Monday, July 21, 2014

Amazon's Kindle Unlimited vs The Public Library -- Libraries Still Win

The big techie news last Friday (7/18/2014) was Amazon's announcement of Kindle Unlimited.  The reviews of this new product has been mixed reviews.  The response ranged from Bezo has done it again to it's too early to tell if this will be a hit.  What is Kindle Unlimited?  A subscription service through Kindle that allows readers to download up to ten titles per month for the amazing low price of $9.99 or $120 a year.   Sounds wonderful, right?  On the surface it does seem like a dream come true.  However, as parents have always warned their children for ages, "If it sounds too good to be true,   it is too good to be true."   Before plopping down that money, think of these questions.

Question One,  does this duplicate something that is already provided?  Nine out of ten people should say yes.  The reason being is that almost all communities have libraries.  These days, all libraries, public or private, small or large, have access to downloading books.  If a customer pays $120 per year to Amazon for the subscription, how much does she pay her local library for the same service?  Most people would say $0 but that's not true.   Property taxes pay for the majority of public libraries in America.  Having said that,   most communities pay roughly about $80 to $155 per household per year to support the library.   Not a bad price for being able to check out just about anything, including digital materials.

Question Two,  how many titles are in the selection?  Amazon boosts that it has over 600,000 titles to choose from in this package.  However the five major have stepped away from this wonderful venture and their titles are not included in the service (Harper Collins,  Simon & Schuster are just two of the publishers who opted out.)  What books are included?   On a first glance,  many of the  titles from independent publishers  that need an audience.  Now one may say that this is just a step for Amazon to take to try out the market for an idea like this and publishers are just stepping back to see if it's a hit.   True, but when the bigger publishers join the "party" of book subscriptions what happens to the year fee?   Prices rarely go further down one a low, low fee has been set.  With no rocket science degree, it would be a safe bet to say the fee would increase.

Question Three:  How many books would need to be read to make this program a good deal to the avid reader?  If a reader read three to four books a month, it would be worthwhile.  Quite frankly a really good deal.  However, see question two.  Do they have the titles of interest?

Question Four: If the subscription is terminated does the consumer keep the books?  According to Amazon's website the answer is no.  This might be a non factor since checking out books at a library (ebook or paper) the borrower does not keep the book.

After all these questions have been thoughtfully answered there can only be one question left.  For a reorder where is the first place to turn to when looking for the perfect book, article, or movie.  The Library.     It is probably not Amazon's intent to do away with libraries as one  author  may have suggested. (Forbes, T. Worstall Close All the Libraries and Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle,  7-18-14)   Amazon is merely trying to do what Netflix has done for movies.  Lots of choices, one low price which will probably increase just as every other service fee from Amazon has.   Which brings another important to mind.  Would  a Kindle subscription stop avid readers  from using a library. Not any more going to Barnes and Noble to purchase a book. Readers just love to read and finding that perfect book or books can lead them to the library, the bookstore or online.

To say the least, it will be interesting to see how and if  Amazon Unlimited grows in demand.   As for libraries, well they have been around long before Amazon and quite frankly, they will be around long after Amazon too.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Net Neutrality is Important to Everyone.

The reason why the internet has gained such a wide appeal across every age, social economic status and cultural boundaries is that it is open and free.  In the early Internet days it was called the Information/Internet superhighway.  The idea came from the image of getting onto the express lane to gaining access to all types of information paving the way for a digital era was knowledge truly was power.  As time passed, it became apparent that some were digitally aware of the new path to information while others struggled behind. This was  either because they did not have computer access or were accustomed to finding information the old tried and true method, such as paper versions of books, magazines and other traditional formats that were deemed "old" fashioned.  Thus came the term "digital divide" which changed the image to a divided highway.  In one direction, those who were computer savvy would benefit from the Information highway, while those who were not went down another path that was lacking in timely information.  In some cases, they received no information at all.  With these two images consider the following picture.  The information highway is no longer free, flowing and allowing anyone able to get on or off where they choose.  Instead,  there are lanes that ISP directs and controls.  In essence a toll booth that will allow the highest payers (website developer and consumers alike) premium speed and selection to go through one lane, and  the lowest payers are in the lane for  slower access and less selection of information sources.  In other words, ISP ( Internet Service Providers) will determine what will be seen, who will see it and how much it will cost to be seen and accessed.  Nothing free and open about this, is there?

The FCC is being pressured by US web companies (Facebook, Google, and Twitter) to keep the Internet an open playing field for everyone involved.  If Internet Service Providers are able to regulate who will be winners and losers on the web then the consumer loses out big time. The cost of information retrieval goes up for everyone.  The extent to how much it hits the wallets of the consumers can not be seen immediately, but the effects will be felt across the board.   More importantly,  the flow of information will be halted along with it the  freedom of expression.  Too dramatic of a picture?  Consider the following questions. What would happen if ATT did not like a webpage that was designed to filter complaints about their services and products?  Would they shut it down?  Or perhaps there are political ideas that big companies would like to promote like Green Energy which would also increase their bottom line because it is tied in with their sales.  Would ISP make  deals with certain companies that only their products and services will be viewed on the net?  The answer to that is if the price is right, of course they will.  

Libraries have always been advocates of free flow of ideas since the very first library.  For anyone who wished to learn more, read more and do more the library became the first "do-it-yourself" institution.  With the internet this bolstered this idea even more so, given that anyone could access information at any given time or place.  Now that the genie is out of the bottle and most of the world's population has had a taste of the free flow of communication and ideas, there are those who want to control it to the point of choking it to death.  This can not and should not happen.   Anyone who uses the internet whether at home, at the library, at work or all of the above is affected.  If the price for information goes up it will reflect in increased property taxes which support libraries and  increased prices for online services.  Not only that, this will develop a new digital divide.  However, this time it won't be because of lack of computer skills or computer equipment.  The evidence that this will be tied to economic status will be difficult to ignore.  Quite frankly, this would be the beginning of the shutdown of a free society. 

While the FCC has to come up with new rules on how the Internet will be regulated, with tomorrow as being the last day to have your voice be  heard.  To be honest, in Washington D.C. money normally speaks the loudest, especially when companies like Time Warner, Verizon, and ATT have lobbyist who on Capital Hill everyday.   Today should be the day that you the consumer get to speak louder then money.  Let FCC chairman Tom Wheeler know through tweets, through Facebook, through email that Net neutrality is important to you.  Why?  As a citizen and consumer you have the right to not only free speech but also reliable access to information.   

Monday, July 7, 2014

Social Media Maze .. Which Should Libraries Use?

Social media has changed so much of how we think, react and interact with each other.  If we were to begin a list of all the habit that have changed, it would be a little disconcerting.  For example, shopping habits have changed dramatically.  Commerce online has made it easier for a fast paced culture to shop in the wee hours of the morning if they so choose.   Going to the mall is not a pastime any longer, it's more of a chore.  Banking has changed as well as renting out a favorite flick.  Everything for music to books to films are able to be downloaded in what seems like seconds.  With so many choices to not interact with another human being, one has to wonder what will happen next.?

Libraries have had to adapt to this social phenomenon as much as any other industry.  However, it seems that libraries still have an edge.  Librarians have instinctively known that with all the changers in technology one constant had to remain the same.   Human interactions.  A society can not function without feeling a connection to those they see as similar to themselves.  It must be the reason why every culture craves to read something that they can relate to or hear a song that speaks to them.  This is what the library has always held within it's wall: the tools to connect to others.  Sounds a little too far out there? Perhaps.  Why else would there be  a need for community meeting rooms?  Storytime programs that promote literacy skills for little ones?  An online help desk for struggling school aged kids doing homework?  A library brings people together.

So with all the sappiness aside, where does social media fit in all the puzzle of information gathering? It seems odd to say but it hasn't quite  found the perfect niche... yet.   Twitter is the perfect tool to blast out reminder of programs.  The key to success here is measured by how many tweets are retweeted. Hopefully the library "followers" will see the tweet, retweet and get their friends to retweet.  Which sounds a bit boorish.  Pinterest is wonderful for posting pictures, recipes and all sort of nifty things but it is a bit like Twitter in that if you posted, tweeted in the middle of the woods will someone still have seen your post?  Facebook seems to be the ideal place to connect, as long as the friends who like your page see the post on their timeline.  This is all so exhausting yet one has to believe there's got to be a better way to communicate in this era that is digital. Yet just like the hardcover printed book, which is the true standby method of getting information, the live human to human interaction will always be the best tool.

As stated before, it is going to be the patrons who will need to help libraries figure out how to effectively use the social media tools.  Will libraries need to use them all?  Will it be much better use of time to go without them? Will it alienate the die hard users of the library?  The one true test of it's worth will be if it draws in new or returning patrons who believe that  libraries are like dinosaurs.   It will be interesting to see how the social media evolves.  One guess , and it's only a guess,  is that it's going to come around full circle and patrons will just want to be able to sit across the table from their neighbor and discuss a really good book.   However rest assured, in the meantime, the library will help put a friendly face on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest and welcome all those who want to check out what's new at the local library, online or in person.  Either way, the doors of the library are always open.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Red, White & Read! Books for the Fourth

When thinking about the Fourth of July, one normally does not ponder on which books they will want to read to children.  Unless, of course one's profession is librarianship. To be honest,  the thought of which books to read to kids for any occasion often comes to mind.   So to get into the spirit of the holiday, here are three quick books to read to children that are enjoyable for every age.

We the Kids: The Preamble to the Constitution of the United States written and illustrated by David Catrow.  A delightful book that explains the preamble in simple language and whimsical illustrations. It is a very quick read.  Quick enough to read before or during a picnic.  Remember, there's always time to read and learn something.

Those Rebels, John And Tom by Barbara Kerley  Illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham
This book is a little longer but perfect for a read the night before the big holiday or just before bedtime after the excitement of the fireworks show.  Ms. Kerley has written an accurate account of the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson by contrasting their personalities and what they both contributed to the Declaration of Independence.  This is perfect for teaching history to children without becoming a stuffy or boring.  Storytelling at its best.

America The Beautiful : Together We Stand By Katherine Lee Bates  Another quick book to read that is based on the patriotic song America the Beautiful.  It is a wonderful book for several reasons.  One, each page is illustrated by a different illustrator, making it a unique collection of artwork. Secondly,  each page has one line from the first stanza alongside a quote from one of Presidents of the United States, such as  Abraham Lincoln,  Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.  Thirdly, and not least, at the back of the book there is a two page spread which has the pictures of American symbols and the explanation of their meanings, for example, the Liberty Bell.  It is a treasure and could be used as holiday tradition to read it every year.  It could even inspire an impromptu singing of the song.  Anything can happy when you read.

Happy Fourth of July Reading to one and all.

 A full list of Patriotic Books for Patriotic Families is available for the asking.  Send an email to and in the subject line use Patriotic Books for Patriotic Families.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Gig's Up: Librarians Really Just Want Patrons to READ more.

At this point in history,  it's fair to say that not everyone is born a reader.  A while ago ALA graphic store had a cute little onesie that said "Born to Read" .  It was cute but not accurate.  It's what we all want to believe as librarians and educators.  In all honesty,  some need to be taught and shown that reading is essential and fun.  Especially since the younger generation is constantly bombarded with all types of electrical gadgets and toys to grab their attention.

How do we get child who does not have the DNA stamped reader in him?  Give him or her  books.  Doesn't make sense to do this right?  Wrong.  It's the attitude of keep trying until the right book is found to engage their minds. Despite what certain educational sources claim about  studies  that prove  video games can teach valuable skill, such as strategy or critical thinking, there is a deep concern about what is lost when children are ensnared into the video game world.  Quite simply the ability to communicate and express oneself is lost.     When it comes time to interact with a live person, the communication and social skills, these children demonstrate their awkwardness.   It really is easy to identify a child who reads regularly and the one who is the "gammer".   Reading helps strengthen the vital skills needed to interact with the real world.

As professionals who work with readers of all ages,  the main objective should be to encourage reading for any reason and for every season.    In the past couple of years there have been trends in library programming to offer gaming at the library.  Initially, this seemed like a great idea.  A chance to reach out to the gammers who would normally pass up the library without a second thought or glance. The theory was once the gammers came in, they would check out video games and perhaps glance over the books.    However,  as technology changed allowing better, faster and easier access to games through smart phones,  the need for programs aimed at gammers diminished.  Why go to the library to play a game when an entire network is available at a finger tip?   As a matter of fact, games can be played anywhere, anytime.  Can the library provide this?

The answer to that question is yes, it's possible to provide  24/7 access. At what cost?  It's not just the dollars we are speaking about.  It's the value of the library and it's services to the community.  If the mindset continues that there is no need to go into the library, the building disappears, the staff  go home and the patterns will find other places to sit and click.  After all the library has fallen into the trap of trying to make everyone happy and no one is thrilled about the library

Perhaps it's time to fess up and let the world know what libraries are really all about and not shy away behind the curtain wanting to be  everything for everyone.  Libraries are all about information.  Gathering, reading and absorbing information  to give meaning or usefulness in ones life.  Libraries are literary and should be proud of what the provide.  Why tangle in the mess of  video games,  cafe shops in libraries, and legos contests.?   It's time to go back to the basis and reach out to the community and invite them to enjoy a good book --- on us.  It's a small step to chaining a community and strengthening  communication skills.  What could be a more important roll for librarians?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

PSA -- Why Go to the Library This Summer?

This is just a friendly reminder, a PSA, if you will for those who believe they can live without a library this summer.  Frankly, that idea looks preposterous in type.  Must sound even more ridiculous if it were said out loud.  It goes without saying  that they will always be those who will argue until they are blue in the face that in fact they have lived without libraries and they are just fine thank you.   No matter what is said to them, they will not be convinced.  As  difficult as it is to show a non library person  that they are not truly alive until they go to a library, any library,  it shall not stop the mission for going forward to pursued at least one to come over to the library side.   

 Without further ado,  here are the top ten reasons why Everyone should go to the library this summer.

10.  Libraries Welcome Browsers.  No not the the Internet browsers.  (Librarians like them too) In a library you can browse through the stacks for hours to find the right book and never be given a look that says, "Are you going to buy that or not?"

9. Librarians Make Better Searchers.  It's not a brag or an exaggeration.  Librarians are better researcher even if the only way to search is using digital rescues.  If a patron can't find the information, who better to turn than the librarian,  the original Search Engine.

8.  You're Paying for It!   Your tax dollars are already supporting the library.  Might as well use up your portion of the resources.

7.  Libraries Have Great Spots for Quiet Reading.   If looking of that out of the way spot where it's just you and the book, the library has a wonderful quiet areas for the serious reader.

6. Where the Cook Kids Are   Don't let the youngsters fool you.  They don't wanna be a mall rat. No, they really want to go hang out with the cool kinds a the library.  Libraries are perfect places to meet up with friends.

5. The Best Used Book Sale Around  Most libraries will accept gently used books as donations. these books later fill up the used sale book racks where bargain hunters can find a good book for about a buck or two.  Can't beat that price even at a second hand bookstore!

4 Got Kindle?  Got Nook?  Librareis have ebooks... really!  The argument that libraries are for the old folks who can't let go of print is so off based.  Libraries have gone digital just like the entire  population.  Just ask a librarian how to get hooked up and download to your heart's content.

3 When You're Spotted At the Library Everyone thinks You're Smart!  Wasn't it always said that only the brainy guys in college went to the library? Going to the library instantly gets a person labeled as Book Smart.  Now who couldn't use looking a little more intelligent once in a while?

2. Great Place for Family Day Out  It's raining.  It's Saturday.  The kids are bored.  What better place to find adventures than at the local library!   There are so many things to check out.  When was the last time the family whipped out a board game?  Don't have one?  Well go to the library they may have one that's just right for your family.

SUMMER READING PROGRAMS!  This is by far the best reason to go to the library in the summer!  Libraries have summer reading programs for every reader, toddlers,  preschoolers,  kids, teens and even adults.  It's a wonderful way to remind everyone to slow down, enjoy summer and pick up a great book!

Convinced yet?  Not to worry.  This process of luring people back to the library is far from over.  Give it time.  After all there the entire summer to convince non-library people to discover what they have been missing.  Come to think of it, there's the Fall as well!  

Friday, May 30, 2014

Reading a Novel 101 -- Tips Every Reader Should Know.

This is just a reminder to all the readers out there who will be picking up novels this summer for pleasure reading or even in some cases, to learning something knew.  There really needs to be an introductory course to reading a novel.  The natural inclination here is to say  reading a novel does not need instructions.  Open a book, read the page, turn the page  and close book when there are no more pages or until one is tired.  Easy right?  Contrary to popular belief, there is much more involved here.  If a reader wants to get more bang for their buck, take these tips from a librarian.  You'll never look at a novel the same way again.

TIP number one: Listen to the Author's Voice.  
 The author is granting to the reader an invitation to enter their world but it does not mean their point of view is ignored except for the parts the readers likes.  Rather it is an opportunity to listen to a viewpoint that may or may not agree with your own opinions.  In other words an open book is equivalent to an open mind.  So shut up and read.  Let the author have their say without putting a spin on it that does not exist.  An example would be to read The Hunger Games and declare it a nod to conservative principals.  No, that isn't quite right.   All one has to do is look at Ms. Collins biography to notice that her political beliefs are more  liberal then conservative.  Is that bad?  No, it's just her beliefs, which means that reading the book from that point of view will provide a better understanding of what the author wants to convey.

TIP number two:   The Reader Should Never Put On The Character's Shoes.
There have been  many well intentioned book discussion leader who ask the classic question "What would you do if this happened to you?"  Frankly,  human beings are unpredictable. One could guess what they would do but there's no certainty.   The questions that reader should ask themselves are, "Did the actions fit the character's words?  Did the action of the character make the reader want to say "Bravo" or "You stink"?

TIP number three:  No Novel is a Waste of Time 
Yes there have been times that a book is so disappointing that the reader really wants to write an anti-fan letter to the author. That's okay.  Don't think of it as a waste of time.  Think of it as a lesson in finding out what makes a good author versus a bad one.  Next time, the book you pick for yourself will be better based on past choices. Sort of like dating.

TIP number four: Take Your Time - Reading is Not a Marathon
It is a wonder that readers who go through books quickly ever retain half of what they read. Granted it should take a rear a year to finish a book but why rush the process?  Enjoy the visit with the characters, stop and smell the roses with them too.  Reading, especially when done for pleasure, is meant to be something to savored.  Every sentence, every word and punctuation.  Why deny the opportunity to let it all soak in?  Quite frankly,  it's okay to read the book a second time around too.  Life is too short not to indulge in simple pleasures.

These are just a few tips that bring out the best from the stories and readers.   There is  an art to be being a reader.  A talent that has to be honed just like any other skill.  Don't be afraid to hone the skill and don't close your mind.  In order to incorporate the skills a reader should have an open mind.  Why? It means they are listening, learning and loving the total experience of the novel.