eBooks: Libraries at the Tipping Point Online Conference
R. David Lankes Closing Keynote
Lankes wanted to start with a thought experiment. What would happen if when we bought our next device, $10 was added to the cost and that went into a universal author’s fund and you could download any book any time? Would this be a good thing for libraries? Would it be a good thing for librarians? Those are two different things. For libraries, it would allow people to get access to information anywhere any time. The value of libraries is the librarians, not the warehouse of stuff that we have. (Sarah’s comment: We know that, but the general user perception is that libraries are books, so if we no longer have books, won’t it will be hard to maintain community support and funding without a major overhaul of our public image?) We have seen a huge disaggregation of content. Content is being ripped and remixed into different places — an explosion of data. We see the disintegration of profiteering on content too. One doesn’t, and hasn’t historically, made a lot of money off releasing a music album. You make money off of touring and merchandising. Same with books. The real threat is that people have the perception of libraries as a mausoleum of stuff. He also promoted the term “members” instead of users, customers, or patrons. eBooks make Lankes cranky. He only reads fiction in eBook format. What makes him cranky is that the current implementation of hardware and software is so boring. Book virtual interfaces made to look like wooden bookshelves are boring. “Stop!” says Lankes. He sees such potential in eBooks but we’re ignoring the possibilities of what could be. eBooks aren’t solving the real problem: access to information. When we move books to a different format, there’s a problem. Traditional terminology becomes a metaphor. We append prefixes like “e” to traditional terms, but that doesn’t always translate conceptually. If we look at reading the first thing we have to realize is that it should be a social and conversational experience. Part of reading is processing language, turning words into concepts and images in your mind. Some people believe reading to be quiet and contemplative, but Lankes challenges that assumption. While reading is an isolating physically, mentally it is extraordinarily social — how we choose what to read, our pre-conceptions before reading it, how we feel about it and what we share about it afterward… We can organize books and electronic content in all sorts of ways, allowing for hyperlinking and cross-referencing and community suggestions, not just “the librarian’s way.” If we aggregate the unique individual connections, is there a commonality? Yes. We definitely don’t want the “every book’s an app” model that has started with the iPad. We need to get back to the idea that book creation is part of a knowledge creation process. The idea of authoring and reading is merging as tools make it obvious that there is an ongoing conversation. Why annotate text only with other text? He says that librarians are key to sense-making, production, distribution–all steps of knowledge creation. Just as we are authors of our own mobile experiences through customization and apps, we should be authors of our own eBook experiences. Multimedia, chat and other communication, and other functionality will benefit the creation and consumption experiences. Libraries need to stop waiting for others to figure this eBook challenge out. This is our problem and our opportunity. We need to stop waiting for publishers to figure out the eBook model of the future – it’s like waiting for heroin addicts to develop the methadone of the future. He asks the million dollar question: Why aren’t libraries building a unified eBook platform? We need to stop buying from vendors and simply accepting what they give us. We need to add our existing added value in our expertise, our passion for knowledge. He encourages us to stand up for our users’ rights and innovate. Librarians are not consumers or customers. We are participators and so are those we seek to serve. “Lead!” he says.