Friday, October 1, 2010

eBooks & libraries conference 2010

eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
R. David Lankes Closing Keynote

Lankes wanted to start with a thought experiment.  What would happen if when we bought our next device, $10 was added to the cost and that went into a universal author’s fund and you could download any book any time?  Would this be a good thing for libraries?  Would it be a good thing for librarians?  Those are two different things.  For libraries, it would allow people to get access to information anywhere any time.  The value of libraries is the librarians, not the warehouse of stuff that we have. (Sarah’s comment: We know that, but the general user perception is that libraries are books, so if we no longer have books, won’t it will be hard to maintain community support and funding without a major overhaul of our public image?) We have seen a huge disaggregation of content.  Content is being ripped and remixed into different places — an explosion of data.  We see the disintegration of profiteering on content too.  One doesn’t, and hasn’t historically, made a lot of money off releasing a music album.  You make money off of touring and merchandising.  Same with books.  The real threat is that people have the perception of libraries as a mausoleum of stuff.  He also promoted the term “members” instead of users, customers, or patrons.  eBooks make Lankes cranky.  He only reads fiction in eBook format.  What makes him cranky is that the current implementation of hardware and software is so boring.  Book virtual interfaces made to look like wooden bookshelves are boring.  “Stop!” says Lankes.  He sees such potential in eBooks but we’re ignoring the possibilities of what could be.  eBooks aren’t solving the real problem:  access to information.  When we move books to a different format, there’s a problem.  Traditional terminology becomes a metaphor.  We append prefixes like “e” to traditional terms, but that doesn’t always translate conceptually.  If we look at reading the first thing we have to realize is that it should be a social and conversational experience.  Part of reading is processing language, turning words into concepts and images in your mind.  Some people believe reading to be quiet and contemplative, but Lankes challenges that assumption.  While reading is an isolating physically, mentally it is extraordinarily social — how we choose what to read, our pre-conceptions before reading it, how we feel about it and what we share about it afterward…  We can organize books and electronic content in all sorts of ways, allowing for hyperlinking and cross-referencing and community suggestions, not just “the librarian’s way.”  If we aggregate the unique individual connections, is there a commonality?  Yes.  We definitely don’t want the “every book’s an app” model that has started with the iPad.  We need to get back to the idea that book creation is part of a knowledge creation process.  The idea of authoring and reading is merging as tools make it obvious that there is an ongoing conversation.  Why annotate text only with other text?  He says that librarians are key to sense-making, production, distribution–all steps of knowledge creation.  Just as we are authors of our own mobile experiences through customization and apps, we should be authors of our own eBook experiences.  Multimedia, chat and other communication, and other functionality will benefit the creation and consumption experiences.  Libraries need to stop waiting for others to figure this eBook challenge out.  This is our problem and our opportunity.  We need to stop waiting for publishers to figure out the eBook model of the future – it’s like waiting for heroin addicts to develop the methadone of the future.  He asks the million dollar question: Why aren’t libraries building a unified eBook platform?  We need to stop buying from vendors and simply accepting what they give us.  We need to add our existing added value in our expertise, our passion for knowledge.  He encourages us to stand up for our users’ rights and innovate.  Librarians are not consumers or customers.  We are participators and so are those we seek to serve.  “Lead!” he says.
eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
Kevin Kelly (Wired CEO) Keynote

The web as we know it is only 7,000 days old.  Early prognosticators thought that the web would be TV, only better.  But what we have is a multi-device, multi-author, hugely connected infrastructure for communication.  There are 2 billion people linked up via the web.  With eBooks, we have the same problem — we’ve guessed that eBooks would be books only better.  But Kelly says that what’s coming is very different.  Our entire environment is saturated with screens–in airplanes, on the sides of buildings, mobile devices, computers, etc.  It’s important to recognize that the eBook is therefore part of that multi-screen environment.  We lean forward to use our small screens and lean back to use our big theater-style screens.  Where do eBooks fall into this?  2 billion YouTube clips are viewed daily.  This is a much larger audience than book readers.  As people we need to parse, index, browse, search, manipulate, annotate, re-sequence text…and have it be ubiquitous.  He sees the same thing happening with video and other images.  A move from orality to literacy happened with the printing press, and now we’re moving from literacy to what Kelly calls “vizuality.”  One media platform, blurred lines between media: TV, books, music, blogs, websites, magazines, radio, etc.  We don’t want to get stuck on screens being rigid — we’re already seeing flexible screens.  We can think about all of these devices that we have, which are windows into a single set of content in the cloud.  We and our devices are part of the cloud…it’s not a separate entity.  We create content for it and interact with it.  All types of things that people said they’d never share are being shared: shopping purchases, locations, health records, travel plans, personal genetics, eating patterns, and work histories.  As we move into the cloud, our content moves away from being a single file to being a stream which is tagged.  We are shifting from new page creation on the website (which has already peaked) to streams of content on Twitter, YouTube, and other sites.  If we think of books as a long-form stream, how does that change how we think about the future of the book?  People expect everything to be “always on,” everything to be available all the time.  iPads are one of the most popular media for kids because they don’t have to type.  Futuristic displays use gestures and interactions instead of keyboards and mice.  Kelly introduced the idea of a “watchful eBook” — one that tracks your eye movements and responds accordingly.  Lastly, he brought up the issue of the eBook “copy.”  The only value is that which cannot be copied.  If you want an old copy of National Geographic you can search for it and find a download for a slow download for free or a quick download for a fee.  If you want it personalized, that would carry a cost.  If you want to be sure that a piece of software, that requires a fee.  Or if something that was sent by a creator that you want to be a patron for, you pay them a fee.  Charge for different formats optimized for your accessibility needs.  But don’t charge for the thing itself.  Basically, he’s advocating for free eContent but charging for added-value services.
eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
eBooks and the Library User Experience
Josh Greenburg, Jean Costello, Aaron Schmidt, and Michael Bills – moderated by Rebecca Miller

Josh Greenburg started by talking about standard user stories for physical books — you find a book from the library catalog at home, see that it’s checked out, click on a button to place a hold and then you wait.  Or if you’re lucky and it is available, a mechanical and physical process starts and the book makes its way to whatever site you choose to pick it up at where it goes on a shelf and waits for you.  You might have to stand in line to check it out and then you have access to it for only a limited period of time.  eBooks have the same holds issues, but there is no physical transferral of the book from place to place, and no lines to wait in, no need for the user to go into a specific physical place, no real need to have due dates (if there’s no DRM and limits).  And in a lovely way the need for fines goes away too if the eBooks don’t have due dates any more.  But this is all a Utopian dream.  eBooks have a lot of speed bumps.  They’re usually, in the physical world, designed to slow people down so they don’t hurt themselves or those around them.  Speed bumps for eBooks slow people down, but not for their benefit or the library’s benefit–solely for the publisher’s benefit.  Things to think about: What are your goals for eContent at your library?  Do you have a fixed cost or do you subsidize rentals?  What type of collection do you want?  What does this look like for the user’s experience?  What speed bumps are you going to put into place in the experience?
Jean Costello spoke as a patron who took public libraries for granted for a long time, but her library was threatened with closure.  She learned how much she loves and treasures the organization, and now blogs as The Radical Patron.  She asks questions that are probably easier to ask from outside the organization rather than from within.  Book stores are cash-strapped and rethinking what they do and offer as their primary business model.  The real primary changes are digital content companies: Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Publishers have, as a result, become outsiders to the emerging publishing paradigm.  Leaders in the publishing industry recognize the tipping point and rethink their alliances and values.  What she sees from libraries is that we look at eBooks as “just another technology to contend with, to be adopted but not fully embraced.”  (Sarah’s comment: Heck yes, that is totally true for most libraries.)  Will the public’s association of books with libraries translate to the eBook realm?  Are publishers looking to bypass libraries as an outlet  for digital media?  Are we aware of this threat?  Libraries are really focused on “collection.”  Content is so fluid that we need to stop thinking about content as a commodity, a thing to own.  She thinks we’ll see passionate readers and cultural institutions create enhanced versions of public domain works, self-published authors forging new ways and terms of distributing their work, and that news and magazines will be seamlessly and fluidly consumed on the fly.  Readers advisory will be wrapped around content automatically — look at the recommendation engines in Pandora or Netflix as a potential model.  The library user has little motivation to use the library.  Any sub-set of content within a world-vision of complete access to everything everywhere will be seen as insufficient.  There are many ways that libraries can add value.  They need to get past library culture and self-conception and the conflict of values they often have with the vendors.  We also need a strong representative to negotiate with the various stakeholders in the legislative and publishing industries.  But what do we have in libraries?  Libraries have widespread public trust and we need to start using that in new and creative ways.
Aaron Schmidt then took over the discussion and said that the eBook ship has sailed and we are not on it.  Years back we had arguments about whether VHS tapes should be in our collections and a whole paid industry sprung up while we were arguing.  DVD checkouts make up a large percentage of checkouts in libraries but many people still don’t know that we do that.  We have experimented with eBooks a long time ago before the general public was even interested in them — in the early days of the eBook Readers (oh yeah, the ones like the Rocket that failed).  We’re used to providing library customers with difficult to use resources (think about your database page).  Library patrons should never have to see the word Boolean logic.  DRM doesn’t work.  Determined users get around it, and all it takes is one ripped copy to open the floodgates for pirating.  And there will always, always be one ripped copy no matter what DRM you put in place.  All that does is stymie usage by law-abiding, EULA-abiding people.  The e-experience should not try to mimic the print experience – that is a failure waiting to happen.  Users are accessing eContent on their mobile devices.  Apple, Amazon, and Google have changed the game.   Better readers will make reading more enjoyable.  We don’t want libraries to become mausoleums for dead books.  Libraries should stop being like grocery stores (lots of stuff on the shelves) and more like kitchens (easy convenient access).  We need to concentrate on our most important asset — the people in our buildings, the library staff, and train them to provide a good user experience for our users with digital content.
Michael Bills talked about enhanced eBooks through Blio (free eBooks platform in development) — text-to-voice, video, annotations, links, etc.  eInk devices have proliferated, but the type of content that can be delivered to those devices has been constrained.  Blio provides full color enhanced content, interactivity, multiple viewing modes (2 page, 3D, thumbnail), is device-neutral, works on smaller and larger screens, and has a much deeper content catalog.  The Book Industry Group sees that people still read eBooks dominantly on computers, with the kindle in a close second.  Mobile devices like smart phones come next, ahead of other eReaders like the Sony Reader or the Nook.  What could be brought to eBooks that consumers would pay more for?  Blio actually has 80% of the extras that consumers said they’d pay for.
eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
Ebook What-Ifs: Issues that Impact Scenario Planning
Me (!), Bobbi Newman, and Matt Hamilton + moderated by Josh Hadro

Questions about specific eBook scenarios were posed to us.  Here’s what we talked about.  Twitter hashtag to follow the conversation during our session was #ebookswhatif

Question: What if there is a Google Book Search terminal in every library?

I tackled this question first.  The Google Book Search settlement, if approved, will let every public library building have access to a terminal with access to the Google Books orphan works collection (in copyright but out of print), and academic libraries get access through terminals as well.  If there is a terminal in every library, not a darn thing will change.  For academic libraries, most of what was scanned has the most potential for people doing research on academic topics.  The academic libraries got more flexibility on the number of terminals and the types of access.  For public libraries, the question is: how useful is that scanned material to our users?  For special libraries, same thing – that material is not highly useful.  School libraries didn’t factor into the settlement at all, which is very worrisome.  Having one terminal per building with access to something very specific is hearkening back to the days of the single-purpose CD ROM stations.  People think of information as ubiquitous and think of everything as being everywhere.  A single-use terminal won’t be very helpful to people very much.  Plus there are restrictions on what you can do with the books (printing, copying, search, annotations) depends on how much the libraries paid Google for the extra privilege of accessing the information.  This means an inevitable inequitable set-up in different libraries.  I just don’t think a Google terminal will get used in our public library.  There is no information in the settlement about the user access data and user privacy, but Google would have sole full access to it, which is worrisome.  ALA and other groups also worry about how much providing good access and printing/copying will cost libraries.  I think that some libraries would not participate in this project based on the privacy issues alone.  But a lot of people don’t worry about their privacy.  Up to 15% of what Google scans can be excluded from this collection at their discretion.  What would Google choose to exclude?   I think that the cost issue will be the limitation.  Google has not told us how much they will charge us to allow people to print or download, money that we have to collect ourselves and then split the money between the Books Registry and Google.  The unknown cost issue is frightening.
Bobbi agreed that privacy is a concern as well as space.  A computer whose sole purpose is to access Google Books is not likely to be useful to her users.  It becomes a customer service issue when a computer stands unused.
Matt agreed that the material in the collection is not something that his users will be drawn to use.  They don’t see demands for these types of books that are more academic and esoteric.
Question: What if the price of eReaders drops to zero?
Matt tackled this one first.  The price of eReader are dropping drastically.  What if the device is thrown in for free with the purchase of a certain number of eBooks?  This would result in a flood of cheap eReaders into the market.  Can libraries meet demand and utilize this quick influx to the market?  Matt thinks it’s incredibly likely that this is going to happen, whether the publishers are subsidizing it or that it’s a contract-based vendor subsidy.  For many, this seems like a possible death knell for libraries.  A world with free or nearly free eReaders and cheap or free content subsidized by advertising.  The democratizing role that public libraries play, our commitment to intellectual freedom, makes us more relevant than ever.  If we see free eReaders we may not see a lot of change in demand for our collection, which would create a complacency in library staff that is dangerous.  Over time, will we see generations of kids who first learn to read on electronic devices and use them for textbooks and homework?  Will paper books become more of a rare and exotic item?  New formats combining text with multimedia should be something we consider too.  Libraries should assert our values of universal access and intellectual freedom into the emerging standards of the cloud and future technological and legal developments.  ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom should be bending the ear of the FCC and other government agencies who are currently giving away the public good to corporations to destroy.  Libraries could be the tax-funded space for data and form the infrastructure that helps our local communities share data.  There has to be a public good component.
I chimed in and said that there is huge potential for demand increasing with a zero barrier to entry for eReader technologies.  With that huge, and fast, an increase our library would not be able to meet eBook demands.  The questions of format, different device platforms, and the technical support staff would be asked to perform would be a problem.  We are ill-equipped to handle this kind of change so quickly.  We’re ill-equipped to handle any change quickly, really.
Then Matt agreed that the differences in format and devices are a huge barrier for libraries.  It’s a huge physical challenge to get each staff member to have hands-on experience with all the various eReaders and formats.
I agreed and said is it possible to have enough of these eReaders to give everyone enough time to learn on them?  The libraries would get the free eReaders at the exact same time, or likely after, the public got them.  We would therefore end up giving some bad service because we’re unprepared to meet these needs.  Another issue would be bandwidth – if we’re trying to download a whole bunch of eBooks simultaneously, our infrastructure could not handle it.
Question: What if the DRM issue went away tomorrow?
Bobbi got this question.  DRM is a huge frustration.  Every eReader, platform, and format combination has a different set of challenges.  No device that allow for library eBook use allows for direct-to-device lending yet.  So, what if the Librarian of Congress declared 3 years from now that libraries are given huge leeway with regards to copyright and DRM?  A lot of what prevents users from using library eBooks with their chosen devices is the DRM.  The clunky experience at the library makes people turn to the direct paid consumer products instead.  If DRM went away, demand for our eContent would increase by huge amounts.  There would be a bandwidth impact here too.  A lot o the library’s policies about in-library computer access would need to change too to more easily allow for access to downloadable content.  Even if DRM went away, how does that affect the patrons who already tried accessing the collections and had negative experiences.  Patrons expect that the Kindle and other eReaders will work with library eBooks.  Libraries have to be the ones to break the news to people that our eContent won’t work with their devices, which is beyond our control.  But we sound like the bad guys.
I agreed that we would see an unprecedented increase in demand, but without DRM that increase in demand would at least be a good thing.  The first time experience with library eBooks is often bad.  Our stats show that we lose a lot of first-time users of our eBooks — they don’t come back.  Maybe they would come back if access was easier.  I gave up too and turned to a Kindle app on my Android phone.  Comparing my experiences with that to my experiences with library eBooks is distressing.
Bobbi replied that the eAudioBook process is a lot smoother, but the eBook process is a lot harder…largely because of connecting to a computer and go through the more cumbersome process.  Also, since you can’t download most eBooks in most libraries within most libraries, we have to break the news to them that we don’t allow downloads in the library.  (Sarah’s note: this is a policy that libraries need to change.)
Matt sees the same thing where he works too.  If DRM went away, doors could open for ways to deliver services in libraries.
eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
How eBooks Impact Libraries, Publishers & Readers
Brian Kenney, Barbara Fister, Eli Neiberger, and Steve Potash
Eli Neiberger started out the presentation and is freaking brilliant.  Let me say that again.  Eli is brilliant.  Libraries can’t disassociate themselves from format.  We’ve fared through other outmoded technologies and formats over time, so looking at those changes might help us move forward with eContent.  Those who survived the crash of vinyl are thriving.  Vinyl sales have tripled recently.  But the 8 Track was a transitory technology.  They were successful as a convenience format, but were quickly replaced with something much more convenient – the cassette tape.  He even talked about candles as an outmoded format, but we still use them for ceremony and atmosphere.  Same with gaslamps.  The built infrastructure to support this technology in communities were able to be converted and built-upon to support future technologies (electricity, etc.).  The typewriter is outmoded and it disappeared except for those who use it as a symbol or to make a statement.  At the same time, the descendants of the typewriter (physical and virtual keyboards) still use the same format.  Movable type technologies from printing presses to modern printers changed the same way.  Will the future of the Book follow the model of vinyl (niche, statement-driven, small) or 8 tracks (outmoded and laughable)?  The model of the candle or the gas lamp?  The model of the typewriter?  Will someone who has a book collection look as eccentric as those who have typewriter collections?  Or is the future of the eBook like movable type?  Is the eBook the future of text distribution?  If so, libraries are screwed.  The copyright lies with vendors and copyright owners, not with the users and consumers of the information.  The value of library collections are rooted in the worth of a local copy.  The locality of a copy is relatively meaningless now with the advent of the web.  The notion of a copy loses its embodied value when there is no difference between transmission and duplication.  That might change, but right now it creates a huge problem.  Most people will soon have internet access in their pockets.  The idea of owning a copy of media will be baffling to future generations.  Why have a local copy?  Access when needed from “the stream.”  Using the library is likely to remain an inferior experience for digital content because of DRM and selection of content, as libraries are not able to buy everything in digital format that individual consumers are.  The circulating collection itself is a technology that has become outmoded.  The internet and the digital distribution of content has made this happen.  The peak of physical circulation has already occurred.  We need to pay more attention to digital circulation of content.  Libraries used to actually be for storing and providing access to the content from the community, to protect and ensure access to local records and unique items — not bestselling romance.  We need to re-center on that purpose.  Why not make the library the publisher?  A platform for the community to create and store unique data?  Everyone is a publisher.  But everyone agrees to restrictive terms for accessing digital content every day, and there is not a groundswell of support for change to this.  Libraries need a fair use exemption to allow us to lend digital content.  But more than anything, the circulation of content is a dying method of distributing content.  We need to prepare for that.
Steve Potash, the President and CEO of Overdrive, spoke next.  Potash says that his company’s work with libraries has been “a journey.”  eBooks are now in 2/3 of American libraries, up from 38% in 2005.  Circulation of eBooks went up 73% from 2009 to 2010.  He wants library subscribers to know they will get a good return on investment for the books they buy from them.  They’re releasing more information on their updated mobile apps and a new mobile user experience that enables first time users on the web to go to the library app and see books and with one click read the books.  (I’m glad to hear they’re simplifying the mobile apps, because they are currently unusable, imho.)  He also noted that they’re adding DRM-free epub format books too (also good).  They’re adding open access to Project Gutenberg and other free eBooks through Overdrive’s interface as well.  Today they offer over 70,000 eBooks under the LEAP program (Library eBook Accessibility Program) through a partnership with Bookshare.  (This is free to libraries, so if you’re not using it, check it out.)
Barbara Fister spoke next very briefly.  The publishing industry is facing some huge problems in that they’re trying to allow for an antiquated business model that doesn’t really work for digital content.  The use of publishing text books and eBooks and trying to make money, don’t sign anything that won’t let you share content.
eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
Ray Kurzweil Keynote

Kurzweil is a legend and it was fascinating to listen to him.  The reality of information technology is that its growth is exponential.  But our intuition about the future is linear in nature.  This causes us problems in predicting the future accurately and being able to prepare for it.  We’re at a point where eBooks in libraries are real.
We will experience 20,000 years of progress in the 21st century, if today’s rate of information technology change continues.  Information technologies double their price performance over a single year.  Moore’s Law, baby!  Communication technologies, biological technologies, are all increasing.  The size of the internet in terms of bandwidth usage and pages hosting is exploding as well.  Kurzweil predicts that we’ll put screens into our eyeglasses and view screens at any magnification we choose, looking at eContent, augmented reality applications, and web content.
U.S. education expenditures have increased exponentially too, which Kurzweil connects to more of an investment in training on technology.  (I must disagree with him on this.  Schools have very poor technology investment in general.  And expenditure increase has not seen any connection to increase in performance or graduation rates, so throwing more money at the problem won’t help.  We need to fundamentally change our approach to education.)
People are still asking for more text-to-speech capabilities, books read aloud to them, and more flexibility.  He demo-ed Blio, an eBook Store with a million free eBooks:  It’s out for the PC now, and they’re building iPhone & iPad, Android, and Mac versions now.  Looks a lot like other eBook Stores with covers, reviews, publisher info, etc.  Downloading the book preserves the original format, page by page — anything with a rich graphical format benefits from this.  You can preview pages, turn the pages and they flip as with a printed book, use reference tools, magnify, etc.
There needs to be a social compact that people will respect intellectual property rights.  The technical means to break them exists, but the respect to not break them is the key.  Kurzweil stresses that “it’s not cool to take intellectual property without paying for it.”
The graphs from Kurzweil’s presentation on the evolution of many things can be found at

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