Libraries of the future – here for you now

One of the fun parts of the Symposium this wekeend was seeing Brewster Kahle talk about stuff. He started out by talking about this book Libraries of the Future that he wanted to scan and put on the Internet Archive. He then talked further about how figuring out who owned the copyrights for it was a total pain in the ass. I’m not even sure if he ever did figure it out; he even had MIT’s librarians working on it. The book is online anyhow. I haven’t looked at books in the Open Library project in a while but how slick is this? Full and slightly messy text here which, amusingly, ends with: PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE CARDS OR SLIPS FROM THIS POCKET.

ISBNs in the age of digital books

Some observations from Peter Brantley about what ISBNs will do in an age of digital books and multiple intermediaries between “publishers” and “readers.”

We are rapidly jerking forwards into a near term future where ISBNs will be assigned for derivative digital book products by intermediaries, not publishers. As an astute colleague observed in New York, the ISBN becomes a product SKU.

There are many disadvantages in this; one is that it will become increasingly difficult to find the “book” in the tangled weave of various digital instantiations. Perhaps no longer will we be able to ask how many copies did EduPunk 2020 sell.

my first audiobook – a day in the life

I had a long day at work today. I went to teeny library number one and noticed their Internet wasn’t working. Apparently it had been down for days, a service guy was on the way. I climbed around under the desk and found that the computer was plugged directly into the wireless modem which was in turn incorrectly plugged in to the cable modem. Bad ports all around. The cable was working fine. Then I went to the basement to mess with the three donated computers. They are from an insurance company. They run Win2K which is not bad in my neck of the woods. I plugged them all in and started them up and was asked for a 25 digit license code. “Hey did these computers come with any software?” I asked. “Just what’s on them.” the librarian told me. I gave her a brief rundown on how to ask the insurance people nicely if they have software licenses for the software they sort of gave us and, if they didn’t, what our legal and non-legal options were. But that isn’t what I wanted to talk about.

What I want to talk about is audiobooks. I was present at the downloading of my other teeny library’s first audiobook today, and helped a patron get his first audiobook. The book was from Overdrive. Our library isn’t a subscriber but this patron had another library card at a place that has Overdrive. I was told when I got in that a patron with an iPod needed help getting an audiobook from this library. I said yeah he should be having some trouble, Overdrive doesn’t support Macs/iPods, or they don’t suppoer it. I launched into an explanation of DRM until I got the impression it wasn’t helping and sat and waited for the kid to show up. Turns out he didn’t have an iPod (as I suspected) and turns out he had checked out an MP3 player from the library that has the Overdrive subscription. They had offered to put the book on the MP3 player for him, but they also told him they didn’t know how to do it and suggested, according to him, that he should do it himself. So he came to the library that I work at. They told him to come back when I was working because no one there knew how to do it either. This is what we did.

  1. restarted the computer in exec mode
  2. went to the library website to assure that the book was “checked out” to the patron.
  3. plugged in the MP3 player
  4. downloaded the OverDrive Media Console
  5. installed the Overdrive Media Console after a false start when the firewall blocked its attempt to download files to install into itself
  6. Ran OverDrive Media Console which told us we needed a newer version of Windows Media Player
  7. Went to the Windows site only to find that the version for our computers is Version 9, not the current version 11.
  8. Fished around for a bit until we found version 9 and downloaded it
  9. Installed WMP version 9.
  10. Ran the OverDrive Media Console which said we need to get a Windows Media Security Upgrade for WMP
  11. Installed the Windows Media Security Upgrade which is required before any DRMed files can be played
  12. Re-ran the OverDrive Media Console
  13. Downloaded the book
  14. Installed the book on the MP3 player.

According to OverDrive’s website, this is about par for the course. Then of course the librarian told me that since I’d done all this with the Centurion Guard not unlocked, I’d have to do it all over again next time.

I appreciate that digital media is really where people are going, and I understand why. However, this was one of the worst user experiences I’ve had to subject a patron to in a library at any time, ever. The patron I was helping was a 13 year old kid who was totally agreeable about having to spend basically an hour getting an audiobook off a website, but I couldn’t look him in the eye and say “Yeah this is what it’s like when you want to read a book over a computer.” I just said “This is how it works when companies make dumb choices about how to sell digital content, and no one is telling them they have to do it any other way.”

don’t own your textbooks, rent them!

Princeton University is experimenting with textbooks that have Digital Rights Management embedded in them. They have a lot of nerve calling a textbook that expires in five months “universal”. The press release states that students “save money” though it does seem to be comparing apples and oranges. Sure, textbooks are expensive and can be of limited use once classes are over but at least you own the darned things and can resell them or do whatever you want with them. And if you don’t have your own computer just make sure you can use the same one in the lab every time you visit because you can only load your textbook on to one computer, period. No returns. Not accessible via dial-up. How dare they say “the information is the same as the print version” although I guess as a profession we haven’t had to deal with information that expires now have we? Perhaps it’s time we start.

update: it’s not the school it’s the bookstore that is running this DRMed ebook experiment according to an update on the post. Different thing, different import. Ed Felten, who works at Princeton posted some comments “I don’t object to other people wasting their money developing products that consumers won’t want. …The problem with DRM is not that bad products can be offered, but that public policy sometimes protects bad products by thwarting the free market and the free flow of ideas. The market will kill DRM, if the market is allowed to operate.”

Jenny uses her librarian superpowers for good

I talked to Jenny a bit at ALA about Digital Rights Management and the ListenIllinois project. I was concerned, as she was, about the interoperability of the ebooks that the program provides, and the fact that their books won’t play on iPods, among other platforms and hardware device options. Luckily for ListenIllinois patrons, Jenny was in a prime position to do something about it. Her solution, though admittedly imperfect, is a glorious example of a librarian seeing a problem or an inequality of access, deciding that it needs to be fixed and setting policy to address that inequality: libraries that join the ListenIllinois contract now need to purchase at least one MP3 player to circulate audiobooks to patrons. I applaud her decision, her plan, and her dedication to explaining it and trying to err on the side of inclusivity and access instead of shrugging and saying “well, what can you do?”

It’s a proven fact that libraries help bridge the digital divide, and now we need to step up and help bridge what is a growing digital audiobook divide. It’s simply unethical to say you’re not going to circulate players because it would be too much of a hassle for your staff. This is the future format of audiobooks, and we need to make them available to everyone, especially because there are some titles that are available exclusively in this format. There are so many reasons to circulate your own players right now that it’s almost a crime not to. If you look at it from a PR standpoint, do you really want to be the one standing up in front of the microphone explaining why you couldn’t spend $70 on one measly player for those patrons that don’t have one of their own?