Digital Odyssey 2011

Digital Odyssey 2011 was a conference on eBooks held in Toronto on 10 June 2011. Like OLA, the conference had a keynore speaker and was divided into individual sessions. And like OLA, this meant that it was necessary to pick and choose between different sessions, with all of the usual pitfalls.


The keynote speaker was Eric Hellman of a company called Gluejar. He started by surveying the general eBook situation - eBook sales are increasing and expected to hit 50% of the total amount of book sales by 2013. That said, growth is high in some areas, low in others. For example, children's books haven't been affected much yet, and internationally, eBooks aren't a huge deal.

One ongoing development regards EPUB. It has been generally accepted as the standard - even Amazon books come in from the publisher in EPUB, only to be converted to Amazon's proprietary format before sale to the public. There's a new EPUB revision (EPUB3) due out soon - it's based on HTML5, offers improved accessibility and functionality. Interestingly, it may also be susceptible to viruses.

Hellman brought up the big question - are libraries obsolete? Apparently, some economists did a study a few years back that determined that, under the print model, if the cost of the circulation is less than the printing cost, everyone (consumers, publishers) benefits. However, given that there is no cost to duplicate eBooks, the printing cost drops to zero, removing the economic benefit that libraries offer. Right now, he says we're in a transitional phase, where everyone has agreed to pretend eBooks are just like print. eBooks are loaned out and only available in the numbers purchased by the library (i.e. one eBook, next person has to wait for it to come back). Publishers sell us eBooks based on retail book prices. This leads to little disruption in the status quo and everyone is happy. But it's an illusion. eBooks are different and this transitional phase can't last.

Consequently, we have to change our focus. Hellman says that minus books, libraries create value in other ways and that we must take advantage of these.
- Spaces (a public space, where people can hang out, that whole "third place" thing - Starbucks is an example of a competitor here)
- People (instruction & assistance from actual people - no competition, as Google isn't going to offer local courses)
- Communities (bringing resources to our community through subscription and community resources online through initiatives like our OurOntario digitisation project - competition could come from Facebook, gaming communities and other groups).

This is where it got sort of confusing. Hellman then talked about Gluejar's initiative - he likened it to (US) public radio pledges for eBooks (pledge drives?) to meet the physical costs of eBooks patrons are interested in, after which we could give them away.

I guess the (or at least a) main point is that books will soon no longer be our 'brand.' We have to find something new.

Session 1 - Training Staff

Megan Garza from Markham PL outlined her experiences in setting up a program to train staff to use eBooks and assist patrons. Her initiative was very methodical, using the ADDIE model (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation). She started with a survey to evaluate staff comfort level with different types & elements of technology (including computers, PDAs, cellphones, touch screens, etc.), their general opinions on training (hands-on, instructional, etc.) and what they thought about eBooks in general. There was also a checklist of core competencies.

As she started to deliver the training programme, she found that she had created a 72 slide monster containing information on every eventuality that staff might run into. She pared it down significantly and used the big one as an advanced session for a sort of 'train the trainer' version.

Megan included hands on training with the sessions. MPL apparently has seven iPads and a bunch of readers. Staff were given tasks to perform and were able to go through the whole process of downloading, reading and returning. A confluence of factors shortened one session and participants didn't get a chance to do the hands-on part - they really missed it and commented on the lack of hands-on training.

The main lessons - keep it simple and make sure there's a hands-on element.

Thunder Talks

The Thunder Talks were a series of four 15-minute sessions. Speakers briefly present in quick succession and there was time at the end for questions.

eReader Lending Programme

The Oakville Public Library created a lending programme where patrons can check out Kindles and Kobos. They hoped to use them to educate the public and possibly increase use of OverDrive. They initially purchased ten Kindles and ten Kobos (now 10 and 15 respectively) and loaned them to patrons pre-loaded with titles (each reader had different books) and circulated them to patrons. The programme was considered a success, with approximately 300 circs and 800 holds since last fall. They also experienced an increase in OverDrive use, although I wonder how much it would have gone up anyway, given our own experience. Finally, they know that the program is a shorter-term initiative - the readers will become obsolete and demand will plateau as readers become a more established part of the landscape.

OLITA Technology Lending Library

Apparently there is one. OLITA has 25 Sony eReaders and five Flip video cameras to loan out to interested libraries for 12-week periods. They hope to expand the program. The website isn't public yet, so there's no link to post.

School Library eBook Programme

Two small schools in Niagara Region (one elementary, one secondary) started an eBook lending progamme for their students. It's all very new, but everything seems to be going well so far. It's actually set up for online reading, but irritatingly users need to download a 32 MB piece of software to access it - and a lot of their students live in rural areas without highspeed. They use Follett eBooks as their service.

Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC) eBook Initiatives

Representing libraries from municipalities with 100k+ population (we're members), CULC is working on a number of initiatives on the eBook front to advocate for libraries.
- They're working with HarperCollins to come up with an alternative to HC's 26 checkout thing and with the other publishers that don't allow libraries to use their eBooks at all (Simon & Schuster / MacMillan). The rep felt that the anger at HC was misdirected, given the actions of publishers like S&S.
- They're looking at alternative platforms - i.e. other than OverDrive. EBSCO is about to ramp up their involvement and 3M is looking into it as well.
- They're trying to address some library frustrations, including a lack of competition (OverDrive's domination), the range of titles available and the whole question of ownership vs. lease.
- The presenter also outlined some publisher frustrations, including OverDrive's lack of responsiveness (not sure what this means), a lack of expertise, the pricing question, Canadian rights and backlists. My notes are sort of sketchy here, sorry.

CULC's vision for the future for libraries and eBooks includes fair pricing, ownership of content, DRM flexibility, accessibility, open standards and cross-vendor/cross-device compatibility. This is all clearly in our benefit and I wish them well, but it will be an uphill struggle.

Browsing for eBooks

This session talked about tools available for users to find, read and interact with eBooks, whether they have an eReader or not. For example, Caliber (US spelling) is software that can convert other files (like PDF) to EPUB for use on a reader. Bluefire, an iPod app, can do the same thing. Dotepub allows users to convert any website into an eBook. They also mentioned free eBooks available on the Kobo site and elsewhere (like the Gutenberg Project).

The Mobile Reader Wiki has links to many useful resources.

Google Books and Custom Shelves

This session wasn't a particularly useful one for me. It discussed using Google Books as part of a libraries' discovery system - in other words, integrating Google Books content into a Web 2.0 catalogue. It sounded interesting, but quickly turned very technical with examples of coding in Python. The process also seems very slow and can take weeks. And it's all changing anyway, because Google (or someone) is making some sort of change in the near future. The other session in this time slot dealt with copyright and DRM - might have been a better choice, but that's in hindsight. It was basically a choice between listening to a tech talk from an IT guy or a legal talk from a librarian.

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