Monday, July 10, 2006

eBooks and eReference

Yay! I have a reader, so I will celebrate with a response. Although I do this with the disclaimer that the situation here is asking a fast typing librarian to be about the eBook format (of which you just happened to write a novel in that form) is probably a great guerilla marketing tactic. Smartie pants, here is your cookie.

As a librarian, could you tell me what you think the future is for eBooks?

In the library, I love eBooks because they often provide an emergency backup for students who need classic literature and we don't have enough copies to go around. The electronic access to the works of Shakespeare for instance, could save many students who come in needing to have Romeo and Juliet read in 15 hours. I don't think the library promotes these resources enough and when I make library cards (I'm currently a library assistant, not a librarian yet) I tell patrons "you can also access our reference databases from home with your library card. We have encyclopedias and car repair manuals and classic literature online, as well as other databases the library pays for you to access from home."

Now, I poked around this reader's profile until I came to suspect his real question (ah, just like the reference desk, figuring out what a patron REALLY wants to know). I'm making assumptions here, but maybe his actual question is more about selling eBooks online.

As for libraries, there is a limit to the amount of money that can be spent on self published fiction. Unless fiction is reviewed or requested, libraries don't have money to buy every book that is published. It breaks my heart to explain to local authors that even if they donate their published books, there is no guarantee the selector will add their book to the collection.

So independently published eBooks are even more of a problem. With no authentification process for access to the material via the catalog, or interest in hosting eBooks (with authentification for access) on our own server, the idea of purchasing a self published eBook seems like a problem for the public library as I know it. Perhaps if you could sell your book to an established eContent provider.

So the future of eBooks? In libraries, for reference material (especially students) eBooks are wonderful and becoming necessary, especially when the print books are in high demand. For popular fiction, slightly problematic, but would probably satisfy some readers who currently wait on outrageously long hold lists (I think the last Harry Potter book topped 1000 people waiting for the almost 200 copies the library purchased). But for new authors that want to be added to a library collection? Someone has to develop and market the a feasible and sustainable service before any library will buy into access, and it won't be libraries writing the program for you (did you know you were asking someone who wants to specialize in Digital Information Management?)

But let me slip away from the library mode into my aspirations of writing fiction and some thoughts I have from years of reading Writers Digest and the like...if you have the discipline to finish your novel, at what point did you decide not to take it to agents and publishers? Is it the anonymity of online publishing (a whole nether interesting story)? Is it because it is so poorly written that no one would buy it if they could browse it? Are you hoping to be a cult figure with this innovative format? Or do you leave comments like spam on any bloc interested in books? I'm not offended, heck, I'm going to stop asking YOU questions and move onto my original rant...

originally I was going to write about the American Libraries article "The Great Reference Debate". I would love to work as a "virtual reference librarian" even as every article I read about the service mentions disappointing returns on the investment in the practice. Yet, at least where I work, the library has not greatly promoted the service. For instance, there is a link that says "Have a question? Ask a Librarian by Telephone, Email or Online Chat" that blends into the design of the homepage so much I have overlooked the text until I was set to complain about it here. The handout the library gives as a basic overview for accessing the catalog and reference databases from home does not highlight or promote this service at all even though it is right there on the screenshot. And the staff, while promoting off site access to the catalog and databases, has received no instruction on promoting the live chat to patrons.

Okay, to quit my whining here this is a new resolution- whenever a patron expresses distress of difficulty about using the catalog from home, I am going to remind them of the chat reference service in addition to suggesting they can call the library. Unfortunately, I predict this will increase the number of circulation related questions the librarians receive, but the knowledge gap between circulation procedures and reference questions needs to be filled.

That always gets me...when reference librarians ask circulation's on the intranet folks, and computer services added a search function in addition to the index. I think I will make an excellent library manager someday as long as I can adhere to this principle that reference librarians SHOULD spend time paging (shelving), in circulation, and in processing to gain current hands on experience in the connectedness of library departments.

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