Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Patti Thorn on self-publishing

Patti Thorn is co-founder of BlueInk Review, a fee-based service offering serious, unbiased reviews of self-published books. She served for 12 years as book review editor of the Rocky Mountain News, which closed in 2009.

She offers her observations on the last year of reviewing in "From lizards to lit: a year of self-publishing realizations."

Diane Rehm Show on ebooks

ALA's Carrie Russell writes, "I was on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday to talk about libraries and e-books, along with Allan Adler from the Association of American Publishers, Jeremy Greenfield from Digital Book World and Vailey Oehlke, director of the Multnomah County Library (OR). Allan and I were live in the studio and Jeremy and Vailey called in by phone. Vailey was great! Our host, Frank Senso, was very skillful in taking the conversation in a direction that he wanted it to go. It was quite amazing to see how he managed that – no wonder radio and television hosts and spokespeople are called 'the talent.'" Hear the show: Or read about it here.

Life with e_books

Life With E-Books

A great summary of issues and players. One correction: Monique Sendze has elected to stay with Douglas County Libraries. And I'm glad she did.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Ursula LeGuin on Libraries and ebooks

I tell you what. Science fiction authors get it. Connie Willis I have praised and quoted often. Here's a great blog post from another wonderful writer. Look for post # "56. Libraries and ebooks."

Friday, August 24, 2012

Suppose we win?

So here's a thought experiment. Suppose today the Executive Director of the American Library Association gets a series of calls from the CEOs of all the Big Six. "Wow, what were we thinking?" they say. "We've been looking over the research, and it's clear that libraries HELP publishers sell ebooks in all kinds of ways. Instead of trying to lock you out of the market or heaping new restrictions on you, from now on, you get things a week BEFORE street date. We have no better friend and ally than the public library when it comes to the promotion of reading!"

Oh, and another thing. "We realized we were wrong about both pricing and ownership, too. We'll give you a solid 45% discount, and you get to keep and hold your copies. What a pleasure doing business with you!"

In this scenario of total victory, what do we get? Here's my take: not enough.

Do our patrons mostly want Big Six offerings? Look at the bestseller list for the answer. But then look a little deeper. We are in a period when alternatives to those publishers are beginning to flourish. Making their harbinger appearances are the works of self-published and independently published authors.

The best outcome is NOT that the Big Six, a tiny segment of today's publishing activity, get a further lock on library resources. Simply selling us yet another format of titles we already have further erodes our purchasing power.

At this moment, amidst the greatest explosion of writing in the history of mankind, we need solutions that look considerably better than the status quo.

Here's what I want to know: What else is out there?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Myth-busting: libraries and ebooks

Recently I submitted an article for the Independent Book Publishers Association in New York. As I've written elsewhere, librarians need to pay more attention to independent publishing. My article is coming out later this month, I believe, but I wanted to share part of it here.
Publishers and authors have a lot of misinformation about libraries. This might be a good time to bust the myths.

Myth # 1: Libraries just want to buy one copy, then give your book away to the world. The truth: No, we don't. We do want to increase access -- getting more books in more people's hands is part of the library's mission. But we understand and adhere to copyright. We pay for multiple copies in the ebook world, just as we do with print. At Douglas County Libraries, we have our own system to manage ebook checkouts. We apply Digital Rights Management through the industry standard Adobe Content Server, and we check out books to just one person at a time.

Myth # 2. Libraries steal sales from publishers. The truth: No, we don't. Last year, my community of 300,000 people checked out over 8.2 million items. They never would have bought that many copies for their individual use. On the other hand, Douglas County residents did buy a lot of books. We have thousands of "power patrons" (people who visit the library once a week or more). Research conducted by Bowker and Library Journal found that "For every two books they borrow, power patrons buy one. And, maybe most surprising, nearly two thirds of power patrons buy books that they had previously borrowed at the library." That study was based on 2,000 library patrons. Our own study of almost 4,000 Douglas County patrons found much the same thing: The more people use the library, the more books they buy. We don't steal sales; we boost them.

Myth # 3. It's too easy to borrow books from the library. The truth: I wish. There isn't a public library in the nation that can buy enough copies to satisfy public demand. Most popular titles have waiting lists. It's not uncommon for people to wait a minimum of 12 weeks for bestsellers, or even up to a year. Library budgets have taken a hit in recent years. We can't supply all titles to the world; we can barely keep up with our own communities. We're not trying to make things difficult for people, but we can't offer instant gratification, either. We can, however, form new partnerships that make it easier for patrons to buy books.

Partnerships -- finding common cause in the connecting of reader and writer -- is the way out of the current conflict between Big Six publishers and America's public libraries. How do we do that? One way is casting libraries as an alternative to Amazon. Just this week, my library put up a link on our website to Bilbary. Wanna buy an ebook? Buy it from our library website and you not only get the ebook, 50% of the sales comes right back to your library. Added value? You bet.

We'll do that for awhile, then take a look at the numbers. In the short run, it's a customer convenience, and maybe a money-maker. But in the long run, should we allow ourselves to be used to sell books that we can't buy ourselves? Really? Or maybe it makes a lot more sense to use the money we make from these arrangements to buy books from those independent publishers.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Librarianship redefined

I used to say our job is to gather, organize, and present to the public the intellectual content of our culture.

But lately I've been thinking about my grandmother, Mimi. There's a simpler and homelier construction:

We tell the family stories.

Librarians still talking to ourselves

This latest Library Journal piece on ebooks and libraries (Too Many ebook Cooks) is another mark of the mounting dissatisfaction in the field. On the other hand, this brilliant piece by Librarian In Black is way funnier.

But back to LJ's Francine Fialkoff's piece. First, I don't want to claim all the credit for the Douglas County Libraries model. Monique Sendze was the system architect. Rochelle Logan and her team (Sharon Nemechek, Deb Margeson, and Julie Halverstadt key among them these days) are doing the really hard work of system process and workflow redesign. My board's willingness to invest money to solve big problems was and is impressive.

Second, it happens that I sit on one of the ALA committees (Digital Content Working Group) that Ms. Failkoff takes to task for not having turned around either Big Six attitudes about selling to libraries, or the public's general lack of awareness about the issues. And there is certainly a lot of work to be done.

We might agree that just putting a committee together, or a new organization under whatever banner, doesn't by itself solve anything. "ALA" isn't an independent entity with its own mind and power; it's us, it's librarians. It doesn't so much matter where we meet, or even what we say -- unless and until all of that turns into action. But as Monique, Rochelle, and I travel around we are starting to see some real stirrings of such action out there. Next up, apparently: Texas!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Smashwords and libraries

So here's the interesting thing about this Smashwords blog post -- "Based on our survey, we expect Smashwords authors and publishers will provide their books to libraries at lower-than-retail prices."

Hmm. Some publishers want to charge more, sometimes WAY more than retail. But authors, the creators, want to charge less. Which is better for authors? And which, gentle reader, is better for the public, and the public library?

ALA releases ebook business models

Washington, DC – Based on conversations with publishers and deliberations on the ebook market, the American Library Association (ALA) today released Ebook Business Models for Public Libraries, a report that describes general features and attributes of the current ebook environment and outlines constraints and restrictions of current business models. The report, which was created by the ALA Digital Content & Libraries Working Group (DCWG), suggests opportunities for publishers to showcase content through public libraries.

“Ebook publishing is expanding and evolving rapidly, and the terms under which ebooks are made available to libraries show wide variation and frequent change,” said DCWG co-chair Robert Wolven. “In this volatile period, no single business model will offer the best terms for all libraries or be adopted by all publishers or distributors. This report describes model terms libraries should look for in their dealings with ebook publishers and distributors, as well as conditions libraries should avoid.”

The DCWG recommends three basic attributes that should be found in any business model for ebooks:

• Inclusion of all titles: All ebook titles available for sale to the public should also be available to libraries.
• Enduring rights: Libraries should have the option to effectively own the ebooks they purchase, including the right to transfer them to another delivery platform and to continue to lend them indefinitely.
• Integration: Libraries need access to metadata and management tools provided by publishers to enhance the discovery of ebooks.

“ALA appreciates that realizing all of these attributes immediately may not be feasible, and a library may elect to do without one or more in return for more favorable terms in other areas, at least temporarily, but these features are ultimately essential to the library’s public role,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan.

Nationwide, many libraries are facing constraints from publishers on how ebooks can be used, including: perpetuating the print model of one user per ebook license purchased; limiting the number of loans; variable pricing; delayed sale; and restrictions on consortial or interlibrary loans. Alternately, opportunities for publishers might include enhanced discovery, readers’ advisory, or even a major new sales channel for library patrons.

“The choices that libraries make today can profoundly impact future directions, so it is critical libraries are informed of their options and negotiate aggressively for the most favorable and flexible terms possible,” said Erika Linke, co-chair of the DCWG’s business models subgroup. “Thus, while the DCWG’s primary focus in the past months was to try to influence publishers, we wanted to share some of what we learned with the library community at large.”

The DCWG has developed a number of other resources about ebooks, such as its first “Tip Sheet,” which is on digital rights management, and an E-Content Supplement to American Libraries magazine. Check the American Libraries E-Content blog for new developments from the DCWG.

“The DCWG will continue its advocacy on ebook business models for public libraries as it increases its focus on other aspects of ebooks such as the school library market and accessibility issues,” said Carrie Russell, lead ALA staffer for the business models subgroup.

To view the report, go to

Sunday, August 5, 2012


With my esteemed colleague Sharon Morris, Director of Library Development and Innovation for the Colorado State Library, I just finished teaching a graduate class in "Leadership and Organizational Effectiveness" for the University of Denver's Library and Information Science program. It was fascinating. I have a few observations.

* The next generation of librarians is really smart. I like them.

* I learned a lot myself, at least as much as the students. Class planning worked out to about two hours of prep per hour of class. The cool thing was just getting some clarity around both the content and the research behind each concept. Sharon is working on a PhD in this field. She has a commanding knowledge of the latest findings. That's pretty handy for a class like this. Our students got the very best thinking available. And I think our overall approach - know thyself, play well with others, pay attention to the measures of organizational effectiveness -- captures the right lessons for our time.

* Sharon also brought a keen understanding of experiential learning to the class. We didn't just lecture. (In fact, we RARELY lectured.) We asked our students to step in and claim their learning. They had to investigate, co-present, brief, provide feedback, receive feedback, participate in panel presentations. We asked the class to interview candidates for a job. We made them have that crucial conversation with others that is the last step before firing - and provided a format predicated on the most profound respect. I think, finally, we gave them the experience of leadership, in six classes. My takeaway: I wish I'd had classes like this.

* Grading is a lot like performance evaluations. But performance here equals meeting the goals of the syllabus. So, like any conscientious supervisor we did strive to clearly articulate our expectations. Then assess student understanding. Over the past two days I spent some 14 hours reading, responding, and ranking student journals.

* Teaching is a remarkably inefficient way to make money. Two hours prep per class. Maybe half an hour debrief and grade per assignment. Grading, as mentioned above. My conclusion: it's not about the money. It's mighty darn interesting. It is, in fact, exhilarating. It may even be a professional obligation. But is it a career? Clearly, for some it is. For me, it's a hobby. I sure enjoyed it. But consider this a shout out to teachers everywhere. Thank you for what you do! - Welcome

In November of 2018, I left my position at ALA in Chicago to return to my Colorado-based writing, speaking, and consulting career. So I'...