overheard today, inventing the future

“I’m like the Kindle but I’m not going to buy it. I’m going to wait until it can hook up with the library system.”

What do you think of that? I was kind of blown away.

At any rate, I like Jaap’s idea of libraries developing our own eInk device. If we *really* want to ready ourselves for the future, why are we going to wait for the market to produce a device that we’ll have to shoehorn into usual way of doing things? It would be fantastic if libraries developed a great, free (as in speech) device. I know that librarians are capable of developing a device that everyone will want. Dewey invented the vertical filing cabinet (according to Gladwell but not wikipedia), right? How would we get publishers to work with us? Dunno. Barcode authentication to databases on an ebook would be neat, but would it add value over using a laptop? Not sure.

Whatever the case may be, we can ensure our viability in the future by creating the future ourselves.

5 thoughts on “overheard today, inventing the future”

  1. Can I suggest another way of thinking about this?

    We don’t need to develop our own eInk device — if we want one, we just need (as libraries) to get organized, set some specs and a process, and commit to a volume purchase. If it were clear that there was a guaranteed volume of sales at the back end, we’d attract a number of interested developers, with better core competency in this area than we. But that’s reasonably trivial in and of itself.

    The problem isn’t the device, it’s the availability of content. We need to solve that or we have built a castle on quicksand — and providng free content is our core competency. So let’s not get seduced by the technology, but let’s first solve the content issue, so that we can go into the future with the same purpose as we have prospered in the past. Who was it who posted recently, pointing out that if libraries did not exist, the content providers would not allow them to be invented?

    Content, content, content.

  2. Hey, yes!

    Before I posted this I considered that maybe libraries should simply organize to adopt one of the DRM free eBooks already around. Two problems with this, though. #1: none of the devices are really that great and again, we’d have to adopt our practices to the device (rather than vice versa). #2: the content problem that you highlight. How would we get excited about the device if there was no model for acquiring and lending content? And how would we work with publishers to acquire content if we didn’t have a device?

    So this lead me to ignore the content problem (maybe because it is so damn big) and focus on the first issue, the device. I wasn’t suggesting that librarians actually build a device. Your process of “get organized, set some specs and a process, and commit to a volume purchase” is what I had in mind. The way you put it makes it seem entirely doable.
    Your point of highlighting the content problem is well taken. It certainly deserves more thought than my flip “How would we get publishers to work with us? Dunno.”

    I wonder how we will solve the which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg dilemma I mention in point #2 above. What would that conversation look like. Clearly it’ll have to start with the content owners. Would they be open to making deals with a party that has a hypothetical device in the works?

    I suppose there wasn’t this problem with the development of the iPod because everyone had their own content (CDs) that they could put on their iPods (MP3s). People don’t have content to put on eBooks, and we really don’t either. The equivalent would be taking the books we already have, digitizing them (including some DRM to expire the files), and loaning them. Even if we only circed only the digital OR physical copy at one time, it still sounds illegal. Would it be worth getting sued over and seeing if it could change the law?

    So again, how do we solve the content problem. Organizing is key. Do you have any best case scenarios in your head?

    The reason I ask is because I agree that “if libraries did not exist, the content providers would not allow them to be invented.” And I’m afraid that they won’t let us invent our future libraries.

  3. “Would they be open to making deals with a party that has a hypothetical device in the works?” Sure. They don’t care about the device, they care about cash flow.

    We want to get ourselves a preferred position so we can acquire the electronic versions of the books (and other stuff, but it’s nearly all about the books) at a reduced cost, and they want income. So a model that occurs to me is all libraries, or a significant group of libraries, as a group, make payments to individual publishers for the right to buy their future items at some reduced cost from market (formula to be negotiated) for a fixed period (time to be negotiated.) Money up front for them, reduced cost for us at the back end for us. In effect, we become partners in a limited segment of their business.

    Pretty clearly, we’d need some support from a third party, but much of that would be organizational and negotiating resources. Libraries who wanted to take part would put up some funding, based on a formula related to their size and/or circulation. Libraries joining later would have to put in funds to “buy in.” Sort of like the JSTOR model. There WOULD have to be a significant number of initial participants.

    So we go to individual publishers and negotiate with them one-by-one, or with publishers as a whole, but that’s got legal issues. Money up front, reduced costs at the back end. Obvious principle, but the devil is in the details, of course.

    The publishers maybe could see their way to justifying this as a “here’s an exception to our business model, that’s intended to help a lot of people who otherwise couldn’t take advantage of a new technology,” and get Brownie points for being part of the “Publishers Alliance for Library eInk Resources” PALeR

    We need someone, and a mechanism, to get it for us wholesale.

    If we think it’s important, we need to demonstrate that. Money talks, saying we NEEEEED something because we’re libraries walks.

  4. Alan,

    Thanks for continuing this discussion and letting me pick your brain. You write, “So we go to individual publishers and negotiate with them one-by-one…” I’m wondering what kind of organization would do this work. A 501(c)(3)? And who would be in this organization? A lawyer, librarian representatives, a fundraiser, and an accountant?

    The one part of your response that sends up red flags is a hoping that the publishing industry will help us out for brownie points. As you said, money talks, and the organization would need a bit of it. But an average of $20,000 from each state (seems easy) is a million dollars…

  5. One would think the ALA would get involved, but they’re lost in their own hall of mirrors.

    We need something like the

    Taiga Forum

    a group of interested, big name participants, with some moderately deep pockets, and we need someone to rep the group, with a public profile and ability to make points publicly.

    Clearly, the research libraries have a dog in this fight, and resources and intelligence. I suppose the big name public libraries could take the lead on our side. From what I know, King County (Jeb Moffett) and Brooklyn (Barbara Genco) are two who would be significant participants if they wished to take a leadership role.

    We should be clear in our minds that there are far more experienced players who can see the holes in the argument here — what we have to hope is there are far more experienced players who see the ways to get it done.

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