned, even by our modern take on the term.

In keeping the name, I would cite tradition as a powerful motive for doing so. While it may not address the issue of banned books as it once did, it does still celebrate intellectual freedom by defending the right to read as one wishes. Just as there no serious effort to rename St. Patrick’s Day (a religious feast day celebrating a Catholic saint) to something more accurate (“We All Pretend to Be Irish and Drink Green Beer Day”), Banned Books Week embodies an ideal more than a manifestation of its name. And, to paraphrase another commentator on the subject, “Challenged Book Week” just simply does not roll off the tongue like “Banned Book Week”. Nor does it provoke the same emotional response ot the finality of the word, “banned”. Keep the name, dump the quibbles over it.

Speaking of quibbles, I am not without my own for the event. An overly broad definition of a challenge casts the widest net to include reasonable people who challenge on the basis of maturity (otherwise known as age appropriateness). Should a parent who has believes that a second grade book might be more appropriate for fourth or fifth grade be included as a foe to intellectual freedom? Common sense tells me no, of course not. The people who rate the age appropriateness of books may be experts in their field, but they are not infallible. It’s a reasonable request for reconsideration and should be treated with due diligence. Get a second grade teacher and a fourth grade teacher (and possibly another educator if you need a third opinion) and figure it out. If the person is making a reasonable request, then they should be able to accept a reasonable answer as to why the book is being kept at second grade or moved to a higher grade. To me, situations like this don’t arise to an actual threat to intellectual freedom.

However, at the opposite end of such reasonable objections, there exists a particularly unreasonable side to the book challenge and removal equation. It’s the grotesque vitriol surrounding book challenges in places like West Bend and Stockton that stand in stark contrast to the aforementioned concerned parent of the previous paragraph. Anecdotally, it is the accounts of library directors and librarians that come under enormous pressures from politicians, oversight committees, community members, and outside groups to “do the right thing” while having their moral, intellectual, and personal beliefs and principles (and sometimes employment) questioned and/or attacked both privately and publicly. If the estimate offered by the Office of Intellectual Freedom states that only one in four book challenge or removals are reported is true (and I accept that number on the basis of my own research into the matter), then I can only grimace and wonder as to the true number of library staff out there who are suffering this unfair onus in silence right now. Whether they hold their tongues because they lack the backing to fight for the book or under the duress of losing their employment, I believe they represent a truly silent minority in this book challenge and removal equation. For myself, it is this unreasonable condition that lends gravitas to the event; it is why I think that taking a week to reflect on the depth and ramifications of book challenges and banning is important to the library community and one that should remain.

In the end, Banned Book Week does retain that Thanksgiving family feel to it for it collects the librarian community together under one roof for a brief moment of time every year. It should remind us on the things that we as a profession agree on: that access to materials is important, that people can and should be allowed to make their own choices (even questionable ones), and that freedom of expression is a human aspect that should be celebrated. As Thanksgiving remains a tradition in different parts of the world, so too should Banned Book Week remain a library tradition and an anticipated annual event. It is one that we can be proud of, that we can still argue and fret over, and act as a reminder of the underlying reasons and principles that bring us together in the first place.

[This post is somewhat related to my previous blog entry, Banned Book Bullshit, that I wrote back in 2009. At least, I feel this entry is a good companion piece. -A]

Virtual Read-Out

As part of Banned Books Week this year, the event organizers are sponsoring a Virtual Read-Out on YouTube. Here’s the types of videos that they are looking for:

You have two video options for the Banned Books Virtual Read-Out:

1) You can submit a video no more than two minutes long of a reading from a banned or challenged book. Here is a list of banned literary classics as well as a list of frequently challenged books throughout the years. You should also check out Mapping Censorship and Robert P. Doyle’s Banned Books: Challenging Our Freedom to Read for more ideas. Banned Books: Challenging our Freedom to Read is available for purchase at the ALA Store or can be found at your local public library.

2) A video of an eyewitness account of local challenges can be submitted. This video should be no longer than three minutes long.

Whoopi Goldberg recorded a video for the event in which she reads a Shel Silverstein poem. Have a listen!

I can’t tell how many videos are on the channel right now, but it is easily dozens of them. So find your favorite controversial prose, get your webcam ready, and give it a good reading!

(Here’s my video from last year’s Banned Book Week. I thought I might share that one again.)

“We Are Not Procrastinating, We Are Being Productive in a Different Direction!”

For the last two nights, I had the full and meaningful intention of going home and working on a blog entry that I have been struggling with. (Struggling in the good sense of the term, not the awful writer’s block way.) Perhaps because it was not coming to me very easily, I got (as they say) distracted. After viewing an advertisement for National Library Card Sign-up Month, I was struck by the sedate blurb about what the library can do for you. I guess with politicians hunting for additional spending cuts to make you really don’t want to emphasize reading for pleasure or storytimes or other things that apparently don’t generate revenue or move our economy, but come on! This has the inspiring delivery of a pull string Al Gore Doll.

I began to wonder if there was a way to spice up this campaign. The graphic above was the first, the phrase having been carefully tested on a focus group of one. Over the course of the last two nights, I made a bunch of them and posted them in various places. I’ve collected them for a blog entry to get them all in one place. I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed making them (except the Nyan cat animation one; that was a pain in the ass). In not working on my blog entry, I don’t think this little exercise in word art was counterproductive, just creative productive. Parallel productive?

Something like that.

If you have suggestions or make your own, share them!

The face in the “A” of “Apocalypse” makes me giggle every time I see it.

See? If people knew how unhinged library cards were, they be lining up for them!

The most dangerous kind of criminals.

This was done by request. (NSFW version here.) And if you need an explanation for the meme, Know Your Meme has a good one.

I animated this one. You’ll have to click on it to see it because embedding it here will probably ruin it. It’s based off a fairly new internet meme so here’s the background on this one.

This was by request. And here’s the animated Nyan Library Card Cat.

A little bit hypnotic if you stare at it.

All the pictures link to my Flickr account. Feel free to take and share as you see fit!

Open Thread Thursday: Seriously, Who *IS* the Boss?

(Really, it was either this picture or a Charles in Charge one.)

Over on the Library Society of the World Friendfeed group, there has been a couple of threads in the last few days about MLS programs and library management. It’s an common complaint that library management courses come up short in preparing MLS graduates for the various rigors of personnel administration. It’s one thing to study patron demographics and assessing collection needs, it’s another to actually deal with patrons who are expressing (sometimes irrational) needs. And let’s not forget the staff that run the desks, shelve the materials, and do all the other necessary tasks to keep the library running, even if they are driving you crazy in the process.

Personally, I’d give these graduate courses some latitude since the library field is so vast and varied that I can’t see any one course covering all of the nuances. However, I think there are some basics of customer service and personnel management that can be addressed in a library management course. This could go a long ways to resolve the seeming disconnect between the coursework and the actual experience.

So, I posed a question to the LSW group and asked what real life management questions should be asked in a MLS/MLIS course. Take a moment to read through and see the variety of issues that my fellow LSW members came up with, everything from managing services to interpersonal relationships between staff.

For this open thread starter topic, there are a bunch of options here. For current graduate students, read through the questions and answer one. For librarians of all varieties, you can do the same OR ask one of your own and see how other answer it. For the lazy, I will link my question based on my library experience combined with some other stories I’ve heard over the years.

You work at a public library. You have a patron who comes in on a regular basis. They are nice and well humored, but tend to monopolize staff time with questions they could easily answer themselves and commentary that can be (for lack of a better term) distracting. Some staff members complain to you about this person because it takes them away from their work for longer period of times than it should; others enjoy getting the town gossip and think this person is just harmless. What do you do, if anything?

As long before, this is an open thread. Anonymous replies are welcome as are comments that on different subjects. Speak your mind!

Now Everyone Can Use Their Real Name!

Earlier this week, Google announced that they had opened up their identity service Google Plus to the rest of the internet. In addition to that announcement, they expanded the number of features for the service (mostly around the Hangout video chat feature). The most striking is that the feature will come to the mobile app, allowing for video chat wherever you are (or, more precisely, whatever your mobile carrier allows you to unless you are in a wifi zone). Online, they added additional Hangout options including sharing documents, a sketchpad, naming your Hangout (#libchat on Google Plus, anyone?), screensharing, and allowing you record your Hangout for playback on YouTube and/or for spectators to view beyond the first ten participants. (This last feature is only available to a select group at the moment; sadly I am not one of them.)

I have to admit that out of all the features, this last one intrigues me the most. It seems like an low or no setup required panel discussion or interview creator. I’m hoping to do a little experimenting when the feature goes live for the rest of the service, but in the meantime I’m happy to poke around with the new options.

Yes, Google Plus still requires you to use your real name. Yes, I know how some people are against that. No, there is nothing compelling you to use the service. Sorry, but at least if you don’t like the rules, you can walk away from this site without consequence.

For those who want to find me on the service, here I am. (It’s also a link on the right side of the page under How to Follow Me.) I am somewhat backlogged on adding people back, but I will get there eventually.

Support An Uprising

bw_upriselogo

I’ll let the Uprise Books Project describe itself as taken from their Kickstarter page:

“The Uprise Books Project is dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty through literacy, providing new banned and challenged books to underprivileged teens free of charge. In a nutshell, lower-income middle school and high school students can select banned and challenged books on our site, and we take care of finding contributors willing to pick up the tab.”

On their blog, they make an economic based argument that by sending these books to lower income teens they hope to encourage them to finish high school and go on to college. The higher the education, the larger the lifetime earning, the less likely to continue the cycle of poverty and essentially moving onto a higher economic status. (They didn’t make those last two points, but I figured they were the next logical steps.) On its face, that position makes sense to me; even in my skepticism, they note that making a change in the life of one teen pays for the other books sent out over the course of a lifetime. Perhaps that notion holds a shotgun mentality to it (the more area covered in pellets, the better), but I can appreciate the idea of doing something rather than nothing.

So, why focus on sending banned or challenged books rather than any kind of literature? I asked myself the same thing and they had what I felt was a clever answer to that.

More importantly, we think that the idea that these texts have been banned and challenged will motivate kids to actually read the things.

Ah, the lure of forbidden fruit. The best kind, some would say.

In reading through their Kickstarter page, listening to their pitch, and reading their website, I have some reservations. I’m curious as to how the inevitable question regarding the role of parents (or lack of role, in some cases) will come into play. Will parents be a part of this process as a way to get their kids to read books that they feel they should be allowed to read but otherwise couldn’t afford? Will kids or teens be allowed to select or receive books without parental consent? For kids that don’t want to get books at their homes (or have temporary living arrangements), how will the books get to them?

There is a certain amount of dangerousness to this project, but I don’t think that it is a disqualification for support. In fact, I’d say that the project should be expanded to children and teens in crisis looking for books that reflect their situation, whether it is coming out as gay, dealing with domestic violence or sexual abuse, or coping with self destructive behaviors. I’d argue that those groups run the same risk as the children and teens in poverty since they are less likely to achieve higher education degrees without some form of intervention. (The teens killing themselves over their sexuality, their psychological problems, and their inability to cope do not even make it to the lifetime earning list.) I hope that this project may pivot to provide for those teens in the future, but in the meantime it does look to make inroads on behalf of literacy and the elimination of poverty.

Even with some concerns, I have pledged to support this Kickstarter campaign and I would hope you would consider doing so as well. I am doing so for a couple of reasons. First, I feel that good ideas need to be supported. I’m not simply investing in this idea, I’m investing in the ideas to follow that look to put books into the hands of people who need them for any number of reasons (including how I’d like to see the program expand). As I said, it’s not perfect but it is good enough for me to warrant a financial pledge. Second, I’m curious to see how this project shapes up. I’d like to eventually become a donor who sends books to kids and teens who asking for my help. I’m really wondering if the ‘forbidden fruit’ angle will yield results as they hope; in putting on my scientist hat, I’d like to see how this experiment proceeds. To do so, I need to invest in it.

Finally, when I was in high school, I read the book The Autobiography of Malcolm X. It was not a source of controversy in my high school, my community, or my home even though unbeknownst to me it was being challenged at the time. It was, for me, an eye opener. It began my own personal journey to try to understand people from their perspectives and viewpoints, to put myself in their shoes, and to gain a better understanding of the world we live and the beliefs held within. It really changed my life. If a challenged book like that could do the same for another teen out there, I’d love to be the one to put that book into their hands.

I hope you’ll join me in supporting this project. I believe they certainly are worth it.

The Uprise Books Project: Fighting Poverty with Banned Books

(h/t: Library Society of the World FriendFeed Group)