[Unsolicited] Advice to the 2012 ALA Emerging Leaders

Look thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.
Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar:
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch’d, unfledg’d comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel; but being in,
Bear’t that th’ opposed may beware of thee.
Give every man thine ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man’s censure, but reserve thy judgment.

- Polonius, Hamlet, Act I Scene III

During my vacation last week, the participants of the ALA 2012 Emerging Leaders program were announced. I wanted to offer congratulations to those who were chosen for this year’s class as well as consolations to my friends who applied and were not picked. I’m looking forward to hearing about the projects that will be undertaken by this year’s class; I think those projects are a good general indication for the different schools of thought and direction as to what issues are priorities within the ALA organization. From the number of EL graduates that I’ve met over the years, I certainly hope that it is a program that I could try out for someday. (Although, upon mentioning this interest to a friend, she responded simply, “I think you’ve already emerged, babe.” Point taken.)

As those seventy-seven librarians ready themselves for the Midwinter Meeting in Dallas, I write this in the hope of bending one or more of their ears to some advice from someone in the blogosphere. (Interpret that last statement as you will.) I hope this advice is considered in the spirit in which it is meant; to offer a few additional thoughts and considerations for those involved in the program.

So, without further ado:

Listen. This is not simply limited to the words that people are saying, but to underlying body language and phrasing. If you are doing this to increase your involvement in the ALA organization, then figuring out the relationships between members and member committees is important. Every organization has dysfunction; this is the time to figure out what it is for the chapter, division, or roundtable that you are interested in. In identifying the dysfunction, it should be noted that not all types are fatal to further involvement. Personality conflicts, bureaucratic meandering, ineffective communication, or poor work organization; these are all potential obstacles with potential solutions. An assessment allows you to figure out if you can fix it, circumvent it, or ignore it; what it would take to fix (if anything) in terms of time and energy; and whether it is worth your effort at all. Listen, assess, and analyze what is presented to you.

Question. Or at least do not be afraid to. As you are seen as students of the organization, this is the opportunity to inquire and explore. If anything, question anyone who talks about ‘change’ or ‘leadership’ in libraries without offering some specifics. Those two terms are part of an ongoing meme in library thinking in which people like to use those terms without defining them or what their impact would be. Too often, they are actually code words used to express discontent while masking what the real problem that the speaker wants to get at. While I can’t say that I’m not guilty of doing this myself in the past, I hope you will join with me in working to make certain it does not carry on into the future.

Socialize. As noted elsewhere, there aren’t many times when librarians get together face-to-face. While our relationships through social media can further conversations and friendships, there is nothing that beats time spent physically together. It’s part of our undeniable nature as human beings; we thrive on our senses in order to better experience the world we live in. The networking opportunities presented from the Emerging Leader program have the capability of allowing you to make connections across specialties, library types and sizes. In my estimation, these are the relationships that will foster a greater understanding and perception of the entire library spectrum. It is my belief that these relationships will be valued and necessary as the institution of the library evolves in the different roles it plays within society.

Finally, I’d like to offer one last bit of advice: pace yourself. In reflecting on the last year of professional projects that I’ve been involved with, I realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough down time to recharge. It is not simply a matter of time or effort, but there is a (for lack of a better term) psychic energy cost to these projects. It’s a test of willpower, a use of personal bandwidth, and a trial of endurance to create, implement, and maintain some projects. Be certain to figure out what your projects cost you in these terms. And while I express caution at overloading yourself, I am curious as to what projects or efforts that the Emerging Leaders will undertake after they have completed their projects. What will you do with your Emerging Leader skills after graduation?

Once again, congratulations to the 2012 Emerging Leaders. Knock ‘em dead!

The Amazon Lending Library is NOT the Library Apocalypse

The big news today is this:

Amazon announces a Kindle Owner’s Lending Library

At first glance, it seems like a pretty mind blowing announcement. But when you read between the lines, it doesn’t look quite so epic. Consider this reality based revision of the line above:

Amazon announces that Amazon Prime members ($79/year) who own Kindles ($79 & upwards, depending on which version you have and when you bought it) are entitled to borrow up to one book per calendar month from a predetermined selection of 5,000 titles (out of the estimated 600,000+ titles on the website) of which over 100 (~2%) are current or former New York Times Bestsellers (and who knows where they appeared on the list)

A little perspective can change the whole thing.

The part that really cracked me up is the phrase “You can borrow a new book as frequently as once a month” in their help section. Since the only other number possible is zero times a month, I guess they have to try to sell what they have as best as they can.

I have to imagine that there are a couple things going on behind this. First, Amazon had to get the publishers on board with this idea. Based on their overall shift to agency pricing and desire to build their own eBook platforms, I am guessing that those negotiations were pretty intense. A retailer wanting to lend our book to their website members? That would explain why the list of available titles is relatively small compared to the overall Kindle catalog and the extremely low borrowing frequency. (I guess two books a month would be like giving away the whole store.) I also think it will be the publishers that will reign in any further expansion of this kind of lending program… that is unless Amazon creates a Netflix-esque model for books at a price they are willing to accept.

[insert horror movie music here]

Second, in trying to look at this development from Amazon’s point of view, they know how many books the average Kindle owner buys in a month. The number of times someone can borrow through their service is not a casual number they thought up; there is some statistics behind their choice. Once a month lending is also a good way to both reward Amazon Prime members as well as encourage reading (which has been shown to encourage book purchases). This kind of lending is the best ‘free store sample’ of the ereader age, trumping the Nook’s ‘read in the store for one hour per day’ deal. It’s a good perk at a relatively low price for the member while utilizing the infrastructure in place.

For the people who still want to pick up the “Libraries are Screwed” banner and run with it, take a moment to reflect on this situation. It’s a private sector company that is spending money on a service that the public has become reluctant to fund with their tax money. Amazon has created a subscription library at a cost that is comparative to the average per capita library spending (your mileage may vary based on your state) at a time when library spending and budgets are generally down. To me, it signals that the market for readers (people who read, not devices) is strong enough to sustain a decision like this; that, if the purpose is to sell more ebooks, this move will move to do that. I believe that this is something which is complimentary to one of our own core missions: literacy.

Amazon’s lending program is certainly worth watching, but is it the library apocalypse? No. Why? Because lending books isn’t the only thing the library does anymore. Even if the private sector moved in on the whole material lending business, libraries would still survive on the basis on access and instruction. The only thing that would die is the current state of the library. In my estimation, that’s not a bad thing at all.

The Library Reloaded: Library Cards, Cont.

I saw this story on Slate and immediately thought of libraries:

It’s an app called Card Case, and it’s made by Square, the brilliant payments company founded by Twitter inventor Jack Dorsey. Because Card Case runs on your phone, it may sound at first like the same clunky, phone-and-pay-pad systems being peddled by other firms. But Card Case doesn’t let you pay with your phone; it lets you pay with your name. With this app, you go into a store, choose what you want to buy, and then tell the cashier your name. That’s it—you’ve just paid. You don’t have to pull out your phone, you don’t have to open the app, you don’t have to sign, swipe, or wait for change. As long as your phone is on your person while you’re in the store—in your pocket or your purse—Card Case can authorize your payment without you having to do a thing.

The idea is that you could walk up to the circulation desk with a pile of library materials, tell the circulation person your name, they check out the materials (bonus points for RFID magic), and you walk out. Yes, it only works with a smartphone so not everyone will have it, but I believe integration with virtual wallet programs such as this app or near field communications are a viable future for the library card. Eliminate the hassle of issuing cards and it is one less item to worry about for the library member and staff.

People might not be interested in reading on their phones, but I bet they would be happy to use their phone as their library card.

Here’s my much earlier post about rethinking library cards.

Wiley Chases the BitTorrent Roadrunner

From TorrentFreak:

John Wiley and Sons, one of the world’s largest book publishers, have sued 27 BitTorrent users at a federal court in New York. The publisher claims that the defendants have shared copies of its “For Dummies” books without permission, and demands compensation.

A year and a half after the Recording Industry Association of American wound down its litigation campaign against file sharers, a publisher is ready to pick up the same playbook and run with it. Yes, this is the same playbook that spent $64 million dollars in legal fees for $1.4 million in settlement money. To proclaim this as a defense of intellectual property is an insult to the first word of that term; there can be no logical or academic argument that this will yield different results than have been gained in other industries pursuing the same strategy.

The article has some choice quotes from the filed complaint.

Wiley argues that through the massive piracy that occurs on BitTorrent, their company is suffering severe losses that might cost several authors their jobs.

“Defendants are contributing to a problem that threatens the profitability of Wiley. Although Wiley cannot determine at this time the precise amount of revenue that it has lost as a result of peer-to-peer file sharing of its copyrighted works though BitTorrent software, the amount of revenue that is lost is enormous,” Wiley’s attorney writes.

Since they are going to be paying law firms rather than their talent (you know, the people who are at the center of their business model), I guess some authors will lose their jobs. And the bit about not being able to determine how much revenue is lost but saying it is huge? That’s the same underlying rationale that believes that every library loan is a lost sale. One of the books in the complaint might have been downloaded 74,000 times in the last 18 months, but that doesn’t mean each and every single one is a lost sale. That would be like saying that people looting a television store are all potential television buyers; it does not follow that the person carrying off a plasma would be willing to plunk down cash for it in ordinary circumstances.

To me, this is a huge waste of time and money. While piracy is wrong, I don’t think this is an effective deterrent or a useful expenditure for the industry (especially after in seeing how other groups fared using the strategy). The resources here could be spent on finding better solutions and business models, not pissing away money of a shrinking industry. These settlements (if any) will not fund the future of the business. I’m afraid that libraries as consumers will end up footing the bill for this in terms of higher pricing and, quite frankly, I appalled to think that we would end up footing the bill for this brazen stupidity.

My prediction as to how this affair will end up looks like this in the years to come:

Meep, meep, publishers.

(h/t: @joelnaoum)