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eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
eBooks and the Library User Experience
Josh Greenburg, Jean Costello, Aaron Schmidt, and Michael Bills – moderated by Rebecca Miller

Josh Greenburg started by talking about standard user stories for physical books — you find a book from the library catalog at home, see that it’s checked out, click on a button to place a hold and then you wait.  Or if you’re lucky and it is available, a mechanical and physical process starts and the book makes its way to whatever site you choose to pick it up at where it goes on a shelf and waits for you.  You might have to stand in line to check it out and then you have access to it for only a limited period of time.  eBooks have the same holds issues, but there is no physical transferral of the book from place to place, and no lines to wait in, no need for the user to go into a specific physical place, no real need to have due dates (if there’s no DRM and limits).  And in a lovely way the need for fines goes away too if the eBooks don’t have due dates any more.  But this is all a Utopian dream.  eBooks have a lot of speed bumps.  They’re usually, in the physical world, designed to slow people down so they don’t hurt themselves or those around them.  Speed bumps for eBooks slow people down, but not for their benefit or the library’s benefit–solely for the publisher’s benefit.  Things to think about: What are your goals for eContent at your library?  Do you have a fixed cost or do you subsidize rentals?  What type of collection do you want?  What does this look like for the user’s experience?  What speed bumps are you going to put into place in the experience?

Jean Costello spoke as a patron who took public libraries for granted for a long time, but her library was threatened with closure.  She learned how much she loves and treasures the organization, and now blogs as The Radical Patron.  She asks questions that are probably easier to ask from outside the organization rather than from within.  Book stores are cash-strapped and rethinking what they do and offer as their primary business model.  The real primary changes are digital content companies: Google, Twitter, Facebook, etc.  Publishers have, as a result, become outsiders to the emerging publishing paradigm.  Leaders in the publishing industry recognize the tipping point and rethink their alliances and values.  What she sees from libraries is that we look at eBooks as “just another technology to contend with, to be adopted but not fully embraced.”  (Sarah’s comment: Heck yes, that is totally true for most libraries.)  Will the public’s association of books with libraries translate to the eBook realm?  Are publishers looking to bypass libraries as an outlet  for digital media?  Are we aware of this threat?  Libraries are really focused on “collection.”  Content is so fluid that we need to stop thinking about content as a commodity, a thing to own.  She thinks we’ll see passionate readers and cultural institutions create enhanced versions of public domain works, self-published authors forging new ways and terms of distributing their work, and that news and magazines will be seamlessly and fluidly consumed on the fly.  Readers advisory will be wrapped around content automatically — look at the recommendation engines in Pandora or Netflix as a potential model.  The library user has little motivation to use the library.  Any sub-set of content within a world-vision of complete access to everything everywhere will be seen as insufficient.  There are many ways that libraries can add value.  They need to get past library culture and self-conception and the conflict of values they often have with the vendors.  We also need a strong representative to negotiate with the various stakeholders in the legislative and publishing industries.  But what do we have in libraries?  Libraries have widespread public trust and we need to start using that in new and creative ways.

Aaron Schmidt then took over the discussion and said that the eBook ship has sailed and we are not on it.  Years back we had arguments about whether VHS tapes should be in our collections and a whole paid industry sprung up while we were arguing.  DVD checkouts make up a large percentage of checkouts in libraries but many people still don’t know that we do that.  We have experimented with eBooks a long time ago before the general public was even interested in them — in the early days of the eBook Readers (oh yeah, the ones like the Rocket that failed).  We’re used to providing library customers with difficult to use resources (think about your database page).  Library patrons should never have to see the word Boolean logic.  DRM doesn’t work.  Determined users get around it, and all it takes is one ripped copy to open the floodgates for pirating.  And there will always, always be one ripped copy no matter what DRM you put in place.  All that does is stymie usage by law-abiding, EULA-abiding people.  The e-experience should not try to mimic the print experience – that is a failure waiting to happen.  Users are accessing eContent on their mobile devices.  Apple, Amazon, and Google have changed the game.   Better readers will make reading more enjoyable.  We don’t want libraries to become mausoleums for dead books.  Libraries should stop being like grocery stores (lots of stuff on the shelves) and more like kitchens (easy convenient access).  We need to concentrate on our most important asset — the people in our buildings, the library staff, and train them to provide a good user experience for our users with digital content.

Michael Bills talked about enhanced eBooks through Blio (free eBooks platform in development) — text-to-voice, video, annotations, links, etc.  eInk devices have proliferated, but the type of content that can be delivered to those devices has been constrained.  Blio provides full color enhanced content, interactivity, multiple viewing modes (2 page, 3D, thumbnail), is device-neutral, works on smaller and larger screens, and has a much deeper content catalog.  The Book Industry Group sees that people still read eBooks dominantly on computers, with the kindle in a close second.  Mobile devices like smart phones come next, ahead of other eReaders like the Sony Reader or the Nook.  What could be brought to eBooks that consumers would pay more for?  Blio actually has 80% of the extras that consumers said they’d pay for.

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