There’s a lot we don’t say.

I hope by now that readers of this blog have already seen the excellent “Things That Make the Librarian Angry” piece by Jessamyn West over at Medium; if you haven’t already, please go ahead and read it and come back. She articulates the “frustrating truth” about e-books in libraries in a way that will have librarians nodding along, and library users understanding a bit better.

Reading West’s article finally caused something I’ve thought about a lot in the past years to crystallize, and I made this Euler diagram (I was thinking of the Project Management Triangle) to illustrate it:

Euler diagram 2014-12-17 (2)

Euler diagram of privacy, cost, and convenience. Created with Google Drawing. (Creative Commons – Attribution – NonCommercial)

Citizens – or consumers, as we’re now usually called – often have to choose between privacy, cost, and convenience. Many web services are “free,” meaning that the company providing the service is collecting your data: you’re sacrificing your privacy for convenience and no/low financial cost. In other cases, you may pay for privacy and/or convenience.

At least you get one or two of the three, though; for libraries, as West puts it, “There is no good ebook lending solution, yet.” Libraries pay more than consumers do for e-books and digital audiobooks, but that extra cost doesn’t allow us to give access to more people at a time; most lending models are still “one copy, one user” (1C1U), meaning that publishers require DRM that restricts what is otherwise technically possible.

The DRM is usually provided by Adobe, which, as West wrote, “has not been real trust-inspiring lately” in the way that they handle patrons’ personal, private data. (If you are thinking, “I don’t care who knows what I read or when,” please see “Nothing to Hide: Readers’ rights to privacy and confidentiality.”) Library privacy policies often aim for minimal data collection and retention, but our vendors might not share our ideals. (Libraries ought to use their contracts with vendors to ensure the privacy of patron data, but this hasn’t always been possible.)

Lastly, convenience: anyone who has borrowed an e-book or digital audiobook from the library in the past several years knows that it is not as easy as buying one. It is nowhere near “frictionless” (though it has definitely improved by leaps and bounds. I only hope that library users who tried to download an e-book from the library once four years ago weren’t scared off the whole thing forever, but I’m afraid there are plenty who were). I won’t speak for all librarians, but for me, it’s hard to stand at the reference desk and smile as I say “in just seventeen easy steps…”

West makes an excellent point: this “byzantine hokey-pokey dance” to access “free” material spreads a “deceptive and unnecessary ‘tech is hard’ message.” For some people, this means mere frustration, but for others – those who are under-confident in their tech abilities to begin with, who preface a conversation with “I’m computer-illiterate” or “I don’t know how to work this thing” – it’s a little bit heartbreaking.

Which brings us back to West’s opening paragraph, which I’m quoting here to close:

“I was drawn to librarianship because I like to help people, I’m organized, and I believe in intellectual freedom — people’s right to learn and teach and know whatever they want. I like technology because it can solve problems, lots of them. Sometimes the overlap between my two favorite things creates pockets of cognitive dissonance where the technology that solves a problem for the market creates one for the library and its users.”

The sooner we solve this, the better.

Lost in Austen

For my 201st (!) post on this blog, I’m going to take the unprecedented step of writing about a TV show (well, mini-series) instead of a book.

lostinaustenOn a co-worker’s recommendation, I checked out Lost in Austen, a  British (ITV) miniseries from 2008. The premise: Amanda Price is a modern-day young British woman with what seems to be a rather boring job and a less-than-romantic boyfriend; Amanda finds romance in the pages of Pride & Prejudice instead. Right after her boyfriend proposes (about as un-romantically as possible, while still being sincere), Amanda discovers Elizabeth Bennet in her bathroom. Lizzie has entered through a door that used to go nowhere, but now is a portal (sometimes) between Amanda’s bathroom and the attic of Longbourn, the Bennets’ house, right when Pride & Prejudice is about to begin. Lizzie, entranced with the electric light in the bathroom, desires to stay; Amanda goes through the little door/portal, it shuts behind her, and voila: the two have changed places.

From this point on – until nearly the end of the miniseries – the viewer stays with Amanda in P&P, with no idea what Lizzie’s up to in present-day London. This is a significant choice, as most switcheroo stories go back and forth about equally between the two characters. However, Lost in Austen focuses on Amanda (“Miss Price”) as she royally screws up how the story is supposed to go, despite her best efforts to make everything happen the way it does in the book.

Quibbles:

  • If I were Amanda, as soon as I realized where/when I was, I would endeavor to obtain some period clothes ASAP. Instead, she blunders around wearing a leather jacket, a vivid purple top with studs, pants, boots, jewelry, and makeup. Eventually she does start wearing some of Lizzie’s clothes, but she rejects one of the Bennet sisters’ (Jane or Lydia, I forget which) offers to do her hair, and she continues to wear makeup (did she have a kit with her?). 
  • At one point, Lizzie slides a letter under the still-locked portal/door, which Amanda brings to Mr. Bennet. (Amanda and Lizzie have concocted some story that Lizzie went to stay at Amanda’s place in Hammersmith, while Amanda came to visit Longbourn, chalking this up to a cute miscommunication.) However, it never seems to occur to Amanda that she might be able to communicate with Lizzie the same way (i.e. letter-under-the-door), even though she’s desperate for her to come back and fix the story.
  • Late in the series, Amanda gets fed up and rips up her beloved paperback copy of P&P, scattering the pages all over Pemberley. Darcy finds them and accuses her of being the author, despite the fact that he can’t possibly have failed to notice the difference between that book (its paper quality and its type, even if he didn’t see the page with the cataloging-in-publication information) and contemporary (to him) books.
  • Finally, despite all of the changes from the original story, Austen’s text doesn’t change to reflect it. This would seem to violate one of the rules of time travel in literature, but because the Bennets et al. were supposed to be fictional to begin with, maybe that’s the loophole. Regardless, P&P still features Elizabeth, not Amanda.

According to IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes, Lost in Austen got about 70% approval from viewers, which isn’t bad. Forever Young Adult liked it more than I did too (see here and here), so perhaps it was just really that Amanda’s bangs (“fringe,” if we’re being British) and constant reapplication of lip gloss irked me. All in all it was okay, but for a real Austen fix I’d just go back to the BBC miniseries, or even the 2005 movie adaptation. Hugh Bonneville makes a good Mr. Bennet, though.

(I realize that most of this “review” is made up of quibbles. I’m not always so critical about TV, and I don’t even believe that the book is always better than the movie in cases of adaptations. I mean, usually the book is better, but not always.)

Hello, World.

Friends, colleagues, future employers, lend me your ears…or, in this case, eyes. This is my personal website, where you can learn about my educational history and professional experience. You can also find links to my other sites and profiles on the internet, and contact me if you’d like to. I hope you find this useful, and that 2011 is a good year for us all.