28 August 2012

Books Are Not Dead!

From Book Spotter's Guide

Not for thith little black duck ...

So here are some notes from a short talk I did last night for ALIA Sydney on The Future of Reading. (It is also posted here https://informationonline2013.wordpress.com/2012/08/24/books-are-not-dead/) What follows are really just some random thoughts, not a deep, definitive or comprehensive prediction. It is a bit like Anne Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses: My theory, which belongs to me, is mine.

I started by talking about the books in my own library, many of which I've not yet coloured in. You can view those I think highly enough of to catalogue, here on LibraryThing.

The Web & rich media
Only this week I saw the "Howl" animation on YouTube and was amazed. I'd not yet seen the entire film nor read much of Alan Ginsberg's writings, but I will now. In these clips James Franco reads Ginsberg's poem and it is brought to life, illuminated by his voice, Carter Burwell's music and Eric Drooker's brilliant animation design. I think it is a great example of using the web at its best to encourage reading. From there I think it is easy to see how the web has restored reading and writing as central activities in our culture (vice sitcoms on TV) as Clay Shirky said in the Wall Street Journal in 2010.

Yes, parts of the web are ephemeral, but so too should be a lot of printed text. Just because it is printed on paper does make our reading material more valuable.

Aggregation & Disaggregation of content
I see and use a number of things that are all positive signs for the future: aggregators and personalised reader advisories (like Zite, Huffington Post, & FlipBoard - and sometimes I wonder how long they can survive as free services), piracy (Neil Young says it is the new radio for recorded music); and we could also talk about those authors who give away online books for free online  and then sell more print books accordingly, like Cory Doctorow and Seth Godin. Then there is the wonderful Interactivity we see in Zite (an app for iPads and iPhones) which learns what you like to read via voting up and down and your ongoing selection of subject matter and creators.

Disaggregation of content comes in here too because that is how aggregators work. They select and aggregate disaggregated content. Disaggregation has already happened in music (e.g. buy a song rather than whole album on iTunes) and is happening in some publishing (buy a chapter, article etc rather than whole book or issue). Some see it as a bad thing, quoting death of the book, loss of narrative form, negative effects on literacy, etc. but it can also lead to new forms of non-linear story-telling, plus it’s also not new. The great Victorian novels like those of Dickens often were serialised. I think disaggregation is particularly important for journalism now because over the last decade we've become more exposed to the variety of news sources that are now available to read via the web and hardly anyone is really going to continue to be satisfied by the one subscription to a particular news publisher (IMHO).

Revenue - new streams?
I'm an optimist here too, but we might need to be patient. I don't think we see a stable digital publishing market, particularly not for ebook lending and newspapers. As well everyone is still trying to protect and defend IP and ownership of content on a copying machine that now has global scale via outdated, unworkable and inappropriate models (e.g. Copyright law and DRM). Solutions will probably come from a range of options like micro payments, subscriptions, advertisements, application sales, premium upgrade options, renting like films, marketing associated product and memberships. Perhaps the publishing industry has a bit to learn from film and music? It does seem to be slow to react and evolve, and resistant to inevitable change

For Librarians, every year should be the National Year of Reading (NYR), we must be more active in encouraging reading, get more involved, and should not just stop what has been happening this year after 2012 comes to an end. There are many great causes that need our support like the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.  Don't stop now!

Books are not dead & neither are bikes 
Books and bikes are both great models that will survive. Just as bikes survived the motor car and aeroplanes, books too are really good at what they do. I think those of us in the reading industry (if you can actually call it that) need to understand deeply why the model and power of the printed word (and illustration!) will survive. There’s a lot more to books and reading than just efficiency of digital storage and the ability to transport 453 books with you on the tram or on holiday. Who cares that you can carry more than 400 books in your small Crumpler bag? Do we have the same experience with all ebooks? Do they form the same lasting relationships and remind us of holiday reads? Can you decorate a whole house or even one room with your Kindle? Do they capture the same attention? I'm not so sure.

Maybe some of the future for printed books will be as art and artefacts. A colleague at UTS Library Dr Belinda Tiffen says you only have to think of illuminated manuscripts or even coffee table books as art objects rather than (or as well as) just a means to convey text. So one possible future for reading could be that a lot of ‘ephemeral’ material could become purely digital (popular novels, etc.), and printed books could become more niche or specialised editions. We are also starting to see the emergence of ebooks as conveyers of design, more interesting typography, illustration, alternative endings and even interactivity with regard to story-telling, so the game isn't up yet. (My thanks to Belinda for a few of the ideas I've used here!)

The future for reading is richer for the digital age. We have even more options and the old formats like books, newspapers and magazines will have to evolve to survive. That's all!

15 August 2012

The Bookless Library?

(Reblogged from something I posted here: http://informationonline2013.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-bookless-library/)

This article in The New Republic by David A. Bell is a pretty interesting read about the NYPL and its struggle for a slice of the future, albeit on a much larger and more public scale than ours: http://www.tnr.com/article/books-and-arts/magazine/david-bell-future-bookless-library?page=0,0

Much of the ground covered in the article will be familiar to those of us interested in the subject matter, i.e. us and our institutions. It is a long read, but it covers issues including the place of books, ebooks, obsolescence of core library functions, "banishing" books from the library proper (to offsite storage), nostalgia for dead-tree books, Copyright & licensing, the consolidation of library spaces, access to knowledge, the evolution of digital formats and digitisation of text, acquisition, "curation" and building design. All in a climate of constant change. Ring any bells?

I do not think that we will become glorified internet cafes, but I do agree that change is afoot and we must change with it. I enjoyed seeing a couple of things in the article, such as: libraries as communities; a nod to the library's role in the collaborative consumption (of knowledge); and recognition that libraries are a source of crucial expertise, not least with regard to acquisition. David Bell recognises that libraries are "homes to lovingly compiled collections that amount to far more than the sum of their individual printed parts" and recognises that special collections are to be treasured. He almost starts to imagine new roles for us, but stops short of recognising those large public libraries that have already taken such steps such as the British Library (and its BIPC), The State Library of Queensland (and The Edge) and some new programs led by the NYPL itself.

Bell says, and I agree, that the digital revolution is creating the need for more spaces of physical interaction and the easy access to online academic courses will not kill off the desire to rub shoulders with fellow students and professors. He goes on to encourage more partnerships between public libraries and universities and also to advocate spaces in libraries in which readers can organise appropriate activities themselves.

What is missing? I guess some explanation and understanding of the role that librarians have in properly curating their collections as experts. By that I mean researching, acquiring, describing & arranging, promoting, exposing and encouraging the discovery of library collections, no matter what format they are. Being more active in such roles establishes a valued role for the future that cannot be eroded by the march of online services. Also I think he deals with libraries as mostly keepers of text-based, largely monograph collections and therefore he fails to recognise that knowledge and culture these days is not just contained in books and journals. Increasingly, other richer and more engaging media formats are being used for storytelling, as containers of knowledge and for the sharing of ideas. Libraries need to understand this and part of that understanding is a new more proactive research and acquisition process that comes to terms with these new creative practices. Finally, I think he might have touched on our role in encouraging public debate of pressing social issues, in part because we provide access to the knowledge that gives a deeper level of understanding, but also because we are or should be active participants in some of the themes: coping in a digital age; the democratisation of knowledge and opening access to it; and being more sustainable in our daily lives.

Thanks to Hamish Curry @hamishcurry for alerting me to this on Twitter. Let me know what you think if you get a chance.

Thinking Differently: Twitter and Zite can help

(Reblogged from something I posted here: http://informationonline2013.wordpress.com/2012/08/14/thinking-differently-twitter-and-zite-can-help/)

Here is a rag bag of different articles that you could have read and pondered over just the last 24 hours if you were a Twitter or Zite user. For those who don't know it, Zite is a great free iPad app that functions for me as a personal newspaper or reader. It knows my interests (I told it) and it learns what I like to read and delivers me more content on a regular basis without all the rubbish that clutters other services. I wonder how long it'll last like this so get in fast before Rupert kills it.
  • The e-book lending wars: When authors attack. Fear of piracy and authors against lending on principle. It all sounds awful. What is lovely is this bit: As musician Neil Young put it recently: “Piracy is the new radio — it’s how music gets around.” So true. I heard a very experienced lawyer for US musicians recently at an ideas fest in the OPera House. He said that the problem the record companies had with Napster was not that they stole their content, but that Napster could do what they could not do: distribute music really fast (online).
  • Top 10 Clever Uses for Dropbox. Normally I don't like top 10 lists, but I do like Lifehacker and I use Dropbox, so I looked at this and saw some uses that I wasn't familiar with like monitoring your computer for unauthorised access or managing BitTorrent downloads (not that I even know what a torrent file is!).
  • Twitter and Scientists. A PhD candidate shares some of the things she finds useful with Twitter.
  • Textbooks Unbound. A startup called Boundless challenges the textbook market by packaging (freely available) open access materials. This talks about moves by companies like Amazon to rent textbooks and the developing open educational resources movement (or market?). Boundless is being sued by at least three publishers. Of course it is.
  • What Will Higher Education Look Like in 2020? Tanya's maths is bad: 2020 is only eight years away, not 12. This is, however, a topic that is concentrating a lot of thought in universities at present. It is all still a bit debatable. You could look into the economics behind Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in this essay Bitter Reality of MOOConomics or another article on What's right and wrong about Coursera-style MOOCs. How do future libraries fit into all this? If you have any thoughts please send them to me. And here are Four Reasons Librarians Should Join a MOOC.
  • For those keen on sport and the recent Olympics in London there is this great article Swimming Australia's incentive model was a failure: fact. Essentially the article is about people, not sport. As a lapsed economist I agree with this sociologist's take on it all that not everything in life should be reduced to a simple cost-benefit analysis and also that sociability shapes our motivation. We do care what others think of us. I really enjoyed reading this article and the voicing of opinions like this is long overdue.
  • Putting an End to the Biggest Lie on the Internet. Those pesky Terms of Service that we all agree to! A new site aims to give more power to users by summarizing terms of service, flagging potential issues and rating apps on a scale from A (the best) to E (the worst). TwitPic gets the worst possible rating so you might want to consider future use. Thanks to @marksmithers of Swinburne Uni for that tweet!
  • BrainPickings is always good for thought-provoking content, so here's 10 Rules for Students, Teachers and Life by John Cage and Sister Corita Kent. I really like rules 4, 6 & 8. Life is short: share your passion!
  • Finally, some tips for those with iPads: a how-to guide for Blogging Using Just the iPad.
All of this was collected and shared in just 24 hours using Twitter and Zite. It is that easy.

03 August 2012

Different or the Same

Sometimes being different is all about being the same. Take the state of South Australia for instance. Not too far, I hear they like where they are. They're rolling out a program to connect all the public libraries on the one library system with all the punters using the same card. Here is the news item: http://www.libraries.sa.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=499

So it might take three years, but it'll connect almost a million SA residents with nearly five million items across more than 130 libraries and they'll soon be three years ahead of the rest of us. It is more than time we looked at doing this as a nation. If we were as clever as we think we are, we'd have done it ages ago.

Thanks to @edwardshaddow (from WA) for alerting me to this.


Shelf Life & The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

I've reblogged this from a post I did here: http://informationonline2013.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/shelf-life-the-usefulness-of-useless-knowledge/ 

I'm on the program committee for Information ONLINE 2013. Kate Davis dobbed me in. Currently we are still trying to tie down keynotes so we can tell you who they are. One thing I am allowed to say is that they'll be different.

We've all been asked to keep this blog alive on a regular basis, so this is my first post. I think my theme will be posts about being a bit different. Then again, I reserve the right to change my mind at any stage.

Anywho, on with the post, so here we go, mind the step. I saw this on Zite over the last weekend and loved it: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2012/07/27/the-usefulness-of-useless-knowledge/

I think it very nicely encapsulates a lot of our recent initiatives to deepen the impact of the Library within our community (at UTS). In many ways, if we are successful at this we build a more relevant institution for the future that helps to distinguish this University from the providers of online course materials. It is useful to look at some of the ideas raised by Abraham Flexner and why I think they are even more relevant in today's fast-paced and really dynamic online world. Here are a few quotes from the article that I found really inspiring, (but please try to read the full post):
... this dangerous tendency to forgo pure curiosity in favor of pragmatism ...
Now I sometimes wonder whether that current has not become too strong and whether there would be sufficient opportunity for a full life if the world were emptied of some of the useless things that give it spiritual significance; in other words, whether our conception of what is useful may not have become too narrow to be adequate to the roaming and capricious possibilities of the human spirit.
... the really great discoveries which had ultimately proved to be beneficial to mankind had been made by men and women who were driven not by the desire to be useful but merely the desire to satisfy their curiosity.
Institutions of learning should be devoted to the cultivation of curiosity ...
Out of this useless activity there come discoveries which may well prove of infinitely more importance to the human mind and to the human spirit than the accomplishment of the useful ends for which the schools were founded.
Justification of spiritual freedom goes, however, much farther than originality whether in the realm of science or humanism, for it implies tolerance throughout the range of human dissimilarities.
On 1 August 2012 our first Artist-in-Residence, Chris Gaul, opened his Shelf Life exhibition in the DAB LAB Research Gallery. I think Abraham and Chris would get on swimmingly. Chris has helped us to understand beyond what we know, he has given us fresh new perspectives on our challenges and presented us with stimulating original ideas to encourage the curiosity of our clients.

Shelf Life displays a few concepts for very different methods of discovery as we prepare to store up to 80% of our physical collection in an underground automated retrieval system that will be adjacent to a new and relocated library on Broadway, in the middle of our redeveloped campus. Chris recognises that in this brave new environment the nature of online interfaces for exploring the collection and browsing books becomes even more relevant. Rather than being sterile and uninspiring, these interfaces can be creative, unexpected tools that encourage playful exploration and serendipitous discovery. As Chris writes:
What if you could wear a pair of headphones and wander library shelves listening to the babble of books reading themselves aloud? What if you could tune into different frequencies of books, or use their Dewey call numbers to call them on the telephone?
That's all!

P.S. I went back and bolded the quote I used at the launch of Shelf Life. It really is amazing stuff, so if you're in Sydney come and have a look. If not, we agreed to document the three concepts by video so everyone can se how they work when used. MMB