Monday, February 20, 2012

... and other BAD IDEAS libraries have had

These are some BAD IDEAS that librarians have had. And I'll start with ebooks. Because I know you love them.

Fact: ebooks are a bad idea. For everyone.

ebooks are bad because of our 21st Century sense of entitlement. The internet has changed how we feel about everything. Meaning that we've become thieves and any legitimate deal that doesn't support our criminal nature is a bad one. Have you ever downloaded a song that you should have paid for? Ripped a CD? DVD? Stripped DRM? Then I'm speaking to you, hoodlum.

We, meaning you, are a generation who feels that if we can do something, we should do it. And computers make much of this really easy. It used to be that only the rich had the power to exploit the labors of others, but thanks to the internet, we can all do it.

But we don't have that control with ebooks.

So let's compare an ebook to a (printed/paper) pbook:

  1. leased, never owned
  2. some publishers won't sell to libraries
  3. online storage and access is expensive
  4. must lease new copy when the original reaches its lending limit
  5. patrons can’t donate used copies to library
  6. can’t trade or sell excess copies
  7. no free prepubs
  8. seemingly no staff time required for reshelving, repairing, labeling
  9. lots of staff time spent on instruction
  10. no Dewey
  11. no need to dispose of anything since you don't own anything to begin with
  12. TSA will stop you and check your ereader to make sure it's not a bomb
  1. purchased outright, but often leased
  2. we buy what we want
  3. brick and mortar storage and access is expensive
  4. must purchase new copy when the original reaches its maximum damage limit
  5. can accept some donations for collection and most donations for “book sale” shelf
  6. can do whatever the hell we want with excess copies
  7. boxes of prepubs no one will ever read
  8. lots of staff time for shelving
  9. all reading levels are welcome
  10. some Dewey required
  11. endless used book sales
  12. a hollowed-out dictionary is a great place to hide a gun
Hmm. There's no clear winner, there, is there? Not a winner based on this simple comparison, but probably a winner if you gave each answer a point value. And that's the key; librarians give 1,000 points to Ownership and Control and then give maybe 5 points to Ability to sell unneeded copies.

We want electronic books to behave exactly like print books. We want the control we have over print, but without all the hassle of print. So ebooks are bad for librarians because we really don't know how to make them work for us in the library. Even though there are many other things we pay for but down own. Here other things we lease that most librarians don’t think of as bad ideas: buildings. online resources. computer hardware. software licenses. copiers. internet access.

So it really just comes down to convenience. ebooks are a convenient format for some people, but a pretty big pain in the ass for libraries to manage. Yet you love them. You must be a cat person.

And now here is a mix of BAD and GOOD ideas about ebooks:

How eBooks can help or hurt libraries.
I don't know which, yet, because I don't think anyone is doing this stuff.

What ebooks can do for libraries is solve demand problems. What we need is to negotiate short-term, high-use contracts. We need 200 copies of each bestseller for 5 weeks. But I don't know any way to figure out what would be a fair cost for this.

And we should also find a way to negotiate directly with publishers so we can have more control of our ebooks. What if we told a publisher, "We'll give you access to our circulation statistics so you can figure out what to charge for your back catalog. Why? you ask. Did you know that Agatha Christie's The Murder at the Vicarage circulated 12x more than The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? Libraries have that information; you don't. If you try to price everything the same, it's not going to move nearly as well as if you price it according to demand. But with this data, you can price according to demand." Is this a GOOD or BAD idea? I have no idea.

We'll let you put ads in our ebooks. In the past, you've put ads in our print books. We, we didn't let you do it, but we didn't complain.

And to keep my promise, here are some other really BAD IDEAS that librarians have:

Hiring someone who's still in library school for a position that doesn't require a degree. Because you know that person isn't going to stay in that position for long and you're just going to have to hire and train a whole new person. I hate being put in a position where the most qualified person for the job is currently in school so she can get a better job 5-6 months down the road. Frankly, I don't want to hire her because I know I'm going to need to fill her spot so soon.

I always think it's a BAD idea to sell your the naming of your library to some rich person. Unless, as I've said before, you get $50 million for the privilege. But anything less and you're ripping off your taxpayers. Basically, you've sold out everyone in your community who pays to support the library. They're now supporting some rich dude's legacy.

And then how can you reward your local hero? You can save 100 children from a burning building and you won't get your name on that library. You could single-handledly stop an alien invasion, and no library. You could kick Donald Trump in the balls and still, no library. Although I think you might be able to negotiate a Turnpike service plaza: "Hey, ma, the Kicked Donald Trump in the Balls service plaza is coming up; can we stop and get some chicken?" (but for legal reasons, please don't kick Donald Trump in the balls.)

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