The Reports of Our Professional Deaths Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, Part 2

From an opinion piece titled "Enough Already: Information Overload" in Business Day in New Zealand:

We can’t blame the internet for it all. Whilst it’s undoubtedly exacerbating the issue, information overload has been around for decades. It’s just that today it’s instantaneous. With transmission of data from one person to another so effortless, we’re oblivious to the potential anxiety of the person who may not need (or care about) the information we’re conveying.

The opinion piece refers to a survey done by LexisNexis in which white collar workers detailed their frustration in dealing with the massive volume of information (such as papers, emails [especially cc’d emails], faxes, social media, and other sources) coming their way. In reading the summary of the survey, it hits on three issues that the workers identified:

  1. “a surfeit of information” (people passing on too much information due to fear of passing too little);
  2. “a lack of relevance” (employees left to sort all the information that they get);
  3. inadequate systems for storing and retrieving information easily

Compare the results of that survey to this article from The Economist from earlier this year in describing the new superabundant information world that the advances in computing and communication have afforded us. (I wrote about it when it came out.) Now, if the survey results are to be trusted and combined with the increased data outlook in the Economist article, I daresay the librarian profession could capitalize on these trends to assert their value in the private sector (either as an ‘embedded’ librarian, consultant, or information service provider). I’m sure some savvy librarian entrepreneurs out there could make the case to companies that, as the oft quoted motto is “time is money”, the loss of productively could be offset with training in information vetting, effective and efficient searching, or even someone on staff who is trained in information management.

I can see such a niche industry popping up within the next five years, if not sooner. What do you think? Is this something that the profession would rise with the moment? Or has that train left the station?

At Least We Are Not Lawyers

Does this sound familiar?

[…] a number of recent or current law students are saying—or screaming—that they made a mistake. They went to law school, they say, and now they’re underemployed or jobless, in debt, and three years older. And statistics show that the evidence is more than anecdotal.

Replace the word “law” with “library” and it resembles some of the talks, blog posts, and other articles I’ve seen or heard about. In reading the whole article, there are parallels that I think you will find a bit familiar. Promises of employment (the whole ‘greying profession’ myth), salaries falling short of debt (the most recent Library Journal issue feature article), and institutions churning out a higher number of professionals versus the market need (5,192 graduates per year vs estimated average 2,820 retirements per year [pg39]).

Anyone else a bit perturbed by that?

Ebook Anger: Not Just for Librarians Anymore

From Teleread:

I am sick of the price fixing. I am sick of the head-in-sand burying. I am sick of publishers or agents or authors or whomever the actual decision-makers-without-clues are who are mucking up what should be a simple money-for-product transaction by continuing to operate on what my father calls the finest business model ever set up by 17th century Big Business. Enough! I am no longer dialoguing with you on this. My decision? I figure it will take you maybe two to three years to come to your senses, and while I am waiting, I am opting out of this whole thing.

Go over and read the whole thing. It’s an interesting perspective from the vantage point of a heavy reader and their device. To my eyes, it seems like the Amazon price point of $10 has become some people’s bar of measurement in terms of purchasing ebooks. This is not new since Kindle readers from the early days of the device have railed against any books over $10.  But, going forward, it presents an obstacle for publishers as they seek a better price point for different bodies of work in which larger expenditures of money have been invested.

One of the other things I noticed is the lack of complaint regarding ebook lending and DRM. While it may not be an issue for this person the same way that it is for some librarians, the fact that it is not on the laundry list of issue is worthy of note. It could be that it is not something people consider to be an issue since they have come to other understandings about what they can do with a physical book versus what they can do with an ebook. I’d actually like to ask this person about that, so I might leave a comment over there.

What are your thoughts on this open letter?

Metal Objects Replace Librarians

Photo by fensterbme/Flickr

Or so you would think the Wall Street Journal article was implying when detailing the plan for libraries to use lockers that can be accessed by the public after hours or kiosks and vending machines to distribute library materials at different locations. The line saying that these kinds of outreach will redefine what it means to be a library mean that this is a relatively new concept to the writer and the WSJ. However, for those in the business, the practice of remote services (mall locations, kiosks, vending machines, and so forth) is relatively old hat.

I can understand why some library directors and supporters are a bit apprehensive about the lockers and vending machines. They are afraid that budget administrators will see it as a replacement to workers and hours rather than an enhancement of service. I might be naïve in thinking that there still has to be someone who orders the materials for the library to purchase and that someone is most likely going to be a librarian, but I don’t see this as a shrinking of the library. I see it as a way to reach people in new ways and make the library a part of their life, even if they don’t step through the front door. There are libraries out there now that mail materials to patron’s homes; I don’t see anyone writing about how that is the end of the institution.

One of the things I don’t see is the fading of physical library as a location. Even in the worst case scenario, there has to be a location where the materials can be distributed from and a system in place to coordinate orders, holds, retrievals, and invariably dealing with patrons and problems with their materials. With that level of staffing, I see a building that resembles a hybrid between the current library and a post office. There are postal type areas that allow for remote access to materials for people and then there are library areas for people to browse, take classes, attend programs, and read a daily newspaper or magazine. In this incarnation, the library morphs into a place that is truly available twenty four hours a day, both physically and online. The mission doesn’t change, but the look and feel of the physical location does.

I guess this begs a question: how can libraries expand out space outside of the library? What other areas can libraries get ‘remote outposts’? What enhances or diminishes service outside of the library?

That Publisher Post & More Questions

In the comments of my post, “How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher’s Tale)”, the highly esteemed Liz Burns wanted me to clarify something I said regarding “jacked up” prices concerning library editions. Here’s our exchange from the post.


Andy, what is your source that library editions are “jacked up” prices — which I take to mean that the profit margin on those books are more than other books. If you don’t mean that, please explain what you do. What do you think is an acceptable profit margin for publishers?


As I am not in a position of ordering materials (with an exception every now and again), my source is more anecdotal in that I heard about it from other people who are in such a position, what I have seen from invoices that are shown to me, or what I have read in various blogs over the last couple of years. It is certainly is not a survey of all pricing, and I’ll admit that my statement is based more in the emotion of the moment. But I don’t believe that makes it completely untrue (and I look forward to being proven otherwise).

My concern is less than with an “acceptable” profit margin of publishers and more of a concern about what value the libraries are getting for their money. As I suggested in the post, I’d like for publishers to start considering bundling ebook rights with their books (library edition or not); they could charge an additional premium on top of the physical book cost. I think it would be a win for the publisher, the library, and the patron. For certain, it would be an additional source of revenue that could be directly recouped for the publisher.


Andy, to be honest, it’s my understanding that there is a slim profit margin for most books. Also, I’m a bit puzzled by how much anti-publishers sentiment I’m seeing on some library blogs/tweets. When did they become investment bankers making billions?

Pricing can be more if cost is more, which is why my question is on profit. Better binding for library edition or ability to get free replacement CDs? That’s going to cost more than other books.


[…] For the record, I’m talking about print books, not library edition audio. The latter is higher because you are buying into a service that will replace discs. It is a premium that makes sense to me, for certain.

I had messaged Liz on Twitter to ask if I could use our exchange as the basis for a blog post. We ended up wondering a few things of our own, so we decided to toss these questions out to the blogosphere audience:

  1. Does anyone buy library edition of print books? Why or why not?
  2. Can anyone tell us where the anti-publisher sentiment has been coming from lately? (Links or articles would be a bonus!)
  3. And how is it that the publishing industry gets the ire of librarians when the television and movie industry get a relative pass when it comes to downloading, purchasing costs, and copyright permissions?

Come, take a swing at a question or two, and enlighten us.

Blatant Berry Bottom Line

In leafing through the issue of Library Journal from earlier this month, the latest John Berry article made me sit up in my seat. Entitled “Half Way to ALA”, he discusses the true cost of conference attendance in terms of dollars and (more importantly, in my estimation) professional advancement.

As to the first part, the financial estimates that Mr. Berry tosses out ring true to me. Even in taking transportation out of the equation (Boston and Washington DC, the locations of the past Midwinter and Annual, are within driving distance for me), the sum total of hotels, meals, and other expenses puts it easily well over $1,500 for an attendee. While some of my friends have worked out ways to save money by sharing rooms or seeking alternative housing venues, the other costs still remain the same and leave it hovering around $1,000 to attend. Not exactly small change by any stretch of the imagination.

The more important and salient point that Mr. Berry references in his piece is that of the cost of professional development to younger librarians. The statement made by Mr. Berry is that the conference is attended by those who get the least use out of it: directors, top management, and others who are well established and well compensated through their position. It creates a ‘generation gap’ in which the new librarians are generally shut out of the professional development opportunities that would benefit them the most in their nascent career. I can’t illustrate it in terms other than horticultural: when you plant something new, you take care to make it grow. You give it water, ensure that it gets the right amount of sun, fertilize the soil to provide essential nutrients, and protect it from predation and temperature extremes. This is no different than the ideal treatment for our up and coming librarians in providing them with the professional development and networking opportunities in order to create a stronger and smarter profession.

This is not meant as a vilification of the older generation of librarians. I’m certain that there are some that would consider the benefits of compensated attendance as a perk of their position and their work to reach such a place. Nor is there an easy answer for providing the financial support that would be necessary to allow young librarians. You’d have to be living under a rock for the last year to not know about the current state of library budgets. This puts some library vendors in the same boat with us as their revenues are partially married to our own expenditures.

The question that this post leaves in my head is this: what are the options that remain for younger librarians to attend conferences? In attending ALA annual this year, I heard a raffle over the convention loudspeaker giving away trips to the conference next year. That sounds nice, but it doesn’t specifically address young or new librarians. I know ALA has a list of travel grants and scholarships, but that helps a handful of librarians (and I see one of the travel grants is not available due to lack of donors). Not exactly overwhelming, but I have not given the subject a rigorous inquiry.

The thought did cross my mind: what would it take to someone to sponsor someone like myself to attend a conference? Could I wear one of those NASCAR jumpsuits and sell advertising space on it? Could I sell sidebar space on my blog? Endorsement deals? Booth appearances? Appear in advertisements? What would it take for someone to put up the money that would pay the way to attend?

I’d wonder what people thought about ‘selling out’ (either for me or themselves) and what would be an offer they couldn’t refuse. I’m not sure what would be the line for librarians. I have a feeling there is a strict adherence to objectivity even when none is called for. I’d like to hear from people on this, so please leave a comment with your thoughts.

(And if anyone is looking to sponsor a librarian, I’m all ears for your offer. I think I’d look decent in one of those NASCAR jumpsuits.)

The Other Map to the Stars

Click to Embiggen

When I saw the graphic on the right in one of the latest copies of Library Journal, I thought about the Movers on the Map graphic from the March issue. It’s not exactly a scientific survey since Movers & Shakers do not create Star Libraries and vice versa; and the selection of Movers & Shakers is purely a human process while the Star Libraries are a calculated outcome. But I was curious to see how the two maps looked next to each other.

From a cursory glance of the top counts, it would appear New York and Ohio are the places that enjoy the greatest number of M&S people as well as Star Libraries. Kansas, Colorado, Illinois, and Massachusetts also enjoy a high number with a closer ratio than other states. After that,

It would be a bit presumptive to look at these states and say, “What is it that they are doing that other states are not?” I think it has the seeds for further inquiry, though, as there really could be something that allows the libraries to get the numbers they gather to be labeled as ‘star libraries’ and attract some of the most forward thinking people in the profession.

The easy counter to this premise is the ‘star library’ award only goes to those libraries that choose to participate and that as a voluntary nomination it means that not all libraries are represented. As to the Movers & Shakers, it requires the filing of nominations plus the judgment of the staff of Library Journal and other advisory members. In both instances, they are not true measures of the libraries in the field and the talent that exists within the profession.

Well, if someone gets more curious than I am, then I look forward to your results of a closer examination.

Now, I couldn’t help it, but when I was reading the latest issue online, I noticed something that seemed a bit off. It’s a page from the Placements & Salaries Survey, but something seems off to me about it from just a glance. Can you tell what it is from here? If not, click on the picture to see my marked up version in Flickr.Click to find out what I mean!

How Not to Get Libraries to Lend Ebooks (A Publisher’s Tale)

Photo by Libraryman/Flickr (Great slide, Michael!) I found this article in my Google Reader this morning and, I will admit, it has been awhile since I have been so excited and flabbergasted at the same time. I was excited about the possibilities and flabbergasted at the implementation. Take a moment to click on the link and go read it so that you too can join me in such a mixture of emotions. Or, for those who want to get to the meat of the situation, carry on.

Page told conference delegates that "all the major trade publishers have agreed to work with aggregators to make it possible for libraries to offer e-book lending"…


…with the addition of certain "controls".

Uh oh.

He said the guidelines had been developed because of concerns over free e-book lending offered by some libraries to lenders "wherever you are" in breach of publisher contracts.

Ok, here it comes.

Under the new scheme, library users would have to come onto the library’s physical premises to download an e-book at a computer terminal onto a mobile device, rather than downloading the book remotely.

In a country (UK) that is cutting back on its staff (and hell, for that matter, any staff whatsoever), the idea of turning into a service station for ereader devices has to be a frightening one. I’m sure these publishers in their infinite wisdom have determined a trouble free way for people to download these books onto their iPads, Kindles, Nooks, Iliads, Sony Ereaders, Coolrs, and every sort of device potentially out there. Or at least given the library staff a written list of reasons why a patron’s device is not included so that they can hand them that list rather than explain it ad nauseam or troubleshooting directions. Isn’t the point of being online is that you can have remote access to something?

The scheme would also see the fee paid by a library to buy a book covering the right to loan one copy to one individual at any given time,

(Emphasis mine.) How 19th century of them to imagine up such a thing. I would hope that this would mean that the library could pay for multiple copies for lending to multiple people. Why not bundle those ebook lending rights with the actual book itself? Libraries are already paying jacked up prices for ‘library binding’ editions. You could put that fee on top of that. But I think my better question is whether the library would be buying the ebook itself (thus having ownership) or just the right to lend the ebook? My guess is the latter, but there is always hope for the former.

and would require "robust and secure geographical-based membership" in place at the library service doing the lending.

Do they even know what we DO at the library? Perhaps it is because I am ignorant to the UK system, but here in the states, we have a robust system called “Do you live in X area?” where X is the city, county, town, or other designated area that the library covers. If the answer is ‘yes’, you give them a card. If the answer is ‘no’, you give them the option to pay. It’s a robust and secure geographical-based membership system that has yet to be outdated by modern science.

* * *

While I am not privy to the plans of US based publishers regarding ebooks, I think it is a safe statement to say that they will be watching how this turns out in the UK. If there are any publishing people who visit this blog, here’s one librarian’s take on it.

We (the royal library ‘we’) would like to lend your ebooks. However, you have to get your act together. This variation in copyright and platform restrictions from publishing place to publishing place is not going to cut it moving as we both move forward into the future. I wasn’t kidding about bundling ebooks with the physical copy. It’s a win-win. I get to say, “Oh, we have this in print and ebook!” The patron gets to read it how they choose. And, like many stories go, if people really like it, they will buy it. Except in this version of the story, buying it on their ereader is faster, cheaper, and plays well into the whole “impulse purchase” aspect. We lend a book, you get a sale, the patron gets a book, everyone is happy. Or so the story should go.

Oh, a few more things to toss in at the end here. Remote access has to be a given. Availability on any ereader has to be a given. No remote access or no wide platform availability means ‘no thanks’. I’d rather explain to a patron that we don’t have any ebooks because we are spending their tax money wisely by not purchasing items and services that do not reflect our philosophies regarding access or lending options than explain the nuances of why they can have it on X device but not Y device (or no devices at all). And, in closing, it would be helpful to consult with libraries about what works best when it comes to lending. Because the proceeding statement by the Publishers Association based in the UK indicates that you really don’t have a clue.

It’s ok. We get questions all the time. We’re used to it.

(If you’d like to contact the Publishers Association and let them know what you think, here’s their contact page. Enjoy.)

Would You Like Fries With That Checkout?

In watching the ever brilliant Sir Ken Robinson’s most recent TED talk (seriously, read this post and then go watch it above, or vice versa), I thought of one question to ask my professional peers in libraryland:

Are you a fast food or Zagat/Michelin type of library?

Fast food is structured around standardization; the ability to create a reliable product quickly and efficiently. There are policies, there are rules, and there are no exemptions. It is about getting a product to a patron; they can take it or leave it.

A Zagat or Michelin restaurant is made around the local tastes and influences; in essence, a local experience. These are places where chefs create meals that resonate with the local populations, tailored and customized to the local flavors and traditions. It is about a personal product crafted to the person; it is made for them.

People can easily find a standard product for books, movies, magazines, and music in other places: it’s called a bookstore. Why on Earth would libraries attempt to recreate such a standard presentation and product? Is it the difference between doing what it easy and doing what is good?

So, I ask again: are you a fast food or Zagat/Michelin type of library?

Creativity & The Invisible Fence

Photo by Martin Gommel/FlickrThe invisible fence is a product that is designed to keep pets (like dogs & cats) within a set of boundaries without the need for building a physical barrier (e.g., a fence). The boundaries are set by a transmitted signal from either a buried wire or an above ground positioned object. The pets wear a collar which will give them a mild shock (*bzzzt*) when they approach the limits set by the owner. With a few days of training, the pet becomes familiar with their new limitations and will not venture past them.

I think creativity in the workplace is sometimes given the same treatment. But minus training about the collar and boundaries part.

This is not an objection to conditions or requirements to creativity in accomplishing tasks in the workplace; at face value, there is nothing wrong with applying such guidelines to an assignment given out by an employer. My objection is to the illusion of a free range and the enforcement of punishments without prior criteria.

What results are people who end up working as if they are boundaries when none exist; people who are unwilling to explore the range of options for fear of getting zapped; and people who would seek to avoid projects requiring creativity for the safety of rote and defined assignments. These are not the conducive conditions for innovation and progress.

Does the place where you work have an invisible fence for creativity? As a supervisor, what are you leaving out when telling an employee to be creative in the course of completing a task? As an employee, how do you learn of guidelines or criteria for your assignments?

I think everyone is creative when they are given the chance. It’s just that no one likes to get zapped. Not even our cats and dogs.


(I like writing these Seth Godin-esque posts, even if they don’t reach to his level of mastery. He has the uncanny ability to capture big moments or thoughts in small blog posts. I hope I did that here.)