Monday, November 07, 2005

Books! Books!! Books!!!

As Alice remarked in her post about the recent Amazon announcement about Amazon Pages and Amazon Upgrade, you might have read it in the Scan first. Here's what we wrote in September 2003 "Amazon’s “search inside” ups the ante in this arena, raising consumer expectations that content is searchable and definable at a micro level, and, we predict, payable for—at the micro level. Micropayment for microcontent is the next logical step." And so it is which is why that prediction wasn't really that clever, just a no-brainer extension of Amazon's "search inside the book" capabilities.

Books are the topic de semaine for sure.

I was in South Carolina for the Charleston Conference and on Thursday morning Jerry Kline, CEO of Innovative Interfaces, Inc, gave a speech called Forging the Library's Future in an Electronic World. He had three topics: e-resources, library as place, and books. He asked (I am paraphrasing based on the notes I scribbled on my crossword puzzle) are libraries focusing/spending too much on e-resources? He suggested that provision of materials in this format earns libraries no credit (not visible enough) and that there's evidence that e-resources are underused. He suggested that the physicla library as a gathering place is really important to our communites, and that libraries need to buy more books--physical books. As he said "we [the library community] get credit for each title."

Walt Crawford's Mid-Fall 2005 Cites & Insights has a long essay [pdf] called "Library Futures, Media Futures" in which he draws the threads together of several tossed conversational balls of print versus electronic, place versus virtual, reading versus not-reading from posts and exchanges he has had with others in the blogosphere. This sentence sums up the long piece for me "I don't believe our future (the future of anyone readingthis essay in 2005) is solely digital and I don't see any evidence to support such a massive change."

Chris Anderson has an interesting post on the Long Tail of books and he links to an equally interesting article by Tim O'Reilly on the huge number of books in what he calls the "twilight zone." These are the so-called orphan the public domain or not? Tim makes some interesting points about the Google Print program and the American Association of Publishers lawsuit to prevent Google from scanning any books without permission. One of my favourite points (because I happen to agree!):
"...the AAP is asking us to believe that publishers are willing to unearth the contracts for more than 25 million books, track down the authors (since many of those books surely don't grant electronic rights to the publishers, since those rights weren't even conceived at the time many of those contracts were signed), and get their permission to opt them in, and this despite the fact that those 25 million books didn't sell even one copy in 2004. Try to be serious."

And I noticed that the numbers Tim and Chris are using to determine the number of books in the Long Tail and the twilight zone are based on WorldCat numbers. Yes, Tim links to the article "Anatomy of Aggregate Collections: The Example of Google Print for Libraries" by my OCLC Research colleagues, Brian Lavoie, Lynn Connaway and Lorcan Dempsey, published in D-Lib in September.

And something has been bugging me for a bit. Libraries make much of the fact that circulation stats are way up. Does the format of the borrowed material make a difference? Do DVDs and CDs circulate more often than books? I got to thinking that the "return trip" for AV material is likely much shorter than it is for print as it is most likely consumed quickly. In other words, I may borrow 20 DVDs a month but only 5 books because the books take longer to finish. Does this mean that measuring circ stats absent other data is not really worth much as a success assessment? Gatecount might be related too... I might have to come to the library several times a month to replace the DVDs. Do any public libraries measure cardholder use as a percentage of their total communities and break this out by frequency? I don't think I have seen any stats like this.


Lorcan Dempsey said...

A couple of things ....

1. The interest in books is supported by the range of new services looking at organizing, annotating and exchanging books that have emerged over the last year.

2. Alane mentions our article on the aggregate G5 collection. One of the interesting things about the current environment is that the 'management intelligence' available in union catalogs is becoming more valuable as we look towards collaborative digitization and off-site storage initiatives.

mgmason said...

Circulation has always been a poor measure of service but with public access computing the problem has been exacerbated. There is no standard method of measuring computer use in spite of the fact that it is the fastest growing service in public libraries. To answer Alane's question, many libraries do polling before going to the public for a levy or bond referendum. One standard question asks if the individual called has a library card and how ofter he/she visits the library. This penetration of the library into the community has risen dramatically with online services but these numbers are infrequently published.