Archive for the 'ebooks' Category

Public libraries in the digital age

Thursday, July 19th, 2012 by Ricky

There is not often much in these posts about public libraries, but there are frequently posts about digital libraries. I admit to thinking there’s not all that much overlap between the two. Public libraries are ready to change that.

Last November a group of public library leaders met to begin to address the future of public libraries as information is increasingly digital. There was much discussion about the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and the role of public libraries in that endeavor — as well as the possible impact of DPLA on public library usage and funding. It was agreed that this was not a time to sit back and see what happens. If public libraries don’t serve the content the users want in the forms they want to consume it, their future is grim.

A new report, America’s Digital Future: Advancing a shared strategy for digital public libraries, summarizes the themes from the meeting and lays out an action plan for moving forward.

There can be no true Digital Public Library of America without the participation of public libraries. Public libraries are eager to digitize their unique materials and make them locally available as well as contribute them to DPLA. Perhaps a more burning issue is to ensure that public libraries can provide current commercial publications, including e-books, to their users. They cannot rely on the marketplace to represent public interests; this will require a national, concerted voice to negotiate with publishers and to minimize the digital divide.

This part of the public library action plan is being further pursued in an IMLS-funded project to develop an e-book strategy that will ensure that Americans continue to have access to commercially produced content through their local public libraries, even as formats change.

While OCLC’s constituency includes all libraries, the OCLC Research Library Partnership focuses on research libraries. These issues, though, are fundamental to all libraries and library users and I am pleased to have been involved in the public library meeting and report and in the forthcoming work on e-book lending.

Is the future of libraries local and unique?

Thursday, January 27th, 2011 by Merrilee

About a week ago, I came across a talk by Eli Neiburger in two parts (included below) that is widely referred to as “How Libraries are Screwed” (the actual title is “How eBooks Impact Libraries,” but the other is more catchy, don’t you think?). Despite having been around since September, I only caught up with this last week.

The talk focuses on the situation for public libraries, and presents a picture of institutions caught between their strong association with the codex (borne out by OCLC’s most recent Perceptions report), and unable to make an effective transition to the eBook due to market factors. The talk is very good, and I urge you to devote the 20 minutes to watch it and consider the implications (which are different but similar for academic libraries).

The part of the talk I do have an issue with is at the end of the second part, when Neiburger says that libraries may evolve into organizations that focus on unique content and local experiences. (This part of the talk is called out a this blog posting over at KeepingTime.) Keeping in mind that the talk is about public libraries, I do not think that this is true. If this were true, we would be seeing a renaissance among historical societies and other local history organizations. I would love to see evidence that supports that.

I do agree that unique materials, and items that document local history, will be valued, but I don’t see that happening in the context of public libraries — I think it’s much more likely to be folded into the academic library sector, where special collections have already been established.

And if you doubt the eBook market implications for public libraries take a look at this whitepaper by Overdrive (the major provider of eBooks to public libraries) which essentially says that public libraries will be great for eBook sales because they will never be able to fill demand. This choice quote neatly sums it up: “Libraries are simply not meeting demand for eBooks, but they are whetting the consumer appetite.”

To end on a positive note, in pulling together materials for this post, I ran across a new organization called Library Renewal, which seeks to coelese effort around getting e-content flowing to libraries.

Thanks to Eric Hellman for highlighting the Eli Neiburger talk and to Cliff Lynch for calling my attention to the Overdrive report.

Pat the Elephant

Friday, July 23rd, 2010 by Constance

There is a well-known fable about blind men with contrasting views on the anatomy of an elephant, each having examined a separate piece of the beast and independently concluded that it is either very like a spear, or a fan, or a snake, etc.  Even in combination their observations fail to provide a very good picture of what an elephant looks like as a whole.  The story was popularized in a poem by John Godfrey Saxe which is cited in a surprisingly wide variety of publications, from early childhood education manuals, to scientific and medical reports, to vocational guides and, more predictably, collections of 19C verse.  I know this because a search on a distinctive phrase from the poem’s conclusion: “prate about an elephant not one of them has seen” in the HathiTrust digital library finds more than 140 matches in these places.

Blind searching in large digital text repositories like the HathiTrust or Google Books provides an intriguing but incomplete view of the mass-digitized book corpus.  Frequently cited statistics like “12 million books” in GBS, “5 million books” or “one million public domain books” in Hathi don’t really tell us much about the anatomy of the mammoth.  Pat the elephant…what do you find?  A lot of curious sensory experiences that don’t add up.

When it comes to anatomizing elephants, all parts are not created equal.  Georges Cuvier, who famously reconstructed skeletons on the basis of a tooth or a toe, knew this.  Cuvier confidently and correctly distinguished Indian and African elephant species based on characteristic differences in jawbones; he ‘discovered’ the woolly mammoth based on a close examination of incomplete fossil remains.

I’m inclined to think that counting books (or volumes) is about as useful in characterizing the mass-digitized corpus as counting vertebrae in the catacombs.  It tells us something about how much is there, but not much about who, or what, is there.

Happily, there is an abundance of bibliographic metadata describing the content from which the mass-digitized corpus was sourced that can be used (like a fossilized tooth or a toe) to assign some generic, or I suppose specific, characteristics to the elephant in the room.  Over the past year, OCLC Research has been working on a project with Hathi and some other interested libraries to begin characterizing the enormous, vaguely familiar (snake? spear? tree?) yet altogether revolutionary (woolly!) mammoth created through the digitization of legacy print collections.

We’ve posted some empirical data on the subject and library distribution of titles in the Hathi digital repository here.  

I think it provides a useful complement to the enchanting and progressively revealing fan-dance of class numbers here.

More to come.

Emphasis on Ebooks

Friday, October 9th, 2009 by Jim

Along with some colleagues I attended the O’Reilly Emphasis on Ebooks online conference today. It’s part of the ongoing O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference.

In Research we’re investing significant time over the next several months to thinking about services built around books and how those services will change as the migration from physical to ebooks progresses. This half-day conference seemed relevant.

It had three panels organized around

Ebook Pricing: Is $9.99 the new price for ebooks? How can publishers add value and increase margins with ebooks?
What Do Readers Want? How are readers responding to ebooks and the plethora of new devices? What do they think of our efforts to date?
The Future of Electronic Reading: Ebooks, Ereaders, and Beyond: This presentation will cover the current state of the art in eBooks and eReaders – discussing the technologies currently at play and those coming in the near future.”

The first panelists were the most interesting. They included the founders or CEOs from Scribd, Lexcycle (the folks who produce the Stanza ereader), Bookoven and Librivox. Innovators and successful early pioneers. Here’s some of the things they said.

I can’t attribute these remarks to the specific individuals given the limitations of Webex conferencing and the rapid-fire talk that was going on.

All the stuff you can’t do with an ebook can explain the price difference – sell it, lend it, annotate etc. Take a dollar off for every one of those and you get to $10 from 15.

What’s the range of opportunity that e provides that’s unavailable in print? We don’t know what that richer object is yet.

What’s really wanted is the ‘everything’ edition. You get all the formats including print for a small increment. And what constitutes the ‘everything’ edition will take shape by audience and segment and genre which will lead to differential pricing even for the ‘everything’ edition.

Offering new free titles raises interest across the entire list of a publisher. (An old public domain offering doesn’t do it). What’s the conversion after the free title? Lots of consumers think e is a platform for consuming free content and don’t go any further. [The speaker referred to these consumers as Freegans - a designation I'll use in the future.]
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