Open Thread Thursday: Conferences

Earlier this week, I spent several lovely days in Washington DC at the Computers in Libraries 2011 conference. I have a conference reflections post still marinating in my head as I process everything that I saw and heard, but I thought it would be an excellent starter topic for this week’s open thread.

What makes for a good conference? What makes for a bad one? Share a story of either if you have one.

Or drop a comment about something you want to talk about that went on this week.

A reminder that you can make anonymous comments, just don’t be a dick.

Pricing & Lending & Borrowing, Oh My!

I usually tweet these kinds of articles that arrived on my virtual doorstep today, but I really wanted to highlight some things from the three articles that got me thinking today.

First, this one on eBook pricing from Teleread:

Sattersten points out that the main issue at hand is consumer perception of value. Consumers see that everything else digital is cheaper than the physical equivalent, and think e-books vs. books should be the same way. He brings up the example of a print book that’s cheaper than an e-book, explaining “That creates a short circuit in customers’ brains. You don’t pay more for things that are more convenient. You pay less.”

The article points to the importance of another calculation that is going on in the electronic content market equation: that of the consumer. The consumer will make their own evalution to what is worth the asked price and what is not. In the past, when a consumer thought something was overpriced, they would go without or, in the less common alternative, steal it. The bar for pirating digital content is much lower compared to stealing physical content; it’s a few keystrokes and mouse clicks compared to stuffing a CD or book into your clothing. This is not to say that all consumers make the choice to pirate, but when they see something they feel is overpriced, they will look for other ways to get it. The idea is to make the price and effort of getting it legitimately much lower than the same steps to pirating it.

Second, this lovely article on e-lending from Slate:

These restrictions are misguided. They’re bad for readers, they’re bad for authors, they’re bad for e-book stores, and they may even be bad for publishers. Of course, the ways in which our rights get chipped away as we move away from analog content is a constant worry in the digital age. I’m not the first pundit to note how terrible it is that we can no longer share, resell, or modify the books, movies, and video games that we get over the Internet. But the sharing restrictions that publishers have placed on e-books strike me as particularly stringent, a rule that underlines how we’ll mourn physical media when it goes away. Under Amazon’s and Barnes & Noble’s sharing model, you’re allowed to loan out a book just once, for two weeks, and while it’s loaned out, you don’t have access to it. The fact that publishers can’t stomach even this milquetoast model should have us scared for a future in which physical media loses its primacy. (Emphasis mine)

The paragraph below the one quoted has a nice set of links to studies about the secondary market for goods. (Although he duly notes that eBook reselling might not be a terribly viable option to which I currently begrudgingly agree.) But it raises a good point: like Cory Doctorow saying that durability is a feature not a bug, the ability to easily lend material to another is an enhancement, not a net loss. These lending possibilities within friend and family groups that do not share physical proximity creates more audiences for eBooks to reach. Whereas the physical book would have to wait for the next time the family or friends group got together, the eBook does not suffer such limitations. While some may argue that unlimited eBook lending would preclude others from buying the book, I would argue that the current limitations do nothing to expand audience or author market share and other things that generate revenue.

Last, this awesome little article on the emergence of a sharing culture from Time:

[T]he ownership society was rotting from the inside out. Its demise began with Napster. The digitalization of music and the ability to share it made owning CDs superfluous. Then Napsterization spread to nearly all other media, and by 2008 the financial architecture that had been built to support all that ownership — the subprime mortgages and the credit-default swaps — had collapsed on top of us. Ownership hadn’t made the U.S. vital; it had just about ruined the country.

While the common rationale offered for the increase in library usage is the economic recession, I’m wondering if the emergence of people who are happy to borrow over buying is another factor. If so, it represents a possible longer trend to which libraries are perfectly suited for capitalizing on. (Whether and how they would be able to capitalize on it is another matter.)

Although, as I think on the implications of a greater lending oriented society, the role of the library may not be as the entity doing the actual lending but to help others set up such borrowing arrangements. I imagine it as a community based niche ‘collection’ that the library can refer people to while providing management consultation. Personally, I don’t see a problem to encouraging other borrowing arrangements in the community; if someone does see a problem, please point it out to me.

Share your thoughts on what you think about one or all of these articles. There’s a lot of food for thought here!

CIL bound

For the next couple of days, I’ll be in Washington DC crashing the 2011 Computers In Libraries conference. I’ve been looking forward to this for awhile since I get to see a lot of the librarians who I know through blogs, Facebook, and Twitter.
Right now I’m on a train heading south, the rising sun shining through the Amtrak Quiet Car like a blinding headlight. When I can look out the window, it’s a reminder as to all the sections of Philadelphia has. Rich, poor, middle class, industrial parks, abandoned lots, playgrounds and parks come and go as the train lurches forward across the landscape.
I’m writing this on my iPad which I’ve never posted from before; so, any errors will be blamed on it. You can follow me at CIL on Twitter through the link in the right sidebar.
Alright, time to watch the world go by.

MARC Madness: The Tournament of Library Terminology

click to embiggen

It started off as an idea in the Library Society of the World Friendfeed.

There should be a “March Madness” style face-off of library buzzwords. Complete with voting and brackets; may the best buzzword win! What do you think, LSW?

And so it has come to pass: MARC Madness!

The picture above links to a picture that has been optimized for landscape printing. Here’s a link of the original giant bracket picture for those who are having trouble reading some of the terms. (I had to jam some of them in.)

The terms came as suggestion from LSW members plus ones I found online in various online library terminology dictionaries. I tried to group them with varying amounts of success and just named the divisions something that sounded like it described the words within. I seeded them at random so what you see is what the random generator gave me. Take it for what it is worth.

The Tournament of Terminology will start voting next Friday, March 25th. It’ll be three days of voting followed by declaring winners and starting the next vote. This cycle will continue until we have a winner.

The only instructions for voting will be “may the best term win”. I leave that open to your interpretation but imagine it as the question being asked for each choice you are faced with. Vote early, vote often, and recruit your friends. Trash talk is encouraged.

If you don’t care for this particular elimination style tournament, Andromeda Yelton is running her own similar library related tournament. Hers has well known dead library people facing off! It’s like some sort of library Fight Club meets Mortal Kombat. Perhaps not, but you have choices in your library nerd bracket tournaments.

Good luck!

Not responsible for any losses you might incur in MARC madness pools.

Addendum: The twitter tag for this will be #marcmadness.

Publishing and The Domino Project

This quote from the Social Media Examiner interview of Seth Godin got my brain working:

The Domino Project is trying to make ideas easier to spread. I think books are important and book publishers are basically trying to kill books. They’re making them too expensive, too long, too slow, too hard to spread and too hard to find. So the public is just ignoring them and moving on to the next thing. (Emphasis mine.)

To be fair, The Domino Project is Mr. Godin’s foray into publishing by experimenting with a new system of connecting authors to readers. The first book from the project, Poke the Box (written by Mr. Godin himself), is a self described manifesto on self-starting. He has taken a new approach to spreading ideas by creating packages for people to buy and share books with others. I have not read more than the preview chapter of the book on Amazon; it certainly looks like the kick in the ass that I could use. But my mind keeps coming back to that highlighted sentence and a question.

Is the publishing system itself broken?

Perhaps broken is too harsh a term. Antiquated is maybe a better term.  What has changed in the publishing process leading up to the point of sale (or in this case, license)? The new licensing arrangement is mentioned as a revenue stream, but is it supporting an old and inferior system? Could the HarperCollins’ 26 eBook checkout limit idea be akin putting giant chrome rims on a jalopy?

In applying Mr. Godin’s objections to publishers to the HarperCollins situation, is complying with the “Pretend Its Print” model (too slow, too hard to spread) and making it harder for people to borrow books (too long a wait) just a waste of the library’s money (too expensive)?

If so, then why are we doing it?

If not, then what are the limits of external control over your collection? How many conditions should material be subject to that originate from outside the policies and practices of the library?

Last year, Mr. Godin challenged us on the future of the library.

This year, HarperCollins is challenging the future of the library through its new licensing idea.

Perhaps we can challenge the librarian profession to work towards a whole new concept as to what a collection really means now.

This could be our self starter.

(h/t: Library Link of the Day)

HarperCollins and Big Tent Librarianship

Earlier today, I got some vague messages via both text and Twitter in regards to a posting by the Annoyed Librarian over on Library Journal. Generally, this is not a good sign since it can mean, well, anything from a blog whose tagline was “Whatever it is, I’m against it.” (On the day when the Movers and Shakers were formally announced, no less. Go figure.)

So, with a bit of apprehension, I went over and read the post.

After I was done, I have to admit that they made some good points. Not that I agree with all of them, but they were well reasoned and presented. It was a fair minded counterpoint argument to the Big Tent Librarianship idea within the frame of HarperCollins debate and the overall library community when it comes to what it means to talk about libraries (e.g.. saying “libraries” in most cases means “public libraries”).

Huh. That usually doesn’t happen.

My main point of contention with their post is over the illusion of separation between different types of librarians. The AL describes a roomful of representative librarians from different areas as only having a degree in common. I disagree. Give me that room of individuals and I’ll ask them the right questions. I’ll ask about budgets, user experience, customer service, the collection, and what trends are influencing their libraries. They may not have common solutions for all of these issues, but I believe that each of those issues will have commonalities that will lead to cross library type conversations. That’s the idea behind Big Tent Librarianship: that these conversations need to happen in order to find the common points between different librarians.

Within the context of HarperCollins, I cannot accept the position that academic libraries (or school or special libraries for that matter) are not going to be affected by a decision being made by one of the six largest publishers. The issue has drawn far too much attention within the publishing and library worlds to be set aside as passing conflict of limited consequences. While the books that the AL’s library are buying today are not from HarperCollins, the practices of one publishing giant can be duplicated by others within the industry. It may not be the same as limited circulation lifespan, but it could be something akin to  re-subscribing for the latest updated edition of a textbook. As licensed content, the “old” edition of the textbook disappears with only the “new” edition available for lease. I cannot imagine that this would not alter or disrupt collection development workflow or the integrity of an academic collection. The outcome of this boycott has ramifications for the future of the publisher/library eBook relationships across the board for libraries.

The most interesting point in their post concerns when people write or talk about libraries they actually mean public libraries and describing this as ‘public library privilege’. I have to say that I agree with that point. The public library tends to take center stage to the near exclusion (and sometimes detriment) of school, academic, and other kinds of libraries. I don’t really have an answer for this phenomena, only some questions/guesses. Is it the result of a ‘tyranny’ of the majority of the membership? Are public librarians the only ones who can get sufficient off-work time to do ALA activities? Is it because public libraries have a higher visibility and longer usage lifespan to individuals than other types of libraries? Are public libraries the linchpin in the overall library structure from which other libraries arise from? When are academic and school librarians going to rise up and make their own noise at this discrepancy?

In a tangent, this may turn into a defense of the term ‘libraryland’. I use the term because I see it as the overarching term that means ‘everyone’. Precisely because when I say ‘library’, I am usually talking about public libraries. Why? Because I’m a public librarian. I’m going to talk about what I know about because there are way smarter people who write about other library types. I try to inject those issues into my social media streams by sharing their posts with my followers and posting blurbs on my blog. For that reason, a term like ‘libraryland’ seems more inclusive and more encompassing to me. Perhaps it is the product of my own thought processes attempting to sort different areas of interest, but it works for me when I’m figuring out at what level an issue or topic ascends to discussion.

I will admit that I won’t pass up this chance to mention a gripe I have concerning the Annoyed Librarian blog. It can be summed up into a sentence: fix your damn RSS feed so that it shows more than a blurb in Google Reader. It’s not the only blog that does that out there, but I don’t have the same issue with other Library Journal blogs (like Roy Tennant’s). Unless the headline is something good, I’ll tend to skip over them. For the Annoyed Librarian blog, I always end up clicking that damn link since it is the library blog equivalent of disaster porn. I can’t help myself but look to find out what written train wreck awaits me when it scrolls up in my Google Reader. I wouldn’t consider this column’s content to rise to the level of car wreck (perhaps minor fender bender) but I know I can’t possibly be the only one who clicks on that link for that reason.

#hcod over at Publishers Weekly

If you haven’t read it yet, take a moment to read Kate Sheehan’s essay over on Publishers Weekly’s website regarding the HarperCollins boycott.

Salient quote:

The boycott of HarperCollins is not a knee-jerk reaction to feeling slighted. It is a demand to have our voices heard and to protect our already-squeezed budgets until a solution that benefits readers, libraries, and publishers can be found. I’m glad a publisher is willing to experiment with a new model for e-book circulation in libraries, though my hope is that HarperCollins will blaze a trail for collaboration with libraries, not undermine the doctrine that enables us to serve our communities. Publishers, it is not your responsibility to keep libraries afloat. But should it be your mission to close them down?

And it is here where a for-profit business conflicts with the cultural institution. If it was simply a money question, then the grumbling would be minor in comparison. But when there are core library values at risk such as literature access, the cultural record, or the overall integrity of the collection, that is where there is going to be a problem.

I’m with Kate and others that, while we appreciate publishers wanting to try something new in terms of pricing models, this isn’t going to cut it for some very core mission based reasons. It’s just not going to work with libraries as they step into an age of digital collections. Perhaps this new digital age does mean that book will never be out of print, but it shouldn’t mean that they are not worthy of collection in a publically accessible space. The collection still matters, even if it is stored on a server.

Sorry, HarperCollins, but the future of your pricing models is in another castle.