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.)

#andypoll – 10/12/10

So, I sent out a Tweet this morning that simply asked this:

#andypoll: So, what library issue is on your mind today?

And I got a tremendous response from Twitter. I have taken screenshots of the replies with the #andypoll hashtag and made one giant image. (I don’t think I made it big enough, but as someone who doesn’t need glasses, I can still read it.)

Click to embiggen

I was going to write about what I see in this jungle of replies, but first I want to know what do YOU see in these tweets? I’ll share my thoughts tomorrow.

Leave a comment with your observations and thoughts or if there is something in particular that caught your attention.

Customer Service is NOT Advocacy

As tempting as it would be to make the entire body of the post only two words (“see title”) or just the graphic, I reckon there would be a call for further explanation as to what I meant by the title. And here is what I mean: excellent customer service is not advocacy for the library. I’m writing this post because I believe that there is a certain level of complacency and a false comfort in the idea that by simply providing good customer service people will take action on behalf of the library.

This is simply not so. 

The terms “advocacy” and “customer service” are not synonyms nor share the same definition nor are interchangeable. Libraries will not remain open because the staff in the library were nice or friendly to their patrons. No decision maker will be swayed by such proclamations of good care by staff. What is required is the ability of the patron to demonstrate the value of the library to them. Customer service is just the fancy frame that encompasses the importance that the library holds in the life of the patron.

While providing good customer service will certainly assist in making people more receptive to being asked to take action (which is what advocacy is), by itself it is not advocacy for the library. It’s dangerous for the future of the library to confuse these two actions; customer service does not lead to effective patron action. In providing the patron with an excellent customer experience, that creates the opportunity to let them know how they can help the library maintain its funding, keep staff members and hours, and (in some cases) keep their doors open. Customer service is important as an avenue for the advocacy that is required to illustrate the value of the public service institution.

In case people need a reminder, I made a graph. Enjoy and use liberally.


Shine like a Star, Star

Over my vacation week, I caught this post "The Librarian IS the Rockstar” over on David Lee King’s blog. It’s a great post about the library looking to showcase the talents of its employees, the people who work their magic and make the programs and services possible for their community. Libraries have talented staff members who (too often) remain in the shadows, unnoticed by the public and unacknowledged by the library. So why not elevate them to where people can see and appreciate the skills, knowledge, and talent they bring to the library?

Like all of David’s work, it’s an excellent post. But it was the comments that put my teeth on edge (and this comment in particular).

rockstarOther people refuted the commenter in their replies, but I think this kind of comment (and the thinking behind it) is a real problem in the library world these days. Why not indulge in a reasonable amount of self promotion? Why not highlight the talents of staff for the general public? Why not make one of the attractions to coming to the library a staff member?

There seems to be a recognition gap between showcasing the collection and the staff. Of course the collection should be highlighted for its unique holdings and, yes, there are a wide variety of services that a staff member can assist with. But as technology improvements continue their rapid ascent, people will be looking for what these innovations cannot grant them: person to person contact. (Everyone has heard the lament, “I don’t want to talk to a machine! Why can’t I get a person on the phone at [X]?”, right?) This is the sort of connection that people are looking for and one that the library can provide. Why not take that advantage and use it to greater effect by highlighting a staff member through publicity (either the library’s website, library print publicity, or local media)? Give people a person, not a place, to think about when they think about the library.

I’m not indifferent to the privacy desires of staff or the potential ‘stalker’ type of issues that can arise from people having their information. There is a fine balance between the two and I certainly wouldn’t want to put someone out there who was not comfortable with the exposure. But for those who don’t mind the exposure, the promotion pays in branding dividends. If you can put a human face to the library (and not a picture of a building, as is commonly done on Twitter and Facebook), then patrons can make the better connection to a person than simply identifying the place. In thinking beyond the immediate, when it comes to advocating for the library, it’s an easier emotional connection to say “Miss Jessica at the library needs you to write to your representatives” than “The library needs you to write to your representatives". Patrons will be doing it for the people at the library, not simply the library itself. It’s that kind of identification that the library really needs; that personal connection that emphasizes that we are a people business. 

Given the choice, I’d rather subscribe to the rock star sentiment than to the alternative Tyler Durden-esque mindset that seems to rear its head anytime the notion of breaking out and tooting one’s own horn in librarianship becomes a topic of conversation. Promotion is not akin to narcissism, especially when dealing with communities that simply have no idea what we do as an institution.

(This feels like it should segway into a conversation about the “celebrity librarians”, another topic that I feel is overdue for another round of discussion. I don’t understand the full fledged resistance to the application of the term, nor to having someone stand out enough that the general public would be aware of their existence. To me, it is folly to frown upon the idea when librarianship is in a struggle for recognition. We cannot hang on to this strange notion of professional egalitarianism while bemoaning our lack of visibility in the greater public realm. To have someone who can capture the attention of the media and general public on library issues is someone who can work to turn thoughts and opinions regarding libraries. That’s something that we could use right about now.)

Vacation Mode: Oct 2010

I'm not there. I wish I *was* though.During this vacation week, I’ve been relaxing, visiting friends, doing some writing, and playing a lot of video games. Sure, it’s a staycation, but I’ve been looking forward to some unstructured time. I have some things I’ve been wanting to work on, so it gives me some time to do so.

One of the things I’ve been playing with is a Tumblr blog called “Idea Lab”.  It’s hooked into my Twitter feed so that any updates I make on it are tweeted; I’ve refrained from integrating it to Facebook since it doesn’t feel like a proper fit to it. Plus, I’d like to offer people a filter for how much content from me they get.

A couple of features that I like about the blog so far:

  1. It’s more personal and spontaneous than this blog, allowing me to send pictures, record audio, and dump whatever articles and links I want to share.
  2. It has a feature to let people ask me any question. I’ve left the option on to allow for anonymous questions so I’ll have to see how well that goes. If you want to give it a go, try it out here.
  3. It gives me a nice place to store idea seeds for further posts and hopefully (maybe) ignite someone else’s creativity. I do enjoy a nice discussion.

Since the Tumblr interface so damn easy to use, I have some other collaborative blogs in mind to make. When I put them out there, you’ll be the first to know. If you want to suggest one, I’d love to hear it!