Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reading is good for you: print versus e-books

Recent articles in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and now the Wall Street Journal have discussed e-books and printed books. Some of the top e-book blogs have dismissed these articles as simply anti-technology, one at Print is Dead goes so far to say that print is a vegetable.
"This is completely the wrong approach to take. I mean, to force print down people’s throats as if it’s a vegetable they don’t want to eat is just about the worst strategy I’ve ever heard of. (Believe me, when I was a kid I hated lima beans, and my mom insisted I eat them; I dutifully shoved them down my prepubescent gullet, but as an adult I never touch them). So to try and guilt people to read print implies that to do so is a sacrifice; worse, that’s it’s a kind of punishment. It turns reading newspapers into a kind of penance for a digital life, a modern-day flogging in the form of papercuts and inky fingerprints.

Just because something’s on paper doesn’t make it divine; it doesn’t even make it good. But Clark’s just interested in cozying up with newspapers in his breakfast nook, feeling all warm and sanctimonious. Meanwhile, I’ll be reading The New York Times on my laptop, and doing just fine."


This article is in context to newspapers in print versus newspapers online. However, there is an interesting point in this quote, "Just because something's on paper doesn't make it divine..." Isn't this true? The first wave of the e-book was easily scuttled because of back-lit computer screens. Behind that, was an anti-technology sentiment. In the second wave, that sentiment is more at the forefront since the technology scuttles the problems of reading a book on a computer screen. Even without the readers with special e-ink, many people report that they can read on their portable devices just fine. Take this article from the Chicago Tribune:

"The experience taught me that a book is not what I had thought it to be. It is not, in any important sense, typeface, paper stock or cover art. A book is, foremost, the arrangement of words in sequence, and they are, to borrow a buzz-phrase from the digital folk, platform agnostic.

To be sure, I am enough of a traditionalist to still want to own hard-copy books, and enough of a literature snob to want to have books on display in shelves. But that will be only one wing of my library.

Count me as an e-book convert, persuaded that their eventual widespread adoption is more than a pipe dream.

And now, I have to pick up my cell phone again. Ms. Austen is calling."


The writer in the article discusses his new love of e-books. He was surprised that he would like it so much. He found that the screen wasn't so bad and that the selection that it opens up, referring to Project Gutenburg and the availability on the mobi-pocket reader site, creates millions of books one could download for free. In fact, the only drawbacks are ones of sentimental value. I can't have the book on my shelf or I can't feel the book and have that experience.

A response to this article can be found on


"I post these things at Slow Reading because I am truly fascinated by people’s experience of eBooks. I think they have their place, but in my opinion, they are no substitute when reading books like Austen for pleasure. Johnson disagrees. I’m sure I could put up with an eBook if I had to, but why would I want to?...I’m playing around with audio-books, too. I think of these things like meal substitutes; they’ll do in a pinch, but they’re not the genuine article.


I liked the last line here, "...they'll do in a pinch, but they're not the genuine article". I responded to his post stating that this person was probably so used to reading his blackberry, that he did not notice the format change. Mobile devices, in my opinion, don't create the same eye strain because the back-lit portion isn't as strong as a computer screen.

I have actually had the same experience. I have been reading David Copperfield on my Dell Axim and I haven't noticed any eye strain. I haven't read on it for longer than 30 minutes at a time, but it sure is convenient to always have a book to read on you. I find I read more often and faster I have it, plus it fits in my pocket.

People don't change behaviors based on technology, the technology must be slipped into those already set behaviors in order to be adapted. This is a way e-books can be adopted in a more widespread way, which leads to the quote:

To be a book-collector is to combine the worst characteristics of a dope fiend with those of a miser.
Robertson Davies

Most readers, book lovers, and collectors want the book to be as free as possible. The argument with e-books is that one has to purchase a device just to read a book. However, paying a small fee now enables one to read millions of books for free. You don't have to purchase all the classics, even though they make you look quite intellectual on your bookshelf, you can get them on your mobile device. Mobile devices are increasingly used in the same way books are used and read in the same ways. You don't get the status of having a big bookshelf, but you get the same books. Maybe there should be some way to show off your bookshelf status in your home. We can already do it with LibraryThing or you can show off how many books you have read over at

Of course, you can still buy the books to display, and read them on an e-book device. I read the classics that way and I have the nice leather-bound gold-leaf editions on my bookshelf. Then again, I read most of my books from the public library, so I can't put them on my shelf for status, but I can make a list on

Lastly, on the use of e-books for the general public, comes an article from the New Yorker:Future Reading, Digitization and its discontents:

For now and for the foreseeable future, any serious reader will have to know how to travel down two very different roads simultaneously. No one should avoid the broad, smooth, and open road that leads through the screen. But if you want to know what one of Coleridge’s annotated books or an early “Spider-Man” comic really looks and feels like, or if you just want to read one of those millions of books which are being digitized, you still have to do it the old way, and you will have to for decades to come. At the New York Public Library, the staff loves electronic media. The library has made hundreds of thousands of images from its collections accessible on the Web, but it has done so in the knowledge that its collection comprises fifty-three million items.
Again, the concept of the divine in discussing the printed word. If you want to actually feel the book, you need to go to the public library. The actual concept of holding the book rather than reading its contents is more important here. The article discusses in depth the evolution of the book and reading and in a very romantic way. It did provoke a response from the Teleread blog:The New Yorker is as wrong about e-libraries as Martin Luther apparently was about paper books

Here’s a challenge for The New Yorker. Can its contributors write up e-libraries without droning on about how we’ll always need paper books? Is every e-book lover an arson-minded Visigoth eager to burn down the great paper collections or rob them of funding? And do we all hate the idea of paper backups—or, for that matter, Main Street bookstores?

Teleread often laments why so many people hate digital books. The New Yorker laments the loss of the feel of the book. The Chicago Tribune laments the loss of the bookshelf (as status?). The Poynter institute also laments the feel of the newspaper "Hold it in your hand. Take it to the john. Just read it.” I also remember reading something when LAMA digitized their journal. They also stated something to the affect that you can take your reading device "to the john" as well. So there is an obvious difference between e-books and print books, the problem is not the content, or how the book is read, but the actual book that is the difference. They want to hold the book and have it on their bookshelf. Replication of that is that last barrier to total adoption.

Briefly, I will discuss the increased use of mobile readers for students. The Georgia Tech library experimented with e-books with their students, from the LITA Blog:
"“Young people are open to accessing electronic material on mobile devices.” E-book readers should be like print, but better. E-book readers should offer the same types of flexibility and options that are expected with other mobile devices. They should merge the benefits of digital with that of paper: create something new that allows for taking notes in the margins of a hypertext medium.
So the barrier to e-books for students is extremely low. They are already ready for this format because they are used to digital devices. At the end of the presentation, it even recommends that popular fiction can be retrieved faster using ebooks, that Sony e-readers should be provided for circulation in libraries, and that e-books should be easier to find.

Further, Teleread is starting an initiative to help promote e-books for students.
Their proposal:
This project is a continuation of the six-year Ball State University research on digital reading. Its aim is to discover if the use of Wireless Handheld Devices (WHDs) can increase learning and if they can be introduced effectively into the classroom. If it can be shown that there is value in using WHDs, this project will lay the groundwork for determining how such devices should be used as well as the defining the necessary training for students and teachers.

Lastly, a recent report by the Department of Education stated that technology and media have permeated all households. Therefore, the use of technology to promote literacy is a valid path to take. I discuss more of that report here.

What's it all mean? E-books are on the way in.
1. The producers have already found a way to make reading acceptable on the eyes.
2. The proliferation of mobile devices and mobile screens have made that requirement less stringent. With so many "crackberry" addicts and ipod users, the tiny screen to read is not a problem.
3. The media has found a way to replicate reading habits. You can read it in bed, on the train, and some say even in the tub. A thorough analysis of the sony e-reader can also be found from the Travellin' Librarian Blog.
4. The producers need to find a way to bring the nostalgia to e-books. People like the format of the book because of the nostalgia aspect.
5. The producers need to find a way to create the status of the e-book. How many books on your reader? How many do you own? It won't replicate collection.
6. Digital Rights Management will hinder selection.

The last point affects public libraries the most. As many libraries are providing products like overdrive (downloadable e-books, audiobooks, music, and movies) the selection is rather sparse. This is due to the fact many of the publishing, music, and movie industry does not want to release these items digitally. However, they already produce it to us in a physical format. What really is the difference? This is the biggest hurtle to which there may be no immediate solution, except a change in the laws.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Children, Families, and Media:A Benchmark

Children, Families, and Media:A Benchmark
This report by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement and conducted by the Michael Cohen Group LLC, under the auspices of a grant to the Ready to Learn Partnership (RTLP) will focus on the use of media to help children learn to read. The purpose of the study was to examine technology acquisition throughout all levels of income. If technology had permeated throughout all of society, regardless of income, then it could be used as a tool for literacy.

From the report:
  • Overall Key Findings
    Several key findings emerge from this research:
    Households at all income levels participate in media ownership. For example, among caregivers with annual household incomes below $25,000, nearly three-quarters subscribe to cable TV, two-thirds have DVD players, over half have mobile phones, more than one-third have computers, and one-quarter have home access to the Internet.

  • Access equals ownership. For most, access to media technology translates
    into ownership of that technology. For instance, while Internet access may be
    found in places outside of the home (work, libraries, etc.), most individuals who access the Internet do so from home.

  • Participation is in the full range of media content and technologies.
    Variation by income differs depending on the technology, however all technologies are represented in at least some households at all income levels.

  • There are substantial differences in the incidence of ownership by
    income level for many media – in particular, more expensive and emerging
    media technologies are less commonly found at lower income levels. For instance, ownership of wireless handheld devices ranges from 8% of those with incomes of less than $25,000 to 50% of those with incomes of greater than $75,000.

  • Other technologies enjoy near universal penetration. The least variation is found for a mature technology: television (which 95% of households earning less than $25,000 a year own, and 100% of those earning more than $75,000 a year own). Cable, radio, and CD-players are also found in most homes at all income levels.

  • Ownership and involvement in media and technology is about both affordability and perceived value(s); not everyone necessarily wants all media. For instance, videogame ownership tops out at 58% of households earning $75,000 a year or more, and there is little income difference in ownership of this technology.

  • In addition to ownership of media technology hardware, most individuals subscribe to additional services that deliver a wide range of media content. Most households with TVs also have cable service; those with computers also have Internet access (dial up or broadband).

  • Once a technology is owned, the ways in which caregivers use the technology are nearly identical at all income levels. Usage rates in computer owning low-income households meet or exceed overall usage rates in such key areas as work and professional tasks (68% compared to 55%) and for study purposes (45% compared to 38%).

  • Additionally, most caregivers engage in basic pre- and early-literacy learning activities with their children on a regular basis. There are some differences in the frequency with which children are read to and encouraged to spend time with books, but caregivers at all income levels are involved in fostering early language and literacy learning.

    Other Key Findings:

    Findings indicate that ownership of some media technologies is nearly universal (e.g., television) with little or no differences by income level. Other technologies are nearly universal at high incomes, but present in different degrees at other income levels (e.g., computers, mobile phones, cable). In contrast, some technologies – such as videogame systems – may not ever approach universality. This suggests that factors beyond income – perhaps limited interest or values – are at play. However, for some newer media technologies – including DVR’s (33%) and wireless handheld devices (14%) – it may be too soon to tell which ownership track will be followed.

    In relation to Computers and Internet:

    Computers are present in a majority of households. Sixty-three percent of caregivers’ households have computers. While levels of computer ownership differ considerably by income, nearly 40% of those earning less than $25,000 own computers.

  • The great majority of computer owners (93%) have Internet access at home, with little variation by income except in type of access (broadband or dial up).

  • Nearly two-thirds (65%) of children using home computers also go online. Not surprisingly, rates of usage are lower among children five or younger (36%) than among six- to eight-year-olds (75%).

  • The specific ways in which computers are used (email, storing photos, household management, work or school related tasks, etc.) varies little by income.

    In relation to videogames

    Videogame systems are not a universally owned technology – at any income level. Indeed, just over half of households with incomes above $75,000 (58%) own videogame systems, compared with 40% of low-income households.

  • This suggests that income and affordability are not the only variables to consider in describing and analyzing media penetration. Videogame systems may appeal to a smaller segment of the population than other media technologies.

    Print Media
    In this era of widespread electronic screen media, the findings show that print media – particularly books – continue to be a significant presence in all households. Independent of income differences, the great majority of caregivers report owning children’s books (96%) as well as adult fiction (87%) and non-fiction (92%). There is little variation in the presence of books in the home by income level.

  • There is variation by income in subscriptions for newspapers and magazines. For example, virtually all households (93%) with incomes over $75,000 subscribe to print media, whereas only 44% of households with incomes of $25,000 or less report subscribing to publications.

    ...some of these findings suggest that financial barriers to media and technology ownership are being lowered, and that the motivations to use media technologies are increasing, while other findings indicate that there continue to be real income differences in ownership and use, particularly for more expensive and emerging technologies. In fact, both are true. Regardless of how one assesses the current state, it is clear that, given the proliferation and increased affordability of media technologies, the metaphor of the “digital divide” no longer adequately characterizes the complex relationship between income and ownership of media technology. The current state is perhaps best described as a “digital continuum.”

Read the whole report here Children, Families, and Media:A Benchmark and webcast is here:

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Digital Divide to Digital Continuum: has the digital divide been bridged?

The general reason for public libraries to provide access to technology is the digital divide. Low income has always been tied to lack of access to technology. Libraries have increased the number of computers and internet bandwidth to keep up with demand. However, a recent report by the Department of Education (Digital Divide to Digital Continuum) refutes the idea that there is a digital divide in relation to income and technology. A quote from the GovTech Blog, Digital Divide Subtracted, :

New research funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement and conducted by the Michael Cohen Group LLC, under the auspices of a grant to the Ready to Learn Partnership (RTLP) revealed that while television took nearly three decades to become universal, nearly 40 percent of low income families now have computers and almost a third have Internet access at home in just the last five to seven years. This new research suggests that given the proliferation of media across the socioeconomic spectrum, although significant differences do exist by income level, a stark digital divide no longer captures the relationship between income and technology ownership and that technology is integrated into children's lives, regardless of their families' income.

This means that for public libraries, basic connections is not enough anymore. Yes we have public access computers (new ones thanks to Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other local intiatives), with internet (although it needs to be increased), but are we providing anything beyond that to enhance technology opportunities. Or is this our role?

I like the developments that I see in many libraries. They provide a technology petting zoo to help their patrons understand and use new technology. It also helps to show patrons how it relates to library usage, such as downloadable items and database usage.

David Lee King talks about Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library's Techie Toy Box (photos). Princeton Public Library provides a Gadget Garage too.

More from the article:
"According to the survey, families from every income level own and use technology, albeit with differences in the frequency of participation based on income. However, the rate at which lower income families have come to own media technology has been astonishingly quick," said Dr. Michael Cohen. "The metaphor of the digital divide no longer captures the relationship between income and technology ownership. The current state is perhaps best described as a digital continuum."

So technology acquisition is growing very fast. Is access an issue? Library's have traditionally provided content via books and over the internet. We slice away at the proprietary layer of the web by providing free access to content. Newspaper archives, research, and even free downloadable content. I think our role is to continue to provide access to content and to educate the public on a variety of topics, especially technology. Technology is often thrown at people as a solution and the public library continues to be a hub of learning for that technology. Technology is available at all levels of society and acquired faster, but do learning curves differ? Yes they do.

"For years, Congress has supported literacy-based television programming to help pre-schoolers get ready to read and to foster reading skills among school-aged children," said Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and a leading advocate for early childhood education. "This new study shows that we are making progress in closing the digital divide and that television and computers can be effective tools to reach children, regardless of income levels, in an effort to help them become productive and successful adults."

A webcast of the report will be available on October 25th: Digital Divide to Digital Continuum.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

You can learn about mentoring and management from Harry Potter and G.I. Joe

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. There may be some spoilers in this post. It is not about the plot, but about several lines at the end of the book between two characters. It mentions a great deal about power and responsibility. There are some great lines about leadership and responsibility in the book.

“I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.”

People know the right thing to do, but being in a position to make the right decision and knowing that right thing is difficult.

“I was fit to own the Elder Wand, and not to boast of it, and not to kill with it. I was permitted to tame and to use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it.”

A desire to run things to prevent others from doing harm. Save others from bad managers and bad situations.

“You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.”

There are far worse things than trying something new and failing.

“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say good-bye for the present.”

Create a work environment so that people are excited about their jobs. Most jobs are drudgery. If you can create an environment so that people love what they do, that will have untold benefits.

In mentoring future leaders, one must identify several different traits. Sometimes management is bad for someone. This is particularly true for libraries. Most of the time, librarians went into their field to work with books, people, and technology. As I have said before, management is a different career field. Intimate knowledge of a particular library function is useful, but it can also mar your perspective when going into management. This ends up as a display of favoritism as well. I remember an episode of G.I. Joe where the commander left the base on a mission. He didn't place anyone in charge, but three people were in authority. Cobra, the enemy, played on this and attacked. It resulted in a counter-attack that was uncoordinated because the three people could not work together. In the end, the commander returns and Cobra is defeated. There is a speech in the end in which he identifies three different types of people that are unsuitable for management; there are three categories:

1. Those who have the ability, but not the desire
They love their jobs. They are great at their jobs. They could move up easily. They don't want to. This happens often in the library profession due to the second job factor. Many librarians are getting into the field from other jobs. Jobs in which they had to deal with bureaucracy, politics, and getting the dollar for the company versus getting the help for the customer. Of course, library's have their fair share of politics and problems, but people don't necessarily have to deal with them if they are not in a management position. They can continue to do the job they love first hand. They don't have to deal with immature employees, turning straw into gold, dealing with unrealistic public expectations, or making decisions that will affect the future of the library. They can be librarians instead of managers.

2. Those who have the desire, but not the ability
This one is tough. These also have the potential to be the worst managers. Often, if you have a bad experience with a manager, it may be one of these people. They often politic more than they produce. They can be very selfish in their decision-making and are recalcitrant to changing their decisions. They read too much into leadership books that say you must make the tough decision and stick to it. They won't turn the car, even with the cliff approaching because the map said it wasn't there. They don't like to be mentored, and sometimes feel they have nothing more to learn. These are tough ones to turn around. These are the ones in which I feel like the Catcher in the Rye.

3. Those who don't have the desire, nor the ability
They want to be librarians. They love the library field. They may not be the best in dealing with people, or only want to deal with people they like. They don't like management or managers. They may even feel like management are shysters.

This may be a silly exercise, but I am always surprised how much one can learn from teaching children life lessons. I think if we followed more of what we learned as children, we might become better people.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Providing Free Content, Radiohead, the Open Content Alliance, and the near death experience of libraries

Free content is the buzzword in the media. Radiohead announced that its latest album will be online for whatever price you want, even free! The Open Content Alliance has decided to kick Google to the curb and provide their own content online for free without any deal with Google that will restrict content.

Free Music or the Near Death of the Music Industry
The recent announcement by Radiohead that they will be selling their next album online at the price the consumer names is the latest blow to the death of current state of the music industry. Why go through all these middlemen, who take a majority of the profit, for the work the band does? Currently, the music, movie, and publishing industry are undergoing the "near-death experience". A near-death experience can revive an industry so that it is operating the way it should and changes its services to best serve the users.

The move by Radiohead proves that it doesn't need a big behemoth of an industry to create, produce, and market its album. The days of the middleman are numbered. A quote from the Time article,
Radical Remix:

In any industry, the most efficient distribution system has a way of prevailing. Sure, new acts without loyal fan bases would be ill served by the Radiohead strategy. But successful bands at midcareer would be wise to take note. Even the most lucrative deals--the ones reserved for repeat, multiplatinum superstars--give artists less than 20% of the sales they generate, and that has to feed multiple band members. Meanwhile, as CD sales decline (in early 2007, they were down 20% from early 2006 in the U.S. alone), the concert business is booming. In July, Prince, long underestimated for his business acumen, decided to turn his most valuable asset--a buzzed-about record--into a loss leader, flooding the U.K. with 3 million free copies of his Planet Earth CD through the Mail on Sunday newspaper. He was ridiculed for going down market, until he announced 21 London concert dates--and sold out every one at prices five times the suggested retail price of a CD. Not surprisingly, Radiohead has an extensive tour planned for 2008.

Could Steven King pull a Radiohead? or the e-book alternative
Some authors may be able to do this, but there is one problem. The book format is not digital. By its very nature, the book is the printed word on paper. Eventually, it will go digital, but it will only take a near death experience for publishers for it to go that way. The book is the perfect format. It can remain in its pre-digital format and not worry about copyright and all the problems with piracy in the music and movie industry. Even when digital becomes very prominent, will the majority of readers will still purchase a printed book? Isn't it ironic that the blog Print is Dead printed a book?

It seems that the e-book is becoming an alternative format to reading like an audiobook. From the Christian Science Monitor article, E-books multiply, but who's reading them?

as habits change and content inventory nears critical mass (Google, to name one prospective repository, is still wrangling with copyright issues), digital books might finally gain a foothold, observers say – not as a replacement format, but as an alternative delivery system not unlike the audiobook. Both the publishing industry and the reading public appear to be shaking the notion that for the beloved book, digital equals death."

A reaction to this story is available on Teleread here. It speaks to the fact publishers prefer that books stay in print, not so much for their readers, but because books are DRM proof.
Take away DRM—really more of a protection for proprietary formats than the intellectual property rights of authors and publishers—and sales of e-books from large publishers will get a nice bump.

Libraries provide access or the near-death of the public library
To add to that, publishers force libraries to have increased digital rights management to check out digital content. Nobody has really figured out a simple cost and access model for the new way of access. Instead of creating a copy for everyone, there is one copy in which everyone can access. Digital Rights Management treats the one copy like many copies. Libraries have to make access even worse to provide the content at all.

More on DRM from Jessmyn at
The weird part is that patrons can more easily buy their own content, but to get the “checkoutability” it requires DRM and that puts this into the arena of the heavy hitters vendorwise.

On the YALSA blog, Joseph Wilk laments the fact that Radiohead did not provide a way for public libraries to distribute this album to their patrons. Libraries were traditionally the middleman. Sell it to libraries, and they turn around and provide access. Now this is done through Digital Rights Management. Ironically, Radiohead already provided access and libraries can still distribute them. However, it is not so much in the physical format, but by providing computers with internet access.

Public libraries will continue to house books in print as long as the publishing industry continues to do so. When books become digital completely, what will libraries do? If the content is free and can be accessed with a computer and Internet access, what is the future role of the public library?

Public libraries are undergoing the near-death experience as well. Since 1995 the common theme from non-library users is, why do you need the library when you have the Internet. This has come up for discussion recently on Publib because of that same remark in the popular hit series Heroes.
Quote from Publib, starting the discussion:
"... the girl was trying to lie to her parents so that she could go out with a boy. She told them she was going to the library. Her brother said, "haven't you ever heard of the Internet?" She replied that she was doing a paper on how libraries were becoming more and more obsolete for her generation.

The reality is that information wants to be free. Everyone wants free access. The Internet provides that. It will increasingly provide better content online for free. The library role with in relation to content is to provide access through computers with sufficient Internet bandwidth. Content once housed and organized in libraries are freely available online. This will only increase over time. Libraries will increasingly need to shift gears to provide the content, not by owning it or organizing it, but by providing access to it, for free. Watch this video (Information R/Evolution).

Libraries are already striking back by changing their environments mostly due to the Library 2.0 movement. They are also beginning to take back their content to make it freely available online instead of giving it away to Google.

NY Times: Libraries Shun Deals to Place Books on Web
(This article should read, Libraries to provide free content, tells Google to take a hike)
"But the resistance from some libraries, like the Boston Public Library and the Smithsonian Institution, suggests that many in the academic and nonprofit world are intent on pursuing a vision of the Web as a global repository of knowledge that is free of business interests or restrictions."

The real irony with the current state of content on the Internet is the fact that everyone who produces content, at some point, wants to be paid for it. Libraries are the biggest purchasers of the written word. The real goal of libraries is to breach the rich/poor gap and to provide access to content. And in a digital age, there is still a staggering amount of people who cannot read, don't have access to computers and the Internet, and have no skills to compete. This is one of the many roles in which libraries currently play, and will continue to play.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Top ten reading hacks or how to get back into reading

To follow up on Ten ways to hack your local library, I will attempt to provide ten hacks to get back into reading. 1 in 4 people did not read a book at all last year. If you are one of those people and feel guilty about it, there is a way to get back into reading. Reading has untold benefits not just for your vocabulary or comprehension, but it provides a better quality of life. It enhances everything you do and creates the sharpest mind possible. Here are some tips if you have wanted to read, but run into roadblocks.

1. Find out about you
The hardest part about reading is actually finding something you like. If you haven't read in a while, you have no idea what you actually like to read. Think about some of your favorite movies or TV shows, chances are there is the book equivalent to them.

2. Get recommendations
Go to your local library and speak with a librarian. They have numerous resources that they can personally recommend to you. You can also find some lists on your interests. For instance, if you like Arizona history, you can just Google Arizona history bibliography. For fiction, you can Google Western readalikes. You can also try many of the library's databases like NovelList or

3. Start Small/Short is a resource for finding short books that are 200 pages are less. Start with something easy. Mitch Albom is easy to read and a great way to start.

4. It doesn't matter what you read

You shouldn't feel like you need to read the classics, or what the NEA considers "real" literature. You can enjoy reading with anything. A romance novel, a comic book, it doesn't really matter. In fact, most of the romance novels are jam packed with high vocabulary and they certainly keep your attention. Read what you want, just read!

5. Don't read the classics
I will re-iterate this point. This will often kill your desire for reading. Don't read something you think you should read. This is a big mistake. You are not missing anything if you skip George Eliot's Middlemarch or Henry James The Wings of the Dove. (The movie is better in my opinion.) In fact, many people have described reading these books as looking through a glass darkly.

A brief story
One of the best lines about the classics comes from The Curious Incident of the Dog in Nighttime by Mark Haddon. "I do not like proper novels. In proper novels people say things like, 'I am veined with iron, with silver and with streaks of common mud. I cannot contract into the firm fist which those clench who do not depend on stimulus.' What does this mean? I do not know. Nor does Father. Nor do Siobhan or Mr. Jeavons. I have asked them...” In an NPR interview, the author Haddon said he got the quote from The Waves by Virgina Woolf. This is a classic indeed, but very obtuse. This stops the protagonist from reading "proper" novels and it would really stop anyone.

6. Get more than one book at a time
You can check out numerous books from your local library. Sometimes up to 50 at one time. It is best to have variety if one doesn't work out.

7. Keep track of what you read/write a review
Many libraries can keep your reading history if you ask for it to be kept. Not every library does this. Libraries that use Polaris can keep your reading history that you can access online. also can help you keep track of what you read, what you are reading, and what you would like to read.

8. Read first thing in the morning
Read your book when you first get up in the morning. It will invigorate you and wake up your mind.

9. Don't read before bed
I know everybody does it, but it is a bad habit. You are teaching your mind that reading=sleep and that's bad. Next time you need to read a long document you will fall asleep. You will have more difficulty with prolonged reading if you do this. Some can do this and not have a problem, but if you are just getting back into reading, this is something to avoid.

10. Know when to give up/Move On

It's ok to give up on a book. If it just isn't for you, then you shouldn't continue to read it. If you find you have difficultly picking up the book to read, or are constantly distracted while you read, it may not be you, and it may be the book. If the book hasn't sucked you in by the first 50 pages, drop it like a hot rock. That's the Nancy Pearl rule.

(An Alternative) Listen to books
You are not cheating by listening to an audiobook. This exposes your mind to the same vocabulary and comprehension requirements. Most of the time, the professional reader has a compelling voice that may help you stick with a book longer than you would if you were reading it yourself. Take one on a long car drive.

I hope this gets more people back into reading. I know everyone struggles with finding the time. Keep in mind that if you make the right selection, you will need no encouragement to read.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Viral marketing in libraries

Public libraries have always been information hubs. Before the internet, most people would agree that going to the local public library for information was a sure bet to get the answers. Today, the answer is not in the local library, or even the internet; the source for many is someone they know.

People will always trust their friends over an organization. A friend is someone they spend time with and trust. An organization is something that can be treated that way, but it is not the organization that is trusted, but rather the people who work there.

Over at the Church of the Customer Blog, they reflect on a recent Nielsen study that states 78% of people trust their friends over any other source for information.

Despite an ever-expanding array of advertising platforms and sources, consumers around the world still place their highest levels of trust in other consumers, according to a recent global Nielsen Internet survey.

As a library, or for any organization, every transaction with a customer has to be so fantastic that people will talk about it afterward. That is how a reputation is established. If your customer service is bad, everyone will know by asking their friends. If the service is fantastic, you will see a usage jump. A great marketing plan means nothing if people walk into the building and get terrible service. There is long term planning that goes into a successful marketing plan.

Training in Basic Competencies
All library staff should be able to handle 90% of questions and issues. If a patron walks into the library and staff don't have a clue how to serve, then they walk out of the building and then tell their friends how bad you are. Many librarians have experienced this and blogged about it.

Training in Customer Service
Library staff must be placed in the patrons' shoes. They have to understand what it is like to walk into the library for the first time and get what they need. This type of empathy is crucial to good customer service (and consequently management). In this area, advanced classes are often needed in dealing with the angry or dangerous patron. The angry patron training helps staff diffuse situations and pull back out of the circle of anger. This actually helps staff understand a person objectively and without getting personal or let their emotions get the better of them. Furthermore, if you have library staff who are perpetually cranky, a group class dealing in customer service brings across the point of what is expected. Get on board, fake it, or leave.

Training in Technology
Learning 2.0 is all the rage. It is important to cover the basics first. One thing about technology training is that the ones who want to learn have a desire to learn. It can be a personal desire, or a desire to be the best they can at their job. To be able to handle everything thrown at them. Technology training covers both of them. However, if the seed has been sown in basic training and customer service, there is a higher chance for everyone to be on board for training. The reason from management must be there (providing better service), and the desire from staff must be there (lifelong learner or wants to be the best).

There is one thing you may be thinking at this point, "I thought this was a post about marketing?" It is, but it is about viral and word of mouth marketing. If you give someone fantastic service, you are marketing. People will know that they can get friendly, helpful people that will work with them to get what they need and will actually feel bad if they don't achieve their goal. This is the best type of marketing one can do and provides groundwork to achieve bigger and better things.

A brief Story
When we created and enacted our strategic plan, we made the assumption that we need to create a new level of service with new programs and service. Then we can market those services. Sometimes these service market themselves. If the service is that good, and you are on target with a strategic plan, then the service will spread through word of mouth. That is what happened to us. Usage went through the roof almost immediately. New library cards doubled each month. Currently, 90% of our community owns a library card. Consequently, new library cards are flat or down since there are not many more people to get a library card. We were concerned about this since our strategic plan stated that we need to increase library card ownership by 10% by marketing. Now that 90% have a card, we won't hit that mark. However, our new plan is to advertise the fact that 90% of the population owns a library card. It will be something to the extent of "Don't be 1 in 10" with a statement that 90% of our community owns a library card. Then talk about all the great things the library does. We might make shirts or bags to promote this as part of our library card sign up campaign in January.

How to become ubiquitous:RSS Feeds
Now that the groundwork has been lain, the library can now begin expanding its realm and appear ubiquitous. The library can show up everywhere if you choose to do so and it doesn't take any staff time to do so. Just some set-up time. This can easily be done with rss feeds. Most Integrated Library Systems have or are starting to produce RSS feeds.

Why would you library want to do this? Imagine standing on a corner of a busy street. You have lots of books you want to sell. You stand there displaying your books, thinking everyone will just come to you because you are so fantastic. You don't get the traffic you anticipated.

Why? You are not shouting out what you have. You just let people pass by and rely on the fact that you are so fantastic to speak for itself. This is the wrong approach. RSS feeds (really simple syndication) shouts out your information. You may think at this point that not many people use News Readers to read these feeds, but you can produce an email distribution list from these feeds using Feedburner. Feedburner is not the only service that can transmit an rss feed into email. Everyone has email so by producing this feed in this way, everyone can sign up to get the latest books, music, and movies available.

I love these feeds because I am the first to find out when a new book is available. I can be the first in the library to grab a book off the shelf because only I know it is there. This of course helps internally with library staff as they are also aware of what is available as soon as it is available. I once had a patron come in and ask for United 93. We searched everywhere for it, but couldn't find it. We called upstairs to Technical Services and they had it. They stated, "I just put that in the system, how did you know I had it so fast?" She had only put the dvd in the system five minutes before. That's how fast someone can get an item.

These feeds can also be dumped anywhere, twitter, myspace, facebook, google homepage, the list goes on. Your library can be everyone online with rss feeds. You don't necessarily need a presence on all of these social networking sites. However, you can keep them updated with rss feeds that require no additional staff time.

It takes staff time to be everywhere with traditional marketing
It must be written into one or more job positions and time must be given for marketing. Currently, we have one librarian dedicating 20% of their time to marketing. They need to be allowed off desk time or whatever that needs to be done to do this. This involves creating a weekly news blast to the local newspaper, chamber of commerce, our email listserv, it goes on our website, it goes to a monthly magazine that is delivered to every household in the county, our friends newsletter, the county visitor's bureau, and anywhere else we can squeeze in. This takes a lot of time. In reality, all of the events are planned out six months in advance. So it mostly involves grabbing what is happening this week, adding library news (such as advertising our flash drives for sale, our food for fines, library closures, and other non-programming events) and adding our top ten list. Our top ten list is the top ten books our community is reading at any one time. For instance, we put in the top ten circulating books for fiction, non-fiction, juvenile, teens, and then pick different subject (like gardening or cooking for diabetics) or genre areas (like romance or mystery).

We also cheat a bit with the list. We don't just put out the most circulating items, we put out the hotlist. Most circulating will only provide older titles and give the impression the library only has old titles. We get a hotlist by subtracting the date entered from the date it was checked out. This then predicts what the circulation will be for one year. For instance, if a book was only in three days and was checked out, it would predicted it would be checked out every three days, giving it a circulation of over 100. So instead of the Da Vinci Code showing up at the top fiction books, A Thousand Splendid Suns shows up first instead. People reading the paper for library news may be surprised that we have the latest fiction. This helps promote that.

The actual viral piece/Our plan

To actually get viral, you must have a particular service or services that is so great people are always prompted to talk about it. As a library director once told me, people need to see their library like mecca, how do we connect today? Here are some things we have done and will be planning:

We gave away free gold bookmarks and canvas bags with the library's logo on it for a library card sign-up month. Not terribly exciting, but new cards went up.

We upgraded everyone's library card from a red piece of plastic, to a dual card with a wallet card and a keychain card with the library's picture, website, hours of operation, and phone number on the back. This prompted conversation because the picture was attractive, and anytime someone pulled out their keys, a conversation could occur. (hey what's that, this is my new library card, they are giving them away free at the library.)

We sell flash drives with the library's logo and website address. This has been the most successful viral campaign as we were able to penetrate the schools with it. If a teacher can fit you into their busy schedule, then you are truly successful. Read more here

We bought into the Greater Phoenix Digital Library consortium. We plan to wrap our library card campaign with marketing for this service. Our plan it to give away 2gb mp3 players and show people how to use them. The first 50 who sign up for the service will get a free player and instructions on how to download an audiobook or music to their player. All library staff will each get a player first so they can see how it works. We will also issue an fm transmitter with it so that it can be played in any car. This gets over several compatibility issues. The mp3 player can play everything, can be placed in any car, and has enough storage to play 40 hours of audiobook, which is the largest capacity of audio.

We plan to expand our bandwidth once our e-rate application is resolved. We will expand from 1.5 mbps to 6mbps. We plan to have a campaign to the extent of, be careful, speed this fast can be dangerous. We will probably have a video launch to demonstrate the speed.

We plan to renovate the library by replacing the dvd shelving with videostore shelving, replace the new bookshelving with clear face-out shelving, create a greeting desk, clean the front of the library, and put out a new security system that will enable more self-service. This will change the entire look of the library for very little cost. If all goes exactly, it will create an entirely different effect when one walks through the library. It is my hope that this will further get the public to talk about our library.

This should all result in increased traffic in all user points. We should see double digit jumps in circulation (with particular notice to how fast an item is checked out and particular higher marketed collections), computer usage, walk-in business.

This takes an incredible amount of back work, training, and planning. I have done this before with a renovation. It is why all of our service usage has increased the last two years. We are almost always looking to improve and change services to make them better. We want to be the best and that involves change.