Tag Archives: public libraries

A librarian’s look at Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited. There’s been a lot of talk lately about Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited and what it means for both libraries and publishing. Every time something new happens in the book world — especially when that something has to do with eBooks — someone else is quick to point to it as the “death of libraries.” The purpose of this post is twofold: first, to explain why Kindle Unlimited will make you pay for a service you can probably get for free; and second, to debunk the myth that libraries are on their deathbed.

Kindle Unlimited will make you pay for a service you can probably already get for free. I’m talking about your local public library. Not only can you check out print copies of your favorite classics and the latest bestsellers; most public libraries also offer access to eBooks. The library I work at belongs to a consortium with access to titles through OverDrive, as well as Freading and Axis 360. Yes, Amazon provides instant access to the Kindle Unlimited collection, and yes, there are sometimes waiting lists for more popular library eBooks — but the ones you’d have to wait for probably aren’t available through Kindle Unlimited. An Associated Press review of the service published July 21 said the collection consists of “a few current titles such as “The Hunger Games,” attached to a block-sized bargain bin of obscure stuff mixed with “Robinson Crusoe” and other classics that are in the public domain and available for free online anyway.” None of the Big Five publishers (whose books dominate the bestseller lists) have made any of their titles available through Kindle Unlimited. That’s not surprising, given how tough it was for libraries to negotiate any sort of licensing agreements with them, and the tension between Amazon and publishers throughout Amazon’s dispute with Hachette.

In other words, your local library probably has a better selection of eBook titles than Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Funding for libraries varies from state to state, but most likely you’re already paying for this service through some kind of property tax. (And don’t get me started on how many more awesome things public libraries could do if we got $9.99 per capita in funding.) Amazon may have algorithms that tell you what they think you should read next, but libraries have something better: actual humans. People who will understand that if you like westerns, you might be interested in a history of the Old West, too. People who will ask questions to get a better idea of what type of story you’re looking for, and will therefore make better, more informed recommendations. And you don’t even need to go to the library for this! Many libraries (including ours) offer chat services during business hours, and all will help you find your next great read over the phone.

On to part two of this post: the myth that libraries are dying. Public libraries are not in decline. As Library Journal states, “According to the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Public Libraries in the United States Survey for Fiscal Year 2011 (the most recent data available), in the past ten years, visits to public libraries have increased 23 percent and circulation, 29 percent; program attendance has grown by 32.3 percent since 2004.” That doesn’t sound like an institution that’s fading. We’re focusing more on programs and technology, on being a space for community gatherings and a resource for job seekers, students, entrepreneurs, and the rest of our communities. We provide computers and Internet access to those who can’t afford them, and teach those who’ve never used them how to navigate the digital world. We provide programs that encourage creativity, exploration, and, yes, literacy. Libraries contain books, but they are not exclusively defined by them. They are information and communication hubs. And they aren’t going anywhere.

**Gets off soapbox.**

So, what are your thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and the supposed death of libraries?

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Inspiration

I went to the Public Library Association (PLA) conference last Friday, and it was exactly what I needed to re-energize my library career. I’d been discouraged by a string of low-attended programs, but the combination of a very successful one on memoir writing and the awesome ideas I got from other librarians at PLA has me excited to try new things again. No matter what your career, I highly recommend attending conferences in your field if you’re able. There’s nothing more refreshing than meeting with a bunch of other people who understand what you do every day, who can relate to your struggles and offer advice, and who can spark new ideas during sessions or impromptu conversations.

Thomas Edison quote. Something that struck me as applicable to both my library and writing careers was a talk on failure by Megan McArdle. “Don’t be afraid to suck,” she urged, explaining that failure is part of the process that leads to success. When we admire the bestselling author or successful library director, we often see only their amazing novel or the one innovation that revitalized their library as a community center. What we don’t see are the twelve novels that writer slaved over before she even signed with a publishing company, or the eight outreach initiatives that didn’t work at that library. The difference between those who succeed and those who fail is not that the first group hasn’t failed, but rather that they have failed more, and failed better. Failure isn’t fun, but it’s still an opportunity to learn what is and isn’t working and adjust accordingly. So, whatever your aspirations, I encourage all of you to get out there and fail brilliantly.

Map.

Photo by flickr user hugovk.

At lunch, John Green talked about how public librarians don’t give up on anyone. To paraphrase, we encourage the rich, the poor, the professors, the high school drop-outs, the marginalized, the young, the old — everyone — to come in and explore new ideas. Just as you can’t plan a trip to a place that isn’t on your map, you can’t try to build a robotic arm for someone with a 3D printer until you know 3D printers exist. Libraries and librarians help people add to their “maps,” so they can know and be a part of more of the world. Of course, John Green said this much more eloquently than I ever could. Seriously, even his answers during the Q&A were so quotable I wanted to write them all down.

I could go into detail about all the programs I want to try, the new ways I plan to experiment with reader’s advisory on the library’s social media pages, but those are topics for another post. For now, I’ll leave you with a challenge to try something you’ve been meaning to do without worrying about failure. Whether it’s a new program at your library, a new genre you’ve never written, or a new cupcake recipe, give it a shot. If you fail, that’s one more thing you know won’t work, and one more place you can add to your personal “map.” And if you succeed, you’ll have something amazing to share.

Reflections on library programming

Excited dog.

Photo by Flickr user edanley

When I first started working at my current place of employment, I tried to go for a healthy mix of fitting in with and challenging the conventions and practices in place there. Mostly I fit in, but I’d heard and read enough about new librarians bringing fresh perspectives that I felt it was my duty to examine the way things were done and, if the methods seemed strange or unnecessary or inefficient, ask if there was a better way to accomplish the same goals.

Most of my ideas were not so much changes as additions. The library was fairly light on adult programming when I started, and I sort of took it upon myself to become the programming librarian. I did this for a few reasons. First, I saw that there was more we could be doing with adult programs, and I knew I wanted to be the one to do it. Second, I loved coming up with new program ideas, and my managers seemed to like most of them. I loved (and still love) organizing everything; making promotions; writing press releases, blog posts and social media posts; and learning more about my new community by partnering with various speakers and authors to bring everything together. Finally, I was good at it. My managers liked my ideas, I was getting good attendance, and I’d carved a niche for myself in my new workplace. Whenever a phone call or email came in from someone who wanted to present, everyone knew to transfer or forward it to me.

Lately, the library has fallen into a programming rut. We’ve had exceptionally low attendance, and the device drop-in sessions that our digital services coordinator planned haven’t been popular, despite the fact that we get questions about tablets and eReaders pretty frequently at the reference desk. Part of it may be the weather — snow has closed the library four days this year, it was below zero for more than eight days in January (http://www.noaa.gov/), and even when the weather wasn’t bad the roads often still were. (It still amazes me at how poorly this region handles snow, given the amount that we get. So many roads simply don’t get plowed.) But I’m sensing a trend, and I’d like to curb it.

I’ve graduated from the honeymoon stage of my time as the programming librarian. It’s not all new and easy and fun all the time. I’m working on bigger, more involved programs — a series of Appy Hours whose roll-out was as disappointing as that of healthcare.gov (too soon?), the Adult Summer Reading Program, and (this is still in the development stage) a community read possibly culminating in an author visit. And as exciting as these big projects are, I worry that my co-workers and I may be the only ones who are excited about them.

So what’s the solution? We’ve tried handing out evaluation cards at programs, asking what people would like to see from programs. The response is always vague and unhelpful, if we get a response at all. We could post surveys or polls on our blog and social media pages, but I think those surveys will only reach a fraction of the community. And they’ll reach the fraction we’re already reaching, not the people we’re trying to reach.

Focus group.

Photo by Flickr user Scott Maxwell

After a six-hour college fair that saw three prospective students, my assistant manager and I had an impromptu brainstorming session. I threw out the idea of having a community focus group meet to discuss library programming and services. We would reach out to representatives from local schools, colleges, hospitals, restaurants, and churches; from the YMCA, the police, the local casino, the local gaming store, the local employment center, local banks, and the local government — just to name a few. We would ask all of them what they and the people they work with would like to see from the library — and how we can make it happen.

This is all still in its earliest planning stage, and we’d have to get the right community leaders on board, but I plan to take this idea to my manager and, if she likes it, the Programming Team. I think getting the community more actively involved in library programming could be more effective than just having a group of librarians try to figure out what will and won’t work.

What has your experience with programming and community feedback been?

What to do when no one comes

Tumbleweed.

Photo by Flickr user VancityAllie

Last week I had my first zero-attendance program at the library. I’ve had low attendance before, but this was the first time that nobody showed up. It was a little disheartening; this was supposed to be the first in a series of Appy Hour programs where librarians and attendees share their favorite free and inexpensive apps related to a designated theme. My manager was really excited about the idea, and many people in the department thought it would be a great program.

So what happened?

It’s impossible to know the exact reasons why the first Appy Hour failed. It could have been the theme — I thought health and fitness apps would be great for tracking New Year’s resolutions, but maybe this community isn’t interested in that. It could have been the day I chose, which I realized only a week beforehand was the same day as several TV series’ season premiers. But I think the biggest reason was a failure to get the word out to the right people.

The library is not a field of dreams; building a program doesn’t mean they will come. What made advertising Appy Hours even harder is that the series was designed to draw people who don’t normally come to the library, or who don’t interact much with the library. Most of the marketing for Appy Hour reached those who already use the library. We posted on our blog, website, social media pages, and electronic signs throughout the building. I strategically placed fliers on tables where people use their laptops or tablets for work, and in the stacks near books related to mobile technology. I even wrote two press releases — one announcing the series and one with details about last week’s kickoff.

But the people who would theoretically come to Appy Hours likely never saw the fliers or signs in the library. If they visited our website, they probably clicked past the banner without even looking at it to get to our catalog or the database they wanted. They may not subscribe to the library’s blog, or like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter. And who reads the local paper anymore? Most of the target demographic for Appy Hours gets their news online, via links posted on social media, or through parodies like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

So what now? Do we write the series off and move on? It’s possible that there’s simply no interest in this type of program in this community, but I’m not ready to give up just yet, and neither is my manager. We’re adjusting the way we tackle publicity for February’s Appy Hour, and hopefully the theme (date night) will be a bigger draw than health and fitness, too. I’m still going to advertise in all the places that I advertised the first Appy Hour, but I’m also going out into the community. I made a list of all the places where I’d like to advertise, and I’m going to take an afternoon driving around town, asking business owners if I can leave handouts there or post something on their bulletin board. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Panera
  • Starbucks
  • Local university’s student center
  • Local university’s library
  • Orange Leaf (a yogurt place)
  • Local chocolate shop (since the theme is date night)
  • Payless
  • Meijer
  • Walmart
  • Target

Can you think of any other places to promote a program like this? What has your experience been with reaching this demographic?

Stories from the Stacks

Book stacks.

Photo by Flickr user Shannon Hauser

I don’t know if it’s the holiday season, the full moon (as some of my co-workers like to joke), the weather, or some combination of the three, but things have been exceptionally weird at the library this week. Since I don’t have anything profound to share this week, I thought I’d give you a sample of some of the stranger things we public librarians see on the front lines. Hope you get some holiday laughs from them! [Note: some details have been altered to prevent anyone from being personally identified.]

Monday: A regular patron asked what soundtracks we had. I tried to determine what he was looking for, asking if there was a certain movie or TV show or even genre he was interested in, but he kept saying that he just wanted to know what soundtracks we had. When I showed him that section of our CD collection, he complained that there were too many to look through. But when asked, he couldn’t name a single soundtrack he was looking for. He has come to the Information Services desk at least three times this week now, and has asked at least two of us this same question.

Tuesday: A man handed me his library card and asked me to put some large print Nicholas Sparks books on hold for him. He gave me a list of titles and asked if we had any of them in, then told me he would be back in a few minutes while I proceeded to look them up. Thirty minutes later, I was still sitting there with his library card, and knew that we had two of the three books checked in. Eventually he returned, but not until after I’d contemplated bringing his card up to lost and found.

Wednesday: Actually this one has happened several times, and every time I find it strange. A woman called to let us know that she would be in to pay her fines later that day. My response was something along the lines of, “Thank you. Did you have any questions about those fines?”

“No, I just wanted to let you know. It’s [names amount of money], right?”

“That’s right.” Long pause. “So was there anything I could help you with?”

Another long pause. Inevitably there is a line of people waiting at the desk at this point. Finally, “That’s all. I’ll be in later today to pay those fines.”

“Okay. Thank you. Have a nice day.”

Why do people feel the need to tell us they’re going to come pay us?

Thursday: This is another frequent occurrence. The phone rang, and I answered with the standard greeting, stating the library name, my department, and my name. A woman asked me for the phone number of a local business (who knew I’d signed on to be a phone book when I decided to work in a public library?), and while I was looking it up, she said, “Hold on.” Not, “Hold on while I find a pen,” but “Hold on while I proceed to have a long conversation with someone else in the room.” I’ve even been told, “I’m going to put you on hold for a minute,” and most of the time it’s not to check call waiting. I always want to say, “Um, you called me…” but that might be seen as impolite.

Friday: (This actually happened to a co-worker.) A woman came up to the desk asking about a book and exclaimed, “You have gorgeous eyes!” She followed this with an admonishment that my co-worker was not wearing a color that brought out her eyes, and proceeded to give her detailed instructions as to what she should wear, touting her credentials as a fashion consultant. As though a single encounter with a stranger gives someone a comprehensive look at her entire wardrobe, personality, and tastes. But at least she’s on the waiting list for that book now…

Saturday: A woman called wanting the entire history of our town, as well as several unrelated or loosely-related topics such as locations of nearby air force bases, the most popular majors at the local university, where the nearest organ network transfer was located, information about the Moravians and the Church of God… It felt like the verbal equivalent of someone reading an article and clicking on every link in that article. Except that I was reading every single article to her over the phone. And providing her with contact information for hospitals, churches, air force bases, and the historical society. For about forty minutes. And at the end of it all, I still had no idea what she’d actually called about — I felt like I’d just finished a search engine triathlon when a sprint might have sufficed if the woman hadn’t been distracted by all those tangents.

And there you have it! A week in wacky stories (I’m taking Sunday off). In case you’re wondering, no, I don’t work six days a week; I just thought I’d share six stories. All of these did happen this week, though like I said, some details have been changed to maintain anonymity.

Do any of you have fun stories from the stacks?

Happy holidays!

Reading: It’s not just reading anymore

With increasing frequency, reading is becoming a multimedia activity.  Rapidly emerging enhanced books, magazines, and periodicals (both print and electronic) contain embedded videos, sound files, and other content that can be opened/viewed/listened to/interacted with by using free or inexpensive apps.  I recently read an article discussing the seemingly endless possibilities of enhanced magazines — a “buy it now” option in the Sears catalog?  The ability to pin a recipe on Pinterest that you found in a magazine in the checkout aisle?
And it’s not just periodicals.  Picture books with interactive games and videos are becoming more prevalent, and I wonder whether publishers a few years from now will even consider making a children’s book that does not have some kind of enhanced content.
And while children’s books may be the trailblazers, they’re by no means the only ones with enhanced content.  Novels for older readers have been published electronically with multiple reading options — for example, a book that begins in medias res with an option to read the story as the author initially wrote it, and one in which the events happen chronologically.  I see a world of possibilities with this kind of thinking — books where readers can choose their own adventure, choose which viewpoint character they’d prefer, or choose which plot-line to follow.  I see fantasy novels with interactive maps that let readers explore the author’s world, even embedded video games that allow them to go on adventures in that world.  I see movie tie-in editions which include trailers, deleted scenes, and interviews with actors and directors.  And let’s not forget enhanced textbooks containing interactive diagrams, adaptive self-tests at the ends of chapters, and educational games.
All of this is very exciting, but it also raises some very big questions.  First of all, what constitutes a book?  I don’t think we can define books simply as text and images anymore.  Books are becoming multimedia capsules.  Which begs the question, what does it mean to write a book?  Will writers someday be expected to write the same story from different viewpoints or with different endings?  Will they be expected to present multimedia tie-ins for their stories?  Or will it be the publisher’s job to come up with enhanced content?  Will being able to provide the enhanced material oneself make for a stronger pitch when seeking a publisher?
And how will libraries handle the collection of enhanced materials?  Should we provide eReaders or tablets with the necessary software to view enhanced content?  In order to truly provide equal access to our materials, I think we would have to.  But what would that mean for our budgets?  One could argue that, if we simply focused our collections on non-enhanced materials, we would be able offer a larger collection.  But quantity does not equal quality; if our patrons want books with embedded videos, they’re not going to care that we have three copies of the un-enhanced version.
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I’m very curious to hear what others think.  I’ve read hundreds of articles on eBooks in libraries, and on publishing electronically, but I haven’t heard much about how either industry is handling enhanced materials.

Hello World!

When learning a new programming language, the first code a student writes is almost always a program that prints “Hello World!”  I thought it fitting to begin my foray into the blogosphere with this statement because it represents where I am and where I hope this blog will go in the future.
I’m not new to blogging — I kept a travel blog while I was studying abroad in college — but I am new to professional blogging.  A few librarians’ blogs — notably Mr. Library Dude and Librarian in Black — were extremely helpful to me during library school, especially as I sought advice on landing a library job.  Now that I have some professional experience to draw on, I’m ready to contribute to the conversation.
As the tagline suggests, this blog will be about more than just libraries and librarianship.  I work the reference desk in a large public library in Central Indiana, so a lot of my updates will probably be about public librarianship in Indiana.  However, when I’m not at the library, I write young adult novels, and I’m looking forward to attending my first writer’s conference in July.  So expect a lot of entries about writing and publishing, too.
I hope this blog will provide a forum to discuss ideas and trends in the library and publishing worlds.  If someday my thoughts and the conversations they spark help a new — or veteran — professional land a job or an agent or a book deal, I’ll be honored to count myself among the mentors of the blogosphere.