State of the Blog: eBooks, Donations

At the top of the blog header, I’ve added a new tab called “My eBooks”. It represents something completely new on the blog because, well, I’ve never done it before. Some time ago, I was thinking about gathering up the entries I liked the most during the year. I’d hesitate to say that it is a “Best Of” compilation, so I went with the phrase “Selected Entries” for the cover language. This weekend, I went about arranging and formatting them in Open Office, exporting the resulting document into a PDF, converting the PDF to both MOBI and EPUB formats using Calibre, uploaded them to a publicly shared folder on Google Documents, and linking to them from the new tab. The file formats should allow it to be read on every current ereader on the market.

The only problem I had was during the conversion process from PDF to the other two formats. My original table of contents kept getting every line turned into its own page, leaving one sentence with the page number at the top of each resulting page. I couldn’t find a good remedy for this, so I ended up just making the table of contents an image. This stopped the page problem, but it may make the formatting seem like it jumps in size from the table of contents to the first entry. It’s an acceptable solution for me.

I also had some minor formatting issues within the original document itself, so I hope my editing helped. I tested out resultant PDFs on my iPad to see how it looked. So, at least it looks alright on the iPad.

I made the cover art using Inkscape. The resulting design was just something that popped into my head, a compass with the blog’s initials plus the year represented. Nothing fancy, really.

I decided to make it a free download to whoever wants it for two reasons. First, I’m really an open source kind of guy. I like being able to give away stuff like my thoughts and ideas to people who can use it. There are people who can testify to this fact when they get a Facebook message or email out of the blue where I rattle off an idea or concept I have. Personally, I feel that ideas are things that you should give away. They are too valuable to be kept to oneself, especially when it can help out someone else.

Second, I’m not indifferent to the vanity nature of the project. I’ve created a product for which there is no discernable market desire; I’ve just created it for myself as a way to carry around some of my favorite entries on my iPad. It would seem a bit silly to charge for that, especially when all of the entries can be found on the blog for free.

On the flip side of this thought, I have considered the self-publishing route on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Lulu (which would cover the iBookstore). The purpose of placing the ebooks online for money is to raise funds to offset costs in attending conferences. I’ve been exploring ways to raise money for this specific use for some time and I’d like to utilize any medium possible. While the ebooks would be available on the blog for free, for those who wanted to actually pay for a copy there would be an option. It’s the idea that people will pay for things that they find valuable (for example, libraries). I’ll have to check in to the details of self publishing on those platforms, but in the meantime, it’s available for free here.

I had been considering a PayPal donate button as another option. I’d rather not go with ads, but I know that people have debated this issue on other blogs. Thoughts? How would you feel about it for your own webspace?

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility. And a Collectible Lunchbox.

Click to go to their FB page

It’s that one particular prize that caught my attention and made me want to share it on a blog entry. I’ve heard and seen different incarnations of library superheroes, but I really liked the approach and the prizes for this one. In February, you can nominate yourself or someone in 250 words or less on their Facebook page. Four winners will be given their very own cartoon stylings on Unshelved and have that image placed on collectible metal lunchboxes. Look out, Nancy Pearl action figure!

You can find the rules here. Click on the graphic to see the Facebook page.

And good luck!

(h/t: Neverending Search)

Dream Big

I’ll admit that I didn’t watch or listen to the President’s State of the Union address last night. I was in bed feeling ill after an otherwise good day. I was following it on Twitter as people tweeted the points they liked and made their own observations about the proceedings. There was something in the tweets at the end of the President’s speech that stuck in my mind and compelled me to look up a transcript of the address hours later. It was people talking about the ‘dream big’ ending to the speech. I lay in bed for a long time, staring at the screen of my laptop as I let the words sink in. A couple of things came to my head.

Does libraryland have dreamers? The answer came back as an immediate and resounding yes, but current conditions call for realists. Realists in the sense of keeping library issues grounded to the limitations of staff, facilities, and funding. People who can tell the profession and the public about the consequences of funding loss, the smaller resources, and the diminished services. It is a time for serious people; those who can crunch numbers, present bare facts, and engage all parties for the continued use and funding of libraries. What does it matter if the library has a mobile website or video games or employment assistance computer labs if they can’t keep their doors open? Numbers are king as door counts, program attendance, items circulated, and database accesses drive advocacy efforts.

Without a doubt the realist has an important place in the overall picture. You need to have someone who can ensure the future through the basic necessities (in this case, money). But for all the worries, concerns, and other issues, do librarians give themselves enough time to dream about the future?

To that question, I wish I had an answer. My instincts say no but my brain says that the jury is still out. Which, to me, brings up more questions instead. When people dream about the the future of the library, do they think of the next financial year? The technology that exists now that they want to incorporate into their collection? The programs they’d want to schedule next month, next summer, or the next year? What they want to accomplish on their state association or ALA group at the next annual conference? How far into the future do people think when they are asked to dream about the future of the library?

These are all good thoughts on future concerns, but for myself, it is still a bit smallscale. Where are the big dreams? Or, more importantly, what are the big dreams? What are the visions of fulfilling the mission of the library in twenty, thirty, or even fifty years from now? Will it still be a place? Will it be entirely person to person focused, whether physical or virtual? What is the future of information access? How will the library be involved in the lives of members of society?

It’s important to remember that dreams are not about accuracy but about possibilities. No one knows how technology and communication will change in those periods of time because they are moving along so quickly. But to deny dreaming big under that reasoning is to deny most (if not all) future thought as well. I hope that after reading this that you take a moment, clear your mind, take a deep breath, let go of the immediate future, and just dream big for libraries. Maybe just your own, maybe just your type, or even the field as whole. But just stop for a moment and dream.

And if you do, dream big.

Across the Pond: Massive Closures

From The Mirror UK:

MORE than 1,300 libraries face closure in the next few weeks as the ConDem cuts bite, a Sunday Mirror ­investigation can reveal.

It is feared that about a third of Britain’s 4,517 libraries are under threat, along with 6,000 jobs, as councils prepare to set their budgets next month. ­Local authorities are ­struggling to balance their books as the Tory-led Coalition slashes funding – but campaigners warn that library ­closures will “rip the heart out of communities”.

Oh, wait! It gets better!

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey has refused pleas to fight for libraries to remain open – instead suggesting they could be run by volunteers.

Mr. Vaizey is certainly putting the ‘community’ back into ‘community resource’. I trust this is based on his previous experiences at the volunteer run libraries in his neighborhood, his early education at St Paul’s school, then later at Oxford. Those volunteer run libraries that were part of his formative education must have been so grand and impressive that it would be an excellent idea for all British libraries to be run by volunteers. I would presume the people within the 8% unemployment rate would be the ones taking on such duties along with retirees and students. Sounds like a formula for success to me.

I really feel for my English peers in this one. It’s one thing to have different parts of the country closing libraries here in the US, but to have it countrywide all at once? Damn. I certainly hope he is taken to task for his words and that people are pushing back. (Much as they have in checking out all of the books from one of the libraries as a means of protest.)

Good luck!

(h/t: @Geoshore)

Sunday Recollection: Snow Days

This particular winter has been consistent in offering snow to the southern New Jersey area where I live. While this is not an unusual winter occurance, it does not match my recollection of the area when I was a kid, staring out the window and hoping for a snow day. In fact, I can remember only a few years where snow days were declared including one particularly heinous ice storm that froze the entire area. Otherwise, it was rare to have a white Christmas and even rarer to have a day off from school due to the snow.

My new great memories from some of those snow days was when my dad took my brother and I over to the next town to sled down a huge hill. You have to take into consideration how flat southern New Jersey is; it’s the kind of flatness you see when you are west of the Appalachians. Any sudden change in elevation to make a sledding hill is quite remarkable and therefore highly desirable. I can only describe the length of the hill in kid terms which would make it ‘oh my god it goes on forever!’ with a wide toothy grin and mad gleam in the eyes. (I won’t sully it with actual measurements either.) As it was one of the few sledding hills in the area, it would be jammed with people as well. The part of the ride down I remember is that it had some (for lack of a better term) moguls where the hill slope met the flat runoff area. After accelerating down the hill, the resultant bouncing could be called ‘tailbone crushing’ or ‘fun’ depending on which mental age bracket you were in. After the runoff, you’d trudge off to the side and march back up the hill. Repeat until you had to use the bathroom or couldn’t move your legs anymore.

I realize that this is less speculation (as my previous posts) and more of a recollection, so I have changed the title of this entry to reflect that. I’m wondering what your favorite snow day memories are as a kid. I have a feeling I would have seen you out on that hill with me, hanging on for dear life as the sled hit maximum acceleration right before the bumps that could sending you flying.

Reader Mail: Unemployment in Libraryland

I got an email from a reader. I will quote it in its entirety.

Instead of addressing issues such as library videos and the views of a contrarian librarian your fellow librarian blogger colleagues like to
ridicule, please the address the issue of the high unemployment rate among librarians and recently graduated MLIS students . Unemployment is the elephant in the room in the library world while the unimportant issues as the ones I mentioned get the most attention. It is librarians like you who are “telling us nothing”.

First, there’s a very simple explanation as to why library videos and a contrarian librarian get more blog space as opposed to the the issue of high unemployment within the profession: the former is a bit more interesting than the latter. In fact, I would say that the latter is actually a boring topic. It is boring in the unique way that mathematical facts can be boring for it boils down to an elementary matter of supply and demand. From my own calculations, there are almost twice as many people going into the field than are coming out of it (though my estimation of retirements does not include people who are killed or otherwise dying, most likely face down somewhere in the stacks, their hands latched in a death grip onto their book cart). In other words, if you ate two apples a day and everyday I bring you five apples, you are never going to be able to eat all the apples. Too many librarians, too few positions; the supply outweighs the demand.

Why is demand so low? The short off-the-cuff answer is that librarians are not retiring at the rate predicted about a decade ago (more on that farce in a moment) and that library budgets for all types (special, school, academic, public) have been generally cut or eliminated. As to the retirement question, any one of these embedded links should help you out in answering that question (and here’s the one to the 1999 ALA study suggesting the need for heavy recruitment). For whatever reason, ten years later, librarians are not retiring in the numbers that were forecast. And even if a librarian retires, there is no guarantee that their position will be filled.

This leads us to the second point about library budgets of all sizes and types. Budgets, on the whole, are down. There are some bright spots for library budgets, but overall, it’s not a great scene. School librarians are being cut left and right so as to maintain continued smaller teacher:student ratios. Since they are sometimes classified as administration, their budget line is seen as an easy place to find savings in a school budget. California is the latest state to get creamed by their governor in terms of public library spending; I can think of other states like Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Florida, Washington, and my own New Jersey that waged massive campaigns for the restoration of library spending. Some got the money back and maintained their status quo, others didn’t and either had layoffs or closings. I don’t think you could swing a cat online and not hear a story about the library being understaffed with no prospect for additional hiring. In other words, we are “doing less with less”.

Now, the other question: why is supply so high? In addition to the aforementioned layoffs and closings, graduate schools continue to churn out graduates at a rate that is indifferent to the status of the market. Since the schools get paid whether or not a student finds a job, there really isn’t a downside or a reason to slow down the MLS degree assembly line. (It should be noted that in the employment surveys that US News & World Report sends out it does not denote whether graduates are working in their field or not; it only indicates if they are employed or not. In other words, Starbucks counts just as much as working in a library.) While some may hold it against the programs to continue to expand their class sizes or recruit under the ‘graying profession’ pretense, these departments are in the business of putting butts into seats (either in real life or online) and to justify their continued existence to the college or university president. As the federal government will continue to offer loans to people to get their MLS degrees, the business end of these institutions of higher learning are satisfied. Besides, is it up to the schools to tell their prospective students that they can’t be a librarian? This is America, after all; the land of opportunity.

So, to recap: as it stand currently, the profession cannot find places for everyone who graduates, and therefore the supply remains woefully higher than the demand. But, even after all these fancy words, I’m guessing my reader knew these things already. The real essence of the question presented in their email is what can be done about it. So, what can be done?

There’s a great exchange early on in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire. Nucky Thompson, the corrupt County Treasurer of Atlantic County in the 1920’s (based on the real life Nucky Johnson), is standing on the porch of a house talking with his driver and friend Jimmy Darmody. Darmody is trying to get Nucky to give him a boost by placing him in a ward boss position in Atlantic City. Nucky refuses, telling him that it’s not how things work and that he won’t get that position anyway. Jimmy pleads his case and the exchange ends with this:

Jimmy Darmody: Nucky, all I want is an opportunity.

Nucky Thompson: This is America, ain’t it? Who the fuck’s stopping you?

The reason I bring this up is that I think it illustrates the heart of the point I want to make. What is stopping unemployed librarians (either new graduates or current ones) from finding new applications for their education and experience or becoming entrepreneurs? We are surrounded by a vast and expanding information landscape that will not level off or slow down for the foreseeable future. This is information that is begging for management as it creates its own productivity and morale issues in the workforce. There are companies that could use someone with library science skills search, interpret, and otherwise tame the data that they have gained and stored. We are in an age of knowledge. The person that arrives at the conclusion first due to having the right data in hand at the right time wins. Be the person to make that happen.

Rather than wait for someone to burn out, opt out, or die out of the librarian profession, create your own opportunities and businesses. Libraryland does not owe you a job. Find a spot that needs attention, create a business that addresses that, and get going. You’re an information professional. Start acting like one. Do your research, put together a plan, and go for it. Unemployment is not the elephant in the room for librarians; innovation of a changing field is. Be the person to change what it means to be a librarian.

In the time that my reader took to write me to say, “Where are the jobs?”, they could have begun making one for themselves. And I hope they do. I’ll keep my resume up to date for when they succeed. Why? Because I want to see where they will take the librarian field next.

The Rise of Self Publishing?

From Publishing Perspectives:

My prediction for 2011: Everyone Becomes a Publisher. Literally. Whether it’s bloggers turning their posts into books with Blurb, or going the whole DIY route, self-publishing will become an increasingly attractive option for greater numbers of writers, be they casual or professional. Not so fast. If the growth numbers hold steady, I expect Bowker to announce before BookExpo America that nearly a million new titles were published in the United States alone this year – of which it’s likely more than half were self-published. If you’re looking for a top trend for 2011, a further explosion of self-published books, either in print or digital, is likely to be it. Of course, point-and-click book publishing might never truly make an author happy –publishing is, after all, collaborative — and the question remains of whether the audience is there to buy and read so many of these new titles.

That passage is part of a post asking various industry figures what the biggest thing in publishing was in 2010 and what they predict for 2011. For libraryland, it begs the question: in the age of self publishing, how many of those kind of books become part of the collection? Will the current trade publications start reviewing them? Or will it be left to book bloggers to take up some of the load? Or will no one read them unless they happen to catch on?

Out of the three scenarios, I would predict their likelihood in the reverse order they were asked. There are smaller issues like how to deal with people who want to donate their self-published ebook (since it takes up no physical space except for that of a hard drive) and whether self published books or ebooks could become their own group within the overall collection*. And if a library was to accept self-published works on a larger scale, what kind of quality control goes into separating well written material from the (for lack of a better term) bad stuff. It would appear that, while the number of purchases of physical books is going down, the overall number of books coming to the library is going up. Not something I think people would have even considered five years ago, for certain.

It is worth taking a look at the publisher’s thoughts and predictions. There are considerable mentions of tablet computers, ebooks, the aforementioned self-publishing, and learning to thrive in a new business model and consumer expectation environment. It’s certainly worth the short read.

(*If anyone is wondering what that faint repetitive schnick sound is, my guess is that it is Liz Burns sharpening her shiv and getting ready to skewer this topic.)