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.]

CI 2009: Unconferences

Presenters: Steve Lawson, Stephen Francoeur, John Blyberg, and Kathryn Greenhill

KG began by asking the audience to share what questions they have about unconferences while SL took notes on a flip chart. Lots of good questions covering a variety of aspects, including all the questions I have.

Keep in mind: who ever comes are the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened; whenever it starts is the right time. Also keep in mind the law of two feet. If you are in a situation where you are neither getting nor receiving anything of value, then change that or leave.

Many people indicate that they get a lot out of the space inbetween sessions at traditional conferences, and this is what unconferences try to capture. Libraries can also host general unconferences, such as what Deschamps did in Halifax. It doesn’t have to be just library stuff.

You can’t prepare for every aspect of an unconference. You can prepare the space and request that specific people be there, but in the end, its success is based on the engagement of the participants.

Unconferences are casual. You do need to decide the level of casual, such as how much you want to borrow from traditional conference amenities and structure. Organizational sponsorships should be limited to affiliation and financial support — avoid letting them dictate what will happen.

Keynote sessions can influence the conversations that happen afterwards, so be deliberate about whether or not to have one.

The less you have to deal with money the better, and there are pros and cons to having fees. Keep the threshold low to encourage participation. Every day is a bad day for somebody, so just choose a date and time.

Tip: organize an unconference the day before or after a national conference. Folks are coming and going, and it’s easier to schedule that time in and to get institutional funding.

Make use of social software for promoting and organizing the unconference (wikis are good), and also use it for continuing the conversation.

Free as in beer, free as in kittens, and now free as in someone else is paying. Make use of the resources of the participants institutions.

Swag keeps the connection, and if you’re creative, they’re also useful. SF showed the notebooks that they handed out at LibCampNYC, which were branded versions of something like Moleskine notebooks. Hand out the swag at the beginning, along with notes about how the unconference was going to work and an outline of a schedule (if you have one).

You can build communities through unconferences that then are agile enough to continue the interaction and spontaneous gatherings.

"If you feed them they will come. If you give them liquor they will come the next time." — John Blyberg

CiL 2008: Woepac to Wowpac

Moderator: Karen G. Schneider – “You’re going to go un-suck your OPACs, right?”


Speaker: Roy Tennant

Tennant spent the last ten years trying to kill off the term OPAC.

The ILS is your back end system, which is different from the discovery system (doesn’t replace the ILS). Both of these systems can be locally configured or hosted elsewhere. Worldcat Local is a particular kind of discovery system that Tenant will talk about if he has time.

Traditionally, users would search the ILS to locate items, but now the discovery system will search the ILS and other sources and present it to the user in a less “card catalog” way. Things to consider: Do you want to replace your ILS or just your public interface? Can you consider open source options (Koha, Evergreen, vuFind, LibraryFind etc.)? Do you have the technical expertise to set it up and maintain it? Are you willing to regularly harvest data from your catalog to power a separate user interface?


Speaker: Kate Sheehan

Speaking from her experience of being at the first library to implement LibraryThing for Libraries.

The OPAC sucks, so we look for something else, like LibraryThing. The users of LibraryThing want to be catalogers, which Sheehan finds amusing (and so did the audience) because so few librarians want to be catalogers. “It’s a bunch of really excited curators.”

LibraryThing for libraries takes the information available in LibraryThing (images, tags, etc.) and drops them into the OPAC (platform independent). The display includes other editions of books owned by the library, recommendations based on what people actually read, and a tag cloud. The tag cloud links to a tag browser that opens up on top of the catalog and allows users to explore other resources in the catalog based on natural language tags rather than just subject headings. Using a Greasmonkey script in your browser, you can also incorporate user reviews pulled from LibraryThing. Statistics show that the library is averaging around 30 tag clicks and 18 recommendations per day, which is pretty good for a library that size.

“Arson is fantastic. It keeps your libraries fresh.” — Sheehan joking about an unusual form of collection weeding (Danbury was burnt to the ground a few years ago)

Data doesn’t grow on trees. Getting a bunch of useful information dropped into the catalog saves staff time and energy. LibraryThing for Libraries didn’t ask for a lot from patrons, and it gave them a lot in return.


Speaker: Cindi Trainor

Are we there yet? No. We can buy products or use open source programs, but they still are not the solution.

Today’s websites are consist of content, community (interaction with other users), interactivity (single user customization), and interoperability (mashups). RSS feeds are the intersection of interactivity and content. There are a few websites that are in the sweet spot in the middle of all of these: Amazon (26/32)*, Flickr (26/32), Pandora (20/32), and Wikipedia (21/32) are a few examples.

Where are the next generation catalog enhancements? Each product has a varying degree of each element. Using a scoring system with 8 points for each of the four elements, these products were ranked: Encore (10/32), LibraryFind (12/32), Scriblio (14/32), and WorldCat Local (16/32). Trainor looked at whether the content lived in the system or elsewhere and the degree to which it pulled information from sources not in the catalog. Library products still have a long way to go – Voyager scored a 2/32.

*Trainor’s scoring system as described in paragraph three.


Speaker: John Blyberg

When we talk about OPACs, we tend to fetishize them. In theory, it’s not hard to create a Wowpac. The difficulty is in creating the system that lives behind it. We have lost touch with the ability to empower ourselves to fix the problems we have with integrated library systems and our online public access catalogs.

The OPAC is a reflection of the health of the system. The OPAC should be spilling out onto our website and beyond, mashing it up with other sites. The only way that can happen is with a rich API, which we don’t have.

The title of systems librarian is becoming redundant because we all have a responsibility and role in maintaining the health of library systems. In today’s information ecology, there is no destination — we’re online experiencing information everywhere.

There is no way to predict how the information ecology will change, so we need systems that will be flexible and can grow and change over time. (Sopac 2.0 will be released later this year for libraries who want to do something different with their OPACs.) Containers will fail. Containers are temporary. We cannot hang our hat on one specific format — we need systems that permit portability of data.

Nobody in libraries talks about “the enterprise” like they do in the corporate world. Design and development of the enterprise cannot be done by a committee, unless they are simply advisors.

The 21st century library remains un-designed – so let’s get going on it.

carnival of the infosciences #87

Welcome to the Carnival of the Infosciences #87! Not too many submissions this time, but they’re all good, so take a few minutes, kick back, and let the Carnival start your Monday morning.

Martha Hardy made two recommendations for this edition of the Carnival. The first is an essay from Roy Litwin entitled, “Annotated list of things not to forget (in the 2.0 craze)….” Litwin writes, “These days, when reading the library literature or a conference program it’s hard to find much that is not about the Library 2.0 idea. It seems to me that many librarians have forgotten that there is something worthwhile in what we do already, and that ‘Library 2.0’ is an update rather than something completely new.” This essay is a must-read for librarians, both twopointopians and those annoyed by them.

The other submission from Hardy is a news item from the Library Boy, Michel-Adrien Sheppard, about a criminal investigation in Toronto and the way authorities are using Facebook to get around the publication ban (“Is Facebook Interfering With Criminal Investigations?“). The Uncontrolled Vocabulary crew also discussed this in the January 9th episode.

Sol Lederman recommends that everyone take a look at Federated Search: The year in review, a review of the major events in the federated search industry in 2007, from the Federated Search Blog. 2007 saw commercial entities making odd business decisions, mergers and acquisitions, and new open source options.

Iris Jastram writes about her experience with creating “subversive handouts” for library instruction sessions, and what she learned from the process. This might give you a few ideas for your own “subversive” handout.

Kate Sheehan asks the question, “Are librarians culturally self-aware?” She also gets a few responses from John Blyberg (“Library 2.0 Debased“) and Rochelle Hartman (“Blyberg Speaks: Safe to come out of hiding“), among others.

The 2008 conference season kicked off with an early January ALA Midwinter meeting, which prompted Sarah Houghton-Jan to link to the useful Tips for conference bloggers, which was originally posted by Ethan Zuckerman and Bruno Giussani last October. Midwinter may be over, but there are still plenty of upcoming conferences that need to be blogged. Be sure to read their advice before you pack your laptop.

Blake Carver at LISNews has put together a list of ten blogs to read in 2008. I’m already reading a few, but I’ve added more to my pile based on Carver’s recommendations.

That’s all, folks! Please submit posts to the Library Garden for #88. You can use the online form or tag posts carninfo in del.icio.us.