ebooks, libraries, and the discount rate

Evolution of Readers
Creative Commons License John Blyberg via Compfight

The other day I was listening to a Planet Money podcast episode, and they were talking about a new-to-me financial term: the discount rate. As they described it, this is “the rate you use to size up future costs.”

This morning I read a blog/essay by cartoonist Dave Kellett (who draws the nerdy-fun comic Sheldon) which argued that ebooks in libraries would be the death of the traditional publishing industry. As he put it, “The internet has shown, again and again, that the average consumer always tends toward the cheaper, faster solution. And all things being equal between delivery systems, there’s no debate which one is more advantageous for the individual: The borrowed copy.”

Not long after reading this essay, I attended a training session by one of our ebook vendors, during which at one point they mentioned that the cost for MUPO books (multiple simultaneous user access; essentially a site-license) as being only 150% of list price, which in their words is a good deal. I held my breath for a moment, as I knew the cost of MUPO had been contentious in internal discussions in the recent past. However, the moment passed without comment.

All of these bits and pieces began churning in my mind until finally I reached a rather shocking to me conclusion: 150% of list price for unlimited simultaneous user access is an amazing deal, particularly now that these ebooks are becoming more functional for the users.

Think about it — for the cost of half of a second copy, any number of our users can view, download, print, copy, and even read the same book at the same time. In the print world, at best you might get four people reading the same copy a book at the same time if you could smoosh together close enough and the font size wasn’t too small. Or, you’d buy multiple copies for class reading assignments that would then end up being discarded when the curriculum changed.

How could I go from thinking that ebooks shouldn’t cost more than print to thinking that MUPO pricing is a good deal? Well, my discount rate changed. When I thought about it from the perspective of copies saved rather than prices increased, it made the cost difference seem less heinous.

CIL 2011: In Pursuit of Library Elegance

Speaker: Erica Reynolds

Elegant solutions/designs are often invisible to the user. Observe what is happening, and look at what could be removed (distractions/barriers), rather than what needs to be added.

Simple rules create effective order. The more complexity in an equation, the more doubtful that it is true.

Another aspect of elegance is seduction. Limiting information creates intrigue. Libraries could play more on curiosity to draw users to information. Play hard to get, in a way. Don’t be so eager to dump information in response to user questions.

Restraint and removal can increase impact and value. Encourage people to use their brains. Why do we act like they are so stupid that they need signs everywhere in the library?

Limited resources spark creativity and innovation. The creative tension at the center of elegance: achieving the maximum effect with the minimum of effort.

The path to elegance begins with: resisting the urge to act; observe; ensure a diversity of opinions and expertise are heard; carve out time to think and not think; get away from your devices; get some sleep; and get outside.

Speaker: John Blyberg

The primary intent of our website may not be about getting you from point A to point B. It could be about building community and connection.

They found that when they removed the fortress that was the old reference desk, it was much more popular and approachable. Like Apple not including a manual with the iPhone, your library should be intuitive enough to use with minimal signage or instruction. Digital signage can evolve and be interactive, which will spark curiosity and inquiry.

CIL 2010: Black Ops Ninja-style Tech Projects

Speakers: Amanda Etches-Johnson, John Blyberg, & Sarah Houghton-Jan

One of the frustrations people have is that there are all sorts of exciting projects you could do, but often they are blocked by things that may be confusing to you. If you’re persistent, you can find ways to get around them.

We need to change the hearts & minds of the stakeholders in order to effectively implement something new. "Because we’ve always done it that way" might be a frustration and source of some amusement, but the reality is that we all have some attachment to established routines and processes. Make sure whatever you implement fits within your institutional strategic plan.

Often you can make changes without anyone noticing, and when they do, it’s already established. Start planning in advance – if you know you want to implement something, get people familiar with the idea or tech before introducing it as something to implement locally. When it’s no longer a foreign or new thing, then they will be more likely to go along with it.

You need to provide a counter-vision for people to latch onto. You need to have a vision that you know will be successful and that people will get behind you on it.

Evidenced-based librarianship requires due diligence. Do a literature search. Ask your colleagues about their experiences. If there is no evidence to support it, do it anyway. Make sure to collect the evidence as you go to share with others.

Try not to step on any toes as you are moving forward on your project (avoid collateral damages). Talk to everyone – you need to know where your project will impact other people, and you don’t know what you don’t know. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO HAVE A MEETING. You can do this virtually.

What if the thing you want to do isn’t right? Give it a try and fully commit to success, and if it fails, that’s okay. You learn more from failure than from success. Figure out what went wrong and why. Don’t be discouraged.

Timing is everything. It may be too soon, so hang on for a bit and deploy when it’s most effective. No right now doesn’t necessarily no six months from now. Don’t get discouraged with nos.

Project teams can be a force for good. The team needs to buy into the process, and having specific goals/tasks can help.

When do you get buy-in from stakeholders versus just going forward with it? Use your best judgment. You often know when you will get unreasonable resistance, so sometimes it’s okay to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, but be ready if it backfires.

Trust yourself. You know what you’re doing.

Know when to quit. Evaluate your situation, and if the returns are diminishing, then it’s time to move on to something else, even if you’ve invested a lot into it already.

Make sure you take care of the infrastructure first. You will have trouble getting stakeholder support for your project if the day-to-day stuff is falling apart. Unless your project is designed to fix infrastructure problems.

Keep some cards hidden. Let people feel like they’ve made suggestions for something (that you’ve already planned to implement) or put off implementing some features unless you or your team have time to do them.

[Sarah recommends drinking heavily, also.]

Update: Sarah has posted a list of the tips, if you would like to consume them unfiltered.

a response to rewarding conference speakers

As I was sitting in a CIL2009 session that was essentially something that could have easily been a blog post with a bunch of annotated links, I wondered to myself why this was chosen to be a session over something else, and why I had chosen to attend it rather than something else. I concluded that sometimes I need to have something whack me upside the head to “get it,” and a good presentation is often the best tool to do it.

Kathryn Greenhill writes, “I suspect it’s not that I *know* it all, but that I know how to find out at point of need and that I am more likely to use my human networks than to look back at conference notes or handouts to find out.” I rely heavily on my human networks, both in person and online, to keep me informed of the things I need to know — much more so than professional literature and formal presentations. However, sometimes even those things can spark an idea or clarify something that was previously muddy in my mind. I’m happy to reap the benefits of shared information, regardless of what format is used to deliver it.

That’s all fine and good for me, someone who is only moderately on the side of information creator and more on the side of information consumer, but what about those “shovers and makers” out there who are generating new ideas and, well, shoving and making in libraryland? Greenhill notes that she has “found much, much more value hanging about talking to other presenters than in attending the formal sessions,” and she suggests that rather than cheesy speakers’ gifts, they could instead be given “something to stimulate the presenters’ brains and challenge them.”

I like the idea of this, but I also worry that it has the potential to widen the gap between creators and consumers. I benefit greatly from being able to listen in on the discussions between the speakers in LobbyCon/CarpetCon settings. And, even when I am in sessions that challenge my skill set, I am motivated to expand that skill set, or at the very least, I know more about what I don’t know. I’d rather have that than continue in ignorance.

Greenhill, along with Cindi Trainor and John Blyberg, spent many hours during Computers in Libraries secluded away while crafting The Darien Statements on the Library and Librarians manifesto. The end result is available to us, but I wonder how much more we consumers would have learned by being able to listen in on the process of its creation? Isn’t that part of what the unconference movement is about?

CIL 2009: CM Tools: Drupal, Joomla, & Rumba

Speaker: Ryan Deschamps

In the end, you will install and play with several different content management systems until you find the right one for your needs. A good CMS will facilitate the division of labor, support the overall development of the site, and ensure best practices/standards. It’s not about the content, it’s about the cockpit. You need something that will make your staff happy so that it’s easy to build the right site for your users.

Joomla was the #1 in market share with good community support when Halifax went with it. Ultimately, it wasn’t working, so they switched to MODx. Joomla, unfortunately, gets in the way of creative coding.

ModX, unlike Joomla, has fine-grain user access. Templates are plain HTML, so no need to learn code specific to the CMS. The community was smaller, but more engaged.

One feature that Deschamps is excited about is the ability to create a snippet with pre-set options that can be inserted in a page and changed as needed. An example of how this would be used is if you want to put specific CC licenses on pages or have certain images displayed.

The future: "application framework" rather than "content management system"

Speaker: John Blyberg

Drupal has been named open source CMS of the year for the past two years in part due to the community participation. It scales well, so it can go from being a small website to a large and complex one relatively easily. However, it has a steep learning curve. Joomla is kind of like Photoshop Elements, and Drupal is more like the full Photoshop suite.

Everything you put into Drupal is a node, not a page. It associates bits of information with that node to flesh out a full page. Content types can be classified in different ways, with as much diversity as you want. The taxonomies can be used to create the structure of your website.

[Blyberg showed some examples of things that he likes about Drupal, but the detail and significance are beyond me, so I did not record them here. You can probably find out more when/if he posts his presentation.]