Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why bandwidth is important

The Internet is the lifeblood for libraries. With so many people out of work or unable to pay for information, entertainment, and necessities, libraries providing free and fast Internet is the only means to stay connected. There are so many things that can be done online now, from something that requires little bandwidth like submitting a job application, to watching full length movies online. With the influx of services that can be done online, a problem arises with providing enough bandwidth to provide the basic services patrons expect.

Does Library Bandwidth need to double every 18 months?
The need for increasing bandwidth seems to flow right along with the rate of computer memory. Keeping up with technology comes with a price, as computers can handle more memory and work faster, the bandwidth required to make them effective also needs to increase. With many needed services going online, libraries need to keep up with this need, but the problem is bandwidth creep. It seems that library bandwidth needs to double every 18 months to keep up, but then it should be less expensive according to Nielsen's Law. Our communities depend on us now more than ever to keep up since:

1. Libraries are the only free internet resource in town, often the only resource.
2. Bandwidth for an individual goes up faster than in an organization.
3. Libraries can't do as much if content requires more bandwidth, leading to feature freeze
4. Services deteriorate if we can't keep up, other services become affected. By trying to pay for more bandwidth, ongoing costs to maintain it can burden other services in an already stripped down service economy.

As mentioned in this Ars Technica article a few weeks ago reporting on ALA's report on Bandwidth. It's nice to see mainstream blogs provide attention to these issues.

Bill Gates fund: libraries need more cash for broadband 

As we've reported, libraries across the United States have become something like first economic responders for low-income people thrown out of work by The Great Recession. As job listings go online, and more and more require an on-line application form, computerless employment seekers are besieging local libraries—often the only place where they can get free access.

Libraries dying for bandwidth—where's the fiber (and cash)?

But another problem is simple availability. As the ALA's report (PDF) points out, "moving from a 56Kbps circuit to 1.5Mbps is one thing. Moving from 1.5Mbps to 20Mbps or to 100Mbps or even to a gigabit—depending on the size and need of the library—is another." Even when they can pay for it, many libraries are finding that higher speeds simply aren't available.

Take for example a new service at our library. It is a VR Sorenson machine that provides a relay service for the deaf. A patron comes up to this machine, dials the number and a VR Sorenson employee signs to the person. This relay person can then contact any phone number anywhere and the person using the service can get help from businesses or other contacts that do not have a TTY machine or other services for the deaf. The machine requires high bandwidth. Most individuals can't afford this high level of bandwidth even though these machines are provided for free to many. It is superior to a TTY machine. Word of mouth spread like wildfire and we get several people using it per day. Even when it was getting set up, patrons knew exactly what it was and without advertising, word of mouth sold the service. It's an example of what a library can do, but without the bandwidth it wouldn't have happened. Without sufficient bandwidth, not only are library services frozen, but we are then forced to protect our scarce bandwidth resources.

Bandwidth Police
There is a recent article about libraries becoming bandwidth police. Libraries that don't have the ability to increase bandwidth have to rely on throttling so that all patrons can have enough bandwidth to get what they need online. Software vendors provide these tools to libraries, in which, an automatic limit is set so that one single individual cannot exceed a certain amount of bandwidth. A patron attempting to watch a streaming movie on Netflix would have their efforts hampered so that another patron can still use enough bandwidth for basic internet use, mostly textual in nature. Without enough bandwidth, throttling like this can affect services critical to library patrons, but because not enough resources have been providing for libraries to keep up with the bandwidth creep, libraries are reduced to this practice, leading to these articles on the practice.

Why a Shortage of Bandwidth is Turning Public Librarians into Traffic Cops LIS News points to an article from the Citizen Media Law Project, The Library Police: Why a Shortage of Bandwidth is Turning Librarians into Traffic Cops The author's basic premise is that because of poor bandwidth to libraries, and considering libraries are often the only place to get bandwidth, throttling leads to censorship:


"A short time ago, the American Library Association (ALA) released the latest update to the Public Library Funding & Technology Study, a long running survey of public access to the Internet. The survey reveals that public libraries are the only point of free Internet access in the great majority of communities, and many libraries do not have enough bandwidth to meet the needs of their patrons. The entire situation is an embarrassing reminder that the US has a hideous Internet access rate...

While the latter approach is certainly disconcerting (especially in a country with such poor per capita connectivity), I am terrified by the former bandwidth austerity measure. Libraries have become a proving ground for two dangerous arguments: that content throttling is not filtering and that resource limitations justify content throttling."

I have personal experience in which I tried to expand computer access with old assumptions about bandwidth. It used to be 1.5 Mbps for 50 computers would be just fine, but now you would be lucky to get access with four times that bandwidth rate. E-rate helped me out there, but for many libraries that don't have the funds, can't reallocate them, can't figure out Erate, or are doing all they can and it's still not enough bandwidth. It can be very frustrating. Now with throttling becoming more common, people are beginning to notice, but at least with the author, he is in support of libraries getting more bandwidth so that they don't have to do this.

What Libraries are doing for their communities
A recent Library Journal article highlighted what the ALA submitted to the FCC on libraries critical role to the economic well-being of their communities:

Salt Lake City Public Library terminals
Originally uploaded by Mal Booth

ALA to FCC: Consider How Broadband Fosters Economic Opportunity

As Community Hubs:
Public libraries go beyond stopgap measures in creating and supporting economic opportunity
The added value libraries offer includes job training, information, and digital literacy programs

For Business Adoption and Usage:
The library as a small business
Libraries need high capacity broadband to provide essential services to the general public
Effective negotiation requires open dialog between service providers and small businesses

Broadband's role in regional economic development
Libraries are critical institutions in supporting regional economic development

Government-provided social benefit programs
Information literacy skills are critical to navigating online social benefit forms

Workforce development
The value of the public library’s suite of services cannot be overstated

A recent sneak peak at an FCC reports provides promising news to underserved areas:

"One proposal would use money from the Universal Service Fund to build broadband networks in underserved communities and pay for high-speed Internet connections for those who cannot afford them. The Universal Service Fund, which is supported by a surcharge on phone bills, was established to subsidize phone service."

What Libraries are doing for increased Broadband
 The California State Library recently sponsored a competition called Fast Internet Matters @ Your Library. Libraries throughout California were to create video on Youtube that highlights why Fast Internet is important. Salinas Library was announced as the winner with this funny video:

Opportunity Online has been going around libraries and speaking with library staff and patrons about how important broadband is to the community. This is to help the broadband summit the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation plan to have around the United States to help providing funding for broadband. You can watch some of those videos here.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have also announced a round of funding for broadband projects.

Foundation Announces New Support for Public Libraries to Help Provide Broadband Access for More Americans

“Federal, state, and local government investments in connecting libraries to broadband are important steps toward realizing the vision of universal broadband access,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries program. “When libraries have access to broadband, they can effectively deliver critical educational, employment, and government services for residents that lack Internet access elsewhere. As community anchor institutions, libraries can also help drive local broadband adoption.”

The hope here is that with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation stepping in with states and combing the Federal Broadband Stimulus program that local libraries can provide better, faster access and ensure sufficient bandwidth in the future to keep up with demand. The American Library Association has been spearheading this movement and has consistently demanded more broadband and bandwidth for our libraries. They have submitted to the NTIA and now the have submitted to the FCC the critical role libraries play in the local economy.

The last round of broadband stimulus went towards the truly needy. If funding is only going towards getting locations to a 742 kbps or half of a T-1 line and that is a big step up for them; that's very critical. However, in the next two rounds libraries are pulling for expanding access for more modern needs. Without this round of stimulus, libraries will continually fall behind the fast moving internet, crippling existing services and stopping progress for future needs. More affluent communities will be able to maintain and increase access, but those that cannot afford it will be severely hurt. Increasingly, this will lead to lost connections with the rest of the world, leaving pockets of many Americans behind. The concept is scary.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

Top Ten Things

Roy Tennant has a post about 10 things library administrators should know about technology. This was a precursor to an event that happened this Fall at the Digital Library Federation Forum. This post went around the circles with little comment other than re-posting. I didn't find this list very helpful as an administrator. The discussion in libraries shouldn't be "don't be afraid of technology", but "don't be afraid of change." The implementation of that change and the removal of that fear are the keys to success.

From my perspective, I don’t view these types of decisions that Roy brings up as technology decisions. I am sure there are some who say no to technology, but those administrators often say no to everything. Technology is just another tool to use and an administrator weighs whether he can use the tool or not. It's not an either or situation.

Using Tools to Make Connections
Library administration should keep up with current trends so that when staff members come up with ideas, they understand where those ideas are coming from. It will lead to a faster implementation, another way to accomplish the idea, or if the idea will work.

I enjoyed the re-post from the M Word, Marketing Libraries blog for five skills that drive innovation:
Associating: The ability to connect seemingly unrelated questions, problems or ideas from different fields.

Questioning: Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge the common wisdom. They ask "why?", "why not?" and "what if?"

Observing: Discovery-driven executives scrutinize common phenomena, particularly the behavior of potential customers.

Experimenting: Innovative entrepreneurs actively try out new ideas by creating prototypes and launching pilots.

Networking: innovators go out of their way to meet people with different ideas and perspectives.


I always remember when I went in for a demo on a product. It was for Vocera. He was demonstrating the product and talking about the things it can do. I remember constantly scribbling in my notebook while he was speaking, even when he was not speaking. My staff asked me if we were supposed to take notes and what was I writing. Even the demonstrator asked. I told them that while he was speaking I was making connections to all the potential for this device. All the things we needed for our library beyond what he was talking about. I think most librarians should be doing this during a product demonstration, but then ferret out what would actually be needed from the product, or if the product is needed at all.

I am not sure Roy's list is very helpful, but for a few points. Technology is getting cheaper and easier, true. It’s relative though. If you have a tight budget and staff uncomfortable with using the tool, or even if the tool will be useful, those weigh into the decision. There is also the danger of having no direction for new services, technology or otherwise. Is this right for the community? I also enjoyed the feature creep discussion here and here. Having new services and technology without rhyme or reason is dangerous for budgets and for staff.

Don't Drown Your Horse
I see the entire list as a re-hash of concepts that have been used before and can be applied to a general view. Don’t be afraid of failure, don’t try to be perfect, are commonly used. However, some of the examples such as "technology gets easier over time" is fine, but the example of installing Unix seems a bit off. That isn't a good example if this article is directed at administrators.

Another piece would be staff buy-in. We can say "don’t be afraid of failure", but when it fails, staff can get pretty frustrated, even angry. Furthermore, without buy-in it just looks like you are shoving things down their throats. Drowning the horse in trying to make him drink.

I don't think administrators are saying no to projects because they involve technology. They say no to projects that they don't understand or aren't sure they have the resources for, staff or otherwise. Those trying to implement or attempting to convince others to implement must have a clear vision of what is to be accomplished and tell a compelling story.

Additional Thoughts
"...focus on risk mitigation, not risk elimination," Teri Takai, California State Chief Information Officer.

"In dealing with new ventures, particularly in dealing with technology, you should find ways to mitigate risk, but not eliminate it. New ideas and decisions involve risks, there is no way around it. Knowing what to do when things go wrong is more important than making something foolproof."

Know the organization well enough to understand the impact of the decision.
From Giuliani's Leadership:

"Knowing the small details of a large system leaves a leader open to charges of micromanaging. But understanding how something works is not only a leader's responsibility; it also makes him or her better able to let people do their jobs. If they don't have to explain the basics of what they need and why they need it every time they request more funds or different resources, then they are freer to pursue strategies beyond simply spending what they're given."

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". -Arthur C. Clarke

Don't abuse tech staff just because they know about technology. There is too much mythology behind those that can get things done. They work hard and love what they do, but they aren't magicians.

We need to move these conversations into conversations about change and not conversations about technology. Everything libraries do is about technology and what kind of service to roll-out is all tied together. It may put them on the cutting edge or the bleeding edge, it may put them on par with everyone else, or they can say it isn't right for them. The choice is made locally for that community. It shouldn't be implemented simply because someone else is doing it; it must be proven locally. Understanding the service to add or to change, knowing its impact on the library and staff, and understanding the return on investment are key pieces. A library needs to decide whether it is worth it to them.
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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Success is determined locally

All politics is local -Tip O'Neil

HAPLR (Hennen's American Public Library Ratings) has ranked public libraries based on several factors for many years. Attempting to compare libraries, apples to apples, by counting books checked out, walk-in business, program attendance, computer usage, and budget allocation among many other factors. Library Journal has also gotten in the game and provided their own ranking system. My interpretation of the intent is to reward libraries for doing a good job and to encourage other libraries to emulate their success.

Every year, libraries across the country must report to their state library.  This data is then sent to the Federal Government and posted at the National Center for Education Statistics (

A problem with the numbers
A major problem with this statistical measure is the reporting. Every library in the United States must report on a number of indicators every year to their state government. Sometimes these numbers determine funding from the state, sometimes it doesn't. The survey system isn't very clear in what it is asking and information collected locally doesn't always mesh with what is being asked. Some of the questions are dated and do not reflect how current libraries operate. Number of internet terminals and number of computer users are only very recent additions. "Reference questions asked" has not changed either even though many librarians are answering much more than that, particularly with technology, yet the federal government does not want that tracked.

Antiquated and confusing questions can result in numbers being way too high, way too low, or not reported. As demonstrated in the Library Journal controversy, it wasn't logical that a library had 16 million computer users in a 12 month period. There is quite a bit of data that may seem illogical, but since this information isn't attached to anything financially and libraries don't benefit from this scoring system there is no incentive to take this report seriously. Why then is everyone ranking libraries based on this data?

Statistics or Success
With Hennen and now Library Journal began ranking libraries, it seems to push an agenda, focusing on excellence based on statistics rather than on factors that actually lead to success. Success based on statistics cannot be emulated. Furthermore, placing stars for these libraries doesn't help their budgets or success locally nor does it reflect why they are successful. The information used in the scoring system is also very dated. Information available to Hennen and Library Journal are typically two or even three years behind. So the scoring for the library doesn't reflect what the library is doing currently, but what it was doing years ago.

It was one thing for a marker such as HAPLR to record the scores, it's another thing to star the libraries. It makes libraries focus on the wrong things, statistical markers. It also does something else. I remember when this information was first distributed and one library colleague commented:

Is it really stating that libraries aren't doing their jobs well? That they aren't successful? I enjoyed the discussion on PUB-LIB with my favorite coming from James Casey:

"Susan's gut instinct to look behind the statistics is most assuredly useful for any of us pondering the HAPLR and LJ rating results.  That is clearly evident when HAPLR gives bouquets of praise to libraries serving upscale, suburban communities such as Cuyahoga County (Suburban Cleveland) earning a rating of 893 and Baltimore County at 794 while those excellent public libraries serving large and often underprivileged urban populations draw abysmal scores like 293 for Detroit Public Library, 285 for Chicago Public Library and 385 for Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Public Library.  One has to look behind the statistics to get at reality.

If one were to examine only statistical and output measures in rating the performance of Presidents of the United States (for example), Lincoln would have to be considered one of the most inept and unsuccessful of our Presidents instead of being one of the greatest.  The thousands of deaths, enormous destruction of property, military blunders, idiot generals hired, civil liberties curtailed, etc. have to be considered within the context of the overwhelming difficulties and challenges he had to overcome just to save the Union and bring Slavery to an end.  ---  The work of urban libraries in struggling against ignorance, crime, shrinking property tax bases, crumbling schools, ward politics, etc. is just as heroic and certainly not fairly represented by such dismal scores as 285 and 293. 

Some libraries will never be ranked at the top. In fact, in the last ten years, the top ten libraries have been trading spaces, but few have gone off the list and few new libraries have gotten onto the list. What are the real factors behind this? Statistics can never demonstrate that. There are many factors to this success, many however, may not have anything to do with the library's performance. It might be the affluency of the community, the percentage of college educated patrons, or simply the local culture of the area. The library's success can be tied to the community's success and that is very difficult to measure.

Libraries make a difference in their communities/
Librarians are rock stars

I would agree with this statement. I think when librarians or library administration are noticed prominently in the community and respected that it is a true sign of library success. When the local rotary or Kiwanis group calls several times wanting your library director to speak at their next function,  when they are chomping at the bit to provide funding for the library, that organizations and businesses want to be included and fund your projects because it makes them look good, and when the youth librarians get mobbed by little kids Beatles-style when they are out and about in the community- those are signs of success and of librarians being rock stars.

According to an OCLC report From Awareness to Funding, those numbers are not what is important (you can read my lengthy analysis here). I think these statistics are unhelpful and distracting and we certainly shouldn't be awarding stars based on this data. It doesn't really compare libraries and doesn't explain why a library is more successful. Library success is really dependent upon the perception and support of the community, not from a national ranking system. It may give a bit of heft in a performance review, but people in your community coming forth supporting the need is far more powerful.

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Thursday, October 01, 2009

Libraries receive stimulus grants, key to economic recovery

Barack Obama

The October 1st deadline for the first round of reporting for stimulus grants is upon us. I remember going to numerous webinars for the American Recovery and Re-investment Act (ARRA) training for these grants. Our library was the recipient of three of these grants. I did quite a bit of research before pursuing these grants as I knew that the reporting requirements were very extreme. I particpated in many a webinar and heavy research before proceeding.

If these webinars did anything, they drilled into your head that the Federal Government was serious about the reporting. Any lack of transparency or errors in reporting can kill your project immediately, result in the return of all funds, and have the agency blackballed from any future projects.You would think that Obama himself is going to show up himself to chastize you and take your money away.  It reminded me of an Art History class I took with my wife in college. Obama as the Pantocrator, a mild but stern, all-powerful judge of humanity.

Not enough for libraries
ALA has done a good job informing libraries about these opportunities. I wonder, however, how many libraries will receive these grants. I was very disappointed by the inability for libraries to get funding for fiber. Even though there have been various reports and studies produced to indicate the need and benefits, it hasn't been backed-up with funding. If there is one thing for sure, libraries will need increased bandwidth for future needs. Furthermore, anyone can tell that libraries are key to the economic recovery (there is an endless supply of stories), but is that backed up by stimulus grant funding? It seems to be lacking so far.

What kinds of grants
It was time to ramp up the detective-work to find those stimulus grants. I signed up for to receive alerts and began to research the process to get the grants. They were very elusive. Most of the library information about the grants was focused on fiber, most of the others focused on ways to partner with major agencies to receive funding. After attending a conference sponsored by Senator Boxer, I was able to track down several leads. What I did find was an opportunity to renovate some of our branch libraries. The reason why can provide a great explanation of the importance of libraries.

Libraries stimulate the economy
In the end we got the grants, three totalling $165,000. Altogether, we were one of three libraries in the country to receive a USDA stimulus grant and the only one in California. Knowing this about libraries, there should have been more funding to more libraries. I think I will know more about how much libraries received after the October deadline.

We received three stimulus grants from the USDA. The primary reason was that we provided the only public building in some of these areas where unemployment was 19%. In researching the grant, not only was there high rates of unemployment, but almost 80% of the population didn't attain a high school diploma. In rural areas, not only are resources scarce, they are non-existent. There are no buildings or services for the public. There is a school and after-school there is nothing without the library. It's the only public place, a safe place for someone to go where there is nowhere else to go. It's the only chance to get skills to be able to get a high school diploma, to get the skills needed for a job, to be a productive member of society. It starts with the library.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Sony adds nothing new to Reader for libraries

I was disappointed that Sony's August 26th announcement didn't add more to libraries. In my previous post, I thought that Sony presenting at the New York Public Library would indicate improved performance and potential for new services at public libraries. That doesn't seem to be the case. Anything Sony has done for libraries has already been accomplished over a year ago. There's nothing new except one link.

A Link and Nothing More
If you go into the Sony Reader Ebook software, there is now a link to search public library ebooks. I entered my zip code and found the closest library that had Overdrive books. Thus, I was presented with two problems with this set-up. The site link goes to an Internet browser to the library instead of going inside the Sony E-book software. It's great promotion for libraries (that provide the service), but it isn't inside the e-book software to make the search and download process easier to use. It's just a link, nothing more. (photo by by inky (contact)   

Libraries have audiobooks, not as many e-books
The second part was that not that many libraries provide Overdrive, and of those, most provide audiobooks, not e-books. Which bring up this Teleread Post: E-books from public libraries? Not from MINE. Only audiobooks available

"So, using the Sony library finder I went to the Somerset County library system. Bernardsville is in Somerset County, so I thought I had it made. Not! The Bernardsville Library, in Bernardsville, Somerset County, is not part of the Somerset County library system. That didn’t work. This week I guess I’ll try to go to a library that is part of the system and see if I can get a card. My own library tells me that I probably can’t. I called some of the other New Jersey libraries mentioned in the Finder but was told "residents only".

Why is this? Mostly because when those libraries began experimenting with services like Overdrive, they found that anyone could download an audiobook to any device. A cheapie from the corner drug store could suffice to open up a world of audiobooks. At first, Ipod users weren't able to, but in the last few months, they even have access. It's the best return on investment.

E-books have always been a tricky thing for Overdrive. At first, the only device the e-book would work on would be a windows Smartphone, but not much else. I lamented this fact in a Teleread post. Six months after I posted that, a Sony Reader upgrade enabled the device to download Overdrive E-books. It was great, I can get anything I wanted onto a device that is great for reading e-books. However, all the announcement from August 26th was a repeat of the fact that they could do that. It took a year for them to announce that? It was curious that they didn't push that after the upgrade. I still can't find much about it.

Just another locked service
So even though Sony is going far farther than others to provide the public with free reading material, they aren't going very far. They are late in the announcement of the compatbility with Overdrive. This affects libraries providing services. We wouldn't purchase and provide something there is no interest in. Often, we have to piggyback our marketing onto others so that we can promote what we provide. If Sony was pushing this, we would have received more demand, instead, we have a bunch of Sony Readers users wondering why more libraries don't provide e-books, but just audiobook downloads. Leading to further frustrate users, again from Teleread (Overdrive offers wireless download application) they announced that Overdrive was offering a downloadable software where you can download Overdrive titles right to your phone...except that it was only for audiobooks not for e-books, and just for windows, not iphone or symbian or android.

The Sony Reader is just as locked up as the Amazon Kindle. Of course, more format will go on the Sony Reader and allow library books, but no one else. It seems to be either an Adobe or an Overdrive issue. What allowed Overdrive books onto Sony Readers as a software upgrade to the Sony Reader itself, AND an upgrade from Adobe Digital Editions. If Adobe Digital Editions could allow the Sony Reader, why not an Iphone or ipod touch, a digital device more commonly used for e-reader (or really ANY e-reading device). Who is locking this down?

Save the Time of the Reader
From my librarian's perspective, what I would like to see is a way to provide free current reading material to the public. Libraries have traditionally provided this beyond any private or group of users. I have a budget to provide books to my community. I could pay for a subscription to something like Overdrive, provide free books online as I do inside our building.

What I would love to do is to be able to pay for a service for patrons to be able to download a program onto their device (cell phone, reader, whatever) and be able to download whatever they want right there. Overdrive seems to be developing it, but at an extremely slow pace. Any slower and they risk being irrelevant as a choice. I would even like to see Overdrive to be able to work inside the Stanza App for the Iphone/Ipod Touch. This is the kind of direction we should be going in. There are so many mobile devices out there, people should be able have access to reading materials that can stimulate, innovate, and please at their fingertips for free. We need to have the digital version of what libraries are already providing.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sony using libraries to kill the Kindle

In the August 25th announcement at the New York Public Library, Sony unveiled its new Sony Readers and new services.

One of the new services enhanced a feature already in existence, the ability to get a public library e-book onto the Sony Reader.

Everything will be centralized on the Sony E-book store and a patron would enter their zip code to find a local library, then their library card number and pin to download.

I'm wondering if they are going to provide wireless access to this process through their new wireless reader coming out in December. If they do that, they will allow access to most of the world's past and current literature into one device. You could get a classic from or Google Books, OR you can get something more current and diverse from your local public library. Access it all from a single device. It would definitely dwarf the Kindle in selection.

My big beef with the Amazon Kindle was that it wasn't easy to put free content on it. The most voracious readers need to supplement their reading with free books. That's one of the main reasons public libraries were created. The Amazon Kindle's appeal is that you can get any book you want (well almost) immediately (of course now we know it can just as easily taken away).

A screenshot of Adobe Digital Editions in libr...Image via Wikipedia

The Sony Reader took a different approach starting in July 2008. It decided to open up its content so that any book can be easily added to it. Sony Reader has taken this a step further by providing library content through Overdrive. Using Adobe Digital Editions and Overdrive, any library patron can go to their library's webpage, check out a book, download it to their computer and drag and drop it into their Sony Reader. Voila, you have free reading material. In my opinion, it's actually easier than getting an audiobook from Overdrive, and faster.

I am really excited about this announcement and possibility. I don't see brick and mortar libraries going away anytime soon, nor will e-books replace print. However, I see this as a way libraries can supplement their services to a new digital savvy population. Furthermore, we can provide access to any book in the known world by having this content online and having the ability to check out Sony Readers. The potential is very exciting.

If you would like to see a sample, you can watch the below video on how to check out a book from Overdrive to your Sony Reader. (Also note, standard check-out is three weeks, however, you can change the date on your Sony Reader. If you need more time, just back date a few days, weeks, or a year so that you can finish the book. It's like your own renewal process)

Articles about the Sony Reader announcement with quotes:

Here's how it works: Check the book out online and on the due date the book simply expires from your reader. When e-readers are popularly-priced, this feature could make public libraries much more relevant to modern reader's needs, though publishers' licensing restrictions could become an issue.

Sony also announced Tuesday that the Readers will be able to load e-books "loaned" from local libraries. A library card will provide access to free books that expire after 21 days. The library connection "would seem to be something Amazon would never embrace, so that could be a key differentiator," said Richard Doherty, director of research firm The Envisioneering Group.

That "anywhere" will apparently include libraries. According to Sony's Haber, the new version of its online book store will allow users to enter their ZIP code and determine whether the local library offers electronic versions of its books. These books can be downloaded, at which point they'll have a 21-day expiration date—no late fees, as Haber was happy to point out. The New York Public Library's representative announced that his organization would be taking part in the service. That's a rather significant announcement, given that he said that the NYPL's website was the second-most visited online library, behind only the Library of Congress.

What is clear, however, is that Sony is maintaining its commitment to the ebook market. Not only with new devices, but with its connection to libraries. This is an area where they are far ahead of the Kindle and the connection with the New York Public Library certainly gives them credibility.

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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

TV Appearance Great Day Fox 26

One thing I've noticed at my current job is how often the media really highlights our local library. I was invited to go on the local Fresno channel Fox 26 for their Great Day morning show. They were highlighting ways to get ready to go back to school. I've been on tv before highlighting library services (I talk more at length about that experience here). However, this was the first time I was in the studio. I'm on to talk about the library's service. Here is the video. (You will have to endure a brief commercial for the embed.)

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Free E-books and Audiobooks from Public Libraries

I always like to highlight services, products, or posts that demonstrate how public libraries provide e-books and e-audiobooks to the public. As time passes by, I believe that there will be two sets of devices coming, those that work with public libraries to provide free e-content, and those that do not. Those that do will work with services like Overdrive and will understand that people still want to check out books for free. Those that do not will include products like the Kindle in which all their services are locked down and you need to pay to play (even for some free content).

One thing I have to say about books and reading. Not everything is online and not everything is in digital format. The only books that are freely available online (without having to go through a public library) are classics that are assigned in high school that most people hated then. There are very few places to get current, free, good books online and a public library is the biggest one.

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz ZafonImage by ai.dan via Flickr
The Sony Reader can download free content from any number of sources. In particular, you can get the latest best-sellers for free from public libraries that use Overdrive. On another point, you can now begin to use iPods to collection content from there as well. As of July 1, iPods will work with almost all of overdrive content. It actually treats the audiobook download like an audiobook as opposed to the content provided like an album. (For instance, I downloaded the Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein and it is an MP3 broken into an album of 15 parts, all with 1 hour segments. If I played a song the last time I listened to the audiobook, it lost my place, very annoying. ) I just downloaded The Angel's Game by Zafon and it has it broken down like an audiobook on my iPod. Instead of one hour segments only, it has them in one hour segments and then broken down into 3-5 minute increment. That way, if I stop the book, I can easily find my place again, but then I don't have to, it remembers it for me.

E-books in libraries are the best way to combat any piracy. That's the next big issue of online content. I also think it is ironic that Scribd will start selling e-books when that was one of the biggest book piracy sites available (not of their own doing of course). Many of the book piracy sites are going away now that more attention has been paid. Prior to researching the topic, I didn't realize that most of the books available through these sites didn't exist digitally before. There was no deal with the author or publisher; they were illegal. I think a lot of this can be stopped if more current e-books are available online through public libraries. They are the only medium that currently provides free content that is legal. I just hope that isn't taken away in the digital age.
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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Broadband Stimulus Fails

The NOFA (Notice of Funds for Availability) for the Broadband Stimulus package of $7.2 billion has been released. However, the strict definition of broadband will leave many organizations in need dead in the water.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 has a great deal of focus on broadband in rural areas with $7.2 Billion intended to help the underserved. The probelm now is that the definition of broadband is one half of a T-1 line or 768 Kbps. This puts a lot of libraries out of the running. In my opinion, libraries were the key to making this connection.

If we have a public community building, with computer and internet access, in a place where there is limited or no connectivity, then provide money to a library that fits all the categories. I have worked in many rural areas and even the ones that are the most cut-off can muster this amount. Therefore, they get no money even though the potential for increased bandwidth that can lead to innovation and job creation is dashed by this restrictive definition. It hits hard because it is too low for the average library to qualify, but it cuts such a small window, that there will be no demand in those communities that ARE that low.

From this Gigaom article, One-Third of U.S. Doesn’t Have Broadband:

"The firm found that the more money a household has, the more likely it is to have a computer and broadband access (see chart). The study also revealed that only 4 percent of subscribers were unsatisfied with their broadband service, and about 29 percent would be interested in faster services. However, 37 percent didn’t feel a need to boost their speeds. In line with other surveys, Leichtman found that 3 percent of Internet subscribers say broadband is not available in their area. So in addition to policies encouraging the buildout of broadband infrastructure, the government should also be thinking about getting computers to lower-income homes and teaching folks the advantages that come with using broadband."

More articles have firmed up this argument:

Free broadband won't entice all (

"Broadband is becoming increasingly important to people's ability to participate in the economy and society," said Ofcom's market development partner Peter Phillips.

"The report shows that some creativity will be required if we wish to capture the imaginations of those who have yet to engage with the benefits the internet may bring," he said.


"Some 43% of adults who currently do not have internet access would remain disconnected even if they were given a free PC and broadband connection."

This debate is interesting because while many advocated for broadband in rural areas, those actually living in those areas are not creating a demand. Many Internet Service Providers are trying to drum up interest and demonstrate the need. Unfortunately, only communities that have an affluent section will probably get that broadband. They often are the ones that have broadband at home and want to increase their speed or have moved from an area where they had broadband and now they don't.

by smiling_da_vinci

Libraries are typically the only place to get internet access in rural communities. Furthermore, they are the only places to provide fast broadband access. This quick access can create demand from communities for faster access. In the library itself, demand for faster access provided by the library varies by community.

As a private citizen, I can get up to 18 mpbs at my house, but the local library may be only limited to 1.5, that's a big difference. As someone who uses the library, I would think the slow internet would be an embarrassment and wouldn't use it unless it was faster. As a private citizen using dial-up, I wouldn't know what you could do with faster internet. I may not even understand the difference. I would only know that if wanted to send photos to someone via email, it seems like it takes forever. Which brings up another post (humorous), Gigaom, Broadband Confession: I have Pipe Envy:

"However, my upload speeds are still miserable, at less than 512 kbps, and that’s what has me feeling like an outsider looking in when it comes to technology. Sure, I can talk the talk about broadband as a platform for innovation, and hype cloud computing, online backup and uploading video files. But whenever I attempt it, I have to shamefully set up my uploads for the nighttime hours while I creep off to bed knowing that, otherwise, sending the standard definition video clip of my daughter’s first haircut would cause my Internet connection and daytime productivity to crumble. Om feels my pain."

It seems that the demand would be created in reaction to a need. I may not understand the overall value of faster broadband, but it could realize it if day-to-day tasks are executed more quickly. It's difficult not to try to offer broadband everywhere, but it is further difficult to spend money in areas that don't demand it. Things should be equal, but the resource could be wasted. In the end, this legislation is about job creation. However, the only jobs that will be created will be the one time cost of laying down fiber. There aren't any additional jobs created by increasing my bandwidth. After that, the hope is the new faster internet can lead to innovation and opportunities to those in rural areas.

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Library Literacy Conference in Three Rivers

I attended the library's 9th annual literacy conference in beautiful Three Rivers, California. I had the honor of speaking to them before the event where I focused on the importance of their work in our economic recovery.

I referenced a recent Washington Post article that compares two rural communities and their broadband success. One was more successful than the other because their community was more affluent, the population had a higher education, and there was a workforce development program already there.

Rural Riddle: Do Jobs Follow Broadband Access?

Two Hamlets That Got High-Speed Lines Show Wildly Different Results

"And the education gap cannot be dismissed", said John Horrigan, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

"It's Economic Development 101 to try to improve the supply of infrastructure to make a locality more attractive for businesses, but you do need a skilled workforce to fully exploit that," Horrigan said. "In rural America, for broadband adoption, skills and relevance still remain a barrier."

Even further explained by this Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report on rural broadband access:

Bringing Broadband to Rural America: Report on a Rural Broadband Strategy FCC

"Stimulating and Sustaining Demand for Broadband. Various factors may affect demand for broadband services in rural areas, including a lack of knowledge regarding the benefits of Internet access, lack of training on how to use a computer, socioeconomic and demographic factors, and affordability. To help stimulate and sustain demand for broadband services in rural areas, both public and private entities should consider developing consumer education and training initiatives, broadband affordability programs, and other incentives to achieve sustainable penetration rates."

So the key to any economic recovery, even if the library were to receive a broadband grant, isn't just fast internet access, but a skilled workforce. Without the literacy program, any other efforts wouldn't be as productive.

Literacy Issues and Stopping Short

There were great insightful discussions at the conference. Some great topics were:

The lack of diversity among tutors.

In some cases, adult literacy has focused too much on English Acquisition for Spanish Speakers instead of just general literacy.

The literacy center can deter students that have basic skills, but still need improvement.

In many cases, there is a frustration that the student only goes so far. They get to a level that they want to get a job, but no further. It's the problem of good enough.

"Literacy will be useful for the rest of their lives. Not just enough to get a job, or get what you want, but you can enjoy reading, writing, and an informed mind. Too many stop short, how can we change that?"

The best story: A woman wanted to learn how to speak English. Her children could do it. It took months of tutoring and help. One day, she was paying for her groceries when the check-out girl was wondering about how to make a Mexican dish. The student was able to tell her how to do it in English. When she walked out of the store, her six year old son said "Mommy, I'm so proud of you."

There is more information on Literacy from a May 2009 report:
Basic Reading Skills and the Literacy of the America's Least Literate Adults

Literacy Leadership

There was a great open forum where tutors, students, and literacy leaders discussed issues. There are some fantastic comments about leadership and how to make changes in communities.

"Leaders are doers. You see a need and you do something about it. You don't complain, you don't wait for someone else, it's about making it happen."

Matching tutors with learners.Image by Newton Free Library via Flickr

What it takes to be a tutor

It doesn't take much knowledge to be a tutor. Many of the tutors remarked that they didn't feel they could help the program because they didn't have a college degree. In the end, if you know how to read, you can help someone else learn to read. It's that simple. It's not the skills to teach, you just need to be patient and willing to help.

Anyone can find a literacy program near them by going here. In California, volunteers can also find programs nearest them by going here.

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Saturday, May 23, 2009

Google Books, Apple Apps, and Gov Docs or " don't have to burn a book you just remove 'em"

Updated 5/24/2009, Apple reverses decision, allows Eucalyptus:

"Then early Sunday, Apple changed its position and accepted the app after discussions with Eucalyptus developer James Montgomerie, the developer wrote on his blog:

"Earlier today I received a phone call from an Apple representative. He was very complimentary about Eucalyptus. We talked about the confusion surrounding its App Store rejections, which I am happy to say is now fully resolved. He invited me to re-build and submit a version of Eucalyptus with no filters for immediate approval, and that full version is now available on the iPhone App Store. "

Apple Says no to Project Gutenberg
"Apple has rejected Eucalyptus, an ebook reader that facilitates downloading public domain books from Project Gutenberg, because some Victorian books mention sex (many of these same books can be bought as ebooks through the iPhone Kindle reader or purchased as audiobooks from the iTunes store). It's amazing to think that in 2009 a phone manufacturer wants to dictate which literature its customers should be allowed to download and read on their devices. "

If Apple really thought about it, they would realize that there are other apps that can download Project Gutenberg books, many of which are explicit. There is a list of 1001 books you should read before you die that include many offensive and explicit books.

1933 May 10 Berlin book burning -- taken from ...Image via Wikipedia
This argument is difficult since it is over access to a book that most people believe should be banned. What's the big deal?

If a private company can do that, they can do that to ANY book. They could ban the Grapes of Wrath. This isn't considered an offensive book, but some people didn't like the way they are portrayed, so they burned the books. However in this case, people who don't agree with the book, don't have to burn it, they can delete them or destroy a program that provides access.

This leads into the Google Books Settlement controversy. If Google controls the digital versions of books scanned from public universities and have complete control of the digital copy, the same thing that's happened in the App store can happen over at google books. Google seems to be altering the settlement agreement:

Google starts charm offensive, but not everyone's on board

" gives Michigan the right to the digitized version of any book in its collection, even if Google wound up scanning a copy held by a different library. Michigan will have the right to offer these digital versions through the equivalent of interlibrary loans, and the general public will apparently be allowed to purchase access to its collection, even if they have no association with the university—although this may just be through the online book retailing that will be part of Google's service. "

In particular, information provided by the Federal Government have been altered or deleted since the information provided made people nervous. They also do it in an underhanded way.

Homeland Security Agents Pull Ohio Libraries’ Haz-Mat Documents

"It all began March 26, when a woman came to the reference desk and asked Martha Lee of the Bluffton (Ohio) Public Library for the Allen County Hazardous Materials Emergency Plan. Lee told American Libraries that after receiving the appropriate binder, the woman declared, “You can’t have it back.” The patron removed the materials and substituted a letter stating that the haz-mat manual would be “available for public inspection” at Allen County’s Homeland Security Office, although “proper ID may be required” to access it. According to Lee, the woman also said, “Well, I have a whole list of libraries I have to visit.”

These kinds of actions were far worse post-September 11th. So much disappeared out of fear rather than out of need. This raid had to be performed in person, getting a physical document. However, items online can be deleted just like an Itunes Store App, a Google Book, or a Government Document.

It's no wonder that when private companies are involved with books that they would encourage censorship of materials, even ones are that in the public domain. They can cite guidelines and restrictions and user agreement, but in the end private companies (nor the Federal Government) have no obligation (and certainly no incentive) to provide access to materials that some people find offensive or dangerous. What does our future for information look like if these trends continue?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Recovery Act funds for libraries or I have broadband, I need faster broadband

President Obama's intention for the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA) is to find ways to stimulate the economy. Many libraries qualify for existing grants (even though no money has been provided just for libraries.) The real trick is often finding a local federal office and working with them to get funding. If you know the right local federal agency, the right grant, and apply it to the right project, there are huge benefits. (The American Library Association has a great deal of information on how to get stimulus funds, I liked this one from District Dispatch Blog). As librarians, we definitely need to be creative and snoop so that we can find money that is applicable to us.
The process can be very confusing. Here was a good quote from the Technology Policy Summit discussing rural broadband potential:

Much of the money can be found in different places, and in many cases, wrapped into existing grant projects.

from Stimulating Broadband:
Given that these continuing programmatic efforts of the Rural Development division of USDA -- the division which includes RUS -- operate under an established body of regulations, the NOFA to be issued by the agency for ARRA broadband stimulus funds must be groomed to coordinate with those strictures already in use in rural jurisdictions around the country.
There is also more potential coming from the state:
Teri Takai: California Budget Crisis Won't Block Technology Progress

"The state also will step up efforts to prepare citizens for success in the digital economy. Schwarzenegger intends to sign an executive order promoting digital literacy within two weeks (article posted 5/17/2009), Takai said. And the CIO's office is launching efforts to assess statewide broadband Internet connectivity, with the intention of strengthening access in unserved and underserved areas."

After some investigation, we found our local Department of Agriculture office provides building construction and broadband connectivity to any public building in a rural area. For this alone, there is potential to get $300,000 in building construction money for library branches.

Broadband has been the biggest discussion in the library world. It seems like $7.2 billion is easy to get, but if your library already provides broadband, then what?

The Internet Runs on This stuff
Originally uploaded by Lacrymosa

Do we still qualify for broadband if we just need more speed? We really can't afford an ongoing cost to upgrade.

There is a great deal of potential for rural libraries to update buildings, and provide the infrastructure for increased internet access. However, if I repair or build a building, it can last 5, 10, or 50 years past the grant cycle, depending on the project. For broadband, the costs are always ongoing and always increasing, but the stimulus money isn't. What do we do then?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Library Legislative Day

First of all, I wanted to thank everyone for their wonderful comments and encouragement. I've learned a great deal in my short time at my new job.

Library Legislative Day

The California Library Association hosted Library Legislative Day on April 15th. (There was a press conference included, which was a bit overshadowed by coverage of Anti-Tax protesters.)

We were able to speak with our local State representatives and provide support to other libraries on several issues:
  • ACA 9 which reduces the requirement for bond to a simple majority from a super majority (66%).
  • Lobbied to fully fund the Public Library Fund, which allows libraries to share resources and allow reciprocal borrowing.
  • We also lobbied for Recovery Act funds to be set aside just for libraries.

When it comes to lobbying and advocacy, the best stories are human stories. This story came from a library's Friends board member who attended:

"A high school student comes into the library weekly to use the computers to finish her homework online. She not only completes her own homework, but does her mother's as well. Now, the first thought is, 'Hey she is doing her Mom's homework!' In reality, she prints out the homework assignment afterward and then tutors her mom at home. Her mom can't make it to the library during its open hours. If the library were to close just one hour earlier from budget cuts, both of them would fail through lack of resources."

We can talk about how efficient we are and our great services, but the human stories often make the most compelling argument.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The situation now for California Libraries

There are several California Propositions that will determine the state's budget for the next year.

I'm too new to this situation to provide any meaningful analysis. This is the best snippet:

California Governor Arnold SchwarzeneggerImage by Thomas Hawk

"Voter approval of the May 19 measures is needed to complete implementation of the budget Mr. Schwarzenegger signed in February to close a then-$42 billion deficit through July 2010. The budget calls for steep spending cuts and new taxes. Among other things, the ballot measures would impose a spending cap on lawmakers, let the state borrow against future lottery revenue, and divert to the general fund some money voters had earmarked for mental-health and children's programs."

All I do know is that if these propositions fail on May 19th, which seems likely, the state may "borrow" local property taxes.

Cuts Loom in California if Propositions Fail

"The possibilities include cutting $3.6 billion from education, reducing the state's firefighting budget by 10%, and releasing 40,000 low-risk inmates to cut prison costs, Mr. Schwarzenegger said. The state also may have to borrow $2 billion from local governments, he said.

Some would be skeptical about "borrowing".

State proposal could borrow millions from cities

"The proposal would cost Concord about $2.24 million, said City Manager Dan Keen — money the city can ill afford to lose.

"It may be an effort to influence the election upcoming," Keen said. "But if the election fails, we are concerned that the state will have few options, and, given their record in the past, that they will try to come after cities."

Keen is skeptical about the state repaying any money it borrows.

"Their track record isn't very good. We're still waiting on repayment of some loans back in 1993 to redevelopment agencies," Keen said."

This move would cut 8% from local government spending. Many libraries are already facing severe budget cuts from the bad economy.

Library directors vote not to close branches - for now

"On a 6-3 vote, the Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Joint Powers Board on Tuesday asked acting Director Susan Elgin to return with variations on a theme -- how to trim about $1.3 million from the libraries' current $12.6 million budget without closing any of the system's 10 branches."


"The Santa Cruz Public Libraries' Joint Powers Board must by July 1 figure out how to balance its $11.4 million budget with an estimated $2.4 million less in sales and property tax revenues than at this time in 2008. The board oversees all libraries in the county except those in Watsonville."

Dwindling sales taxes and falling property values are impacting county and city systems. With the threat of the propositions failing and the state "borrowing" from local property taxes, that could be the nail in the coffin for many libraries.

It's sad to say that when the economy dips, essential services like public libraries get hit hardest. It's ironic that libraries are getting such heavy use, but can often be the first to receive the axe in a bad economy when they are often critical in helping provide workforce development and job training.

Local library awarded grant for job training

"A half dozen libraries across Tennessee are receiving grant funds administered through the Secretary of State’s office for programs that help job-seekers find work.

Libraries in Union City, Ardmore, Rogersville, Johnson City, Decatur and Franklin will each receive $7,500 to set up job training centers. These centers will provide materials and professional services to teach new skills to displaced workers, provide information about career choices and offer resumé writing and job application assistance.

Image by NJLA: New Jersey Library Association via Flickr

Things are tough out there and librarians are very resilient. They are critical to our economic recovery. We will persevere and come out anew during these tough circumstances as always. There always seems to be doom and gloom these days, but libraries are still providing the critical services our public needs both now and for the future.