My take on the eBook Summit – Part 3

The last in a three part post about the eBook Summit I promise. (Part 1) (Part 2)

My questions and real take are at the end of this post.

I mentioned my take on Mr. Kelly’s presentation earlier so I’ll go to the final keynote of the day, The “New Librarianship” in the Age of the Ebook by R. David Lankes. A little transparency here: I’m a fan of this guy. I found his blog a few years ago and have listened to a lot of his presentations. He makes me think about librarianship in different ways and that has been good. So, I was really looking forward to hearing him speak. Hopefully I’ll get the gist of his presentation correct. Here goes. If you’d like to watch his presentation, it is here. I recommend you watch it if you have the time (45 minutes). Really.

We need to think in terms of connection management not collection management. We are in the business of connecting people to: ideas, learning, education and each other. We’ve been moving in this direction. With our subscription based access to databases we are making it easier for our public to connect to information. They don’t have to come to the libraries to use them, they can search in minutes what took days before and they have access to more than we could possibly provide in physical form. So we’ve been doing this with periodicals for a while. It goes beyond our database subscriptions and also includes the net. People can access so much information easily that it makes the librarian more important. We’ve been helping people find digital information for over a decade. Now that it’s the books (aka the thing that comes to mind when people think of libraries) that are becoming digital we feel threatened. He feels that the real threat to libraries is the perception that libraries are about owned artifacts.

EBooks make him cranky and he uses and loves them. They make him cranky because the current implementation of hardware and software is so BORING. He feels that they haven’t begun to reach their potential because they are busy referring to the previous method of publishing. The wooden bookshelf in iBooks drives him crazy. Moving to a digital format is a big change. He uses the development of maps from paper to GPS and Google maps as an example. He sees them as a facilitating infrastructure. They are now used as a social platform to help people connect (ex Facebook Places, Foursquare). It is possible for eBooks to be a social platform also. They could be used to find connections between books, music, movies, and the net and people too. It could be a discovery platform. How are the connections created? I’ll be honest. I don’t quite understand all of the concepts he pitched. I did get that there will be multiple interfaces (not just apps) and reading will be a less passive exercise. It will be more of an authoring-while-reading and establishing connections between many different pieces of information process. The connections created while I read can be shared with others and vice versa. It could make for very interesting reading. Makes my head spin.

After that discussion he had some words for librarians. He recommends we:

  • Stop waiting for “them” to figure this out.
    • “Waiting for the publishers to figure out the eBook model of the future is like waiting for heroin addicts to develop methadone.”
    • This is our problem.
    • This is our opportunity.
    • Stop whining.
  • We can figure this out and build our own eBook platform.
    • We have the network infrastructure
    • We have the operating systems
    • We have the standards to do this (ePub, XML etc)
    • We have the connections
    • We have the foundational data (WorldCat etc.)
  • Don’t be BORING!
  • Be innovative
    • Solve a real problem in a better way.

As always, his presentation was inspiring. I am always energized at the end of one of his talks. But I have to ask “How will this help me plan for next year?”

How did spending a day at this online conference help me? Did it give me resources I can show my boss? Am I better able to describe the current state of eBooks and Libraries? Do I have a better understanding of what is happening in the present? Did I gain any insight into the future? I guess my answer is yes but not a resounding one.

What I need is a plan for getting the most eBooks into the devices in the hands of the people of Henrico County. They aren’t concerned with what the future of the eBook will be and how it will be able to create wonderful connections to information they didn’t know existed. They want the latest James Patterson or (insert author’s name here) book. They want it now. They want it tomorrow. That’s what they want.

I don’t think what I want was the purpose of the conference. I did enjoy it. I like imagining what may be and thinking 5-10-20 years down the road. I really do. But my boss needs a plan for now. I guess I’ll be working on that for a while.

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