06 October 2011

An open letter

October 6, 2011
Online world

Dear Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Harper Collins, Ebrary, EBSCO, and any other publisher/vendor dealing in ebooks (which is probably a good number of y'all),

I'm sure by now you all are tired of hearing from libraries and librarians about ebooks.  I mean I don't even really need to list what's been said about y'all do I?  But I want to take a bit of a different tact so please do keep reading.

First of all let's just go ahead and agree that both sides--publishers/vendors and libraries/librarians--need to work together on this, because neither of us can live without the other.  And yes I said that you need us.  Because let's go ahead and be honest when someone gets confused about how their ereader works, how to get library ebooks on it, how to use the thing...who do they really come to?  That's right, they very often come and visit their local library.  They know (or figure) that we should know how the thing works and also be able to recommend more great books to them.  And where would these folks find out about more books without us?  But we need y'all as well.  Ebooks, whether people like it or not, are a big part of the future of library world and y'all make them.  So we need to work together on this.

So what now?  Well how about we come up with a couple of compromises for both sides here.

I'll start with the library side first.
1)Getting paid and how often:
OK I'll admit HarperCollins had a good point a while back about ebooks not wearing out like regular books and the desire to get paid again, just as if a replacement copy had been ordered.  I'll also state that the checkout limitation was completely and utterly ludicrous.  So why not come up with something different?

How about an annual charge for the books.  And no I don't mean the full cost or limitations on how many times it can be checked out.  Let's just talk strictly about books that are in the $8-$25 range, which are popular books, best sellers, stuff that a large number of people are likely to read.  What about an annual fee (after the first year) per book of .50-$2.00 depending upon the retail price of the book?  That way a library has it for a year, they get a chance to look at the circulation of it and decide whether or not they want to keep it, kinda of like we do now.  If they do keep it they pay a small charge and it goes to you.

Now granted we get a lot of things through packages through vendors so things might need to change there as well (with vendors offering the chance to switch out books perhaps,) but that can be a conversation down the line.

2) Data
Let's just go ahead and be honest we all know that you collect data (some of you a bit more than others.)  And libraries are loathe to get up lots of data, because we try to protect our patrons.  But what if we compromise a bit? Let's strip out the patron name and the street address out of the data.  That way you can't associate it with one person and if the government decides to go crazy, you don't have that information to give them.  You still get some info that's useful to you and we make sure that we continue to protect our patrons privacy.

What you need to change:
1) Format, and this is the big one:
This idea that you'll only provide ebooks in one format or your ebook reader will only read one format it's ludicrous.  Y'all are acting like this is the battle between Beta player and VHS instead of what it really is, a battle between Sony and Samsung players.

Look the format is already out there, epub, just go ahead and use it.  Let people read their books on whatever device they have and not trying to force them into having only your device and no other.  DVD's companies don't do this.  I mean seriously can you imagine the chaos if you had to have 10 different DVD players to enjoy your favorite movie?

I get it, really I do.  You want to get people to buy your device.  But why not get them to buy your device based upon what it offers, not that they have to buy their books just from you.  And for their books?  Let them come to you because they know what service that you offer and the price that you can offer on ebooks.  Because come on now, they're buying their ebooks based on that anyway.

1a)Vendors and ebook readers:
This is a subset of the first conversation, but y'all seriously? You're going to let us buy ebooks and then say "sorry you can only read it on the computer."  That kind of defeats the purpose of an ebook, you know that right?  So let's start making it so that we can read ebooks on ebook readers without having to download a piece of software that doesn't work on every ebook read (looking at one of you in particular here.)  We can find a way to make it work.  You know it. I know it. So let's make it happen.

2) Talk to us:
And yes I mean really go out there and talk to us.  And no the librarians that are on you staff don't count.  Nothing against them, but once they start working for you doesn't that kinda of limit their experience with interacting with patrons on a daily basis?  Form a group.  Include people that you know are pissed off at you, but are reasonable (yes there are some out there.)  Get our input.  Include the input of your customer base.  Share it.

We can't exist in a bubble and it's time we both stopped living in aspects of them.

Now I'm only one librarian and I can't speak for them all so this is just me talking.  But let's just keep talking and see where it goes?  What do you say?
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04 October 2011

Book Review--HTML5: The Missing Manual

A basic introduction to HTML5

HTML5:  The Missing Manual
Matthew MacDonald

O’Reilly Publishing provided me access to an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

When I start looking at books on programming languages, such as HTML5, I look for a few different things.  1) Easy to read and understand language
2) Clear cut, easy to follow (and correct) examples of code
3) Good additional resources to look at
4) Layout and organization of chapters and subtopics flows well
5) And depending upon the language, an in-depth look at how it works.
While this book doesn't offer an in-depth look at every aspect of HTML5 (it is meant for beginners) it does meet the first three criteria that I look for and mostly meets the clear organizational path.

This book doesn't give an in-depth look at HTML5 because what Matthew is trying to do is provide a basic introduction to the various tools and components of HTML5 and how you might be able to use them in your day-to-day work.  And this is where the book excels.  Matthew breaks down the book into three broad themes (meet the new language, creating modern webpages, building web apps with desktop smarts) and further broken down into 12 chapters on each of these broader themes.  Plus he includes a great 4th section with appendices and other additional resources and real world examples of code in use.

In the first section Matthew does a great job of explaining how HTML5 came into being versus the continuation of XHTML and how W3C works to approve code.  This is important to understand in the context of this book as not every standard developed by the committee or shown in this book works with every browser at this time (there is at least one that only works with one browser thus far.)  Matthew does a good job of letting the reader know which standard will work with which browsers and when, if ever, the standard might be widely adapted.  He also does a good job of breaking down the various standards that have the most real world use in building webpages, such as the discussion on semantic tags in Chapter 2.  Matthew provides clear cut examples of code and explains how you might be able to use them.

03 October 2011

Why do we fall?

I love "Batman Begins".  Not just because it brought Batman back to life in the movies, but because of a line that Alfred Peenyworth says to Bruce Wayne: "Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up." 

I mean seriously, just how awesome is that line?  Ole Alfred isn't talking about the physical fall, but the mental fall as well.  And boy do I need to remember that line a lot these days.  I keep falling over broken promises, perceived slights from others, and goals that I set for myself.  I keep letting myself be overcome by the stupid and worrying over the things that I can't change.  And I've got to remember, to pick myself back up, dust off my clothes, and go back to being the kick ass person I know I am, both professionally and personally.
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Where do we go from here?

I've seen quite a few things recently about the future of libraries...ok almost everything I see is about the future of libraries and how we're either in competition with Amazon, Google is going to kill libraries,  Amazon is destroying us, or some unknown alien race is going to show up and displace libraries and librarians with their galactic encyclopedia.  And all of this is interesting...but why do we keep worrying about who or what we're in competition with?  Yes there are a lot of different places that offer some of the same services that we do, but there's nothing that offers everything that we do.  We keep talking about how libraries aren't just the brick and mortar buildings, that we're the resources, we're the digital, and most importantly we're the people who can help our users find what they need.  That we're all of these different things that work together to become an integral part of the community.  That we know the people that come in our library by name.  That we know what resources they need.

Well can Amazon offer that?  Can Google offer it?  No they can't.  They can make recommendations via computer algorithms, but they can't be everything that a library can be.  They don't have people there to ask them how they're doing or how their pet is.  Or know their homework assignment because they talked to the professor or teacher last week.  These businesses, these companies, these aliens, these whatever can only do part of what we do.  We can do so much more.

Can we learn from these companies though? Sure.  1st lesson:  Apple, Amazon, Google and the others didn't get to where they were by coming out in public and wailing that the next company over was going to put them out of business.  They looked at the world around them and said "f'it.  we can do better than that" (not a direct quote by the way) and went out and made it better.  So what do we do?  We go out and make it better (which we have been doing.)  We've just got to start following the 2nd lesson which is...

2nd lesson:  Amazon, Apple, and Google didn't stand on the sidelines and mumble about how they did it better.  They shouted it from the rooftops and didn't let themselves be pushed out of the way.   So let's stop spending our energy on worrying how x is going to put us out of business and start focusing on learning from them and improving what they can offer.  So that we can better serve our community.  Our users.  Those people that we know by name (even if we sometimes wish we didn't.) 

3rd lesson:   Stop letting other people take credit for the things that we've done and show our users, show the people that fund us just how great we really are.  Talk to the press, tell them what we're doing, what we've done and how we've influenced the world. We've got to stop doing things the same way and go out there and promote ourselves. 

It's a new age and we're not going anywhere.  Let's show the world that.

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