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.

My take on the eBook Summit – Part 2

This is a continuation from Part 1.

The first break out session I attended was Ebook “What If’s”: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning with Bobbi Newman, Matt Hamilton, Sarah Houghton-Jan and Josh Hadro. This session asked three well respected technology librarians some “What If…” questions to see what they thought may happen.

The first question was “What if there is a Google Information terminal in each library?” This is in reference to the Google book settlement reached last year. Part of the settlement states that public libraries can have free access to the works in Google Books…but only on one machine. This is a simplified definition but it’s about right. What would this mean to libraries? Sarah Houghton-Jan answered this question first and nailed it. The said that public libraries would not see much change and that having only machine being able to access this database was going back to the CD Rom days. The idea that all of this information is locked on one machine only doesn’t really make sense to people these days. I agree. Of course you could pay for access but that wasn’t the question. The other two agreed. Bobbi Newman brought up a good point. In smaller libraries where there are few computers having one dedicated to one thing would cause a bit of hassle. Imagine having someone working on a resume being asked to move so someone could access the Google Book database. Who wins? I feel bad for the staffer who has to make that call.

The next question was “What if the price of eReaders is zero?” Matt Hamilton answered this one first and brought up something I found very interesting. Training staff on how to use the devices will be damn hard. There will probably be many different devices and they will all have different interfaces, formats etc. This will be challenging. This doesn’t even take into account the affect it will have on our collections. What do we do when someone can get their summer reading list on their device without leaving their house, most of it for free? This will also affect our technology infrastructure. If people did come to the library to download books, how would our bandwidth hold up? Yikes! Something I learned in this session was that CVS will be selling an eReaders and netbooks very soon.

The next question was “What if the DRM issue went away tomorrow?” Digital Rights Management is the scourge of digital media and is one of the reasons eBooks are so tricky. Bobbi Newman answered this question. We would need to increase our digital collection quickly and figure out a way to make downloading the book to a preferred device easier. I agree and I’d add that I’m less concerned about DRM as I am about being able to easily download something to my device. I don’t want to have to plug my device into a computer to get new content. Maybe that’s why the Kindle is doing so well?

The next session I attended was Ebooks and the Library user Experience with Rebecca Miller, Michael Bills, Jean Costello, Joshua M. Greenberg and Aaron Schmidt. I’m just going to go with some quotes I wrote down from this session because, honestly, my brain was about full at this point.

“Which crumbles first: the publishing industry or library budgets?” (Greenberg) I’m thinking library budgets go first. The publishers are way ahead of us in eBooks and they pretty much hold all the cards. They produce the content, own the copyright and with digital copies will control the terms of service that govern use of their material. So, yeah, we have an uphill battle.

“The eBook ship has sailed and libraries are not on it.” (Schmidt) He used the example of libraries debating whether or not to lend VHS tapes years ago. While we were busy debating an entire industry sprung up. How to interpret this? Do we build another ship? Do we swim like mad to catch up?  I don’t know. I was hoping someone presenting at the summit would have some ideas.

“Libraries need to be less like supermarkets and more like kitchens.” (Schmidt) I take this to mean that we need to focus less on having a lot of things on our shelves and more on being a place for people to create. I’m getting the feeling that in the not-too-distant future our libraries will consist of tables, study rooms, high-speed wifi, and an Espresso Book Machine. Maybe that’s not a bad thing.

Part 3 soon.

My take on the eBook Summit – Part 1

I’m glad I was able to attend but I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed.

It was well put together. The interface was slick. They tried to recreate the conference feel online and mostly were able to pull it off. I visited all of the booths and I’m sure I’ll get lots of bacon from this conference.

The keynotes were ok. If you like two famous futurists who talk about the future of eBooks without really mentioning their impact on libraries then those talks were for you. Awe-inspiring ideas and thoughts that left me feeling a bit overwhelmed. Mr. Kurzweil thinks we will have screens in our glasses that will act as add a layer of augmented reality to our reading and Mr. Kelly mentioned having bound books with ePaper as the paper. Wow! Really. Just. Wow! I’m looking forward to that. It will be interesting and I can’t imagine what the next 20 years will deliver. But I need to be able to plan for next year and their presentations didn’t help me with that.

There was also a lot of promotion of Overdrive and the new Blio reader from Baker. I understand that they paid a lot of money to sponsor the event and it wouldn’t have happened without them. But did we really need a pitch from them at the end of almost every presentation? I think there may have been one or two (out of the seven) I attended that did not include a discussion about one of their products. My impressions of their products:

  • Overdrive = the best option we have now but limited.
  • Blio = brand new, late to the game (been waiting for it since last spring) lots of potential but won’t be adopted until it’s on more devices.

That said. I can’t wait for us to offer Overdrive to our members. It will make many people happier.

So, what did I get out of the eBook Summit? Ian Singer started the day with a quick overview of a study done recently that says eBooks are growing in popularity in libraries. If you want to buy it, be prepared to spend a lot of money. The Kurzweil session was next and I’ve already mentioned it.

The session The Tipping Point: How eBooks Impact Libraries, Publishers & Readers was interesting because Eli Neiburger said what everyone thinks: “Libraries are screwed!” We are screwed, he says, because we are invested in the codex as our primary format. He believes the traditional book is becoming outmoded and replaced with a more convenient option.

He listed other outmoded technologies (vinyl records, candles and typewriters) and discussed how they have fared since becoming outmoded. Vinyl is still around and is selling pretty well but the technology that outmoded it originally (the 8-track tape) is pretty much gone. It was superseded by much more convenient technology cassette tapes and compact discs. People are still buying vinyl records but they are a niche purchase. Candles are still around but they are primarily used for decoration, ceremony or when the power goes out. Gas lamps were also discussed. Cities used them before the advent of electric lighting to light the streets. They are gone but the infrastructure they left behind has been reused. The typewriter is outmoded but its descendants (keyboard etc) are still instrumental to producing content.What will the eBook become? Is it an 8-track or is it a technology that will have an impact for generations like the typewriter?

Ok. Let’s assume that eBooks are the future of publishing. What does that mean for libraries? We are screwed if we stick to the circulating materials method of library service. A digital native is not interested in waiting for a digital copy of anything. That’s the current model of digital content in libraries. People have to put a hold on a digital copy of an eBook. That’s not going to endear us to people accustomed to getting stuff quickly everywhere else.

One of the things libraries are built on is the idea of having a local copy of an item. This works in the physical world. If you want that book and the library down the street has it, great! In digital terms local copies are not needed. You can acquire something from across the world in seconds without leaving your chair. So, what’s the value of having that copy of a bestseller when someone can get it quicker and more conveniently via a download? There is no value in it.

Maybe libraries will be better served if they begin to focus on producing local content? Get that writers group together. Work on that local history project. Collect those pictures of local scenery and architecture. Bring in those candidates for a debate. Work on making the library a platform for the community. If we can make the library a community platform we are not screwed. If you can’t tell, I was really impressed by Mr. Neiburger. There were some other people who spoke in that session but, honestly, he was the show.

Part 2

Part 3