Hi, this is Circulating Ideas, the librarian interview podcast. I’m your host, Steve Thomas. My guest today is Kate Sheehan. Kate is the Open Source Implementation Coordinator for Bibliomation, a consortium of public and school libraries in Connecticut. When she’s not coordinating, she blogs at Loosecanonlibrarian.net and ALA Tech Source. You can follow her on Twitter @itsjustkate.
You don’t seem like a “loose canon librarian”, but that’s the name of your site.
Can you tell me how you came up with the name for your site?
Oh god, I just like alliteration, no. I, I named that site so long ago. It was sort of a joke with myself and I think of lot of people starting websites and starting little blogs, you don’t think anyone’s ever going to read your stupid blog, so I was like, “Ha ha, this is funny just to me, it’s funny in my head.” I had found, when I was first working in the libraries, I am not, you’re right, I’m not especially loose cannon-y, I’m not like a high-risk person or anything like that. I’m pretty reasonable, I think.
I think I’m reasonable, but I definitely found early on in libraries, I’d be, “Hey you know what would be a neat idea, we should do…” and it would just, stuff that just seemed, to me, let’s try circulating, you know this is way back, let’s try a podcast, let’s try circulating MP3 players, let’s do whatever. I mean just stuff that seemed like, I didn’t think it was a big deal and people would be, “Kate, we need to consider this and we have to talk about the security and we have to,” and part of it was that I was new and I wasn’t necessarily thinking through all the implications of the practical, if you, I mean just as, I’m just making this up, but if you circulate MP3 players, how are you going to have security on them? How are you going to, you know what are you going to put on them? Is that legal with copyright and blah blah, and you know I was brand new.
Right, the passion of the new librarian. [laughs]
Right, “This would be a cool idea.” And, but I also wasn’t necessarily saying, I wasn’t necessarily saying that wasn’t important, I was just, “We should float a.” To me it just makes sense to float a lot of ideas and see what sticks and I definitely, it’s not that I got shot down a lot, it was just that people sorta acted like, “Whoa, slow down there with this craziness,” and I was, to me the system is half weird. And, so I, I just thought only in this world am I a crazy person, only in this world am I “woo! Kate loose canon” you know. I’ve never actually been called a loose cannon, but it was definitely, it definitely, it was mostly just a joke with myself about the culture around libraries that’s very cautious and I’m a pretty cautious person and, so within this culture I’m not remotely cautious so that’s, it cracked me up because I’m not incautious at all.
In comparison with other librarians. [laughs]
Right. I was telling somebody I used to work with who does finance stuff, we were talking about being, I think, detail orientated. I said you know on the scale of detail orientedness I do okay, I’m not, I’m pretty detail oriented enough. On the scale of librarian detail orientedness, forget it. I cannot keep up with some of my colleagues on that, cause it’s just a different scale and that’s a.
Right, I always say a good librarian has a little bit of OCD in them.
Yeah, yeah, exactly and I, my husband likes to tease me about this at our gym. I get really, really, really annoyed that people don’t put the free weights, the dumbbells back in their appropriate slots cause it’s annoying and it messes everything up and also as I have pointed out to him several times, both the rack and the weight have the number on them, it doesn’t, you don’t even have to know where it, you don’t have to be able to read, you don’t have to know what the numbers mean, you just have to match the little symbols.
So do you actually go and re-shelve at your gym?
I totally do, I totally do and I realize that for the rest of the world that makes me maybe a little bit OCD, but for librarians that’s nothing.
That’s like, that’s like whenever I walk through a bookstore I’m always straightening little piles and putting things out right.
My wife hates going to bookstores, because I used to work in bookstores and now I work in libraries and it’s just the most horrible combination.
Right, so you can’t, you can’t leave it untouched now. I’m totally with you, it’s, I do the same thing, I neaten them and I. In elegant restaurants when I was a kid I, yeah. The weight thing really bothers me because I think if I need to put the ones I have back and now you’ve, I have 15 pound weights and you’ve put the 30 pound weights in there and maybe it’s some kind of, you’re putting them together in some sort of mathematically interesting way, but, this is annoying because I’m not going to put my 15 pound weights back in the 30 pound spot. It’s, I just can’t do it.
You’re using LC classification, I’m trying to use Dewey. Come on.
Yeah, yeah, so and my husband thinks it’s hysterical. He’s, “Kate Sheehan the weight librarian.” [laughs] And I think the people at my gym think I’m a little, cause I grumble about it while I do it, I’m, I won’t do it just without being, I won’t do it out of the goodness of my heart, I’m annoyed the entire time. I’m, “Oh, everybody just match the little symbols grrr.” [laughs] Moving weights around.
[laughs] So, your current job is the, I hope I don’t get this wrong, Open Source Implementation Coordinator?
Yes, that is my very long title, yes.
And, so what, can you explain sort of exact, what that is, what you do on a day-to-day basis in that kind of job?
Sure. Yeah, it’s, I was hired by Bibliomation, I’m trying to think what the timing of this, I was hired almost, it was almost two years ago, it will be two years in November, to be, to work with their Open Source project. We’re a mix of school and public libraries and we’re the biggest consortium in Connecticut and they, they were on Horizon, SirsiDynix’s Horizon and they started on Horizon in 2004 and then shortly thereafter Sirsi was, SirsiDynix, SirsiDynix merged and then they pulled the plug on Horizon.
So, because they had just recently been through looking for a new system, it was, they knew what they wanted and they knew that most systems aren’t really designed for consortia so all the workarounds have to be put into place and blah blah and so they knew, we really, we just, we wanted this one and that was right around the time people started talking about Koha and Evergreen shortly thereafter and so they started to look at Open Source systems and Brendan Gallagher who runs ByWater Solutions, he’s the president of ByWater Solutions, worked at Biblio at the time and he was doing all the software stuff and a lot of the testing and then he, his then fiancee had moved to California so, of course, he moved and they were really sad. Brendan’s great and also they were, “Oh we were depending on this software person to do a lot of this, to support Open Source and the implementation of Open Source and all that.” So they hired a new software coordinator and around this time was when they had also started testing Evergreen, because when they went to, again this is way back, they went to LibLime to find out about what it would take to make Koha work for the consortium, the way they needed it to work, which isn’t to say that Koha doesn’t work for consortia, but and I think actually it probably works better now than it did in 2005 or whatever, but it, just in terms of what they needed for resource sharing, there’s. Every consortia lives their lives differently so and the development costs were just way, way high, I mean more than they could afford. So then they really started testing Evergreen in earnest and out of the box it did a lot of the stuff they needed it to do and that’s around when Brendan moved to California, and they, so they stopped and said, “Okay, what do we really need here?” We need, if we do Open Source we don’t need ven… well we don’t necessarily need to spend our money on, the money that we would normally spend on a vendor, what are we, we would need to spend it on people. Which is the whole “free as in kittens” thing. So they made a team where Melissa La Faye is our project manager and Benjamin Chum is our software coordinator, so he does all the software stuff. There’s a lot of, “Hey Ben can you write me a SQL for this,” because we all had SQL training and we can all modify SQLs and probably write them on a, but Ben just can, Ben will stand there and be, “Okay, select star equals.” Just off the top of his head he’ll tell you what to type, whereas the rest of us have to go and look it up and make sure we get it and form our report correctly and everything, so we’re constantly haranguing Ben to write us SQLs.
And then they hired me to do training and hand-holding and front lines. I spend a lot of time at our libraries, less so lately, but when we first were in the project and then I’ll be back in the libraries again in the fall. But at the time Evergreen didn’t have an acquisitions module yet. We didn’t want to roll it out for our libraries right away and they’re fine on Horizon, it’s just at some point that was going to go away. So what they decided to do is do a pilot project with, originally it was supposed to be three tiny libraries, it ended up being nine. A sort of a mini consortium on Evergreen and it let us cut our teeth on it and this is around the time I was hired, when they had some small libraries on board and the idea was to have this baby consortium where we would get to learn everything we needed to know about Evergreen, see how it really, because you can hear all about an ILS, but then you actually use it and it’s different. And also to see how much, how much support will we need? How hard is this? How different is life with Open Source? Basically. And honestly, it’s such a good idea, I was really, when they, when I first heard it I was, “God, what a good idea to have this.” To not just switch over, but to have this time where the vast, 50-some odd libraries are fine and they’re humming along on what they’re doing and we can have this Evergreen training ground basically. And the libraries that we’re working with were coming off of either no system at all, some of them were automated, or older, a lot of them were earlier iterations of Filelib, things like that, things that basically don’t exist any more.
So anything, they were rarely, “Oh this new system is, I miss our old system because it was so much more sophisticated.” That never happened.
So, I mean sometimes it was, “I miss our old system because I knew how it worked really well.” That I can appreciate, but, so I basically went out and I did, I hung out at our libraries, I did training and I show up on their go live day and I spend the day with them and go back after they’ve been live for a while and see how it’s going and all of that and then we did our big conversion of all the rest of our libraries, bringing the two consortia together over Memorial Day weekend. For our big migration, the way we did the training was like a marathon. It was a little bit exhausting. We don’t have enough resources, I mean it’s, there aren’t that many people in my organization. I think there’s 13 of us, so and just to, I did the training with me and one other, one of my co-workers, so we would do it in pairs.
Sometimes in trios, depending on the size of the group and we did kind of a train-the-trainer approach. So, what we did was basically two weeks, 10 days solid of train-the-trainer. So, we would train two people from each library in each, two for cataloging and then two for circulation and then they would go back to their libraries and train their libraries. So it’s definitely, it was very, it was, 10 straight days of just talking and by the end, I remember the last day, the last hour I was at a podium and I was just literally holding onto the side of the podium, this was what’s going to keep me upright [laughs].
But the, so that’s, that way they went back and trained their libraries and so now we’re post-migration, working out the kinks, all that stuff. So I do a lot of emailing and spending time on the phone with people and today my task is to write a bunch of cheat sheets on different aspects, things we’re getting frequently asked about, if for no other reason than so we can stop writing the same emails over and over again, we can just copy this stuff. [laughs] Because there’s a, there’s a little bit of that where it’s like everyone has this question and I’ll send an email out to everybody and be, “You all have asked this a lot, here’s the answer.” But, it’s still, if it’s not relevant for a person right then they’ll often not necessarily read that email, or retain that email and then three weeks from now they’ll be, “Hey, about that thing, how does that work again?” And it’s just, so it’s just easier to have it online and be able to say, “Here it is,” so.
What about Evergreen in particular do you think made it appealing? I know that it’s a decision made before you came on board, but what makes it appealing for consortia?
Well it was designed, I mean it was designed by the Pines consortia in Georgia and I think it was designed with that sort of resource sharing in mind and for most, for most consortia, every consortium is different, that’s the other thing I’ve really found and I, I’d only worked in stand-alone libraries before this, so my experience with consortia was pretty much that they exist. That was all I knew and I definitely found that, at the Evergreen conference I definitely saw a lot of, there are some consortia that the rules are handed down from a central office and everybody does the same thing and it’s very centrally managed and there are some that are just loose affiliations, there are some that don’t even do resource sharing, they just share a system. But, for us, what we needed was, we did go through before Evergreen and unrelated to Evergreen, we went through a rules standardization. There are a lot of libraries in Connecticut on Evergreen and Connecticut has reciprocal borrowing between all the libraries in the state and that’s sponsored at a state level and even in stand-alone libraries you get this a lot. People will call up and then say, “Oh can you transfer me to the blah blah blah library.” And I’m, “No, we don’t all have the same phone.” [laughs] And then they’ll be confused as to why all of the libraries don’t talk to each other. “Why can’t you look up what I checked out at some other library?” And I used to work at a library that was surrounded by Biblio libraries and people were super confused as to why we couldn’t look up what they had out, let them pay fines, because all of the libraries in the area were connected to one another and I didn’t really understand that we were, when I worked there I really didn’t understand that all the libraries around me were all in a consortium, so I was always, “Why are people constantly asking about this? I don’t understand!”
And then I started at Biblio and I looked at the map and I was, “Oh, that’s why!” [laughs] So they, for most of our patrons it is a little weird that we, that everyone does their own thing to such an extent, that everybody has different circ periods and different circ rules and blah blah and then some libraries can talk to each other, but others can’t. That’s confusing for patrons.
So we and a lot of our libraries were really fighting this, there was a real push from some of our libraries to do a standardization, so. In a way, this is small potatoes, but it ends up being a big deal that all your regular books go out for three weeks and all your new books go out for two weeks, so we did standardize on that, although we didn’t standardize on renewals or fines because a lot of our libraries are independent and some of them were city libraries, or town libraries so they can’t standardize the fines. So, we needed, but we, so we still needed some level of stability to let each library have its own rules and its own, things like its own fines, its own renewals, some level of. Some of them want their summer reading books to be a different loan period and no holds and some of them want them just to be regular books. All that sort of stuff, so you need that kind of flexibility to have all the rules work for every library and also to have the resource sharing. The way it works for us is you place a hold and your book could, your book will preferentially come from your library, but could theoretically come from another library. Ideally we’d be able to say C-Cards are statewide transit system for books and you’d be able to say, these are the routes, here’s what they, it’s easier, they’re a bunch of different routes, so it’s easier to get books from library A to library B than it is from library A to library Q or whatever, because libraries are on the same route, it’s easier to get the books between them because they don’t have to go back to the central office before they get redistributed or whatever. I actually have no idea of all the details of C-Card, but I know that that part’s true, if you’re on the same route things are a little bit easier and also there’s, we have a lot of inconsistencies within our consortium. Some of our libraries get deliveries every day, some of them get it twice a week and all of this adds up to, it would be really great if the system could account for all of that. I’ve no idea how you do that, I think that might be, that part might be impossible, but.
Did you find Evergreen in general pretty easy, set up like you wanted it out of the box? Did you all have to do a lot of development on it?
We didn’t do too much development. The stuff we developed, we did all, a couple of things for school libraries, hard due dates, so that at the end of the semester they could say anything checked out after this date is due on this date regardless of which day it was checked out on, end of the semester stuff. And there was something else that we developed for them that was similar, I can’t remember. But we did two different types of due date development for the schools and that was. What was great about that was we got a price tag and we said, “Well that’s more money than we have,” and we put out a call on the Open Source mailing list, the Evergreen mailing list and we were, “Hey, does anybody else want to do this?” And by the end of the day we had partners and it was done, it took a few months to develop, it was not a big deal and it was very, it was really heartening. It was just surprisingly easy and we’re working on getting a kids catalog developed cause that’s something our schools and our children’s librarians use a lot. That has been a little bit more complicated in terms of getting more contributors and more people to buy into it and then everybody, it’s a bigger project basically.
So we’re in the middle of that, but it’s, honestly, a lot of the stuff out of it, ILS’s are ILS’s and I’ve used a lot of them, so for me, at least, it was, “Cool, here you go, works like it should.” There’s always going to be something that’s a little bit different. There’s always going to be, “Well I used to click here and now I click there.” One of the things that seems to be hanging people up a lot is there used to be this check in damaged mode on Horizon or something. I didn’t use Horizon very much, so I don’t really know. But, it was like if you had a book that got, had a hold on it, on your pull list and you wanted to check it in damaged so it wouldn’t go into the pull list, or it was something that wouldn’t fulfill a hold and there isn’t that equivalent at Evergreen, there’s a slightly different workflow and that is tripping people, stuff like that trips people up cause they want the straight analogies between the two different systems and that doesn’t always work that way. But that’s the part that to me is very interesting, is to watch people. I sound like an evil mad scientist, “I’m just going to watch people suffer, it’s going to be awesome.”
I don’t mean it that way, but it is interesting to see how people adapt because, your ILS is not your job, nor is it your competency. You can be good at your job and not know how to use your ILS, up to a point, I mean at a certain point you have to know how to use your ILS, but I think a lot of. One of our developer partners said it to me best, I said, “These are just new buttons, it’s okay. It doesn’t, it almost doesn’t mean anything that you’re still learning this, you’re learning it and you’re gonna, it doesn’t mean anything about you that you don’t know where this stuff is, you’re going to get there, it’s not a big, it’s not a big deal long term, it’s a big deal right now.” And she was, “But I feel like I don’t know how to do my job anymore.” And I was, “But, you do.” I don’t, you know it’s just. I appreciate that feeling, every time I’ve switched ILS’s it’s been, “Okay, how do I do this in this system now?”
Because you get the shortcuts down and you know those in your head and then all of a sudden…
…it’s almost like even when my library switched to using Office 2007, all this stuff is so different now, it’s, “How do I just select all? I don’t even know how to do that anymore. Where’s that button?” [laughs]
Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly, that’s exactly it. And, but I also think, it’s, it’s not just, it’s feeling incompetent because you don’t know where the buttons are and all that and it is a huge change of workflow, but we also forget, and I think this is really true of the Office, I think the office stuff, we just switched to Office 2010 from Office 2003 and I keep telling our libraries, “No, we feel your pain because Excel is making us weep right now.” It, the things that you become used to is shortcuts that, or workarounds, that aren’t actually right, it’s not intuitive, it’s not the right way to do it, it’s just that we’re used to it. And we just had a whole conversation about that yesterday, about people keep wanting to check things out to a tech services card when they need to be going to a repair or a repair card. And Evergreen actually handles that through status, there’s a repair status which is actually what it is. It’s accurate, it doesn’t create a false checkout, it doesn’t leave patrons thinking this book is checked out for six months for some reason when really it’s actually being repaired, all that stuff. It does actually work more, it works in a way that makes the most sense to do it through a status.
Right, so we have created these workarounds for things we couldn’t do with old systems. And we think it makes sense, but that’s what I thought about the Office change, is that I’m sure if you’re coming into it without using old Office it makes perfect sense and it’s much more clear how to do things.
But it’s, “I know how to do that already, you go to this menu, to that sub-menu, to over here.”
Yeah, I know, that’s exactly, that is exactly it and I think that’s. There’s a lot, with Gmail, even Gmail, the first time I used Gmail, I was, “Labels? The heck? Where’s my folder?” [laughs] I was just, “I don’t .” And now I’m, “Folders are dumb, I want my labels.” It’s, and that’s going back a ways, but when somebody redoes something in some ways from the ground up or with fresh eyes and says, “Hey, you know what would make more sense,” everyone’s going, “But we like the old way because we knew what it was even though it doesn’t actually make any sense.”
I told you I was going to ask you about this. Tell me the story about Hypercard Jurassic Park.
Oh, I love this, okay. Well, so, I went to this, my middle school was technically oriented, let’s just say. So, we had little Mac labs and stuff like that, all Mac, they were all Mac SE’s at the time and little boxes and that’s how I learned how to network computers, like you plug them together with these cables.
And what year is this?
Oh gosh, I was in middle school from, I graduated from 8th grade in 92 and I started there in 89, so I was there from 5th grade, middle of 5th grade to 8th grade. So we would plug computers together with all these red cables and stuff like that. So, we networks and early, I seem to recall a lot of, one day we had to write a short story, just write a letter or something but then accept everything spell check did so you would understand the difference between, don’t let the machine tell you what to do sort of thing. You know, especially because then spell check was, I think, I think that was still in the days of Cupertino effect and things like that. So, our computer teacher had, they taught us about Hypercard and I’m in 8th grade, I don’t have an address book, I don’t have, I don’t have business contacts, I mean I looked at it and I was, “Wow this would be really cool for grown ups.” There was a whole component that was, “You could put recipes in here.” and I was, “That’s excellent, I’m 12.” [laughs] I mean I baked with my parents and sometimes helped in the kitchen, but my role was very much prep chef, I was not exactly doing the recipes. So I, I thought that it was neat, but I didn’t, I think I didn’t understand it in that gut level, “wow I get this” way. So then there was this Hypercard e-book of Jurassic Park and I cannot believe that link you’ve found, you have no idea, it made my day and I, like I said to you on Twitter, I was afraid to Google it because you have these memories of things that were just so mind blowing and so cool and then you look it up for real and it’s, “Oh that was dumb and I can’t believe.”
Or it just wasn’t what you thought it was, like it turned out not to be as interesting, or you’ve embellished the memory somehow, and that happens, that’s just human age, our memories are pretty lousy. And I was just, I was terrified it would turn out to be something completely, rinky dink and silly. And because it had this huge impact on me, there was a Hypercard e-book of Jurassic Park and each, you page through the pages, each card was a page I think and there were these links, if you clicked on a dinosaur name it would take you out to a separate card stack about that dinosaur, which was not information from the text of Jurassic Park, it was actually information from, I don’t remember where, probably an encyclopedia or something, about these dinosaurs. And a) that was the first time I really got hyperlinking and what it can do and all that, because we had talked about that a little bit with Hypercard and I still was, “What?” I mean I got it.
Right, this is, this is still pre-world wide web at this point.
Right, this was 1990, well yeah 92 and I’d been online, I’d been on, but it was all, I had found a lot of it and again I was kid, I found a lot of it disappointing because when they said you could get to the Library of Congress, of course I thought I could see the books. [laughs] I don’t know why, of course it’s ridiculous now, but I just thought that must be what it was.
That’s what I thought too.
And it was, yeah, it was a Telnet catalog and I was, “But, but, boo.” [laughs] And there were chatrooms and stuff like that and you could play online games, Muds and whatever, but it wasn’t, obviously there weren’t pictures and all that and I liked the chatroom aspect of it because this was before it was, “Everyone will die if they go into a chatroom,” it was really, I don’t know that my parents knew what I was doing. But, there wasn’t, nobody, nobody was, I never had any bad experiences, nobody was ever creepy, it was fine. And which, everyone which, I’m about to say I’m sure people did, I just didn’t personally and I was really, I kept, I remember I kept searching Library of Congress catalog because I just was convinced that somehow it would let me see the whole text, somehow if I just did it right. I didn’t really understand that was never going to, that was not going to happen on Telnet. But, the, so that was the first, I had this, like the light bulb went off. I was, “Oh, oh, this is what they’ve been talking about with hyperlinking, this is what that means and this is how’s it’s powerful.” And also I was, “This is amazing, all of our books should be like this.” And part of me is always looking to recreate that, that ecstatic, amazed experience.
And in spite the e-books are just now almost getting to that point, where that, where that’s, where you can have, having links out and things like that, I mean it’s really. Generally e-books are still for the most part just electronic versions of the books, I mean it’s just a PDF basically of the book.
Yeah, yeah. And that is disappointing. I want it to be, I want it to be better, I want it to have that blow your mind experience and I still, I feel like if somebody updated that Hypercard stack for a more modern platform, especially because even as a kid who liked dinosaurs, I was, “Wait Raptors, is that a real dinosaur type?” I didn’t remember seeing that when I learned about dinosaurs as a kid and even though I, I wanted to know, how much of this is real? Is that? Is this actually true? Were these dinosaurs these killing machines? Or is this just dramatized for the movie, for the book? And that was, that was, hey research built in.
Now I don’t know if you saw that, that the book, Push Pop Press did for Al Gore’s last book, they did an iPad version of this book and it was just this amazing thing that had all this video in the middle of it and linked out to all these fantastic things and they were getting ready to do their own big publishing platform to do this with all kinds of other books and then they got, the guys got bought out by Facebook so [laughs] I don’t think it’s going to happen now.
Yeah, I didn’t get to see the book because I don’t have an iPad, but I’m disappointed about that, I want, I want that to, I want more of that.
And there was, I think you did the tech talk on it? I think? I think that’s where I saw it.
I don’t know…
But it was fantastic, you just reach in, it’s like Minority Report stuff where you just reach in and grab the picture, pull it out, just swipe it and it becomes a video telling you about some environmental thing. It was just fantastic. Everything that you, that the 20 year old, 20 year ago version of you wanted out of e-books, I think. [laughs].
[laughs] I should look it up because I do, I sort of secretly pine for that I think, just because, like I said I keep waiting, I keep waiting to have that, the floor just drop, I’m totally stunned experience.
It’s, I always find it funny that just, the web seems to still, I mean it grew so quickly, but it’s just now reaching what we kind of had our dreams of when we first heard about it, I mean I heard about, “Oh the web can show video” and I was thinking, “Oh we can watch movies and stuff on there,” but that’s really just now still really coming to be commonplace. Some of that is bandwidth issues, but it’s just amazing.
Well and I mean going back to what we were talking about with the ILS’s, part of it is, the danger with Open Source ILS’s is always that you’re just going to reinvent what we already have with all the same supposed, with all the same workarounds that aren’t really, that we think of as normal but they’re actually workarounds and that’s, I think that’s true with any kind of technology, okay it’s the web or it’s e-books, we’re just going to make it be a screen version of what we have in paper and it takes, I think it takes a little while to say, well what could we actually do with this.
I read one of your blog posts where you talked about the concept of information wants to be free and I had to join in my embarrassment that I thought that meant first amendment freedom not cost freedom.
I had no idea that until I read your post and I was, “Oh wow. Is that really what that means? That it’s supposed to be no cost free?” [laughs]
Well I think it’s both, but it’s just, we’re such librarians, it literally that didn’t even cross my mind for the blog this time, it would never, wait what?
No, it never did until I read your post and I was, “Oh my gosh.”
Yeah. I think there are so many, I was just, there are so many things like that where you work at it, at least I find, I, both of my parents are social workers so I was raised by people working either for government, or for non-profits, or for schools, they were always and you know what it’s a totally different way of thinking about things and I know, I’m watching, my parents have both retired and then they have retirement jobs and my mom was a school social worker forever and ever and worked for the schools where things work a certain way. Now she works in a private practice as a therapist and it’s a very different, there’s just different concerns. There’s a profit concern and it’s a totally different way of doing things and she’s figuring that out. We were talking, we talked about it kind of a lot because I worked in for-profit companies before library school, but since then I haven’t. I’ve worked in libraries, I work for non-profit now, but literally in our family I think I have the closest experience and it’s ten years old. It’s, yeah 10 years ago I worked in, I worked for a company as a research assistant or whatever, but it is a very different, there’s a whole different mindset. And it’s not a bad thing, I think it’s actually, you need that diversity of thinking, but it, I was not surprised that it didn’t cross my mind just because it just never does. I’m always, “Oh, right, people make money on things.” Part of me says I want to support writers, I want to, I want to support what they’re doing, I want, people should get paid for their work and writing is hard work and all of that and I used to, I knit a little bit, I used to be a, when I was first learning I used to be on knitting list terms and there was always a lot of controversy about patterns and people xeroxed a pattern and one person actually said on a listserv that libraries pay more money for knitting books so that you can xerox them because then it’s free, it’s fair use.
And all these librarians were, “What?” [laughs] It was just something totally mandated about the kind of, that would be neat if it worked that way but what? Yeah. And she was, “Nope, that’s how it is, I’m going to keep xeroxing from the library.” And everybody was, “No, that’s not, what?” And I, not that I’ve never made a knitting pattern, but I know people who have and that’s, that’s, they should get paid, they should be paid for their work. But I think somehow the internet is shifted that, not only is, if you see anything that is intellectual work, it, we’ve started thinking maybe that should just be free, when you’re, there’s that idea that if you’re, what you’re paying for the book is the paper and you’re totally not. You know?
Right, right, that’s what, that’s what a lot of people are thinking now, with e-books, it’s “Oh well, why should we pay anything near what we paid for the price of the book.” But it’s like if you look, if you actually look at a price breakdown..
You can take a few dollars off because of the physical part of it, but most of it is the editing, the paying the author, the copy editing even, all those, people who have, people who do things in the process to make a good book, you see a lot of self-published e-books, not all of them, but a lot of them we know with spelling errors in them, grammatical errors and they just, they’re not typeset well and you don’t realize how much you miss that until you get it but it doesn’t have it.
Yeah, well and that’s, Jay A. Conrad’s book at Digipalooza, he was really interesting. I mean it was really interesting to hear that from a different perspective. He, and I forget the other author’s name, both had publishing contracts at one point and then weren’t making enough money to live on that way and they ended up going through the Amazon, the self-published and they priced their books like apps, $1.99 and 99 cents and I mean they really inexpensive, but that made a bazillion dollars because people bought them in bulk basically. And it’s, you know, I mean it’s, I’m happy for this guy to have this success story, I mean I, I’m not going to begrudge anybody their success, but it was, it was funny to hear him talk about it because he did talk about publishing like it was a cartel. I mean, it was, “Yeah, you’re getting around the Man.” And I don’t think publishing views itself that way at all, it’s, and that’s like it would work for everybody, I mean this guy is an unusual and what’s her name, Amanda Hawking, she’s actually. Yeah, she, I love that, well now she’s at St. Martins or something? But I love that she’s very up front and seems very surprisingly wise about the fact that she’s clearly an exception. This is not going to work for most people, they’re not going, you’re not going to to make a million dollars selling 99 cent e-books. It’s sort of, the difficulty about any of this stuff, I mean, Radiohead can release their album for free and still have it work for them, but is that going to work, is that just, is that a good model for the music industry, or is that just because of the product, the peculiarities of Radiohead’s fan base.
Right and I remember 10 years ago or so I think Stephen King tried to do an e-book
a serial e-book that he owned, that he didn’t even finish because he was, “I’m not making any money on this at all, I’m losing money by doing this.”
Yeah, I remember that, god I totally forgot about that, that, yeah.
Because he was depending on, I think, people paying him through Paypal, or something, I can’t remember how it worked now, but it was serialized and he said, “I will keep doing this as long as I’m making money.” And he did just a few episodes and it was, “Okay, sorry.”
Well, that’s, that’s sort of a, he’s got a huge fan base, but they’re probably all thinking, “Whatever dude, you’re super rich, I’m not going to pay you.”
Right, right and he’s, “The reason I’m super rich is because I get paid.” [laughs]
Right, yeah. Well and that’s, I, I find that really, that perception part really interesting. What, and some of it is like a justification of, I shouldn’t have to pay for this because the people handing it to me have all kinds of money already, or whatever. And I understand there’s, there’s always going to be a little class rage with this stuff.
And I get it, I mean I definitely get it, but I also, part of me is, “I don’t know, my mom taught me not to steal things.” But, if somebody gives you something for free and they are okay with that then that’s fine, but you should pay for things. For anybody who has enough, who has any small, even a small amount expendable income, because then what you’re saying is, these e-books are harder to use but they’re free because it’s the library and the library is free.
And then if you’re, if you’re somebody who can afford books, you’re going to say, “Well heck these e-books are easy and they only cost me $10.”
They see people as, they see Overdrive as being something hard, even though it’s free and they can go, like you said, and they can go to Amazon or the iBook store and get the thing with one click.
Right. Yeah exactly and free can’t be the offset for easy, it can’t mean that well just because it’s free or whatever it’s going to be hard to do, or whatever. And I, their big push at Digipalooza was, “We’re making it better, we’re making it better,” and I think they’re trying really hard to respond to that, but I also understand they’re caught in the middle of, what are we gonna, they have to have that DRM there for the publisher. They’re really, they’re very much caught in the middle.
Right and I don’t mean to single out Overdrive in particular, it’s just, it is much harder to do than to purchase.
Well yeah, absolutely and I think that’s, Overdrive right now is, they’re so the primary vendor for this so we all cite that as the, I mean I do the same thing, I have a post in the hopper at TechSource about this and I realized halfway through it I was, “I’m pretty much only talking about Overdrive when I’m talking about library e-books, I don’t mean to.” Like I don’t mean to be, “Library books are problematic and it’s all Overdrive’s fault.” That’s not, that’s not at all what I think.
I appreciate a lot of what Overdrive’s trying to do, except they have a really hard, it’s really hard to balance what they’re doing. I realize they’re in a tough position.
Yeah, and they’re sort of, because they are the industry leaders for library e-books, they are the ones where everyone’s, “21 steps, RRRRRR.” Because, it’s them, it’s all them and that’s, to some extent, and every, because they are the front runners as it were. But I.
I don’t remember if it was you who said it, or maybe you were talking about Digipalooza on Twitter, but it never clicked to me before that DRM is one of the few, is one of the places that it make, that it really makes sense for library books to have, because DRM is always kind of the, “Oh no, we hate DRM, it’s horrible,” but it does make sense for library books because you need to add a “circulation period” to it.
Yeah, I don’t think it was me, but I definitely, I think that is, and again this is an area that’s all, DRM is like, it’s like band-aid, it’s like one of those words that we use when we, when we’re actually talking about is, we’re talking about it as if it’s a generic, but it’s not. There’s, actually it’s the reverse of that, there’s types of DRMs, like there’s, a lot of it is not great and a lot of it is really problematic and, but I would be curious to, if, it could be lighter weight, I get what they want it, I get why they want it to, you do need it for circulation periods, you need something to enforce circulation periods.
And maybe you don’t call it DRM because now that’s a dirty word, maybe you call it something else? But, that’s, I don’t, I don’t, and maybe, I don’t know enough about the technology necessarily, maybe there’s a different way to do that that I don’t know about, or maybe we could somehow charge overdues? I just, there’s no DRM but if you don’t bring it back, 10 cents a day.
But I do, I feel like that would not work. I can’t imagine that.
That gets into, “Oh well my file, my computer deleted it.”
So I don’t actually have it anymore, but how do you prove that?
Right. And plus I think, I, when, my, the library I worked at in 2004-2005 we got both Overdrive in that library, this was way back when it was first new, I mean there were no Kindles, no Nooks, nothing like that. It was so funny, I’m “In 2004, way long time ago,” but, in terms of the e-book.
Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.
It’s true and we had, we were making fire in caves. The, and I, I think I still have my Powerpoints somewhere, I made Powerpoints for the staff to show them how to use Overdrive in that library and I kind of want to dig them out because I want to, I don’t remember what, how it worked. I mean I, back, back, way back then with dinosaurs. I had some patron and I can’t remember who, I don’t remember if it was somebody who wanted to use an e-book, or he was just asking about e-books, or something like that, it was something, and I was explaining to him how to do the e-book thing and how to download an e-book and of course it was super complicated and you had to read it on a computer and he was, “Well why can’t I take this one out now?” And I said, “Oh, it’s because it’s, somebody else has it out,” and he was, “But, it’s an e-book,” and I was, “Yeah, that’s how it works with this, it, they’re treated like regular books and that’s the rule basically.” And.
Yeah that’s one of the harder conversations to have with patrons.
Yeah, cause then he immediately got, I think people get it more now, cause they’re, “Oh, okay.” It’s like it’s special library technology because e-books are more common and whatever, but he got super condescending and was, “No sweetheart, it’s a file, you can share it with anybody.” And I was, “Oh my golly,” I had that inner rage, I was, “Take a breath, don’t say anything for a minute, give yourself a second.”
Because you’re going to sound mad. And I was, “No, I understand, but this is, this is not how it works in this case, there are special protections built into these digital files.”
Yeah, I always try and punch it from the other end and say, “You know, well the publisher has decided to put this, has decided to put this in in this situation,” so I try and shove it on them instead of onto us.
Well and that’s, with a lot of this stuff and with any of these things we’re so. Even your ILS, I mean any library technology, most of it, we’re, it’s not of our own design.
So, even stuff like, I’m sorry that the reservation software ate your reservation, I can make you a new one, but I can’t put you at the head of the line because the software doesn’t let me, or whatever, I mean usually you can, but whatever the restriction is, it’s usually something that comes from the software, but people are, “Well why are, why are you doing this? Why don’t you let me do this?” And I think that’s a tough position, I mean for anybody to be in and I’m sure, whenever I’ve worked retail I’m, “No, the cash register does not work that way. I can’t do that.” But, it’s less, I think it’s less of a problem in a lot of other industries and libraries because we use so much technology that is from the outside world. Outside of.
Right, from the positive view of it people see us as being very technically savvy, but then when we can’t do something they’re like, “Well, but you’re the library.”
Right, right and “Why are you on purpose thwarting me?” And it’s, “ Well, sometimes it is us.” No we don’t let you place, do renewals, or you ran out of renewals, or whatever because we want to have a cap on renewals so you can’t renew it online, or whatever your internal rule is.
Yeah, but it is, it is, but then of course for the person at the front desk who may or may not of been in on the discussion about whether or not that was the rule, or the technology, they’re just,” No, I don’t know. You can’t renew it. No. Just give it back.”
The only other thing I wanted to ask you about, sort of related to e-books, not sort of related, very related to e-books, the whole, and Overdrive, the whole HarperCollins Overdrive thing that happened a while back and is still getting sorted out. There’s a lot of working back and forth with publishers and publishers are controlling the conversation with e-books as far as libraries go. I mean what do you think, how do you think libraries can really get into that and contribute to making a solution that works for publishers and libraries?
Yeah, that’s, I think, I know why I, I think I understand why this is a hard question to phrase because it’s, it’s the sort of the “What are we going to do?” question and I think everybody’s hung up there. I, and I don’t know that there’s any one answer. I, it’s almost like what day is it? Then I’ll give you a different answer. I, I know there’s been a lot of controversy around the idea of a boycott of HarperCollins. I personally, I can’t see not buying their print books because you don’t like their e-book policy, which I realize is maybe a little ugh. If you’re going to boycott them you should, but actually I can’t, for us personally I just think that’s, for me I think that’s too much, but I, I also think that maybe the word “boycott” was the wrong word. I think librarians are, we’re so driven by what we, our patrons want, it’s very hard to say this isn’t going to work for us as an organization, so we’re not going to do it. I mean, that’s a very hard thing to say, especially when your patrons are, “Why don’t you have this on e-book?” The saving grace is that we don’t have, there’s a lot of stuff we don’t have on e-book. Because anything from Simon & Schuster, or I think McMillan, we’re not gonna, it’s not going to be there, so it’s not like it’s only this one publisher that we’re not going to have, so in that sense, that is weirdly a saving grace of that. But I, I do, I do in retrospect think maybe boycott was not the word to use because it conjures up this image of people stamping their feet and carrying signs and saying, “No, bad.”
And I don’t think that was necessarily, I, for me, I mean it was never about, “Well let’s stand outside their offices and shout things.”
It was very much collectively saying, “You know what, I, this, if you feel like your library can’t afford this, can’t afford this model, or won’t be able to afford this model in the long term, then you don’t have to accept it and if several of us all say it together, “No, this model doesn’t work for us, can we please try and come up with something better?” So I think less a boycott and more of a, “No thank you, let’s talk.” Because I, that’s, to me that’s what would be the most productive and I don’t necessarily see the “let’s talk” part happening. Although maybe it is and I don’t know what other people are doing necessarily.
I think that was the initial freakout that librarians had is that in the price release or whatever that they, HarperCollins said, “Oh we’ve been working with librarians and blah blah blah blah.” And everybody was, “ Who? Who have you been talking to?” [laughs]
[laughs] “Who told you this was a good idea?” And certainly on licensing, a hybrid licensing model is not a bad idea. I, we don’t need, you, we might need to buy a bazillion copies, e-copies of something when it first comes out and then we don’t need to keep them all.
Right, that’s what we do in print, when a James Patterson comes out with a new book we buy X number of copies and then after the initial demand is gone away we sell those off.
Right, exactly! And certainly, everyone I know in libraries has had people come in and say, “Can I donate my e-books to your collection?” And things like that. People want that, it is in a way, in a way it is a print model, but it’s not a terrible model, it’s saying, “Here, if it’s just a file I should be able to give it to you and I should be able to delete it and I should be able to,” all that stuff. Certainly people rent books from McNaughton and Baker and Taylor and things like that, so I don’t, I don’t have a problem with the idea of a temporary license, I just, exclusively is a temporary license with no capacity for ownership makes me uncomfortable. Although, you.
Right, I mean the whole idea of the first sale doctrine thing has gone away with e-books.
Yeah, exactly and that’s huge for libraries. So, I mean, I think there are a lot of issues around ownership that still have to be sorted out. Especially because that has been the cornerstone of libraries for a long time and I know there are people who are saying we’re going to have to find something besides ownership to hang our hat on and I get that. I don’t know that I agree with it. I don’t know that that’s going to work. But maybe it will and that’s, I, I don’t think anybody actually knows and I think, I really do, in a lot of ways, feel for publishers. I think it’s very easy for us as libraries to be like we’re the little guy and you guys are making, and again it’s that profit motive, you guys are making money so therefore and I think there’s sort of a martyr aspect to being the tiny non-profits. And I, I feel myself drifting that way sometimes where I’m, “Well, we’re all underpaid and overworked and man, we’re not,” and this somehow makes our motives pure? I guess is the.
Right and like, “You big suits in New York, you publisher people.”
Right, exactly. Which is ridiculous because it’s, it’s not like publishing is, I mean yes it’s a big, they’re not hedge fund people, they’re not like this, like running around on private planes and stuff, they’re, and they’re book people like us, they’re committed to, I’m not saying all publishers are, that you can’t say anything, you can’t say anybody’s all wonderful, I mean I’m sure we all know librarians we don’t like who have bad motives we don’t agree with or whatever. But it’s, the, we’re all kind of on the same, in the same boat and we’re all kind of dependent on each other and folks at the Overdrive conference were making very good points about the connection. It was actually from a publisher making really good points about the connection that libraries have with readers that is invaluable to the, to authors, to publishers and all of that and Ruth Liebman from Random House was really wonderful in talking about her pro-library stance and how she tries to bring that to her authors, libraries are really going to help you, they will, they can launch your book in a way that an ad campaign can’t necessarily because so much of where their sales come from is word of mouth and we’re a big part of that.
So, I think there is, there is a real, we’re certainly dependent on publishers in a lot of ways. I do think it’s a mistake to think of them as a big, giant company that knows what they’re, they’re plotting of the future of e-books and the downfall of libraries and I don’t think that’s the case. It can feel like that cause we can feel like we have a lack of control in this, but I also, I don’t think that publishers are necessarily, I think they’re just as freaked out as anybody else because this is a huge sea change that, as several people have said to me and I, this is not a surprising piece of information, but at any point, if Amazon, or Apple, or any of these big companies comes in and says, “You know how e-books are going to work? They’re going to work like this!” And if enough people buy into that, that’s how they’re going to work. It’s not, it’s.
Right, that’s basically, that’s what they, that’s what Apple did with the music industry basically. They said this is how it works now.
Right, yeah, exactly. And everybody was, “Oh, okay.” [laughs] It is easy to, I actually just have, I have something coming out in Public Libraries. They did, they’re doing a whole, they did a whole issue devoted to, or a whole section of an issue devoted to the HarperCollins Overdrive issue and that’s my point in my contribution to that is I don’t think anybody know, I don’t think publishers know, I don’t think, I don’t think anybody is, “Okay, here’s how it’s going to work out,” and I think there are a lot of people out there in libraries with really great ideas who are definitely finding a path for their libraries, or trying really hard to do so, but, and I, and I see this now working in a consortium, we have 60 libraries in our consortium, there’s, it’s really hard to find one size fits all solutions for anything for that many organizations, just because, we have one of the largest city libraries in the state is in our consortium and a library with no bathroom it’s so small is also in our consortium. There’s no way they have the same, the same solutions for e-books, there’s just, I mean maybe, but, but how they’re going to approach this is very different.
I mean we have libraries that are buying Kindles and buying Nooks and buying iPads for their patrons to use and borrow and things like that because they want to show that they’re keeping up with technology and then we have libraries that are buying them because they want their patron, they want to help their patrons keep up with technology because their patrons aren’t there with e-books at all, or aren’t there with these technologies, so they’re, “Look it’s an iPad,” and their patrons are, “I’ve never seen one before.” And then other people who were, “How could you not have iPads because we all have them and our children have them,” and, those two types of organizations are going to have to have very different solutions. I have a hard time imagining something that’s one size fits all.
Right, well we’re all making our way blindly into the future together.
Yes and publishers are too and I, and on the one hand I don’t, I mean I don’t like the “26 Circ” idea, I’m really uncomfortable with the implication that was in a lot of that which has sort of dropped off the radar about cracking down on consortium purchasing and group purchasing. There’s no way some of our smaller libraries would be able to have their own, that’s how they’re going to offer e-books is through a group, is with the, is by resource sharing, by cost sharing and that’s fallen off the radar and I don’t know what happened to that. But, I get that they’re trying something and I don’t think they’re necessarily, I don’t think it’s malicious, I don’t think it’s any of that stuff, I just, they want to try this and I get that and I, people and there are people who are clearly willing to try it. I mean at the, at Digipalooza, there was very much, there was some pretty, it felt to me like an even divide of people who were, “Could you please put the Harper Collins books back in with the regular books because it’s a pain in the butt to have to do the same search twice, cause we’re buying HarperCollins books because we’re fine with the 26 Circ thing.” And certainly people have said to me, “Seriously, do any of them check, our books, how many books really circ more than 26 times?” And there is that practical aspect to it, although I’m disinterested in that in a way, I’m more interested in let’s find something that works philosophically but also, I mean works practically as well, but I. I mean whether or not a book will actually circ 26 times is, to me, not the point. The point is it will, libraries right now operate on the, with, on the basis of owning the materials and if you don’t own them what is, what is a library if we don’t own our, what does that mean for us? And what does that mean for what we can do? And if it’s 26 circs now, who’s to say six years from now they’re not going to say, “You know what 10 or 5” or whatever.
Right and it’s sort of taking a stand now for a, like you said a philosophical point of view.
Right, a better and a better solution that will work for everybody. I mean I certainly have no interest in eternal e-books and saying to the publishers I think I should pay $15 for this book and then get to keep it forever and ever and ever, like I get that that’s not fair and again I want authors to make money, they are our friends.
The future is ever changing obviously and in ways we don’t, I mean things can come into, I mean like the iPad is only a year and a half old, the Kindle’s only a couple, 2, 3 years old. These things just come up and completely overturn the apple cart sometimes and we have to learn to deal with it and we do.
Yeah, I mean that’s, I, the black swan, not the terrifying ballerina movie, but there’s a book a few years ago about that, about these things you don’t see coming until they already happened and then in hindsight you’re “Well we totally should have known that was gonna happen.” And it is in some ways a scary times for libraries, there could be something that comes in and basically just makes us totally irrelevant, I mean genuinely irrelevant. Or, what we see happening now is people think we’re irrelevant, of course we know we’re not and there’s all of these fantastic justifications for, and true justification and true reasons to have libraries. There are many ways in which we are absolutely not irrelevant, but if people think you’re irrelevant you kind of are, I guess and every time a new technology comes up, there’s always, “Well, that’s enough with libraries now.” The internet, I mean every and I’m sure, I sort of like that when people go back and say, “Well look at this.” There was a huge argument about whether or not libraries should circulate novels, if that was really the place of the library because novels were trashy. Or there were big arguments whether or not phone reference was a good idea and so then, of course, we had to have the argument about IM reference and we’re always going to have those sorts of issues and I think that, there’s always going to be somebody saying libraries are irrelevant. That doesn’t make it feel any less, like just because we’ve been there before and survived it doesn’t mean that this time we’re going to. [laughs] This could be it. This could be and I mean I’m not trying to be fatalistic or alarmist or anything but I do think there are, I am sort of nervous that there will be something that turns out to be the black swan for libraries, where we look back and go, “Yep, that was it, we should have seen that coming but we totally didn’t.”
Well I did like in one of your blog posts I think was, you mentioned something about, that libraries need to be a place that people want to go to rather than feel like they have to go to and I think that’s really what we need to push, is that people, make people want to come to the library.
Yeah it’s, I, we, for a lot of people we end up being the broccoli because they associate us with homework and all of those early memories and I mean a video game collection right there, or a video game program just to create that we’re not just like spinach for kids as part of that. McDonalds is a genius at this, they are not the spinach part at all, embedding themselves in people’s minds with positive childhood. I don’t even eat meat, I don’t like McDonalds, I remember the McDonalds, the birthday cake we got from McDonalds when I was like five or something, or seven. I remember the candy and the way it tasted, cause it was, I was not allowed to have a lot of junk food as a kid and it’s there, it’s this ooooh, this exciting childhood thing that. I don’t want to eat McDonalds, but that’s there as part of, and it’s embedded for a lot of us, our culture is these childhood, you got a Happy Meal and you got to eat these fries and those flavors and those tastes and all that becomes part of your associations with positive memories as a kid and I mean, they actually do this on purpose because they know about marketing and libraries, it’s like go to the library, do your homework, rar rar rah.
That replaces the positive story time memories for small kids and then, or gets entangled with it so on some levels as adults you’re “Oh I have to go to the library, okay, it’s no fun at all.” So, if a video game tournament can make a kid have a positive memory of the library, that’s going to be a taxpayer who’s happy to support you.
Yeah, yeah, no definitely. Okay, well Kate, thank you so much for talking to me for the show.
Thank you this has been really fun. I am with you, I like interview shows. I enjoy Fresh Air. I’m always amazed that I will listen to interviews with people I never knew I would be interested in.
So this is such a, such a good idea.
Thanks a lot.