The Midwinter Bump

[UPDATE FOR MIDWINTER 2013: This is last year's post, but the principles of the exercise are the same. Just didn't want to reinvent the wheel.]

As the ebooks in libraries war rages on, we’ve been having a tough time putting our money where our mouths are. In my last post, I talked a bit about our’ struggle to prove their worth to a publishing industry that’s less than receptive to emotional appeals. As long as publishers see library loans as “lost sales,” it’s going to be incredibly difficult to convince the Simon & Schusters and Penguins of the world to sell us their eBooks on mutually beneficial terms.

So much of what we do to fuel the engine of book discourse is intangible by nature. As a profession that holds quantifiable information so dear, it’s a sad irony that we’re unable to document just how much we’re able to contribute to book sales, be they e- or p-.

But an opportunity to do just that is just around the corner.

After all, Midwinter is coming.

At Midwinter, ALA gives out awards for notable books in a host of categories. For awards like the Newbery or Caldecott, this can mean immortality. Children’s titles are notorious for having short shelf lives. Getting that silver or gold medal on your cover ensures that your title will be noticed (and purchased) for years to come. But we haven’t really been able to quantify how much of a bump these awards provide.

I suggest we do that this year.

Here’s my cockamamie idea: I’d like to get a snapshot of where the award-winning book in each category currently stands sales-wise, and then compare that to its sales after the award announcements. We can take a look at how the title’s Amazon ranking is affected, and use this to get a rough idea of just how much a library-given award can contribute in terms of added sales.

Of course, in order to get a snapshot of a book’s pre-award sales, I’m going to need to know who’s going to win. Good little librarian that I am, I don’t want to compromise each committee’s commitment to secrecy. So I’m going to need someone from each award-bestowing body to take the snapshot, and share it with me after the fact. Call it a white-hat black op. Are you in?

How you can help:Do you belong to one of the committees listed below? Send me an email (theanalogdivide at gmail dot com) to let me know you’re willing to rise to this challenge.

Once your group has selected its award winner, go to Amazon and take a screenshot of its Amazon ranking (here’s an example, for 2004’s Newbery winner, The Tale of Desperaux.) If you want extra credit, find its position on the Amazon Top 100 list for its main category (such as Children’s Books, Teens, or Mystery), and take a screenshot of its ranking.

After the announcement has been made, we’ll go back and see whether these titles move up or down on the list.

I’ll update this as volunteers come in. If there’s an award that I’m missing, please let me know.

  • Andrew Carnegie Medal
  • Coretta Scott King Book Awards
  • Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement
  • John Newbery Medal – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Margaret A. Edwards Award
  • May Hill Arbuthnot Honor Lecture
  • Michael L. Printz Award – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Mildred L. Batchelder Award
  • Odyssey Award
  • Pura Belpré Awards
  • Randolph Caldecott Medal – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal
  • Schneider Family Book Award – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Stonewall Book Award – Barbara Gittings Literature Award – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Stonewall Book Award – Israel Fishman Non-Fiction Award – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Stonewall Children’s & Young Adult Literature Award – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • Theodore Seuss Geisel Award
  • William C. Morris Award
  • YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults

There are probably too many titles on these lists to measure everything. But if we can pick a couple of titles off of each list, it might serve as a good sample.  It’d be nice to have at least one title from each category:

  • Adrenaline
  • Fantasy
  • Historical Fiction
  • Horror
  • Mystery
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Women’s Fiction

Additional categories (and volunteers) are trickling in.

  • Listen List (audiobooks) – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED
  • YALSA Great Graphic Novels List – CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

I hope you’ll join me in this crazy experiment. Questions? Comments? Suggestions for better data? Let’s talk in the comments below.

It’s Not Just Overdrive.

Sarah Houghton over at Librarian in Black dropped the latest library-world bombshell with her post “Overdrive Has Different eBook Catalogs For Different Libraries.” Her thorough research in the situation has uncovered an unmistakable conclusion: Libraries are being sold different bills of goods. The response on Twitter has fallen into the stock Twitter response: shock, outrage, threats of boycotts.

But at the risk of sounding like an Overdrive apologist, I want to urge some restraint on the part of my colleagues. After all, they’re hardly the only party making these rules here. Remember the letter Overdrive CEO Steve Potash sent out to libraries when #HCOD first went down? Here’s the relevant quote:

[O]ur publishing partners have expressed concerns regarding the card issuance policies and qualification of patrons who have access to OverDrive supplied digital content. Addressing these concerns will require OverDrive and our library partners to cooperate to honor geographic and territorial rights for digital book lending, as well as to review and audit policies regarding an eBook borrower’s relationship to the library (i.e. customer lives, works, attends school in service area, etc.). I can assure you OverDrive is not interested in managing or having any say in your library policies and issues. Select publisher terms and conditions require us to work toward their comfort that the library eBook lending is in compliance with publisher requirements on these topics.

Overdrive Partner Update, 2/24/2011
(Thanks to Bobbi Newman at Librarian by Day for archiving this letter.) 

This would help to explain why Chesapeake Public Library is subject to these terms. As a new Overdrive customer, they’re subject to a new contract – a set of hoops set by Overdrive, guided by the set of hoops their content providers have forced on them to provide content in the first place. If they didn’t have this geographic restriction, they couldn’t provide books to Chesapeake at all. But if your library has a program to offer materials for non-residents, you should be very concerned. Because your existing contract will expire at some point. Soon enough, we’ll all be subject to these terms.

But here’s the thing we should be outraged about: Our vendors have been doing this for years.

I’ll give you an example. For the past two years, I have been working with the Youth Services department to provide easier library access to schoolchildren in our area. We’ve been working to coordinate classroom management software with student library cards to give kids one-click access to the library catalog and databases. You may have seen this accomplished to great success in Nashville, through their Limitless Libraries program.

But some vendors have stipulated that schools and similar organizations cannot access library-purchased databases while on school grounds. This despite the fact that students would be using their individual library cards to gain access. They fear that the schools would abandon their own subscriptions in lieu of what the public library has to offer. After all, why sell your product to one organization when you can sell to two?

Wanting to be team players, we approached our vendors about this issue. The schools hardly have the money to purchase books, let alone databases, so we figured any sale had to be better than nothing. But Scholastic (for one) continued to take issue. Valuing our local partnership over the products Scholastic was selling, we terminated our contract, and dropped several useful databases including Lands and Peoples, the New Book of Knowledge, and The New Book of Popular Science.

We had similar issues with other vendors. Some asked us to pay larger fees to “expand” access – to an audience that we had already purchased access for. Others recognized what we had to offer and allowed this partnership to continue. In each case, we discovered requirements in the contracts that we hadn’t seen before. These are just a few examples. But geographic restrictions are hardly a new thing in our database agreements.

This is what happens when we well-intentioned librarians are expected to negotiate deals with these companies – and their experienced contract lawyers. We expect them to share our values of open access and sharing, while they’re beholden to their own profit motives. Essentially, we’re bringing hugs to a knife fight.

While that’d be a nice kicky line with which to end this post, it doesn’t really provide any answers. Well, what now? Speaking as librarians, as responsible consumers, and as stewards of public funds, we’ve got to start paying closer attention to the terms our vendor contracts lock us into. This is especially important with respect to Overdrive. Remember: they’re only providing “negotiable” terms based on a framework set up by the publishers. I’m guessing the alternative to the different catalog was no catalog at all. We channel our rage to Overdrive, and we continue to reward the Big 6 with free promotion, literary awards (i.e., free promotion for life), and continued billions of dollars in print book revenues.

I’m confident that a new way can exist. There has to be a model out there that allows books (both the p- and e-varieties) to proliferate, to share and to sell. If there weren’t, we wouldn’t see people like Gluejar, Library Renewal, and the folks at Douglas County Library System attempting to create a new niche. We’re starting to gather data that can help us move in the right direction. Outrage is good, but we need to channel it in the right direction.

Reflections on Video Bootcamp

It’s been two years since the launch of my library’s Digital Media Lab. What was once a storage room is now an active space for patrons to edit video, create music, design artwork, and archive their old media. We’ve settled into a good routine, using a mixture of experienced volunteers and Computer Lab staff to train and work alongside patrons.

But now it’s time to go bigger. If our library is going to function as this kind of creative space, it’s going to take a much larger effort on the part of all staff. We need to lead by example, creating our own media and initiating our own conversations with the public. But before we get there, we’ve got to learn the tools of the trade.

Enter Video Bootcamp.

YouTube Preview Image

Following the Learning 2.0 model, Video Bootcamp is a six-week experiential program designed to guide library staff through the process of planning, shooting, and sharing short videos for the Internet. While largely self-guided, it’s made to function as a social exercise, encouraging ‘Campers to share techniques and learn from one another’s mistakes.

Each week focuses on a different aspect of the video production process. The idea is for each subsequent concept to build on the previous one, until they’ve created their finished video. Here are the steps:

  • Week 1 is all about The Big Idea. Participants must come up with the concept for the video, and explain how they plan to reach their intended audience.
  • Week 2 focuses on the logistics of creating the video. Campers flesh out the text of their video (either through an outline or a full script), and submit a shot list or storyboard that demonstrates how the video will lay out visually.
  • Week 3 is all about shooting the raw footage. Using Flip cameras, screenshots, and still images, staff will gather all the pieces for their video.
  • Week 4 is designed to give everyone a chance to get familiar with iMovie. They’ll take all their raw materials and assemble a rough edit.
  • Week 5 is geared toward fine-tuning. The rough cut gets trimmed, transitions and titles are added, and the finished piece finally emerges.
  • Week 6 is where the finished piece goes live. Participants are encouraged to comment on one another’s work, and reflect on their own experience.
We’ve finished one cohort of this program, and are now in Week 3 for the second group. So far results have been quite positive. We’re helping to seed our YouTube channel, and we’ve got several ‘Campers thinking about their next pieces. Our patrons have diverse tastes. In order to reach them, we’re going to need to create a diverse body of content. That’s going to require all staff to get involved.

In looking at the big picture, it’s easy to take inspiration from the creative endeavors of others. There’s a slogan nestled in the backmatter of the comic book Casanova, by Matt Fraction, Gabriel Bá, and Fábio Moon. At the end of the copyright page, they leave the reader with a simple message: “Stop Downloading. Start Uploading.” It’s a strong reminder of how much potential the Internet has as a purely creative medium.With a purely consumptive device like the Kindle Fire poised to command a significant portion of mind- and marketshare, this simple statement throws down a pretty provocative gauntlet. Video Bootcamp gives my library an opportunity to rise to this challenge. As more staff start thinking visually, we’ve got a chance to engage entire new audiences. Bootcampers can become strong examples to our community, and cement the library’s role as a creative space.

All content from our Video Bootcamp is freely available to lift, borrow, or adapt for your own projects. Questions? Feedback? Please post in the comments below.

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