Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kindle: First e-Impressions

This week, I read my first book on Amazon's remarkable new e-book reader, Kindle. It's not perfect, but it beats many of the other e-book delivery system I've ever tried. Full disclosure: I work for OCLC, which owns NetLibrary, one of the world's largest distributors of e-content.

My Kindle arrived last week after a one-month wait. The packaging seems a little excessive, but at least it wasn't in one of those god-awful unbreakable blister packs. It comes with a number of accessories, including an AC charger, a USB connector, a pretty good instruction manual, and a funky cardboard leatherette cover. The unit ships with two bits of content: a welcome letter from Jeff Bezos, which I accidentally deleted immediately after reading it, and a longer version of the user's manual.

I went to the Kindle store, accessible from the unit, and ordered two books: Steve Martin's Born Standing Up: A Comic's Life and the Oxford edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The first thing you discover as you order Kindle books is that your unit is already associated with your Amazon account, so buying books is utterly seamless and as addictive as crystal meth. The books also download as fast as advertised. The second thing you discover is that the books are not all priced at $9.99; many are considerably more expensive and other, mainly public domain classics, are very inexpensive. Old Huck only cost me $1.29. Given Mark Twain's hatred for the expiration of copyright, he would not have been happy that I could pick up his book that inexpensively. But he would have been enthralled by the technology.

The Kindle is lighter than most paperbacks. The e-Ink technology is every bit as slick as you've probably heard. Without backlighting, there is no flicker to the page. I read the entire Steve Martin book without having to recharge the battery. It's not a very long book, but even so...

None of this would amount to a hill of beans if the reading experience were not there. For me, it is there. In spades.

I found myself getting thoroughly enmeshed in Martin's memoir, as thoroughly as if I were reading the paper edition. It helps that it's well-written and covers subjects (comedy, show business) in which I have long-standing interests. But I've begun re-reading Huck Finn, and I've also begun Doris Kearns Goodwin's Team of Rivals, and I believe that the experience will be carried into other titles as well. In fact, this is the second time I've begun Team of Rivals: the size of the book physically overwhelmed me. I couldn't carry it conveniently in my computer bag on an airplane, and it is too unwieldy to read in bed. Since these two places are where I do 75% of my non-work reading, I knew I was never going to make it through the hardback!

Another great feature is the variety of type sizes from which you can choose. At night, when I'm tired, it is tow clicks to make the type size is bigger. During the day, when I'm more alert, I can go to the smaller size and page forward less often.

As noted, Kindle isn't perfect in my opinion. I still keep accidentally advancing the page before I'm ready, due to the position of the two "next page" bars on either side of the unit. The screen wipe between pages, required by the e-Ink, is moderately distracting, but I'm learning how to time the "next page" button so that the screen wipes just as I've read the last word on the page. With such diversions are small minds made happy.

The proprietary format and the charges to access blogs and other content that are freely available elsewhere are real problems now, although I would expect to see these addressed in the not too distant future. The cardboard/leatherette cover is good for protecting the reader, but you can't actually hold the book to read when it's in the cover, unless I'm doing something pathetically wrong. Not that it would be the first time.

This little reader is a fascinating step forward for e-content, in my opinion. I would love to see textbooks available in this format. I hate seeing my poor 8-year old grandson schlepping a heavy backpack full of textbooks. By the time he hits college, his back is going to be in worse shape than mine is now.

So the question seems to be, what now for libraries? Do we have in Kindle an opportunity, a threat, or a parallel course?

PS: A slightly earlier piece I wrote about Kindle is now available on WebJunction here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Some Retirement Plan

Have you heard about the late Jean Preston? She was a librarian in England who, over the years and through inheritance from her father, amassed an $8 million collection of at works and rare books, all hoarded in her unprepossessing little house in Oxford. Included in the collection were works by Fra Angelico, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Sir Edward Burne-Jones. She had a rare early edition of the works of Chaucer tucked away in a closet. The extent of her treasure trove was discovered only when the auctioneers came in to inventory her possessions for sale.

I have no idea how this fits into the general theme of "It's All Good," but I thought her rare collecting skills should not go unremembered!

Monday, January 28, 2008

We are the Web, We are the People

A personal story that happened this weekend, about the power of the internet bringing us together.

I posted a question out to a local online forum of about 800 people. Within 5 minutes of my post, I had a response in my inbox from someone who could help. How incredible is that? For all its faults and impersonalizing possibilities, I love how the Web can bring disparate people together on common ground they wouldn't have known they had, had they met and talked in person.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Connecting with Immigrants

The evaluation report "Welcome to Your Library: Connecting Public Libraries and Refugee Communities" would be interesting reading for any public librarian or trustee who is attempting to serve immigrants in their communities. Although it is a review of a project that was launched in 2003 in London, many of its findings are applicable today anywhere. From the Executive Summary, for example: "Establish ... 'critical friends' in positions of authority in other sectors with no direct connection to library services delivery in order to increase the interaction with cross-sector initiatives."

If this inspires you, consider checking out WebJunction's Spanish Language Outreach program, designed to help US public libraries better serve Spanish speakers.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Great editorial

I commend to your reading Rob Preston's "Down to Business" column in this week's Information Week magazine. The online version is here.

Titled, "In a Gray World, Why Do We See in Black and White?," Preston makes the point that there is a difference "between conviction and blind obedience." While he is writing about the IT world, you can substitute analogous library terms and suddenly his thoughts are totally, eerily relevant to us.

Software as a Service

Interesting review in Salon today of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google, by Nicholas G. Carr. Carr proclaims the end of the personal computing era, with the heavy-lifting of computing moving from the desktop to the web with global services that power our work.

He describes the movement away from Thomas Edison's vision of small, DC generators powering neighborhoods and individual factories to Nikola Tesla's vision of large, AC plants that serve wide areas. He compares this to the move today away from desktop or local applications to service as a service (SaaS) applications like or the various Google apps, such as Google Docs or Google Calendar.

This is the underpinning of much of what OCLC is doing today, of course, with WorldCat Local and The idea is to move as much redundant work out of the individual institutions as possible to free up staff and resources to focus on the library's (pick one or more) customers or patrons or users or constituents. Nomenclature is a discussion for another time.

Thanks to my former IAG co-blogger Alane Wilson for pointing me to this.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"The Expectation Economy"

The February edition of Trendwatching is out, and this sentence immediately caught my eye:

Never before have consumers enjoyed doing research and "competitive analysis" as much as they do now, and doing it far more diligently than most corporations.

One of the hardest changes for librarians to face seems to be that people have choices today. When we had a semi-monopoly on required readings, encyclopedias, back issue magazines, and 16mm films, we could pretty much make and enforce any rules we wanted. Those days are gone forever.

Help Wanted

I have a friend who is trying to make the leap into her first job as a public library director. She asked me for my ideas about what a library director's role is today, and what red flags to watch out for in the interview process. Here is what I wrote back, but I'd love to know what you think about these questions; I'm sure she'd like to know, too!

In my opinion, a director's role is to be the public face of the institution. A director should be someone who can absorb large amounts of frequently conflicting information about the community's desires and make sense out of it, so the staff can take action on those desires. A director should have a sense of the institution's past, so that he or she can build on that past, but he or she also needs to have a sense of the future, so that the institution doesn't get bogged down in legacy systems and projects.

As far as the Board goes, the director's role is to provide the trustees with the information they need to make informed decisions. This includes that sense of excitement about the future that the director can bring to the Board's deliberations. This isn't about rejecting what the institution has done in the past; rather, it is using the institutional history as a springboard for the future.
The director and the trustees need to be simpatico, having a shared vision of the future. They also need to have clearly delineated roles, although from everything I read about corporate and nonprofit governance, the line between the board's job and the director's job is changing fast. There was an article in the Wall Street Journal last Monday (January 14) about this. The thrust was that CEOs (and, I think, library directors) will go further with their boards if they level with them about major problems and ask their advice before acting.

In a political sense, a public library director's job is not to make trouble for the elected officials of his or her community. Don't do anything that would reflect badly on the elected officials, and if something bad may be about to happen, give them a head's up early. Also, get every elected official involved in every GOOD thing the library does: "READ" posters with the mayor's picture, ribbon cuttings with the entire city council, offering the library's meeting room to state and US senators and representatives who don't have funds for a local office...all of these ingratiate you to the power structure.

During your interviews with trustees and staff members,
I'd ask the staff and the board, "What do YOU expect from the director?" The greatest statement you can make if you want to be known as a good conversationalist is, "Tell me about yourself." Give them a chance to talk about it. Then relate what they tell you to the better bosses you've had, or make a point of showing what you've learned from bad bosses. (Not mentioning any "bad boss" names or locations, of matter how tempting it may be.)

Watch out for a board that expects too much obedience or too much miracle-work; you will inevitably disappoint them, even if you can walk on water.

Watch out for a staff that tells you just to stay out of the way; they will be very resistant to change.

Scan, flick, and power browse

Information Behaviour of the Researcher of the Future is the title of very interesting and engaging study commissioned by the British Library and JISC (Joint Information Systems Committee). The work was conducted by CIBER (the Centre for Information Behaviour and the Evaluation of Research), an independent publishing and new media think tank based in the School of Library, Archive and Information Studies (SLAIS) at University College London.

Focused on identifying how the next generation of researchers (i.e. the "Google generation" born after 1993) are likely to access and interact with digital resources in five years' time, the study combines original research drawn from the analysis of system logs and other data with a distillation of the available literature (including OCLC's College Students’ Perceptions of Libraries and Information Resources (2005) [link] and Sharing, Privacy and Trust in Our Networked World (2007) [link]).

Information Behaviour presents a frank, but remarkably clear and concise story of the library world’s mixture of strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats vis-à-vis what this up-and-coming generation of researchers will possess (and lack) in the way of abilities and expectations.

Here’s an excerpt:

The implications of a shift from the library as a physical space to the library as virtual digital environment are immense and truly disruptive. Library users demand 24/7 access, instant gratification at a click, and are increasingly looking for 'the answer' rather than for a particular format: a research monograph or a journal article for instance. So they scan, flick and 'power browse' their way through the digital content, developing new forms of online reading on the way that we do not yet fully understand (or, in many cases, even recognise)” p.8

This is definitely a report to read and share.

(Spotted via an entry on Andrew Whitis' library+instruction+technology blog)

[Image: Biblioteca Vasconcelos (Mexico City)]


    Musical quote:

    "Well, starting now I’m starting over (stop it)

    To play the game, get even, act my age.

    Tick tock, you’re not a clock,

    you’re a time bomb, baby,

    a time bomb, baby, oh."

    "Time Bomb" -- The Format (AMG ; WCid ; Wikipedia ; Web site)

    Tuesday, January 22, 2008

    So Long, Library Dust...

    One of my favorite library-oriented blogs, Library Dust, has departed. Michael McGrorty, the blog's iconoclastic and witty author, is no longer in the library field (our great loss) and has decided to take it down. I enjoyed his stories about his finds in book stores and thrift shops, his garden, his motorcycle trips, and his mother. He also sent me some of the funkiest greeting cards I've ever seen.

    I'll miss these excursions with you, Michael.

    Monday, January 21, 2008

    Morte De Reader?

    This morning I have been musing on this interesting phenomenon, the Death of the Reader. (Apologies to Barthes.)

    It started with an innocent post on Advergirl, about how her latest book to read is underneath her PS3. And it reminded me of the NEA report scare from before Christmas about how Americans are reading less than they used to. NPR's Talk of the Nation carried the story.

    But book sales data is showing it to be true.

    There's a great article from this summer's Washington Harry Potter and the death of Reading. A chilling excerpt:
    We're experiencing the literary equivalent of a loss of biodiversity.

    Alane sent me a great futurist article about whether we would all stop reading altogether by 2050, in favor of voice. (I won't give away the conclusion here--but you may postpone the monograph bonfire at least until tomorrow...)

    And of course I approach all of this with a healthy skepticism.

    I have not yet read the NEA study. But I do wonder what model of reading they consider "official." Does it count all the little black squiggley things I roam around in, in my online world? Or is reading online not considered *real* reading?

    And maybe it shouldn't be. IS there such a thing as *real* (as opposed to psuedo, imaginary, forced or otherwise unreal) reading?

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Banning Google and other ideas

    There's a lively debate about information literacy and critical evaluation skills over at The Wired Campus today. Apparently a British professor is expected to ban students from using Google or Wikipedia in her course.
    The post compares Google to "white bread for the mind."

    What does everyone think about that statement? I loathe the idea that I'm feeding my brain white bread. (Who eats white bread anymore, anyhow?) But I also usually turn to Google/Yahoo for my first attempt at solving an information need. Now, I am almost never doing academic research, and perhaps there is the difference. I guess it is simply a question of using the right tool for the right use. Because surely these search engines/wikis are simply tools to be used at appropriate times, I agree with eFoundations.

    At the risk of sounding like Andy Rooney here (who is forever on my black list because he dissed librarians), it reminds me of my theory that people who shop exclusively at Wal-Mart are statistically predisposed to have a lower quality of life. I have this theory because almost nothing in Wal-Mart seems to be made with attention to detail, design or beauty. It is all about function and price. And sometimes as a consumer, all you care about is function and price.

    But other times you are willing to spend the money for high-style Italian leather sofas. But if you only shop at Wal-Mart to the exclusion of all else, you have no hope of ever even seeing the beautiful sofa because you mistakenly think the only universe available to you is what is on aisle 10.

    As a shopper, you need to know there are times for Wal-Mart and there are times for Roche Bobois. And plenty of times for something in between. The same might go for information literacy? Or is it too crass a comparison.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2008


    Hope everyone made it home safe from Philly. We left immediately after the Blog Salon to beat the snow. So if I didn't see you or talk with you very long--please know I wanted to spend more time together!!

    We drove all night and got home about 4 am. Whoooo fun.

    I am way behind on loading photos to Flickr. Other people haven't been.

    Lots of announcements at Midwinter--not the least of which was OCLC's own news. Welcome Chris! I admit, I only know of EZ Proxy through some implementation support writing that I helped with a long time ago for NetLibrary. Even way back then, it sounded like it was a great product to help libraries authenticate users quickly and easily.

    I have heard fretting about "what happens now" that the one-man band has joined the orchestra....

    We make music, of course.

    But I understand the concern. It's valid--I've worked on enough library budget data to know how tight things can be for most institutions.

    And that's where going to ALA always brings it back into relief for me--that I am privileged to rub shoulders with some super smart people who are dedicated to making the world a better place. I sing the praises of library cooperation.

    Thursday, January 10, 2008

    Software Developers Salon

    Not that I am encouraging you to attend events other than OURS, but Roy just sent out a note about an event for Library software developers and other interested parties at ALA Midwinter. Come to the blog salon and then head over there:

    OCLC Developer¹s Network Meet and Greet
    Sunday, January 13, 6:00 ­ 8:00 pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Grand Ballroom, Salon I Join this informal get-together to learn about the OCLC Developer¹s Network.
    Meet your colleagues and learn about OCLC Grid Services and our collaboration environment.

    Tell them what you want or where OCLC is going wrong. Roy says they can take it.

    Volunteers at your library

    Hey everyone. can't wait to see you in Philadelphia, if you're going. I have a post brewing about the death of reading...which we've all been hearing a lot about lately, seems like.

    In the meantime, I have a question. Do you have any tips for how to recruit and marshall volunteers in your library? (or anywhere else, for that matter...)

    I am working on a story for the OCLC Canada newsletter, and I thought I'd ask if there are hard-won pearls of wisdom about volunteers from bloggers and blogreaders?

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    Nice choice, LJ!

    Norma Blake, state librarian of New Jersey, is this year's Library Journal Librarian of the Year (link). That was a terrific choice, and John Berry's article about Norma is inspirational!

    Friday, January 04, 2008

    Blog salon reminder

    Hey everyone. Shame on me for not having brilliant things to say today. I would love to make some political projections, seeing the results in Iowa and anticipating my own involvement in New Hampshire.

    But I will refrain from getting too political. Alane and I were contemplating (yes, I know. I miss her, too) what a cool thing it is, that neither gender nor race seemingly has much to do with this election. It's a seriously cool thing--since the image of Jesse Jackson and Geraldine Ferraro still permeate my "I grew up in the '80s" consciousness.

    But I am not going to talk politics with you now. We can if you like, in a mere 9 days:
    OCLC Blog Salon
    ALA Midwinter 2008
    Philadelphia, PA
    Sunday, January 13
    5:30 - 8 pm, Loews Commonwealth, A1.

    Wha Hoo and happy Friday!

    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    Wishing you a restful 2008

    From all of us at IAG, hope you had a wonderful end to 2007 and a peaceful, restful start to 2008. Me, I got to play in the snow (yes, more snow) on my new cross-country skis!