As a librarian the one question I get asked more than any other regarding the Kindle is “can you check out library books with it?” Before September 21st the answer was no. Overdrive, the software that handles public library ebooks, did not support the file format that Kindle uses. Now that’s all changed . Kindle has arrived on the seen in a big way. They have a 3 minute and 53 second video  that explains just how easy their multi-step process is. The non-Kindle download is basically a three step process: choose it, put a hold on it, download it. The Kindle check-out process goes something like this: choose it, put a hold on the book, choose the Kindle option, it automatically sends you to the Amazon website,  choose “Get Library Book”, sign in to Amazon, choose your device (that’s right if you are savvy enough to figure out that the Amazon app that you have on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry or Windows Phone will work you can choose one of those options), click continue, click download…phew. Perhaps a small price to pay to get library books on the Kindle.

What’s good:

  • You can make notes in the book and it will save them for your next check-out or if you decide to purchase the book.
  • Amazon sends you an e-mail when you have 3 days left on your check-out.
  • Amazon sends you an e-mail when your book has expired
  • You can publish your reading info to your social networks (because everybody cares)
  • Amazon will have a better profile of you when suggesting books because your lending library habits will go in their system
  • You can finally get a public library book on the Kindle

What’s sketchy:

  • The multi-click check-out process is created to get you to buy the book from Amazon
  • Hold times at public libraries are already very long for popular ebook titles, the addition of Kindle users could make this additionally frustrating. (I have been waiting at least 3 months for 5 different e-titles through my public library)
  • Due to the fact that renewing is not possible and you have to get to the back of the line if you don’t finish your book you may very well purchase the book from Amazon just to finish it.
  • Amazon will have a better profile of you when suggesting books because your lending library habits will go in their system

What about that Amazon Tablet?

Don’t go out and buy that Kindle you’ve been holding off on just yet. The rumor is that the Amazon’s tablet will be announced this coming Wednesday. With that announcement, the relatively reliable rumors say, they will also announce the Amazon lending library. Basically, if you are an Amazon Prime customer (that will cost you $79 a year) you will have free reign to lend certain titles from Amazon. Specific information like: Which title? Will there be holds placed on books that are already checked out? How long can a book be checked out for? How many books can be check ed out at one time? Are all unknown. Could it run circles around the current public library e-lending system? Quite possibly. However, you still need a digital device to read the book on and you still need to shell out an additional fee to be a Prime member.
Is it a coincidence that Amazon announces their partnership with OverDrive and public libraries right before they announce their tablet and lending service? I think not.

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On February 24th it was announced that the publisher Harper Collins was going to put a cap on how many times an e-book could be distributed through a library system. The magic number is 26. After the magic 26th time the book will vanish and the library will need to purchase it again if they wish to continue circulating that title. And the uproar in library land is quite visible but will that change anything?

Harper Collins comes to this magic number by deciding that after 26 check-outs of a print library book another needs to be purchased. According to the uproar this is often not the case. And what say we about the ancient library book? On occasion we will purchase a new one because the current print book has gotten rather…musty. Will the next move be to vanish books after they have been owned for a certain period of time? Nothing has yet been mentioned regarding that matter but it is certainly going to be a consideration for publishers in the future.

So what’s the big deal? Software has licensing agreements that change depending on the institution that purchases them, right? Yes but usually it is only the trials that self destruct. In fact, what electronic media do you know of that self destructs after you have legitimately purchased it? I understand that the publishers need to make money and they feel that this will be an added revenue stream but you would think that they would know by now that libraries have limited budgets with which to buy books. A more diverse collection of Harper Collins books will not be purchased if the library has to keep re-ordering the most popular ones. If I was in charge of collection development this would steer me away from Harper Collins except when absolutely necessary. I would actively search for comparable titles from other publishers. And frankly, as a consumer I become fond of certain publishers formats particularly in the non-fiction arena, so if I have less accessibility to a publisher I have less knowledge of their style and when I make my next purchase this renders me likely to purchase with someone else.

Let it be known that not all publishers are on the library e-book bandwagon. Macmillan and Simon & Schuster do not sell e-books to libraries. Why? They are “searching for a legitimate business model”  which in my eyes means that they do not see the financial value in allowing people to check-out their books on-line. Although they obviously see the value in allowing people to check out their paper books because they are available in libraries. I would contend that  those who download library books are much more likely to browse off and purchase a book that they would rather not “wait in electronic line” for or electronically “turn back in” (the DRM’d library e-book can only be used for a certain period of time, like checking out a physical book). Additionally those that have readers like the Kindle that are not compatible with the library e-book software are also likely to wander off to purchase an e-book from the library site that they can read on their device instead of their computer.

In the meantime there is talk of boycotting Harper Collins e-books. But I wonder, are libraries boycotting Macmillan and Simon & Schuster paper books because they are not selling their e-books to libraries? I don’t think so. If hurting their bottom-line is the tactic should it not be some kind of united front? Or, perhaps would it be useful for those publishers to sit down with the innovators of library land and explain the problem and work out a way to make things feel reasonable. Some kind of tiered pricing perhaps.

Just like the software, music and movie business, we will see how this shakes out.

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Thinking About the Future of Libraries

I’ve gone to a couple of library conferences while I was away from you dear reader and I find that talk about the future of libraries is on the rise again. But, then again, aren’t people involved in libraries ALWAYS concerned about their future? Radio was going to kill books. Video Tapes were going to kill books. The Internet was going to kill books and now e-books are going to kill paper books. And therefore no libraries? Apparently the use for a library is in the eye of the beholder. Is it a place to check out books? A place to cull research? A place for community gatherings? A place to play video games? A place with free Internet access? I say yes, and then some.

Where is the Marketing?

I think the future is in the essence of the library as a “free” entity (I know our tax dollars pay for the public ones and tuition helps pay for the academic…you know what I meant). There are no favorites in the library, you can have whatever you want and take part in all kinds of activities, for free. It is true that when many people hear the word “library” they think of a quiet shushy place for paper books and that is really where the problem lies. The fact is librarians have worked very hard to create new spaces that work into the communities need for items and activities that normally cost money. Who else does that for you these days? Seriously. The issue here is the lack of marketing acumin on the part of the librarians. I think that advocacy and marketing are two of the most important and least understood skills a librarian can have.

Reading From the Screen


Here is the thing with the e-books. I was gifted a Kindle. So now I have one. I find I prefer the e-ink technology to the back lit color jobs for long stints of reading. But I digress, it is now easy for me to get a book at the click of a button. That’s even easier than dragging myself all the way to the public library. Problem, I have to pay for every book, averaging $9.99 a pop (even when a paperback copy is going for $5 or less). Problem, Amazon doesn’t have everything I want (e.g. Ray Bradbury is not having anything to do with e-books). Problem, I have to remember to plug it in from time to time (granted that is about once every two weeks but it is an issue and that sucker takes a good many hours to charge). Problem, it is not compatible with the free library software so I can’t borrow any of their books. Overarching problem, my Kindle costs $189 not every age needs to be responsible for that kind of equipment and not every household can afford to get one for every member of the family. Without paper books do we have to pick and choose who in our family get the opportunity to read? Until e-book readers become throw away technology that has easy (let’s focus on the word easy) access to free material, I just don’t see it killing the paper book.

So where does this leave libraries? The users needs are definitely shifting, or rather, expanding. And I think it is simply that. We need to be in touch with our patron (or those that we would like to be our patrons) and give them what they need for free. We need to let them know that these services exist. They need access to a number of things both technological and personal we should build from there. Am I missing something?

A news release came out from the Justice Department  on January the 13th regarding e-readers and their use in university classrooms.

This is an excerpt: “Under the agreements reached today, the universities generally will not purchase, recommend or promote use of the Kindle DX, or any other dedicated electronic book reader, unless the devices are fully accessible to students who are blind and have low vision. The universities agree that if they use dedicated electronic book readers, they will ensure that students with vision disabilities are able to access and acquire the same materials and information, engage in the same interactions, and enjoy the same services as sighted students with substantially equivalent ease of use. The agreements that the Justice Department reached with these universities extend beyond the Kindle DX to any dedicated electronic reading device.”

I think this is a good thing. Like all electronic items (e.g. e-books, screencasts) provided by educational institutions we must remember those who are not fully “abled” so they can have a fair chance at the same educational opportunities being provided to the rest of the students. But it does give me pause. An e-reader is an electronic way to read a book, how good have we really been at providing physical books to those who have poor vision. Large print library books are rarely, if ever, found at the K-16 levels. I vividly remember the hoops I had to jump through to get large print textbooks for students in the K-12 system for the few that needed them.

Perhaps the switch to e-readers, slow as it will be, brings some of the best opportunities yet for access to those who have visual difficulties.

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Verizon is coming out with a new e-reader, time to watch the market forces work their magic! First, allow me to digress.

I have written about my underwhelmed reaction to the Amazon Kindle 2. With hope in my heart I went to my nearest Sony store in August to take a gander at the new Sony e-readers, they have come out with a “pocket”, “touch” and “digital reader daily” (that would be three e-reader offerings to Amazon’s two, but who’s counting). What they have done with the three separate e-readers is allow you to pick and choose the features you want and the price you want to pay, not that you “want” to pay $200 for a digital reader that you have to pay to put books on but you know what I mean. They have added the “innovation” of a touch screen which is a handy upgrade to Kindle’s offering. Like good citizens of the world Sony decided to use the epub format which is far more open than the proprietariness of the Amazon Kindle (although they have done a very nice mea culpa the whole 1984 ebook debacle will not leave my memory any time soon).They are even e-library book friendly as they have partnered with the same company that provides e-books for many public libraries. All in all a bit of an improvement to the Kindle. Take that overpriced, proprietary, silliness!

Now to welcome in the Irex DR800SG (can we not just call it the Irex 1, honestly!). It, sadly, does not have a touchscreen it has reached back to the days of Palm and uses a stylus. However, it does offer the joys of epub (with a promise to stick with the DRM free market) and wireless 3G through Verizon. It even boasts a radio, there’s a novel idea. The screen is 8.1 inches and it actually comes with a case, who would have thought consumers would want that?…not Amazon or Sony. The big downside for me is that it is not compatible with the Mac and I have not heard if public library e-books will be downloadable. And sadly, yes, it will cost $399 through selected Best Buy locations in October. Overpriced, less-than-proprietary, silliness continues but I remain hopeful.

First thing this morning (I am on the West Coast) I check for the exciting new Kindle 2 announcement. Surely they have given a new twist and price that will move it into a new market! Meh. Nope. Little upgrades and no price change. Sigh. What you now get is:

–    A changed and still unremarkable industrial design
–    The same 80’s color (reminiscent of my/the first hand held Nintendo video game)
–    More storage capacity
–    More battery life
–    The incomprehensibly unchanged price of $359
–    A tenth of an ounce lighter (no, really)
–    4x’s more grayscale color.
–    It is skinnier by .36 inches.
–    A text-to-speech reader (which, if any good, is in my opinion the most significant change)
–    The standard features from Kindle 1 have not been dropped you can still buy your books online, bookmark passages and so on.

There is talk of a new feature yet to come called “whispersync” that will allow the Kindle user to sync with another Kindle (assuming you actually own two or know someone else with one. Do you know anybody who owns even one yet?). Interestingly the whispersync should also allow you to sync with mobile devices, ahhh now we’re talkin’. Sync with my iPhone and we might be closer to doing business.

Standing back and looking at the new big picture. Do we get more value for our money? Yes. Is it enough to make me find the money? No. My business is online services for a library if you can’t sell me I don’t know how you sell anyone but the traveling business consumer and the lucky few techy bibliophiles that have too much money. I admit the Kindle has the best business model out there but you’re killing me Amazon, you really are.

For a more detailed and admittedly more positive spin I would suggest taking a look at the review from Fast Company who actually got their paws on the Kindle 2.

In another world I would love it if  Amazon would take a page from the yet unseen Readius.