season wind-down

I’ve been doing a lot of winding down in preparation for getting ready for holidaytime and all the rest. Here are some things that I found very useful that can not be explained in 140 characters. Sorry it’s taken a while.

– Want to read Overdrive books on your iPad? A combination of the Bluefire Reader (free) and a handy bookmarklet (also free) let you download books straight from Overdrive to read right on your iPad.
– Sunday Sunday Sunday! I’ve been meaning to mention this for a while but one of my almost-local libraries just made a major hours change and got funding to stay open on Sundays. This is a huge rarity where I am and much appreciated. It even got a nice write-up in the paper.
– Enjoyed a recent blog post by one of my perennial favorites, Molly Kleinman, talking about going to an Open Education conference and being dismayed at the perception of librarians that seemed to be held by the education community there. There was the perception of librarians as risk-averse, hung up on metadata at the expense of content and concerned about copyright to the point of letting copyright concerns outweigh digitization efforts. Molly writes up her thoughts and some approaches she thinks might help in her post When librarians are obstacles.
– Bullying, while perhaps assisted by technology, is not happening because of technology. Former YALSA President Linda Braun explains why.

sony reader works with ebooks and libraries, sort of

The new Sony Reader, the biggest competition to the Kindle, is supposedly going to be able to check out digital books from libraries that use the Overdrive service. I guess this begs the obvious question: why go to the library for this service at all? I guess that Overdrive just bulk offers the checkoutability service to libraries (hello restrictive DRM!) which is something but man I just wish their service were better and easier to use.

two links from the internet and one from my life

  • BOFH stands for Bastard Operator From Hell. This entry is about vampire librarians, or something.
  • Can architects save librarians from the Internet? Slashdot talking about Slate.
  • ListenUpVermont, a project to get participating Vermont libraries together to be able to lend digital audiobooks to their patrons is going live this week. I’d love to say this was my doing but mostly I’ve just consulted with a local non-automated library about how they can make this work for them. This is the result of an informal (possibly formalized now) consortium of Vermont libraries from all over the state lending titles via Overdrive. In just browsing the collection I’m sort of surprised at how many titles can be burned to CD (and transferred to ipods) I was expecting less. Big congrats to Stephanie Chase from the Stowe Free Library for getting this project going.

artificial scarcity of audiobooks

John Miedema, one of the Slow Library posse, has an excellent blog up called Slow Reading. He’s been talking about audiobooks lately and his recent installment concerns the patron experience with digital audiobooks. His library uses Overdrive. He is techie enough to not have problems with the install experience, and for this installment he was content to listen to the audiobook on his computer. But he did have one observation about the availability of this content that is supposed to resemble books.

My selected title was not currently available, so I placed a hold on it. It struck me as odd that I would have to place a hold on a digital resource. After all, making an extra copy of a digital resource does not cost additional money. I know, I’m being simplistic. The rights holders have to impose some kind of exclusivity on the product so that people will pay more to get more copies. Still, it irks. I was emailed a couple days later that my title was available for download. Nice. I was told I could only have it for fourteen days. Well, I may be a slow reader, but I suppose I can listen faster. Last note on exclusivity — if I finish early, I can’t return it before the “return” date to let someone else have it earlier.

Like John, I understand why this is built into the audiobook mechanism but as a library patron and possible librarian working with this type of material, I find it obnoxious. As a patron, you get the book for two weeks whether you need it for that long or not. As the library, every time the item is checked out it becomes “unavailable” for two weeks whether the person reads it in a day or in ten. The content costs a fixed price which has a built-in limitation of how many times it can circulate. This offends my thrifty library sensibilities.

Add to this the confusing problem of non-label releases like Radiohead’s new album — pay what you want to download it, or you can pay $80 for a boxed set — and libraries are left having to make ad hoc choices about collection development issues because of bizarre market forces not because of what they feel should be in their library. Cynics can argue that this is the way libraries have always been with major publishers and book jobbers accounting for a disproportionate amount of library sales and shelf space but I’m curious if these new technological advances are going to make this problem better or worse.

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.”