Books Library Issues Media

Amazon Kindle

“The vision is that you should be able to get any book”not just any book in print, but any book that’s ever been in print”on this device in less than a minute.” –Jeff Bezos

Amazon KindleHow’s that for a librarian’s dream? The Kindle,’s new eReader, launches tomorrow, and Newsweek has an article online about the new, possibly revolutionary, product.

I can’t do a complete thinkpiece on the Kindle right now, but over the course of the week I’ll get to my take on the device. There are still lots of questions unanswered (the wireless connectivity charge, for one), but here’s the quick take to be expanded on later:

  • This could very well be the iPod for books. It is revolutionary.
  • Libraries seriously need to get their heads on straight regarding copyright law and licensing. If we don’t do some very, very serious lobbying very, very soon, eBooks will kill the current library model. We really need to do some serious thinking about how this impacts us.
  • It is too expensive. For $400 I can buy a laptop (or two!) and do many more things on it.
  • I want one.

Now playing: Counting Crows – Love and Addiction

Library Issues

Some clarification re:conferences

Just some quick thoughts about my recent posts, as responses to comments.

Todd said:

Virtual meetings are all very nice, but its never the same as meeting people in person. In addition, real-life conferences give you a chance to see places you might not have gone otherwise…virtual conferences mean you stay right where you are.

I completely agree. My suggestion to virtualize aspects of the conference experience are not intended to downplay the value of face-to-face meetings. It’s just that we need to recognize that F2F isn’t necessary for communication to happen…it brings bonuses, but for the purposes of conducting business (like, for instance, the ALA Midwinter meeting), virtual is the appropriate realm.

Tom Hogan said:

Jason, thanks for attending Internet Librarian in Monterey, and I hope you found it worthwhile. As I mentioned in my little welcome speech, we had a record turnout this year, which is due primarily to the variety and excellence of the presentations from people dedicated to the information profession.

I’m sure that online conferences have their place, but I have to agree with Todd that people still want to meet in person from time to time. As long as that holds true, Information Today will continue to organize them. Regards.

Hi Tom! I was one of your “people dedicated to the information profession” that presented at IL this year. I was one of the faculty for what I believe was the largest preconference at IL.

Again, I’m not saying that virtual is done at the expense of F2F. Ideally it should be done in conjunction with…the very fact that we are talking as if there is a dichotomy between the two is ludicrous.

The truth is that the best librarians I know are both virtual and physical, all the time. They are connected, and consider their prioperceptive virtual self without effort. They are the librarians that you saw at IL who were sitting next to each other, blogging the session, updating Twitter, and IM’ing the person next to them with comments about the session. To pretend that being at IL “in real life” precludes a virtual component is to miss the forest for the trees.

My point is that we also should be reversing this equation: we should be making the virtual a significant and integral part of the ongoing F2F conference experience. The fact that at a conference called Internet Librarian we still have physical pieces of paper for people to sign up for dinners around town is, to put it mildly, amusing.

Library Issues

Michelle chimes in

As a follow up to my much-too-long post, Michelle lays it out for ALA:

Bless your heart ALA, we love you, but you really need to consider these things. Seriously. And you should do that now. Not with a million committees that will mull over it for years only producing a useless report. We are asking for some action. I believe our future is riding on the decisions that get made about this issue. Please make them soon.

When so many of our friends are not ALA members, and have found alternative ways to contribute to the profession, it’s hard not to see the writing on the wall. The future leaders of libraries aren’t taking part in the largest librarian organization on the planet…this, as they say, is a problem.

Library Issues

Conferences and revenue

bigwig logo.pngAfter thinking a bit more on the conference issue, and reflecting on discussions I had with Michelle Boule at Internet Librarian, there’s another piece to the revenue puzzle that is worth considering. Warning: more numbers ahead.

Let’s assume, for a moment, that everyone going to ALA Annual preregisters. Not true, but we’re looking for rough numbers here. Pre-reg pricing for ALA members is currently $175 per person. Sure, there’s a lot of student registrations ($85), but I’m betting there’s a lot of those $260 registrations as well, so let’s just use the $175 as an baseline number.

Library Journal reported 21,466 registrants and 7169 exhibitors at the 2007 Annual. Through the power of mathematics, that gives us $3,756,550 just from registration for Annual. That doesn’t take into account the exhibitors ($19.50 per square foot of floor space, plus $.50 per square foot just to fund the opening reception…$150 for each open corner of your booth, minimum booth size 10’x10′). If we just use the planning document, we get 1243 booths at a total square footage of 160,800. This means we’ve got a total revenue from the exhibit halls of about $3,135,600.

Total revenue for ALA Annual, projected: $6,892,150

This may fluctuate some, of course…Annual last year in DC was a record-breaking year, and Anaheim might not bring as many people. We’re just looking for rough numbers here.

We’ve got gross numbers. Now we need net. Here’s where we enter the realm of complete guesswork. There is a cost associated with the space for all this. Hotels need to be paid for conference rooms, food during breaks needs to be paid for, audio/visual setups are a huge expense, etc. Of each individual registration, some percentage goes to pay for these items.

What’s a fair percentage to guess? Is it…50% of the registration? It easily could be. Let’s be very, very generous to the ALA and say that 75% of the amount the average librarian pays goes directly to pay for conference services. If that’s true, $131.25 of every registration pays for actual hard costs of the event, leaving the ALA $43.75 in the black.

Let’s assume that the exhibit hall is a complete wash, and it covers itself with no profit left over.

If all of these almost-certainly-false things are true, the ALA makes just under a million dollars ($939,137.50, to be exact) in profit on ALA Annual. A million dollars isn’t, frankly, a lot of money to an organization like the ALA, but it is a hefty payday regardless. We can see why the ALA may be frightened of virtual membership cutting into this profit center.

Until, of course, we realize that in order to recoup any lost revenue from virtual memberships that don’t go to Annual, ALA only has to capture $50 from each missing attendee. If they could offer $50 worth of content to a virtual participant, charge them appropriately, they would actually make more money than they do from the attendees of the conference.

“But!”, you say to me, “What if the actual costs per person are much less to the ALA, and they actually make a much higher percentage of profit from the registration fees?”

I think that the market would bear a considerable higher cost of virtual membership, especially since there would be no secondary costs incurred by the participant (hotel charges, flights, etc). I also think it would be unwise of ALA to admit this, since otherwise it is hard to justify the cost of attendance other than through sheer greed. If the actual percentage of profit is less, then obviously the cost per virtual participant could be lowered, and the profitability maintained.

If the largest library organization can’t find a way to provide $50 worth of content on the web, I think we may all be in bigger trouble than a few numbers could solve. Hell, the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase content by itself was worth $50.

My prescription for the ALA:

  1. Get this virtual membership thing worked out. Virtual members should be just exactly like every other membership type…this is the freaking 21st century. All of your new librarians are virtual in some way all the time. The 19th century model of F2F being necessary is just broken beyond repair at this point because our tools have eliminated the need.
  2. Put together a formal method of collecting and distributing podcasts, vodcasts, and text summaries of conference happenings. It’s already being done by your constituents, you should be able to do it as well. Charge for real-time access and a one-month window (and provide back-channel communications with the presenter and panel in real-time), then open the whole bunch of content under a Creative Commons attribution-noncommercial license and let the world have it. Work out a deal with the Internet Archive for hosting and distribution.
  3. Profit.
Library Issues

I cannot tell a lie…

It’s true, I know everyone has been wondering.


I am the Annoyed Librarian.

Library Issues

Why online conferences win

Bigwig Showcase logoAfter returning from Internet Librarian, I’ve been thinking a lot about conference models and how the ALA and library conferences in general need to change in order to survive the next 5-10 years. The existing ALA model is broken beyond repair, and while I know that the ALA has a task force on virtual membership working now, there needs to be a much wider look at the virtual aspects of conferences than just focusing on how membership works.

Here’s some numbers, just to illustrate what I mean, using the BIGWIG Social Software Showcase for illustration purposes. I can’t go fully into the story here, but the only reason that the Showcase came together in the first place was because of a severe break in communication on the part of LITA. Those of us running BIGWIG decided that the best way to attempt to make change is to illustrate it…Be the Change you Want to See, and all that rot. 🙂 As a result, Michelle, Karen, myself and a ton of amazing presenters came together virtually and physically at ALA to show what one new model for conference presentations might look like, and how it might work.

So…how does this relate to new conference models? Well, one aspect of this new presentation model is that it is no longer a temporally limited event. To the numbers!

Between June 1 and July 31, 2007, the Social Software Showcase site had 4,838 visits, with 16,035 pageviews. Most people who visited weren’t just looking for one thing…the average is 3.31 pages per visit. I chose June-July because that was the period during which we were actively promoting the Showcase, it got some press here and there…it was an active part of the library community.

Here’s the exciting part: between Aug 1, 2007 and now, the Showcase has gotten over 800 visits, with another 1800 pageviews. 87% of these visits are new visits, from people who have not been to the site before. It’s been roughly 100 days since the height of the advertising and the Showcase is still averaging 8 visits a day, 18 pageviews a day, and of those 6.8 people are completely fresh visitors.

So here’s what I hope that ALA learns from this illustration…I’ve heard, through various channels, that virtual participation scares ALA because of the potential loss of the revenue generated by conference attendance. BIGWIG, a somewhat rogue organization, with no official sanctioning nor advertising, has managed to capture the eyeballs of over 5700 people (a full quarter of the total attendees of ALA Annual) and serve them almost 18000 pages of content. And those numbers will continue to grow as long as the content is relevant. Will the content cease to be relevant eventually…sure. But by leveraging cutting edge thinkers and by not insisting that topics be decided on months or years in advance, we maximized the longevity of the information.

To put it bluntly, how then do you monetize these eyeballs? BIGWIG chose not to, as a function of what we are trying to accomplish. But the ALA may have no such limitation, so how best to leverage this? I can assure you that membership would rise, generally, if the ALA held things like this. BIGWIG has an enormous amount of people interested in it, mainly because of the Showcase. Several new members of LITA came about only because they saw the value in the Showcase. I would be guessing, but I think that membership would probably cover an enormous amount of the “lost” revenue for virtual participation.

The other financial possibility is of course advertising. Companies would pay to advertise on these pages, in the same way that they currently pay for space in the exhibition hall. If you make the advertising relevant to the content, most people don’t even mind. I know that if I were getting ads for microphones and digital recorders while I was watching a presentation on podcasting, I would be glad of the knowledge, especially if I wasn’t a techie to begin with.

This doesn’t begin to scratch the surface, really, of the number of ways that ALA could benefit from virtual memberships and conferences. The ALA needs desperately to consider how it’s going to handle the next 5-10 years, because if it doesn’t step into the virtual world for librarians, someone else will.

Library Issues

Library Building 2.0

As a follow-up to my previous post discussing the current mania at MPOW regarding our new library building, I can now share with the world our wiki:

UTC Library Building Project

So far, I’m thrilled with the way this is coming together. Using 2.0 tools to put this project in motion has saved us enormous amounts of time, and just allowed us to do things that couldn’t have been done before. Tagging Flickr photos to let the designers know which chairs you like? Annotating video of your site visits so that the architect can see just what that reference area has that you want to mimic? Brilliant!

Anyway, we’re making this entire process as transparent as possible, to the point of actually rejecting mechanisms if they aren’t transparent. We’re committed, so it’s time to see what the rest of the world thinks.

We’re on track to complete our program plan in April. The external committee has just been formed, and will meet for the first time next week. Wish us luck, and let me know if you have a cool idea for us to use, or just tips for moving forward with the project.

Digital Culture Library Issues Technology

Information R/evolution

Just another amazing video from the maker of The Machine is Us/ing us. Digital information, as much as we like to treat it like paper, is just different.

The sooner librarians get their heads around this, the better for our patrons. I’m trying desperately to wrap my head around how this influences our new library building…

Library Issues Technology

5 Minute Madness @ LITA Forum

Follow along, or go and take a look:

Too fast for blog, must twitter it!

Library Issues Personal

Heading out to LITA Forum

Tomorrow I’ll be hitting the road, heading off to LITA Forum in Denver, CO. I’ll be heading up the LITABlog blogging effforts, pushing posts through, editing like mad, and capturing audio for the ever-popular LITABlog Podcast series.

If you’re in Denver for the Forum, say “hey”. Myself, Michelle, Karen, and Jonathan of BIGWIG will be in attendance…if you’re interested in throwing your lot in with us in hopes of changing ALA and LITA for the better, definitely stop one of us. Our plans have slowed, but not stopped. We’ve still got some rebellion in us…and we never run out of good ideas.