ALA President’s Open Letter on Ebooks and Publishers doesn’t get us very far

Maureen Sullivan, ALA president, just posted an Open Letter to America’s Publishers. Go read it, then come back and discuss.

On the one hand, it’s a fine letter, addressing all the appropriate stuff. On the other hand … I think I’m confused. Here’s why:

The letter doesn’t really seem to be addressed to America’s Publishers. Instead, it seems to be addressed to libraries and librarians. Most of the letter gives the normal “aren’t libraries awesome” stuff.

And then, in the last two paragraphs, that’s when the letter actually gets to the point. Here’s our big call to action:

“We librarians cannot stand by and do nothing while some publishers deepen the digital divide. We cannot wait passively while some publishers deny access to our cultural record. We must speak out on behalf of today’s — and tomorrow’s — readers.The library community demands meaningful change and creative solutions that serve libraries and our readers who rightfully expect the same access to e-books as they have to printed books.”

“So, which side will you be on? Will you join us in a future of liberating literature for all? Libraries stand with readers, thinkers, writers, dreamers and inventors. Books and knowledge — in all their forms — are essential. Access to them must not be denied.”

Did I miss something? Our big directive from ALA is this:

  • Librarians cannot stand by and do nothing
  • We can’t wait passively
  • We must speak out
  • Library community demands change

??? All Maureen/ALA is asking libraries to do is to … “speak out???” Nothing about the issues, nothing about results, nothing about concerted efforts…

So really – I’m glad maureen is ALA president, and I’m glad ALA is starting to do something about ebooks. But I’m not sure that simply asking libraries to randomly “speak out” about the issue is useful.

Why not something more concrete, like “everyone call Penguin on October 1 at 2pm, and ask for the same thing”? And then provide some some talking points to use during the phone call?

How about something more specific saying what ALA is doing about the issue, and giving us something to take back to our library boards?

Help me out here – what could we as libraries and librarians do that is more than just “speaking out?” Let’s create some better, more specific next steps for ALA. I think we can do better than this!

Face2face interview on the SitePoint Podcast

sitepoint logoI was just interviewed about my new book (Face2face: using Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools to create great customer connections) for the SitePoint podcast. Patrick O’Keefe (@ifroggy on Twitter) did the interview, and we talked about digital media in the modern library and (of course) connecting with customers and visitors via online social tools.

Here’s a link to the interview (and an embedded tweet version of the link below):

Anyway – you might find it an interesting listen … so take a listen!

Ebooks and Econtent Brainstorming in Montana

ebook workshop in MontanaMichael Porter and I recently gave a 3-hour workshop on the econtent landscape at the Montana State Library Fall Workshop. During the workshop, we divided participants into groups, and asked them to do some brainstorming on three questions.

I posted the whole list of responses over at the Library Renewal blog (I’m a board member for Library Renewal), but I’m going to highlight a few responses here:

1. What do you want with ebooks?

  • Pricing: We want ebooks for a fair price, and we want to own what we buy.
  • Content: We want the popular stuff that we currently can’t get! We also want to help our customers create their own content.
  • Access issues: We want a “one copy/multiple users” model – not the old “one ebook/one patron” model.
  • Interface: We want an easy-to-use interface and standard, open ebook reader formats, so we can read all ebook file formats on any device. It should work with social tools like Facebook or Twitter, so we can share bookmarks and notes socially.
  • Marketing: We want customers to actually know we have ebooks!

DLK’s commentary: Honestly, we aren’t asking for much, and it’s all do-able. For example – Hachette’s recent price hike? At least they didn’t cut access. In the business world, that means they want to play – now, we just need to settle on a fair price. Now we just need Hachette’s frontlist titles, and we need Penguin, MacMillan, and Simon & Schuster to play along, too. Interface stuff – the fairly standard ePub format is out there … we just need Amazon to add it to the Kindle.

Marketing – that’s 100% us, guys. Want your customers to know you have ebooks? You HAVE TO TELL THEM. If Pew Internet is reporting that 58% of our library card holders don’t know if we have ebooks, then we either didn’t tell them, or we made a poor attempt at telling them. Let’s get this one right, ok?

2. What is realistic for your organization?

  • Consortiums: Start something with the state, set them up regionally. Partner with other organizations, like Califa.
  • Marketing: Share what’s happening in the ebook world with Montana citizens.
  • Education: Help people with ebook reader devices, and teach leaders higher-up why funding for econtent is necessary.
  • DIY: Build our own platform, and go directly to publishers and authors for the access.
  • Pricing: Start working with publishers to get ebooks costing the same price as print books.

DLK’s Commentary: Lots of good ideas here. One good way to tackle pricing, especially for all the small, rural libraries in Montana, is via some type of consortium pricing model. And again, we can do something about marketing and about education. These are all definitely very do-able and realistic.

3. What can you do to make what’s realistic actually happen?

  • Find a Leader: Set up a central clearinghouse or coordinator. State Library could take the lead on this.
  • Government: Talk to local representatives and get them involved. Make the ebook case at the local, regional, and state levels. Make sure that local ALA Council reps actually represent what Montana wants to do.
  • Funding: Find it! Change priorities at a local level so there’s money in the library budget.
  • Education: Educate public and staff about the issues, formats, and potential problems. Confirm the importance of econtent at the local level.
  • Adaptability: Enhance what the local library does. Start conversations with local publishers.

DLK’s Commentary: I love the idea of getting  local and state reps educated and involved in our current econtent access and funding issues. We might not be able to do much nationally, but I wonder if we could start something locally or statewide, and then get that moved up to a national level?

Also, working locally with small, local publishers, or even authors, is a great way to start, too.

What’s missing here?

Starbucks Cards and Libraries – Would it Work?

I sometimes pick up those cool Starbuck’s Free App/Free Song/Free Book cards when I’m at Starbucks buying a coffee. I think those cards are pretty cool, and I think they just might work in a library setting, too.

What if libraries did something like this – created some cards, and pointed to free content, like:

  • Project Gutenberg free ebooks
  • Free music via your Freegal account (or fill in the blank if you have another music database)
  • Free event – have the card be the ticket to the event
  • Free game – point to something on the web, or actually make an app-based game and point to that.

This idea is sort of like those signs I saw at the Denver airport awhile back.

So … thoughts? Do you think it would work in a library? I’d love to know!

And an aside – yes, I know the video is sorta jumpy. Sorry about that! I should have used the Focus Lock feature, and didn’t think about it. Next time!

Be Business Casual

In a previous post, I said I’d talk more about being “business casual.” What exactly does being business casual mean?

First off, I have a whole chapter devoted to this idea in my new book, Face2Face (and I’d love it if you bought a copy!). If you want more detail, it’s in the book.

Here are some thoughts on how to be business casual in your interactions. These ideas work for blog posts, status updates, and even in videos:

Write Like You Talk. Most of us were taught that writing was a very formal, proper thing. We were taught to write business letters and academic papers. Guess what? Don’t write like that (Karol, guest blogger over at ProBlogger, agrees). Forget some of those rules, right now. It’s a more formal writing style, and it makes you sound more formal and less approachable.

Instead of a formal writing style, just write like you talk. This is very hard for some people to do! They’ve been trained to write a certain way, and suddenly writing in a different way doesn’t come naturally. If writing like you talk doesn’t come naturally, you can …

Say it out loud. If writing like you talk is hard for you, here’s a simple trick: Simply say it out loud. Read, out loud, what you just typed. Does it sound like you? If not, then rewrite your text so it sounds like something you’d actually say.

Write to your friend. Another trick – pretend you’re writing to your best friend, or a sibling. When you’re writing an email or a Facebook message to a friend, you probably write a bit more casually, as if you were standing there, talking to your friend. You’re familiar with that person, so you are using casual, friendly language with them.

That’s the voice you need to use (minus the inside jokes and potentially off-color language) when writing to customers.

My new book - Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter, and Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer ConnectionsWear fun clothes – not a suit and tie. If you’re a visual person, here’s another way to think about this concept (and this is why I say to write “business casual”). Picture yourself wearing casual clothes when you write, rather than a tuxedo. It’s another trick to help remove formal language from your writing. Write like it’s “casual Friday” rather than “meeting Monday.”

Use language your customers use. In a library setting, we have to really work at this one – and most businesses are in the same predicament because of industry jargon. Remove all instances of technical language and jargon on your site. An easy way to do this is to simply ask your customers what they’d call something. For example, we removed one bit of jargon at my library by asking our customers what they would call “the room where we put a book they reserved to be checked out.” We actually stationed one of our Marketing interns by our check out line for a day, and had her poll the people waiting in line. We received some great feedback – the room is now called the “Holds Pickup Room” and it works great. Our customers know what to look for, because we named it using our customers’ language. You can do a similar thing with your organization’s products and services. Pick something your customers do, and simply ask them what they’d call it.

Do some behind-the-scenes videos. Show what goes on in the office or behind-the-scenes. This type of video captures workers in their element (at the office, doing their work), rather than artificially standing in front of a backdrop, with lights shining on them, talking to a camera. You can even interview them. Blip.tv does a great job of this with their Blip on Blip video series. They walk around their workplace, taking videos of staff and and sharing those videos with the Blip.tv community. This type of video shows real people at work, having fun. Getting to know someone by watching them in a video helps customers. When a customer has to call in for support, for example, they might just “know” who they’re talking to – because they just watched that customer service rep in a video.

Represent Your Organization, not Yourself. Finally, remember this: when you share that slightly casual, personal voice, and you’re doing it for your organization … you are essentially representing that organization. You become the voice for your organization or business. Your website, your content, and your employees have unique personalities. This uniqueness will come out. Your brochures were written by people who have a voice, and some personality comes from those, too. All that adds up to an organizational personality. Even your physical building (if you have one) has a feel or personality. The challenge is to make these match so you can present a uniform image. Sit down, do some planning, and map out each aspect of your organization – the building, the marketing, the website, the staff. Plan the voice of your organization.

These are some ideas of how to be business casual online – do you have others? I’d love to hear them!

Business casual image by Bigstock