An Infinite Number of Monkeys

Nov 03


Given how much librarians love to panic over new technology that’s going to eliminate their jobs and make libraries obsolete, I’m surprised I haven’t seen any librarian blogging/tweeting about Siri, the magic iPhone robot that can answer all your questions. Siri seems like the obvious first step to replacing reference librarians with voice-recognizing computers that can cull answers from global databases. Panic, reference librarians! PANIC!

Oct 27

Kindle e-books at Chicago Public Library

Overdrive and Amazon have finally teamed up to offer MOBI-formatted e-books for the Kindle through public libraries, and Chicago Public Library is one of the systems now offering Kindle e-books. I’ve been exploring the system, and generally think it’s great. It’s nice that Overdrive includes descriptions of most of the books. The checkout process is also painless, delivering the e-book directly to the user’s Kindle within seconds.

The biggest issue is wait times. There is high demand for e-books through CPL, and the most popular books have waitlists of 20 or more patrons. Even e-books with short waitlists can take a long time to show up; I was the fourth person on the list for one book when I signed up several weeks ago, and I still haven’t received notification that it’s available.

The culprit here appears to be check-out periods for e-books. When you check out an item, you can specify if you want the e-book for one, two, or three weeks, with three weeks as the default. Most people will probably stick with the default setting, since it’s hard to guess how long it will take to read a book. There is no way to “return” an e-book before the checkout period is up, either from the Kindle or through Overdrive, and even if there was, there would be little incentive to do so: the e-book automatically disappears from the patron’s Kindle after the three weeks, so there are never any late fees.

This means that, most likely, every patron who checks out an e-book is going to have it for exactly three weeks, whether they finish it before then or not. So an e-book with four people on the waitlist is not going to be available for about three months (assuming the library owns just one copy). I’m assuming this is an Overdrive issue, not a CPL issue, and it would be easy to fix: allow patrons to return e-books before the checkout period is up, and give them an incentive to do so.

The other issue I’ve had with the e-book system is seemingly a small one, but becomes a bigger problem once the wait-time issue is factored in: there is no simple way to get a list of all the books that are currently “in” (ie, have copies available for checkout without being put on a waitlist). If you search for a keyword, you can also check a box so the search only returns currently available e-books, so you can “cheat” by searching for “a” or “e” and checking the box, but it seems like there should be a more obvious way to get a list of e-books with available copies. Again, this is likely an Overdrive issue, not a CPL issue, and again, it would be an easy fix to create an “all available e-books” menu item.

EDIT: Apparently you can return e-books early through Amazon. I maintain that the vast majority of patrons either don’t know this or aren’t going to bother to do so, since they have no incentive.

May 03

Desperately Seeking DeSario: A Real-Life Literary Mystery -

Novelist, filmmaker and bro Daniel Kraus writes for Booklist about tracking down a little-known literary hero.

Apr 04

Freakonomics: Who's the Biggest Loser in E-Books? -

Stephen Dubner takes a look at the data and finds that publishers, who have complained about the growth of e-books, make more profit off of e-books than off of physical books, while authors typically make less.

Mar 22

Judge Rejects Google’s Deal to Digitize Books -

"A federal judge in New York rejected Google’s $125 million class-action settlement with authors and publishers, delivering a blow to the company’s ambitious plan to build the world’s largest digital library and bookstore.”

Mar 21

The Electronic Publishing Bingo Card -

Hey, it made me laugh.

Mar 08

Ebooks: durability is a feature, not a bug -

Cory Doctorow has the best-reasoned response to the HarperCollins e-book lending limit brouhaha so far.

Mar 03

1. The world of information has always been in a constant state of flux. As technology continues to change the world of information, it is preferable for information professionals and the institutions they serve to adapt rather than perish.

This is not a new idea.

2. The most important qualities an information professional can posses are adaptability, resourcefulness, a habit of looking for better/easier/more efficient ways to do things, creativity, and a love for solving problems.

This is not a new idea.

3. Organizations providing information services should pay as close attention as possible to the needs of those whose information needs they serve. Where these needs can be measured, they should be measured. If you can find something that your library is regarding as more important than user needs, something is very wrong.

This is not a new idea.

4. Whenever possible, obstacles between users and the information they seek should be removed. Among these obstacles are academic jargon and expecting users to care about cataloging minutia (it is minutia to them, get over it). Information professionals should be champions of clarity and concision who find accessible ways to describe complex topics.

This is not a new idea.

” — Common Sense Librarianship: An Ordered List Manifesto from

Mar 01

Independent publishing and e-books

USA Today last month published a story about Amanda Hocking, an author who has never had a “traditional” publishing deal but nonetheless sold 450,000 copies of her nine young-adult paranormal e-books in January. She charges 99 cents to $2.99 for each of her e-books, and through her deal with Kindle, she gets 30 percent of each 99-cent book sold and 70 percent of each $2.99 book sold, netting her significantly more than she would have made through a deal with any publisher.

I had been wondering for a while when a story like this would break. “Publishing” an e-book costs almost next to nothing, and websites like BookBaby that allow writers to publish their books direct to the Apple Store, Kindle Store, and other e-reader sites mean that there is nothing preventing anyone who has written a book from making it available to the public around the world. And the ability to bypass publishers, who have to consider how much profit they will make on each book, means that authors can write books targeted at small but loyal niche markets without having to consider if they can sell enough physical copies to balance the cost of actually printing the book.

My next question is: who is going to be the first big, established author to figure out how much more money they would make if they self-published their own e-books instead of letting their publishers handle it? In the music world, Radiohead was the first big band to break away from the label system to focus on releasing music online (their most recent albums, In Rainbows and King of Limbs, have both seen physical releases but only months after they were available digitally). The next big milestone for e-publishing will be when a Stephen King or Michael Chabon follows their lead.

Feb 24

E-Book Lending Clubs -

Last month, I posted about e-book lending service eBookFling. Now ALA Tech Source has done the dirty work of compiling a list of all of the e-book lending services that have popped up, with a short description of each. Enjoy.