Sunday, March 16, 2014

PLA 2014

I've just returned from the Public Library Association's conference in Indianapolis. It was a rich experience, even though (as too often happens), I never made a single program other than the preconference Sharon Morris and I did on Wednesday. (And that session, "Managing the Talent," was a blast. We presented a wholistic look at institutional Human Resources, with lots of relevant exercises. The attendees were engaged, contributed a lot, and seemed to enjoy themselves.)

So what else did I do?

Mostly, I talked with people: colleagues, vendors, industry luminaries, other consultants, and some of the most interesting taxicab drivers I've ever met. (But that's a story for another time. A children's book.)

I also hopped back to my wired hotel room to participate in an American Libraries Live session with Sue Polanka, Troy Juliar (of Recorded Books), and Jeff Metz (of OnceClickdigital). Unfortunately, technical difficulties prevented the very interesting Yoav Lorch, founder and CEO of Total Boox from joining us. (And Mirela Roncevic, editor extraordinaire, who is working with Loav.) But I had gotten a fascinating demo of the product earlier that day, so tried to fill in a bit.

I continue to advocate for three key features of library ebooks: ownership, discount, and integration. None of this is really the focus of Total Boox. But it's a good experiment anyway, and to the user, since you can download as many books as you like, and keep them on up to five devices forever, it sure feels like ownership. And the other key feature - paying (through the library) only for the pages you actually read, up to no more than the retail cost of the book - is certainly a better deal than, for instance, HarperCollins pricing. I understand that MARC records can point to the particular Tool Boox title, so there's some level of integration. Moreover, Total Boox has a clean, fresh interface that competes well with the consumer commercial offerings. 

This is my mantra: we live in a time of experimentation, and if you know it's going to work, it's not an experiment. Total Boox is a good experiment, and I expect that we'll learn a lot from it.

Overall, I felt a shift in libraries, and I don't think I'm just projecting it. Throughout the recession years, there was a sense that libraries were under attack, embattled, losing both mind share and resources. But a combination of things - leadership at the national level, IMLS, OCLC, Gates Foundation, Pew, newer advocacy efforts like, and a long overdue  generational surge - seems to have brought some fresh energy and optimism into our field. There's clearly work to be done, but there are a lot of smart and ambitious people tackling it.

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