ALA Annual 2013 Newbies Twitter List

Just a quick post to announce that I’ve started my annual new conference attendee list on Twitter. I’ve been making a list each year since I went to my first ALA a couple years back during the “OH MY GOD WHY IS IT SO HOT” Washington DC conference. If this is your first conference, send me a message (@wawoodworth) on Twitter and I’ll add you on the list. If you’re a more experienced person attending the conference or want to live vicariously through the new folks, then be sure to follow the list. I won’t be in Chicago for the conference this year, but I look forward to reading, seeing, and hearing all about it from everyone headed to the Windy City.

Here’s all the lists so far:

The 2013 Twitter List

The 2012 Twitter List

The 2011 Twitter List

The 2010 Twitter List (the original!)

Forget the Horse, Let Me Tell You About My Awesome Cart

Over the duration of this week, there have been about five different conferences going on in which librarians that I follow on Twitter have been attending. I can’t recall all of the conferences nor all of the hashtags; I can only say that each one of them looks like part of a CAPTCHA. As diligently as the people I follow having been tweeting the choice lines from the presentations they are attending, the tweets that bear phrases like “libraries must” or “librarians must” have set off a slow fuse in me.

On the one hand, I get the points people are making. “Here’s how you can build a makerspace” or a digital media lab or Facebook presence or whatever they have successfully constructed and found community acceptance. It’s nice to see the process, the pitfalls, and the benefits and drawbacks. (Unless they skip over the drawbacks to focus on how awesome their project is.) They are there to show off the final product, not necessarily the journey to that point.

On the other hand, I think more often it is like starting to read a story a few chapters in. I can’t seem to recall many details about how they decided to build whatever it is they are talking about. What was their community research? Did they do any marketing to identify groups within their service community that made their project more likely to succeed? How was the need for a particular service identified? I’ll admit that I’ve heard presentations in which they addresses this as an opener for their talk, but it doesn’t get much stage time.

I’m saying this because it feels like most library innovation oriented talks take the tact of describing their project in detail and then spending time trying to convince the audience that it is a necessary addition to their library. Sure, it sounds great, but I really want to know how the idea got rolling. Personally, I think that’s one of the weakest areas in librarianship right now: approaching and measuring our communities for their needs.

So, when and where are those talks happening? That’s when librarians will be able to build better community relationships so they can host the materials and services that are in demand. Whether it is a makerspace, computer lab, digital media center, or lending out gardening equipment, examination of the genesis of these ideas as it relates to dialogues between librarians and their communities is the bigger issue here. I can read someone’s conference handouts on how to do it, but if I can’t figure out how to reach out and get the feedback that I need to start me down the path, then I’m stuck.

You can build it, but you should damn well make sure that they do come.

My Conference Ennui

Although I had planned to take a short break from the blog while ALA Annual was going on (competing attention spans and all that), there was a conversation on Twitter today that really resonated with me. The gist of the exchanged tweets was about the general discontent regarding conferences. It’s been something that has been on my mind since March when I attended PLA in Philly and CIL in Washington DC over a span of two weeks. While I really enjoyed seeing people and hanging out with people at these conferences, I was really not into the actual conference itself.

While the speakers at PLA were talking about topics submitted almost two years prior (a major flaw if you want to encourage people to attend to stay current on library issues), I found the majority of speakers at CIL to be telling me things I already knew. I had hoped that I could find out something new or different about the topic that interested me the most (eBooks) or on something related, but I didn’t come away with much. I probably should have known that I was going to have a hard time at the actual conference itself when my social schedule filled up faster (and was more rewarding) than the sessions. Given the expense involved in attending, it makes the cost/benefit analysis look rather slim. In fact, I’d say I was way more interested in the social opportunities than the work ones; where else will I get to see the people in my personal learning network? There is no better way to spend quality face-to-face time with one’s peers than at a conference.

Until today, I thought it was that I was just “over” conferences. When they were new and different, it was something exciting and fun to do. Given that I stay on top of the issues I care about the most in the library world, the lure of the conference to teach me something new was starting to fade. In establishing connects and staying current, I wasn’t going to get much out of the sessions. Sure, there’s always something I didn’t know but finding that one nugget in a forty five minute presentation is not the best use of my time.

But, like I said above, the sessions almost represent a snapshot as to when they were submitted. Granted, some speakers update their talks to reflect something new that wasn’t in their proposal, but it’s a subject that is static to the moment it is proposed whether it is six months or eighteen months before. Perhaps, I thought, I’m just not the intended audience for these sessions. Perhaps this is for my less fortunate colleagues who don’t have the time like I do to stay up to date. That sounds reasonable, right?

Later this evening, I realized it wasn’t really ‘over’ conferences, I was just doing them wrong. Within that two week time period I mentioned, I also went to a school librarian unconference entitled “Handhelds in School Libraries New Jersey” that was put together by New Jersey’s cooperative, LibraryLink. As part of the conference staff, I had a great time helping out and listening in on what issues face school librarians. While I am aware of school librarian issues in general, this was the nitty-gritty-let-me-tell-you-what-kind-of-crap-I-have-to-deal-with eye opener in how policy, politics, and administration create a competing forces tempest with “let’s make sure our kids are tech savvy for our digital future :)” fights against “OMG we can’t let them go online/use their phone/get on Facebook because it will ruin our lives and Christmas FOREVER”. I learned all kinds of new things; I was able to share what I knew.

It was pretty frikkin’ sweet.

Or maybe it is a little bit of both. I guess I’m over conferences as a means of keeping up with my general topics of interest but it’s pretty useful for learning something new about another area of the library world. But is it worthwhile to pay hundreds of dollars in hotels, travel, and registration to learn about how some of my peers get by? No. The unconference was a bargain but a possibly rarity; it may or may not happen again. If I wanted to get the conference I felt was best for me, I may need to organize the damn thing myself. That’s certainly not the best system either, but at least I would be assured as to the product.

How do you feel about conferences? Best thing, worst thing?

Handhelds in School Libraries Conference

This past weekend, I had the privilege of attending the Handhelds in School Libraries unconference sponsored by the New Jersey library cooperative, LibraryLinkNJ. This conference idea originated in the hallway of last year’s New Jersey Library Association conference as an event for school librarians who couldn’t attend the annual conference since it’s in the middle of the week. Sophie Brookover took the idea and ran with it as it morphed into an unconference that would focus on devices as well as e-content. As part of the conference committee (which is the price you pay for having the idea in the first place), I helped out where I could in pulling this event together.

I have to say that this particular conference really blew me away. As a public librarian, I am not very privy to the remarkable barriers and hurdles that school librarians have to pass through as they attempt to carry out their role in the education system. It made me feel like my own journeys through the government created work bureaucracy was set on easy mode; the education version is permanently set on nightmare. Nevermind getting buy-in from your fellow teachers, but try doing it up the school pecking order from the principal to the superintendent to the school board, all of which are subject to the imput of parents and taxpayers. Anywhere along that line an idea, concept, or approach can get taken out. Now, add in different policies (or no policy) when it comes to internet usage and filtering as well as student use of phone and devices on top of that. And that’s not the end of it when you consider the No Child Left Behind factor at the same time when school librarians are being cut from the budget. I really could go on, but I hope you get the gist of it. Our school libraries are more like islands, cut off from the same sorts of supporting entities that other library types enjoy.

For myself, it was a day of remarkable conversations, even if I was just eavesdropping on others. Bad computer infrastructure, overbearing filtering software, uncooperative colleagues and administrators, and budget cuts got their moment in the sun as people spoke plainly about their obstacles. What I found compelling was the moments of collaboration and education that appeared at different times all over the conference. I could see the light bulb moments flash into existence as people found answers or new possible ways to incorporate devices, phones, or e-content in their school libraries. The best moments for me was when it was apparent that a connection had been made; not simply between two people or an idea, but the connection that comes with being able to compare situations and derive new strategies and thinking from it.

Exhausted as I was from Computers in Libraries and getting back on a late train, it was an incredible conference for me. I’d like to thank Sophie, Dee, Alice, Janice, Joanne, and Cheryl for making this event possible. I really look forward to doing this again in the future. And if you’re a library advocate or activist, make it a point to attend conferences outside of your library type. You will learn a ton about how some of our colleagues work and live. It’s well worth it.

My CIL 2012 Presentation

At the urging of one of my co-presenters, I’m posting the script I used for my CIL presentation last week. A few things to note:

  1. I generally don’t use slides unless I absolutely have to. I dislike Powerpoint and am alright with Prezi, but I have a very non-scientific theory called the “Bermuda Triangle of Modern Audiences”. Between staring at you, the slides, and their personal devices, it makes attention spans disappear into thin air. I’d rather have just myself at the visual so I work to make up for it.
  2. Yes, I do write in asides, jokes, and other little seemingly ‘off the cuff’ remarks. Sometimes I use them, sometimes I don’t, and sometimes I add things in when I speak. The transcript of the recording will not exactly match the script, but it’s close enough.
  3. This particular talk had been rolling over in my brain for months. I went through a bunch of different starts, different tones, and different messages that I wanted to share. I ended up using the first one I created and, like magic, the words finally flowed for me. Well, sort of. I was pretty insane with rage by the time I finished the script due to the closing deadline as well the difficulty of the presentation birthing process. I read through it and it seemed fine. Thanks to Sarah for reading over it to tell me I was not insane and Julie for letting me practice present it to her. Both of you gave me the confidence to stand up there and let loose.

For those interested, here is the video recording of the presentation with Michael, Sarah, and myself. I have a hard time watching myself, but I felt it went very well. It misses my first few lines so you can read them below in the script.

Enjoy.

***

It took me a few weeks to try to find the right words in order to summarize my perspective on eBooks, but in a sudden late insight it finally yielded to me. And it sounds something like this:

Everything is amazing and no one is happy.

Doesn’t that capture the current state of affairs perfectly? I thought so. (I lifted that line from a Louis CK interview on Conan O’Brien. It’s on YouTube and I highly suggest checking it out.)

Everything *is* amazing. Look at what the computing and communication revolutions have created in the last two decades. We can beam text and pictures across the world in a matter of moments. There are online platforms in which average citizens have come together in ways that can change their worlds, in political revolutions like the Arab Spring and the unvolunteered governmental transparency of Wikileaks. Even as I am talking to you right here and right now in Washington DC, my words are being shared (possibly) across Twitter in real time with people around the country and around the globe. In the span of a few generations, we have moved from telephones with party lines and radio relays to hand-held devices that allow us to contact anyone from nearly anywhere while providing a cornucopia of information at our fingertips. Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on the advances in computing and communication technology that have changed within your lifetime AND to which we now take for granted.

Everything *is* amazing.

And yet, no one is happy when it comes to eBooks. What could possibly be wrong with a product that you don’t have to spend money on to print, gas and transportation for shipping, is the current object of desire for serious bibliophiles and the institutions that serve that demographic, and works on handheld devices that everyone from 4 to 104 can use with arguably relative ease?

Apparently, EVERYTHING.

Let’s start with librarians since, well, that’s the group I know the best in this equation. We (the royal we) want ebooks but we can’t or won’t get them. I say “can’t” because the majority of the remaining major publishers do not allow for library lending of their ebooks. Full stop. There’s not much of a supply and demand to the situation when the supply is being withheld.

I also say “won’t” not simply because either we are too short staffed and underbudgeted (which are pretty legitimate reasons), but I feel there is a high lazy factor at play here. There is an unfortunate prevailing professional tendency to seek a solution that requires the least amount of work and energy in order to implement; I feel that there is an overwhelming and far too common desire to simply accept solutions and services that work right out of the box. We like to throw money at problems. When that doesn’t work, we try to acquire larger stacks of money because that’s easier than practicing our aim or changing the size of the target.

This must be why there is great confusion as to why money won’t solve the eBook dilemma for libraries. We have it, they want it, so what’s the problem here, right?

It’s not that publishers don’t want library money; they certainly are willing to take it through multiple channels and things such as library editions and other upsales of their wares. No, that’s not the issue here.

Publishers just don’t trust our customer base.

While librarians in theory work to uphold the principles of copyright and not engaging in unauthorized copying (otherwise known by the misnomer of ‘pirating’), we can’t extend a guarantee of such upstanding behavior for our community. When that computer readable DVD or CD goes out our doors, we can’t verify that the patron won’t copy it or rip it into iTunes or otherwise post it online. The publishers hold firm in their belief that, for the price of a library card, the average consumer can gorge themselves on digital content without laying a dime on the retail counter.

Scary, right?

Hell, this fear extends into the consumer realm with publishers and authors controlling the ability as to whether an eBook can be lent by a retail customer to another person. Even then, the terms call for a short borrowing period (2 weeks at most) as well as limited ability (one time only, if I recall correctly). Since the consumer only licenses the content, that’s not an overreach but a judicious management of intellectual property… right?

So, what is the common thread here between libraries and the consumer? To me, it looks like the “problem” is sharing.

You know, sharing, right? That thing that is on every status update on Twitter and Facebook and other social media outlets and the widget at the bottom of every online news article and blog post and probably the reason why they created a Forwarding option for email and that marketing through the ages has been encouraging people to do by word of mouth (“tell your friends!”) and not only that it is something practiced as a cultural norm regarding hospitality and continues to exist as an oral tradition (the precursor to print, mind you) and if we concentrate really really hard it is something that probably went ALL THE WAY back to our ancestors sitting around a community fire (or for some of you, the Garden of Eden) sharing ideas, stories, myths, legends, thoughts, and other intellectual and cultural lineages?

Yeah, that’s the sharing I hear about, the truly “dark” underside of the development that comes with being a complex social creature. This is “the horror” that comes from breeding technology and culture together. Ebooks are the resulting child of this union, endowed with all the the traits of this constantly emerging digital world… along with the expectations of the long established and deeply rooted cultural object. 

Is that what all this fanfare and turmoil and handwringing and meetings and blog posts and trade articles and “friction” and revenue streams and very serious people making very serious faces *really* about?

Sharing?

And to imagine that I thought there was an actual problem at the heart of the issue of eBooks.

Because here is the undeniable truth of this issue: sharing wins.

Sharing wins.

Sharing will always win.

First of all, it has a major cultural and social headstart of ten’s of thousands of years. Our delightfully intricate monkey brains are built for it. Our organizations of knowledge are constructed with that in mind. And our current aforementioned increasing complex social platforms are built towards it.

Second, sharing is already happening. It happens when people thwart those lending limitations by registering multiple Kindles or Nooks on one account so they can pass around books they buy with impunity. It happens when websites pop up to facilitate ebook loans between complete strangers. People aren’t waiting for libraries to find a solution to ebook lending, they are making their own. And not just hopping onto bit torrents to do it.

Third, people will fight on this principle alone. What a book has given them in terms of feelings, insights, experience, knowledge, and changed their world is something they will want their friends and families to share in as well. The notions of copyright and intellectual property are quaint and adorable, but really, no one will have an epitaph on their headstone that reads, “He lived a fulfilling life within the strict confines of Title 17”. The inclination to share stories, thoughts, ideas, and concepts is more philosophically compelling than the rules around them.

Good day, sir.

So, what can be done?

Invest in the rights of the reader. Grant people a claim on the eBooks that they purchase. Give them a vested interest. Build a community around it. Show the reader that you value them by giving up rights to them. Don’t hold them at arm’s length. Bring them in to you!

People want to share. Enable it. Hell, monetize it with rewards for lenders who end up generating sales. Every book made available to the hands of a reader is taking a space that would otherwise be filled with a competitor’s book or competing interest. And two weeks? Get rid of time limits. Why put a shot clock on reading? Who cares if a book is lent and doesn’t come back for six months? (Aside from librarians, that is.) And one time lends? Why would you make people choose who they can lend a book to only once? I’m sure that has never led to an argument between family or friends. That’s inane, it’s strangely cruel, and it’s miserly.

To bring all these thoughts and words home, I give you my bottom line:

If you treat a book like a book, people will notice and act accordingly. If you treat a book like a computer file, people will rise to those expectations. No aspiring writer will answer the call to write the next Great American Computer File. While I concede that eBooks possess the vulnerabilities of a digital format, I urge all parties (librarians, authors, publishers) to embrace, nurture, and carry forward the cultural associations of the book into the digital realm. The eBook is greater than the sum of its contents and containers.

Act like it and the world will follow.

Thank you.

Schrödinger’s eBook

Last week, I had the privilege of both attending and speaking at the Computers in Libraries conference in Washington DC. As can be expected of a technology oriented conference, eBooks were prominently featured as an entire track for the two of the three days of the conference. There were presentations on the future of the medium, how to market them, how publishing is going to change because of them, what libraries are doing things now, and the challenges they present. Even so, I think a basic fundamental question was punted by the organizers and the participants (myself included). That question is this:

“Is an eBook a book?”

There is a significant problem when people who are employed in the publishing industry or the librarian profession (book experts, you might call both groups) cannot give the same answer as to whether an eBook is a book or not. There was even a presentation that started with a PowerPoint slide entitled “eBooks are not books”, then proceeded to use nearly the exact same book acquisition terms to describe the collection and management of eBooks. After making a starting claim that they are not the same and should be treated differently, the use of the same language felt like it controverted this point. Also, I don’t believe these differing viewpoints break down on publisher-librarian lines; each group has members that hold opposing viewpoints on this question. For myself, this is an example of the greater mounting confusion as to where eBooks fit in to the greater societal and cultural picture.

Seriously, this should be the only question being discussed at this time because it is the most fundamentally important one. How can the other questions as posed by the presentations mentioned above be answered if we (the book expert people of all stripes) cannot come to a united conclusion as to whether an eBook is actually a book or a computer file or something else. It must be settled because each possible answer takes us (publishers, libraries, authors, readers) down very different paths. Nevermind that there are inherent implications and associations that are held regarding books and computer files, many of which are not shared (no pun intended). This question absolutely needs to be resolved before we can truly move forward with eBooks.

For those who wish to hold the middle ground and declare that eBooks are both books and computer files, it is here that I feel that best comparison of such a belief resembles the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment. In declaring that it exists in both mediums simultaneously, it places the eBook in a virtual quantum state in which the observer determines what they want the eBook to based on the situation. Rather than relying on a random event as to whether the cat is alive or dead (as Schrödinger’s experiment stated)), the eBook either becomes a computer file or a book when it is convenient to do so.

When it comes to appealing to readers, publicity, and the sales pitch as to why to read a particular book, the eBook invokes all of the tried-and-true lines and clichés that invoke the way books make us feel and the thrill of the printed word. When it comes to ownership or reigning in sharing capabilities or other traditionally associated values of a book, it magically morphs into a computer file subject to the terms, limitations, and end user agreements that are pressed upon the buyer at the time of purchase. This slight of hand behavior suggests that an eBook is a book except when it isn’t; this is a poisonous paradox that will inhibit the future of this medium if it not resolved one way or another.

Personally, I believe eBooks are books in the same way that water is still water whether it is in a solid form (ice), liquid, or a gas (steam). The different phases of matter still have the same molecular structure; the conversion process does not change this fundamental core. Likewise, in converting the print to digital (or even audio for that matter), it does not subvert the fundamental nature of the literature and prose contained within the medium. In other words, the content of an eBook conforms with the expectations of literature, not computer science. Therefore, it is a book.

I concede that this is not a perfect reasoning nor that this conclusion is not open to some good counterarguments. However, I believe that in making this ultimate determination, it will assist in all decisions made downstream from it from how eBooks are handled, collected, and curated; security measures to promote acceptable forms of sharing while preventing unauthorized copying; and the establishment of clear rights to authors, publishers, libraries, and consumers. What counts is that a starting basis is established from which we as a literate and reading society can move forward.

So, how would you answer the question: is an eBook a book?

PLA & Movers & Shakers

I’m off to PLA at the latter end of this week, but I wanted to congratulate the 2012 Library Journal Movers & Shakers that were revealed this week. I was pleased to see some familiar faces (Brett, Leah, Allen, JP, Nate, Nina, Emily, Richard, Allie) as well as looking forward to learning about the projects and causes of those I have yet to meet. I find that this particular Library Journal issue provides personal inspiration for new ideas, thoughts, and projects.

Once again, congratulations to the 2012 Movers & Shakers. And if you see me at PLA, stop me and say hi!