Forbes Wants to Close Libraries

I just read Close the Libraries and Buy Everyone An Amazon Kindle Unlimited Subscription, a Forbes article written by Tim Worstall. It’s a poorly-researched opinion piece about … well … what the title says. Getting rid of libraries and giving everyone a Kindle Unlimited subscription instead.

Yes, Forbes posted this. Thanks, Forbes!

Who is Tim Worstall? He’s a Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute, a UK-based think tank. Working at a think tank, you’d “think” that Tim would get his facts straight, or at least do a bit of research first… apparently  not the case, which makes me wonder about the quality of research done at the Adam Smith Institute. Tim also has a blog, where he apparently likes to cuss. Alot.

I left a comment on the Forbes article – here’s what I said:

Tim – you say that it’s “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all.” Then you claim (but don’t cite) that only 8% of people buy more than one book a year.

Three things:

1. If you think no one reads, why would you want to shift tax payer dollars from a known, traditional institution (the local library) to a global corporation? That seems silly – you’re still paying tax dollars for something you don’t think anyone does.

2. I challenge your statistics. I’m not sure about UK stats, but I know American stats. According to Pew Research, in January 2014, 76% of American adults ages 18 and up read at least one book in the past year. So that trumps your “well known that only a small fraction of the population actually reads books at all” statement.

And the average number of books people read over the past year is 5. I do believe an average is larger than 8%, no?

3. The larger problem isn’t lending books though – you actually want to get RID of local libraries altogether. You say this – “Let’s just close down the lending libraries and buy every citizen an Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscription.”

That argument, for starters, could also be said this way: let’s buy everyone garden hoses. Then we could get rid of the local fire department! Brilliant, right? Wrong. Because the local fire department also has quite a lot of knowledge about what they do – they are professionals.

The same goes for your local library. Yes, they still lend books – both print AND ebooks. They also work really hard to buy the BEST books for your community (having access to 600,000 ebooks from Amazon doesn’t mean they’re all readable books).

And the library does a lot more than that.

So – you mentioned that you have a local library. Instead of someone providing a plane ticket for you [he suggested in the comments that someone buy him a plane ticket so he could visit their library], why don’t you simply get in your car and visit your own local library for starters, and see what they do?

At least when you write your next opinion article, you’d actually know something about libraries :-)

A couple of other things to point out from this very obviously uninformed article:

Tim says this – “The first being that paid subscriptions is exactly how lending libraries started out.” He mentions WH Smith as an example of a fee-based lending library.

WH Smith is a UK bookseller. They operated a circulating library service from 1860 to 1961, and even created ISBN numbers (who knew?) – got this from Wikipedia.

But Tim is missing a HUGE fact – libraries have been around for centuries, and … I know it’s hard to believe – weren’t actually created by good ole WH Smith. Again from Wikipedia – “The earliest reference to or use of the term “lending library” yet located in English correspondence dates from ca. 1586…” Most of those have NOT been subscription-based libraries.

Tim also says this: “ the stock of books available [from the Amazon Kindle thingie] is far larger than any physical library (other than copyright depositaries like the British Museum) has available to readers. 600,000 titles is, at a guess, some 550,000 greater than the library system of my native Bath and North East Somerset purchases with its share of my council tax (that is a guess by the way).”

Again, quite wrong. First of all, my library has 450,000 titles – already coming close to that number that Tim thinks is unreachable by all but the British Museum (I think he really meant the British Library).

The larger issue with the Kindle service is this – just because Amazon’s Kindle service is offering 600,000 ebooks doesn’t mean they’re all actually GOOD books.

Amazon’s service focuses heavily on classics, some popular series, and their self-published ebooks. Read more about it at the Washington Post.

Most libraries are much more choosy than that, and work really hard to buy the best books, and the books our customers actually want to read. Unlike Amazon.

So there you have it! Go read the article and see what you think!

 

Nice Chicago Tribune article about Using the Digital Library

I was recently interviewed by Greg Karp at the Chicago Tribune about digital libraries – ebooks, streaming videos, downloadable music, websites, etc.

Karp’s angle with the story is that a modern library can save people money. Why buy when you can borrow?

It’s an interesting read, and could have a couple of uses for you:

  • Different marketing angle (saving money, using free stuff, etc)
  • Showcasing the different types of offerings at a modern library (3D printers, ebooks, downloadable music, and … cakepans!)

Best part of the article? At the end, Karp mentions the value of librarians:

Perhaps the most valuable resource in any library is a librarian, who can help you find what you need. Nowadays, you might get that help electronically, via email, chat, text message and, increasingly, social media, such as Twitter and Facebook.

Anyway – enjoy!

Logo from the Chicago Tribune

Social Media Skills for Librarians

Last week, I gave a presentation at McGill’s Web2PointU Symposium – a cool conference run by students of the School of Information Studies at McGill University.

During that presentation (you can find my slides here), I mentioned new skills that information professionals need to successfully run social media for their organization. That list included these things:

  • The normal mad librarian skills (fill in the blank here). Searching, reader’s advisory, research, etc. These “traditional” skills can easily be used in a modern online setting.
  • Web and social media skills. As in, being an expert end user. It’s hard to be an expert in Google searching if you don’t really know all the bells and whistles of Google searching, for example (and yes, I’ve known librarians who really couldn’t use basic online search engines well, let alone a web browser). The same thing goes for social media tools – you won’t be very successful at running the library’s Twitter account if you don’t really “get” Twitter.
  • Writing skills. Most of us learned how to write in school. Unfortunately, we learned how to write business letters and academic papers. Guess what? That’s not how we should write on the web. If you want to start a conversation, you need to use a conversational writing style. If you want readers to quickly grasp your content, use some of those writing tips I mentioned in my article Writing for the Mobile Web.
  • Photo and video skills. Social media is very visual. Take a peek at Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, Slideshare, Vine, Flickr, Youtube, Vimeo, etc. All include photos and videos. That means YOU need to be able to create photos and videos that quickly communicate to your organization’s social media crowd.
  • Networking. Social media IS networking. Today’s librarian needs to be good at talking to a crowd – online and in-person.
  • Marketing & promotion. Part of your social media duties include sharing the cool stuff your library is doing.

What would you add? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Libraries and Tumblr – last one from #BEA2013

I attended a session on Tumblr and libraries, mainly because I have to admit – I don’t get Tumblr. I use it personally as a blog, but it is HUGE as more of a discovery tool for content, especially visual content. And a bunch of librarians also use it as a discussion/sharing tool (check out http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/tumblarian).

Looks like some libraries are using Tumblr very successfully!

The panel included:

  • Molly McArdle, library journal (moderator)
  • Rachel Fershleiser, Tumblr
  • Angela Montefinise, NYPL
  • Erin Shea, Darien Library
  • Kate Tkacik, Bank of Montreal Library

Some library-related Tumblr sites:

Random things I heard during the presentation:

  • NYPL has over 100,000 followers on their tumblr account
  • NYPL posts light and fun stuff – they are trying to humanize the organization via Tumblr
  • They also use Tumblr posts as press releases, sending out the link instead of a traditional press release. Cool.
  • Easy to share stuff with followers via the reblog button
  • 108 million blogs on tumblr
  • Use hashtags – you can follow those – i.e., #tumblarian – librarian tag on tumblr
  • Tumblr skews very young. 20% teens
  • Gifs – show your emotion about how you feel about something
  • ROI – tumblr numbers don’t count non-tumblr users that look at a page. Only tumblr users views count…

Image by AJ Cann

Ebooks in Libraries – #BEA2013

Before I give you my two cents on this particular session, here are links to two articles that describe the session pretty well:

Panelists included:

  • Ginger Clark, Moderator – Literary Agent, Curtis Brown LTD
  • Jack Perry, Owner, 38enso Inc.
  • Maureen Sullivan, President, American Library Association (ALA)
  • Paul Aiken, Executive Director, Authors Guild
  • Steve Potash, President and CEO, Overdrive
  • Carolyn Reidy, president and CEO of Simon & Schuster

I have to admit – I didn’t really take notes for this session (but probably should have). Mostly, I just sat, listening in amazement as someone on the publisher side of things would say something silly, and then Mareen and Steve would correct that person. Then during Q&A time, the moderator would blow off questions by answering them herself, then quickly moving on to another question. It was that kind of session.

The thing that got to me the most was this: Carolyn Reidy, CEO of a huge publishing house, sounded like someone who was attempting to talk knowledgeably about ebooks in libraries … but hadn’t ever actually used a library card to download an ebook (which was kinda funny, since she was sitting right next to Steve Potash of Overdrive).

At one point, Carolyn basically said the danger of ebooks in libraries is that a customer can sit at home and download every book they ever wanted … huh? She and Paul Aiken seemed to think that’s how the library ebook check-out process works.

That’s simply wrong, of course. Steve and Maureen corrected them. As did a few people in the audience.

Carolyn also said that her publishing house was doing the ebook pilot project because … no research has ever been done about ebooks in libraries. Again, huh? Someone please introduce Carolyn to Pew Internet and their major research project on … um … ebooks in libraries. And of course, Steve mentioned that he has 10 years of data (Overdrive’s been in the ebook business for at least that long).

I heard a similar thing at last year’s Book Expo conference, too. Executives at more than one major publishing house think libraries give ebooks away to anyone who wants them, willy-nilly, and we let them keep the ebooks forever.

And … these people aren’t stupid – they are running large, successful publishing houses.

So – here’s my question. Where is the disconnect, and how can we fix this?

Argh.

ebook photo by shiftstigma