May 14, 2013
Ebooks in public libraries...ssshhhhhh
Within the hiatus and noise that surrounds library closures and changes it is very hard indeed to make a positive stand and find some way to genuine improvement
If only Perkins could persuade councils and librarians and enthusiasts to listen she would tell a very simple tale
Firstly ebooks are actually quite a good thing. They are cheap- they are universally available and gradually slowly they begin to cover the wonderful depths of the kind of reading that people who like libraries, like to have access to. The arrival of ebooks is actually quite exciting.
For what it is worth Perkins is a rapacious reader and now she reads all the time on her phone, for goodness sake. She has discovered Richard Stark and Donald Westlake and is a happy cat and will be for a long time
The ebooks that are most popular are the books that people who like libraries want to read - thrillers, romances, childrens' books, novels and all that kind of stuff
And there is a way that every library in the country could offer every book in the world to every customer without limit and all at no cost
And Perkins knows what it is and it is beginning to be introduced in America. . Over here nobody wants to know .. so she is going to keep it a secret. ... that seems to be the safest way ... shhhhhhh
April 28, 2013
Sieghart- ebooks - and the reputation of public libraries
My post yesterday about the valuable reputation of public libraries was not just an idle swipe at the inability of the public library service to get together to organise and market itself - it had a much greater significance
Perkins is deeply involved in the debate about ebooks in public libraries in the United States and from that perspective makes the following observations
Everyone is very pleased with the Sieghart review because it says what everyone in the library world would like to happen - publishers ought to let public libraries have ebooks to lend in the same way that they lend print books
But it doesn't begin to address the questions about why publishers just aren't going to let that come about. All the tests in the world carried out by The Reading Agency are not going to change the reality faced by the big publishing companies in New York - which is where the important decisions are being made.
Much depends upon the reputation of public libraries as purveyors of reading material -
If publishers really believed that public libraries could find a profitable route to people who will read ebooks -then they would be inclined to work with them.
But even in the US - where public library usage is far greater than it is here- publishers do not believe that - and they do not incline to include public libraries, at the moment, in their solutions to the marketing of ebooks. It is better for them to concentrate on routes via Android deliverers and operators with access to huge markets like Facebook and Samsung and Nokia - there is no need to indulge the over-complicated world of public libraries
So public libraries reputation for providing a service to readers is absolutely paramount in the debate about the delivery of ebooks They have to be better than other more efficient services
If they can't even see that their own reputation is primarily as a safe place for readers to come - then there is no point in involving public libraries in the solution... and that is what is happening at present .. no one owes them a living any longer.
Unless the public library service re-thinks itself - and very quickly - probably within the next two years - there will be no meaningful access to ebooks through the public library service. The access is tiny at present and there is no need for it grow.
Just as the library information service was left behind by Google, then the library book service will be left behind by the development of ebooks . And then nobody will believe there is a need for libraries
They will have made themselves redundant.
Perkins tried to make this point to IFLA last November - but the library community is too entrenched in its own self belief - rather like the Anglican or the Catholic churches of my youth- that it cannot see there is a whole world out there which sees things differently
It is sad - but - as they say- the writing is on the wall and it spells END OF THE NEED FOR LIBRARIES - in big letters
William Sieghart may be a lovely poet - but he is not a realist in this field - and it is time to stop dreaming and hoping like a poet
Does it matter? Not really at all , because my grandchildren will be able to read every book in the world on their phone at the press of link - as I do now - and it is perfectly wonderful - someone might let some of those books be subsidised and free - which is what libraries used to do - and that is fine
April 27, 2013
The reputation of public libraries
Commercial people recognise the value of 'reputation' - it means that if you opened two bookshops alongside each other that were identical and called one 'Waterstones' and the other 'Perkins' the one called Waterstones would be far more successful
You don't have to be an anthropologist to understand that the first name conveys trust, experience, and the likelihood of finding what you want and being happy with it and the second name is unheard of (except for 64 likes on this blog)
It doesn't only apply to commerce. The British Army- for example- has a reputation for all kinds of things that one might not readily grant to the armies of some other countries. The Red Cross conveys integrity that has nothing to do with business
The public library service has a wonderful reputation. You could ask anyone in the country and they can tell you what a library does - and what they believe its qualities are.
I haven't seen any surveys, but I bet that the public library service reputation has held up in the last twenty years in a way that is not true for Parliament, the BBC, the Health service and many other institutions that used to be so respected
When one has a reputation of such high esteem there is no harm in using it to promote the values for which one has it.
The great wonder of public libraries in the UK is why they don't understand what people respect them for and why they don't promote those things - because they are very obvious and worthwhile
Perhaps that is the starting point - before we talk about changing them and adapting them and 'envisioning them' for the future. Just find out what people want public libraries to be good at now. Don't ask librarians - ask ordinary people who would use the service.
We would find- I think - that running the public library service is actually easier and more straightforward and simple than people have tried to make it - and that by simply playing to its wonderful strengths - its own reputation would carry it through.
It's too simple really... As the remarkable Councillor Henry Higgins said (confessing openly that he is not a book reader) in his own forthright manner - 'if it's a cake you put jam in it - if it's a library you put books in it'
Posted by: Trevor Craig at April 27, 2013 10:13 AM
Posted by: perkins at April 27, 2013 6:30 PM
April 13, 2013
Desmond Clarke -Chief Executive UK public library service
Hats off to Desmond Clarke - and that's not all - because the newspapers have been talking about him sitting in the bath
This is because thirty years ago he had an idea- in the bath- of a promotion for the book industry of the Best of British young writers.
That promotion included a list of some authors who became the leading writers of the last parts of the twentieth century - and they haven't finished yet
It was a superb and simple idea because it conveyed to everybody what the qualities of the book industry can be. Ok we sell - and people read - a lot of gardening books and cookery books . But actually what all of us love is good writing.
So everybody from WH Smith to the local library wanted to participate and be seen to be proud to promote the list of authors
Desmond's idea was a magic one and it worked and how
We wouldn't do it now (although someone is about to try) because the book marketing council has sort of been replaced by bodies like the reading agency and the current Arts Council whose aspirations are different.. One feels that to them good writing would be put quietly aside in case it is perceived as elitist or middle class- notions which these days are heretical
But Desmond didn't finish his brilliance thirty years ago. He has a career which includes some of the most important jobs in publishing both here and in the US
And for ten years he has campaigned for the restoration of the public library service.
He deserves so much more respect for his library work than he gets - and that is why these current newspaper articles are so heartening
In truth Desmond could be chief executive of the public library service and we would all be better off. He understands the issues and could give more inspired leadership than any of the donkeys in central or national government. He is also an extremely capable and experienced manager and acheiver
More than all those things he is an extremely nice, intelligent, cultured and educated person even if you wouldn't want to meet him in the bath
And how exciting it would be to see the library service led by those who campaign for and use it - I'd go for that -actually it could solve all the problems
Posted by: Laura Swaffield at April 14, 2013 4:28 PM
March 29, 2013
A miserable report about ebooks from William Sieghart
Two years ago I met Nancy Kranich - former president of the American Libraries Association and we talked about ebooks
The excitement she felt about them was hot and infectious - 'people will have access - all over the world - we can overcome reading difficulties - we can make millions of books available to everyone- it can all be multi-lingual so migrants can access their own languages - new ways of telling stories - making reading affordable - authors will double their readership' . The list was joyful . It was one of those conversations from which you walk away singing with excitement.
And we talked - and have talked since - and have made good progress - about how to make all these things come true. It is a hugely positive story
I confess I opened the William Sieghart report about ebooks in English public libraries with some fear this week. It doesn't help any report to start with a poem by Ted Hughes - which is a signal for something horrid about the English publishing industry ... but so
But this is the extract that gloomed me ......
"The overriding sense gathered from hearing these facts and case histories, was of the challenges posed by digital developments, rather than of the opportunities offered, combined with these concerns are the current economic uncertainties that challenge the funding of the library system, and the financial viability of the writers on whom the industry depends, of booksellers and of the publishing industry".
And this is his conclusion from the evidence he received... and so the report is full of ideas about how to restrict things and how to create 'friction' where none exists. How awful it all is
Oh how miserable - no wonder the weather is so cold and ghastly.
Can nobody see how exciting the possibilities are? Can no one ever see things from the point of view of people who will gain from them?
And, incidentally, I was surprised to see Perkins' name in the list of people who gave evidence. It's not true! I didn't! I offered to several times, but no one answered my messages. So please don't think Perkins is miserable about ebooks - she loves them - but she likes lots of kinds of books - it's her thing.
And - as a librarian would say- I am currently reading 'dirty money' by Richard Stark, bought from Bilbary.com - on my iphone.
March 21, 2013
Where is Yinnon Ezra ?
Perkins cheerfully follows what the members of both houses have to say about the library service. It is torture but so be it
It seems that the answer to the nation's public library problems lie with one man who works part time for the Department of Culture and his name is Yinnon Ezra
Perkins knows old Yinnon from long running battles to keep books in libraries in Hampshire, when he lived there - so we have the cut of his jib, so to speak - and he has even been known to ask Perkins to speak at conferences, which were enjoyable and productive
He does know the patch - so where is he ?
So far as we can tell he must be on one of those long holidays that people in the DCMS have that seem to run from October to September, all year round - give or take a few expenses-paid conferences
There are piles of letters from Bolton, Gloucestershire and Lewisham to answer - and they weren't fan mail
Come on Yinnon, your country needs you
Posted by: James Christie at March 21, 2013 7:58 PM
Posted by: perkins at March 22, 2013 8:14 PM
March 17, 2013
The solution to the ebooks in libraries problem will probably come from the US
The demand for ebooks from public libraries in the UK is still very small.
This is not helped by the large publishers who, quite reasonably, don't want to allow free access to their valuable ebooks in the same way that they have always done with print books.. so most of the ebooks that people want to read aren't available through public libraries anyway.
In the US the demand for ebooks through libraries has also been small - for the same reasons - but US libraries are much more determined to find ways to help their 'patrons' as they call them, get the services they want from libraries.. At present the kinds of books that people read in ebook form are very akin to the kinds of books people read from libraries - so there is a need. Moreover the use of ebooks in the US is now much larger per head than it is here - recent figures say that 25% of fiction is being read in ebook form - and here it is a lot less than 10%
In general the US public library service thrives. Use grows every year; budget cuts are handled with far more common sense and practical solutions tend to be found; there is a much better understanding of what libraries are for (and what budgets are for) - and less confusion about their social role. Pro rata use of libraries in the US is nearly twice, per head of population, that in the UK and generally the libraries are better.. Of course there are exceptions in both countries - but I am quoting from national figures, not local ones.
So the determination to resolve the questions that surround ebooks are much more inventive and purposeful than they are here
There is an understanding that while in theory the library service is publicly managed - there are huge commercial interests in it -as there are here- and particularly the suppliers of systems, books, data and other services in the libraries have enormous financial operations in play - and for their own self interest they want the libraries to thrive.
So there will be solutions to the ebook question, forced out of the market positions of these players and also the powerful activities of some librarians who demand that libraries shall not be destroyed
It is a fascinating process to watch. And when the solutions emerge they are likely to be universal and international (because most publishing and most library systems are international) .. and they apply just as well here in the UK as they will anywhere else
Perkins is enjoying playing a small role as it all happens
March 10, 2013
Cuts - what cuts?
Perkins attention was drawn to the endless debate about cuts in the public library service by someone (Minister, Ed Vaizey, actually) who used the expression "£820m was invested in the (English) public library service last year" . In fact that was indeed the net revenue expenditure allocated by English councils to run public libraries. In addition they allocated £140m for capital expenditure on libraries, so I think it would be fair to say that the amount invested was actually £960m
In that way the 'amount invested' , according to CIPFA, in the public library service in England in the past five years has been
Which seems to amount to a nick - rather than a cut. And it does seem a bit hard to argue that devastating cuts from central Government have forced councils to slash their library budgets - they haven't
On the other hand if libraries are being closed and book funds being cut, it does seem more sensible to ask whether councils are giving proper priority to front line services in their normal management of public libraries. One wonders whether they are managing their overhead costs properly That is where , it seems to me, the figures suggest the problem lies
At the town hall door
Perhaps that is what Ed Vaizey meant to say - or should have said
Posted by: Trevor Craig at March 10, 2013 2:36 PM
Posted by: perkins at March 10, 2013 3:37 PM
Posted by: Martyn at March 10, 2013 4:13 PM
Posted by: perkins at March 10, 2013 6:50 PM
February 24, 2013
Wasting money in the public library service
There is a national book cataloguing operation into which all publishers supply information about their titles. It is then reviewed, edited and amplified, or even corrected by expert bibliographers and then it is used by all retailers, reviewers and various national databases. In the UK it is operated by Nielsen and in the US the main source is operated by Bowker. Most of the bibliographers are professional librarians
For the purposes of most consumer books and public libraries the information it contains is perfectly adequate to do the job. For academic and professional libraries there is a need for more detailed analysis
Books are classified in 'BIC standard categories' which have been created with the cooperation of librarians
Nowadays it is communicated in Onix files which are used by all the distribution systems in the international book industry
There is no need for any public library to revise these databases or create catalogue material of their own - let alone for 200 authorities in the UK to create their own bibliographic data - nor is there any need for them to reclassify material.
If all public libraries would accept standard classifications and use onix feeds; and if all public libraries would use identical 'processing' of books - rather than operating 200 different processing 'specifications' then there would actually be need for library suppliers or bibliographers.
Pulbishers' own distribution systems could create library ready books, if the process for changing a print book into a 'library ready' book were the same for every authority
We would save the vast cost of many warehouses and distribution networks and all the systems that operate within them
We would also save all the bibliographic costs and most of the processing costs that still go on library service back offices
In fact it would only be one further small leap to realise that most of the horrendous cost of 'inter-library loans' could be eliminated if libraries simply bought a new copy of any book that was ordered - in 95% of the cases that would work perfectly well and much more cheaply than what happens now
Part of what has destroyed the public library service is the barrier that lies between publishers and libraries - and the cost that is incurred in the the immensity of those walls that lie between them .. and these are because the operating systems of librariies and those of the rest of the book industry are so different
Librarians have been taught to believe that they can specify processes and systems to suit themselves without ever realising the immense cost of what they ask for . One only has to visit the processing line at Askews to watch how every single book has to be processed differently to the one before it and differently to the one after it - to realise how totally ludicrous the supply chain for public libraries is,
Posted by: Alan at February 25, 2013 10:09 AM
Posted by: perkins at February 25, 2013 11:06 AM
February 16, 2013
Russia to purchase the English public library service for one hundred million roubles
The Russian ambassador in London has expressed 'absolute delight' at the progress of talks aimed at selling the English public library service to Russia
"It is the price that the English Government find particularly attractive", he said. "I think they need some roubles into the Treasury Bank. So we offer hundred million. No problem. "
"We have known for a long time that English Government has no great interest in book literature - they not ashamed to say that"
"However in Russia we like it often" he added
"Of course all library workpersons who are not already Russian citizens will become so. But I tell you many are already in."
"Libraries will stay open- exchange visits will be arranged - books will be coming and also Russian computer machines and cats for library"
"It is obvious cultural beneficial . International." - He finished
Posted by: James Christie at February 17, 2013 11:25 AM
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