BEA 2014 Part Four: Buzzy and Boozy

BEA14FriBookExpo America, Day Three (continued)

Read about the first two sessions of Day Three here.

The Librarians Book Buzz Part II continued in much the same vein as Part I. I’ll use the same format, highlighting just a few titles I found interesting from each publisher:

  • From Random House: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (think IKEA meets haunted house)
  • From Penguin: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (author of Me Before You); The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters; The Secret Place by Tana French; Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer; and If I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel
  • From W.W. Norton: An Italian Wife by Ann Hood; The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows); The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson; and the graphic novel Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
  • From S&S: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen; As You Wish by Cary Elwes (about whom more later); We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas; The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
  • From Workman: The High Divide by Lin Enger, and several big beautiful nonfiction books, from dinosaurs to whiskey to molecules and the ocean.
  • From New York Review Books (not to be confused with the New York Review of Books): The Burning of the World by Bela Zombory-Moldovan; Conversations with Beethoven by Sanford Friedman; and Blackballed: The Black Vote and U.S. Democracy by Daryl Pinckney

I can definitely recommend One Plus One and The Secret Place, having already read the galleys, and I’m looking forward to several of these others. The to-read list grows! (That’s the only thing it does. Never gets any shorter, only grows.)

Librarian Shout ‘n’ Share

Moderated by Barbara Genco of Library Journal, this panel was both buzzy and boozy (one suggested hashtag was #vodkaatBEA). The panelists:

  • Douglas Lord, LSTA Coordinator, Division of Library Development, CT State Library, longtime Library Journal book reviewer and Books for Dudes Columnist
  • Alene Moroni, Manager, Selection and Order, King County Library System (WA) and a 2013 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker”
  • Charlene Rue, Deputy Director of Collection Management, BookOps: The shared technical services organization of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library
  • Etta Thornton-Verma, Library Journal Reviews Editor (NY)
  • Jamie Watson, Collection Development Coordinator, Baltimore County Public Library (MD) and a 2008 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker”

My notes from this session are a bit haphazard due to the pace of the panel and people jumping in with suggestions and comments, so I may not have ascribed all the suggestions correctly. I’m just going to list books that I first heard about at the Shout ‘n’ Share, omitting any that I’d already heard about during BEA (from the Editors’ Book Buzz, Librarians’ Book Buzz, giant posters hanging in the exhibit hall, etc.).

Shout ‘n’ Share finds: Fiction

Shout ‘n’ Share finds: Nonfiction

And that was the end of BEA for me. Stay tuned for a (very belated, by now) recap of BookCon.

BEA 2014 Part Three: Publishers, Public Libraries, and the Public

BEA14FriBookExpo America, Day Three

Rebecca Miller, Editorial Director of Library Journal and School Library Journal, moderated a panel discussing “The Untapped Retail Channel: Public Libraries.” Miller wrote an excellent editorial piece before BEA, “Market Powerhouse: A Library Sale is Just the Beginning,” in which she argued, “It’s hard to ignore just how fundamentally important libraries have become to the potential success of a book—that is, if you pay attention to a few simple facts and are willing to question persistent myths.”

The panel included – it must be said – six white guys: George Coe, CEO of Baker & Taylor; Brian Downing, CEO of Library Ideas; Jeff Jankowski, VP and co-owner of Midwest Tape; Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive; Rich Freese, CEO of Recorded Books; and Matt Tempelis, business manager of 3M. These companies have all already recognized libraries’ ability to reach readers, although libraries remain a “silent market” to publishers. The way Jankowski sees it, “there’s a library in every town in North America,” and the purpose of his company is to get rid of artificial market constraints and give libraries tools to make their jobs easier.

Potash said, “Retail is about creating more readers.” With Overdrive, he aims to provide the best content and most availability for the best value. Freese, whose company provides audiobooks to libraries, said “all books are not the same”; he suggested different models for different books (for example, simultaneous use for debut and backlist titles, 1 copy/1 user for bestsellers). “Librarians want to promote books & authors,” so enable them to do that.

Tempelis agreed that the library market grows the publishing business. There is no “erosion,” i.e. a copy of a book borrowed from a library does not equal a lost sale; rather, people discover books and authors in libraries and go on to purchase them. “We have been listening to libraries and librarians and patrons,” Tempelis said, and their goal is to create a system that is  “intuitive, integrated, synchronized.”

A few more salient points came up during the Q&A. By offering training on e-reading devices, librarians are helping with the physical to digital transition. Libraries loan devices, teach classes, market e-books, and even work with schools. The message to publishers? “Give libraries and readers a better experience. How can publishers let libraries help them reach readers? Stop treating them as adversaries….Libraries are reasonable people willing to pay reasonable money for a better experience.” If publishers make books available in as many formats and models as possible, they will reach more readers. Offer better terms, lower prices, and less friction-creating DRM.

All of this sounded good to the audience, which consisted of many more librarians than publishers, but hopefully the message is getting across.

Unshelved Presents Too Much Information

I missed the very beginning of this talk because I was finishing lunch (say what you will about the Javits, what other conference center has matzah ball soup and knishes on offer?), and when I came in there was a sort of role-play going on, with audience participants earning bottles of beer for imitating patrons in various situations. The presenters then launched into their talk, accompanied by a clear, funny, occasionally depressingly true slideshow. “Too Much Information” had a double meaning: it referred to the amount of information available in the world and the difficulty of sifting the good from the bad that this glut presents, and it also referred to a few brutally honest opinions/truths that have occurred to many librarians, but that we don’t often voice.

“The problem is that we are still informed by our culture.”

Library patrons today have unrealistic expectations of immediate results, but the quickest answer isn’t always best; speed devalues reference service. There’s a false belief that “every question has a fast, easy answer.” This belief stems in part from traditional reference books, such as dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, atlases, and factbooks, but the Internet has exacerbated the problem exponentially. Still, librarians are trying to compete with search engines, which return millions of results in seconds (though, as Neil Gaiman has said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one”). It’s a vicious cycle.

unshelved_bestquickanswer

Historically, librarians have been gatekeepers and curators. “Books looked valuable because they were valuable.” Books represent an author’s labor and a publisher’s belief; they have been “vetted” by publishers, reviewers, and librarians. Much online content, unlike books and other physical library materials (magazines, newspapers, movies, music), has not been vetted, yet “people trust it anyway,” considering all information equal. Librarians and other info-savvy folks know that isn’t the case.  (It may be true that “librarians are better at searching than you,” but it sounds bad.) Today, too, “book” no longer equals “quality” either, because “anyone can publish anything.”

The Internet also presents the problem of the filter bubble; people are naturally inclined to read sources that confirm their views rather than challenge them (e.g., not many liberals watch Fox News). When a search engine tailors its results specifically to you, you are rarely confronted with anything you disagree with. Libraries, on the other hand, support different cultural views, offering different viewpoints on the same subjects. (If you’re browsing the poli-sci section, you’ll come across books by liberals and conservatives; even if you only choose to read the ones that are likely to reinforce your own views, at least you’ll know the others exist.)

As people’s limited attention shifts away from books toward other media, some libraries’ message becomes “Come for the Internet, stay for the books.” We put computers in libraries to attract patrons at a time when home computers weren’t necessarily commonplace. After all, books used to be much more expensive, leading to the library as a place for “shared community resources.” Maybe, the Unshelved guys suggest, that mission is defined too broadly, so that in the end we are spread too thin, and not doing anything well.

“In the old days people needed libraries more than libraries needed patrons,” but now it’s the opposite, leading to a “whatever it takes to keep the building open” mentality. But we must remember that we can’t please all of the people all of the time, and we need to “have some dignity” and “reassert our classic identity” (keywords: authority, community, quality, books). We need to “set a high bar for acceptable behavior.” When librarians went from being stern to being approachable, it was a slippery slope from “approachable” to disrespected. We need to reestablish the value of librarians. Stop trying to compete with search engines: provide context for information, be human, have an opinion (politely), and slow down – remember that the best answers are not the quickest answers. Read nonfiction, and “stop buying crappy books” – the noise-to-signal ratio is getting worse. Make people wait longer; ride out the trends (like 50 Shades of Grey). Set a high bar for readalikes. Buy good books. “In the age of too much information, we really need libraries to be libraries.” Trust/know that people need you; consider the library as the center of the community.

This was a great talk, punctuated by much laughter. I don’t agree with every point made here; I don’t believe librarians should go back to being stern and unapproachable, or that the library should be a place of silence and whispers (though it’s nice to set aside at least some quiet space). However, I do believe in the value of a thorough answer over a quick one. It isn’t always easy to convince patrons at the reference desk to wait a minute for more complete information; as illustrated by the Unshelved strip below, sometimes people walk away mid-answer, which is rude as well as self-defeating. Nevertheless, we should try to take the time at every reference interaction to understand the question and answer as completely as possible.

unshelved_twelve

This is quite long enough, so I’ll get to the Librarians Book Buzz Part II and the Librarian Shout ‘n’ Share in the next post.

BEA 2014 Part Two: LibraryReads and Librarians Book Buzz

BEA14ThursBookExpo America, Day Two

I’ve been a fan of LibraryReads since it first appeared on the scene last September, so while the panel didn’t offer a lot of new information, it was a great reminder that all library staff can (and should!) participate in the nomination process.

Steering committee members Stephanie Anderson from Darien Library, Melissa DeWild from Kent District Library, Robin Nesbitt from Columbus Metropolitan Library, and Kaite Stover from Kansas City Public Library gave an overview of LibraryReads, which was inspired by the question “Where is the IndieNext for libraries?” The monthly LibraryReads lists feature some familiar authors and some new ones. LibraryReads is a volunteer-run, publisher-supported marketing and readers’ advisory tool for libraries and publishers, and should help increase libraries’ relevance with publishers by demonstrating librarians’ power to “hand-sell” titles to readers: “We can help launch great authors and their books.”

The LibraryReads list is also a helpful tool for librarians. “These are ten books you can pretend you’ve read,” or at least tell potential readers, truthfully, “My colleague loved it” – even if your “colleague” is a librarian across the country.  LibraryReads lists can be used for collection development purposes, and lists and books can be used in displays, for book groups, and mentioned on social media.

Anyone who works in a public library is eligible to nominate books for the LibraryReads list; just register through Edelweiss. You can find advance copies of books through Edelweiss, NetGalley, publishers’ newsletters, blogs, social media, or other newsletters like Shelf Awareness or EarlyWord. You can vote for a book without writing a review if you’re pressed for time or not sure what to say, or you can write a quick blurb (final reviews on the list are only 450 words).

LibraryReadsSome tips on writing reviews:

  • Start strong and get to the point
  • Sum up the action in 1-2 sentences
  • Mention who might like the book
  • What are the appeal elements?
  • End strong
  • Remember, “your audience is someone who is dying to read a book.”

There are more tips on the “For Library Staff” section of the LibraryReads site. This is a great initiative that all library staff can participate in. Right now the list is limited to adult fiction and nonfiction, but there is the potential to expand to include children’s books as well, and teen books that appeal to adults are welcome (E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars was the #1 book on the May list).

BEA14LibraryReads

The Librarians Book Buzz (Part I) was a rapid-fire stream of titles and authors from eight different publishers. Here are a few of the titles that caught my interest, with links to Edelweiss:

These are, of course, just a few of the several titles mentioned; publishers’ websites and their catalogs in Edelweiss offer many many more. And this was only Part I of the Buzz…more to come!

 

BEA 2014, Part One: When we love a book, we can’t stop talking about it

Thanks to Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes (perhaps better known as “the Unshelved guys“), I got to go to BookExpo America (BEA) for free this year. I built a schedule in advance with the BEA show planner, and ended up following the schedule pretty closely.

BEA14WedThe keynote on Wednesday afternoon, “The Future of Bricks and Mortar Retailers,” was focused on booksellers, but much of it could apply to libraries as well. Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association, noted that there was a “real resurgence in indie bookselling,” and that “localism” was becoming a powerful movement (“Small Business Saturday” being one example). However, it’s still a challenge to convince customers to think of bookstores as places to buy e-books.

Michael Tamblyn, president of Kobo, acknowledged that the virtual browsing experience doesn’t (yet) match the physical, but that booksellers could be strategic about what books they stock in print. Romance novels, for example, sell better in e-book format, so it’s less important to have them on the shelves – just point customers toward the e-bookstore. Cookbooks, gift books, and picture books, however, are much more popular in print.

John Ingram, CEO of Ingram, said of digital and print, “it’s not either/or, it’s either/and.” Many readers buy both print books and e-books; this is supported by research from Library Journal. On the limited (thus far) success of bundling a digital book with the purchase of a print book, Ingram said, “Somewhere in there, there are economics that work for everybody.” Ingram also proposed that “each [bookstore] could be a publisher.”

Joyce Meskis, owner of the Tattered Cover bookstore, had great advice about connecting to the community and attracting customers. Tattered Cover has 500-600 events annually, including storytime, author events, and “Book Happy Hour.” She recommended using media, including public radio and podcasts, to “be part of the story.”

BEA14_tatteredcoverOf course, the keynote wouldn’t have been complete without a dig at the ongoing Amazon/Hachette issue; indie booksellers “make ALL publishers’ books available all the time.”

BEA14buzz

Next was the BEA Editors’ Buzz. Robert Sindelar from Third Place Books in Seattle moderated a panel of seven editors, each of whom raved about one book from their list. Sindelar said he initially had a negative reaction to the word “buzz,” but said it connotes activity; “When we really love a book we can’t stop talking about it.” The best editors and salespeople, he said, are “cool, have good taste, and know how to talk about books.” All editors on the panel fit this description, and after the event there was a mob around the tables of galleys that resembled hyenas feasting on a carcass. (Note to the organizers: Spread the galleys out. Use more than two tables for a room of a few hundred people. Have an exit plan. Have signs. Encourage people to form lines. Etc.) Though the print galleys disappeared in a flash, e-galleys should be available through Edelweiss. Here are the titles and authors:

  • Jenny Jackson from Knopf called Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel “a requiem for the world as we know it.” This “plausible and terrifying” book, which she compared to Peter Heller’s The Dog Stars, is about art and fame, and has already garnered positive word-of-mouth buzz.
  • Marysue Rucci from S&S described Matthew Thomas‘ ten-years-in-the-making We Are Not Ourselves as an “epic” of three generations of an Irish family in New York, a novel that describes “the great unwinding of the middle class” and “resilience in the face of disappointment.”
  • Lee Boudreaux from Ecco mentioned a slew of comp titles for The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, including Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, The Song of Achilles, Slammerkin, and The Signature of All Things. Suspense builds in this “dollhouse mystery” set in 1700s Amsterdam.
  • Jeff Shotts from Graywolf Press was aware of the irony of his last name when introducing On Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss. This slim work of nonfiction addresses parents’ impulse to protect themselves and their children, as well as issues of race, class, and government, and the “far-reaching ramifications” of the “implications of vaccination.”
  • Amy Einhorn touted My Sunshine Away by M.O. Wilson from her eponymous imprint. Like The Help, My Sunshine Away is set in the South, and the story is inseparable from the setting. A debut novel and a literary mystery, My Sunshine Away is about adolescence, family, memory, and forgiveness.
  • Josh Kendall from Little, Brown admitted that author Laird Hunt was “not the new guy,” but that Neverhome was going to be his breakout novel. Hunt discovered a trove of letters in a family barn in Indiana, and those letters inspired this tale of a woman who goes to war in place of her husband.
  • Colin Harrison from Scribner closed the session with The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League But Did Not Survive by Jeff Hobbs, Peace’s roommate for two years at Yale. This is a true tale of poverty, race, education, drugs, murder, discrimination, and fate.

And that was just the first day. Stay tuned for more.

Elizabeth McCracken in conversation with Paul Harding at Porter Square Books

thunderstruck“I’m just tickled to see you all here,” Elizabeth McCracken said to the audience after a Porter Square Books staff member and author Paul Harding introduced her. McCracken is a former public librarian and the author of Here’s Your Hat What’s Your Hurry: Stories (1993), The Giant’s House (1996), Niagara Falls All Over Again (2001), the heart-wrenching memoir An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination (2008), and, this year, Thunderstruck and Other Stories. McCracken said that she had thought she might not go back to writing stories, but when a novel she was writing wasn’t working out, “I tossed it aside and it broke into pieces.” Three of those pieces, including “The Lost & Found Department of Greater Boston,” made it into Thunderstruck.*

The conversational format was excellent, especially as both writers are extremely – and in Harding’s case, surprisingly – funny (Paul Harding is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Tinkers, a lyrical but decidedly un-cheery book), and McCracken taught Harding at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, so they know each other well. Harding, a former drummer (?!), asked how McCracken settled on the sequence of the stories in Thunderstruck. They are not organized in the order she wrote them, but the oldest, “Juliet,” is first, and the newest, “Thunderstruck,” is last.

They talked about the recurring themes in McCracken’s work, particularly loss and missing people. “I just repeat the same things over and over again,” said McCracken. “A finite deck that you keep reshuffling,” agreed Harding, but while “it’s easy to keep most stories at arm’s length if you want to,” that’s impossible with McCracken’s work. She is fond of writing in the second person, which can be effective at drawing the reader in, but also has its risks.

Harding used this example:
[Author writing in second person] “You’re in a bar on a Tuesday night, snorting coke–“
[Reader reaction] “No, I’m not.”

McCracken’s “you” is more generalized, though, and works well; she shifts from third person to second so smoothly the reader may not even notice at first (“Whatever you have lost there are more of, just not yours.”). She was self-effacing about Harding’s praise (“Anything I do is entirely accidental”), but I suspect there’s rather more to it than that.

Speaking of her fascination with lost people, including relatives she’d never met, she said, “Grandfather McCracken was a genealogist.” (She pronounced it jenny-ologist, a career I’m fairly certain no one has, except possibly an obsessed young man in a yet-to-be-written Nick Hornby novel.)

They moved on to talking about the writing process. “Writing is not a particularly efficient process,” said Harding; he compared it to archaeology, digging through the rubble and picking the best bits. They talked about truth in fiction, and the “distinction between imaginary and factual truth.” McCracken, with good humor, called it “aggravating” when something she had made up turns out to be true.

sinewave_credo

Sine wave illustration from The Penguin Dictionary of Science

Harding observed that McCracken writes in “experienced time, not linear time,” and is great at “not over-determining.” He described a sine wave with his hands in the air: “Anything between here [top of sine wave] and here [bottom of sine wave] could have happened.” It’s a way of acknowledging that “somewhere in the universe, things are different.”

“It was on this day, a Monday, that we first saw Juliet.”

McCracken read from the beginning of “Juliet,” then the Q&A began. Someone asked a version of the “Where do you get your ideas?” question, and McCracken answered, “Stories can arrive in any different way…Every story in this collection occurred in a different way.”

How do you shift between the story and novel formats? “Writing a great short story is harder than writing a great novel.” She might one day write a great novel, she said, but “I am never going to write ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find.'” While that point is indisputable, and it’s true that Elizabeth McCracken is not Flannery O’Connor, this overlooks the fact that she is Elizabeth McCracken, and many readers would respectfully argue that she has already written great short stories.

Do you write poetry? “I used to write poetry. It was really bad.” She would go to poetry readings and become inspired to write poetry, but then realize, “I don’t want to write poetry; I want to write that poem you just read.” She said, “Poets are better at leaving things out.” Dream Songs by John Berryman is a favorite collection of hers.

While poets may know when to leave things out while they’re writing, McCracken knows when, where, and how to cut something she’s already written. She said it is easy for her to cut whole pages and paragraphs, but to cut “a single sentence pains me.” She is unsentimental about her writing, to the point of scrapping whole stories entirely. (At this point, I’m sure a few people in the audience considered stealing her trash in order to read these abandoned stories.) Harding asked, “If you have to cut a line you love, do you ever smuggle it into the next thing?” YES, McCracken answered, no matter how many tries it takes. And some things reappear again and again: “I’ve written a house fire into everything I’ve ever written.” McCracken is likewise fond of writing about cake, furniture, and corpses in the walls. (Need I say there was more than the average amount of laughter at this author event?) Harding suggested that these things provide the armature “while you figure out what the story is really about.”

I wanted to find a way to ask Elizabeth about the following passage from “Peter Elroy: A Documentary by Ian Casey.” Surely, only someone who taught writing could or would write such a passage:

     Somewhere, a dog barked. No, it didn’t. Only in novels did you catch such a break, a hollow in your stomach answered by some far-off dog making an unanswered dog-call. Dogs were not allowed at Drake’s Landing. Still, surely, somewhere in the world a dog was barking, a cat was hissing, a parrot with an unkind recently deceased owner was saying something inappropriate to an animal shelter volunteer.
     Outside, in the light from the Drake’s Landing floodlights, the snow sparkled like something that wasn’t snow. Diamonds, or asphalt, or emery boards.

How has teaching affected your writing? She replied that she had included the cliche sentence “Somewhere, a dog barked” because Ron Charles had said something about it on Twitter and, being “so bloody-minded,” McCracken wanted to include it in her next book. I couldn’t find the original Twitter exchange, but I’m calling this McCracken 1, Ron Charles 0.

Why did you choose “Thunderstruck” as the title? “I really like past tense verbs.” She’s interested in “what happens right after a disaster.” She also pointed out a strange fact: thunderstruck is a word, but lightningstruck isn’t – even though thunder doesn’t actually strike and lightning does.

Do you know where the novel is going when you start? “I know who’s alive at the beginning and who’s dead at the end,” but not how. (How Shakespearean!) McCracken was careful to note that her process works for her, but that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. “Every single writer is different. All that matters is that you manage to write from the beginning to the end.” McCracken writes chronologically, from page one through the end, then moves things around. (Cake, furniture, corpses, fire.) “Your job is to figure out what your process is” – there is no one right way. The “terrifying and wonderful” thing about fiction writing is “there are no rules. Absolutely no rules.”

McCracken told of being on a panel with her friend Ann Patchett when an audience member asked, How do you know you’ve chosen the right scene to write? In fiction writing as in life, Patchett said, “You make a decision and you stick with it.” McCracken revealed that for some, there is more second-guessing, regret, and doubt involved. “The way that you write fiction is the way you process life,” she said. Then she introduced a cooking metaphor: If writing a novel (or short story) was like making a souffle, she could stand in front of a room and teach people how to do it. Difficult, yes, but there are steps to follow; it could be done. However, “There’s no souffle in fiction writing…All you can do is make the stew you’re going to make.” (Harding said of his own creative process, “I feel like I’m taking dictation from the universe. If I’m sitting in front of the drums it comes out as rhythm, if I’m at a laptop it comes out as words.” A lovely idea, but again, there’s probably more work involved than that.)

Overall, an absolutely lovely evening. I’m so glad I got the chance to see her speak!

Someone at Porter Square Books was live-tweeting the talk.

 

*Edited to add 5/23/14: elizmccrackentweetSo there you have it!

MLA Conference 2014, Day Two (Thursday)

Screen shot 2014-05-08 at 8.53.24 PMHarvard Library Innovation Lab: Pop-Ups, Prototypes, and Awesome Boxes

Annie Cain, Matt Phillips, and Jeff Goldenson from the Harvard Library Innovation Lab  presented some of their recent projects. Cain started off by introducing Awesome Box: the Awesome Box gives library users the opportunity to declare a library item (book, audiobook, movie, TV show, magazine, etc.) “awesome” by returning it to an Awesome Box instead of putting it into the book drop. Library staff can then scan the “awesome” items and send them to a custom website (e.g. arlington.awesomebox.io), where anyone can see the “recently awesome” and “most awesome” items. Instead of librarian-to-patron readers’ advisory, it’s patron-to-patron/librarian. Cool, fun, and easy to use! “Awesome” books can also be put on display in the library.

Phillips talked about the idea of “hovermarks,” bringing favicon-style images to the stacks by placing special bookmarks in books. Patrons or librarians could place a hovermark in a book to draw attention to local authors, Dewey Decimal areas, beach reads, favorites, Awesome Box picks, or anything else. It’s a “no-tech” way to “annotate the stacks.”

Goldenson floated the idea of a Library Community Catalog, inspired by the Whole Earth Catalog. The Library Community Catalog could contain real things, ideas, speculations, interviews, or other articles. It could be “hyper-local,” in print and/or online.

Of the three ideas presented, Awesome Box is definitely the most developed, and Harvard, which “isn’t necessarily known for sharing,” is eager to get it into public libraries. Contact them if you’re interested in setting it up at your library!

Libraries are Keeping Readers First: An Update on the National Initiative and How You Can Participate

Readers First is “a movement to improve e-book access and services for public library users.” Kelvin Watson from Queens Library and Michael Santangelo from BookOps presented an update on this initiative, explaining the work that’s been done thus far and how far we have to go. The more people (and libraries) sign on, the stronger the team, the better ability to effect change. Already, said Santangelo, Readers First represents over 20 million readers.

Screen shot 2014-05-09 at 3.57.31 PM

It’s worth going to the Readers First site (link in the previous paragraph) to read their principles. The two main challenges regarding e-books in libraries are availability and discoverability/access. Availability is an issue with the publishers; the issues of discoverability and access can be taken up with the vendors. Because libraries are only indirectly connected to publishers, but directly connected to vendors, Readers First decided to focus its efforts on the discoverability/access challenge.

Santangelo said that Ranganathan’s Five Laws of Library Science applied to e-books also (save the time of the reader, (e)books are for use, etc.) and that libraries have a responsibility to ensure open, easy, and free access to e-books the same as we do for print books. However, the e-book experience now is fragmented, disjointed, and cumbersome, creating a poor user experience. This is where the four Readers First principles come in: readers should be able to discover content in one comprehensive catalog; access a variety of content from multiple sources; interact with the library in the library’s own context; and read e-books compatible with all e-reading devices.

A Readers First Working Group sent a survey to vendors in order to create a guide to library e-book vendors. This guide will help librarians who are choosing an e-book vendor for the first time, or moving from one to another; it will also help vendors design their systems and decide what to prioritize.

Watson said that libraries should see vendors as partners, and challenge them to “do the right thing.” Librarians should hold all vendors accountable to the Readers First principles, with the end goal of a seamless experience for the user. The long-term objective, said Michael Colford of the Boston Public Library, is to “have the discovery layer be the platform.” Until then, we’re relying on APIs. “We can make things less complicated, but we can’t make it easier,” said Santangelo.

Readers First is working with the National Information Standards Organization (NISO) to develop standards for e-books, but according to Watson, the perfect format hasn’t been invented yet. (Other than PDFs, most e-book files are proprietary formats, wrapped in DRM and not usable across devices.)

MA E-Book Project

Deb Hoadley presented an update on the Massachusetts E-Book Project on behalf of the Massachusetts Library System. I was already familiar with the project because Robbins is one of the pilot libraries, but it was good to review the history, see where the project had hit snags, and hear from other librarians at pilot libraries (Jason Homer from Wellesley and Jackie Mushinsky from WPI) about how they had introduced the project to patrons.

150x71-MA-EbooksYou can read about the project’s history, the RFP, and see updates on the website, so I want to use this space to draw a parallel between the MA E-Book Project and Readers First. Although the pilot consists of three different vendors (BiblioBoard, Baker & Taylor (Axis 360), and EBL) with three different models, the end goal is a single e-book platform that offers integrated and seamless discovery. Any Massachusetts resident would have access through this user-friendly platform to e-content that is owned – not licensed – by Massachusetts libraries; local content would also be hosted and discoverable.

Although we are far from this goal right now, “Our vendors are listening to us,” said Homer. He said that participating in the pilot project has enabled him to start conversations with patrons about how much we spend on e-books now and why we need a new model. Mushinsky, who added local content through BiblioBoard, said that we need to ask, “Will this resource be of value to us? Can we add value to it?”

I came away from these two sessions (Readers First and the MA E-Book Project) convinced that we have the right goals, and dedicated people working toward them, but a little depressed at how far we have to go. Slowly but surely…


Teaching the Tools: Technology Education in Public Libraries

Clayton Cheever live-blogged this session; his notes are posted on the Teaching the Tools site.

Anna Litten from Wellesley did an excellent job moderating this informative panel. Litten and the other panelists (Michael Wick, Theresa Maturevitch, Jason Homer, and Sharani Robins) built a website called Teaching the Tools: Libraries and Technology Education, which they hope will serve as a resource going forward. To borrow from the site: “All reference librarians are technology trainers, educators and instructors these days.  But what does it really mean to teach technology topics in public libraries?  What can and should we teach?  How does technology instruction fit into our broader mission and core responsibilities?  What resources are available to use and to our clients?  How do we become better presenters and instructors?”

The panelists addressed these questions during the session. They all teach in their libraries, but the teaching takes different forms. “I teach to whatever question comes to the door, in whatever way the learner can understand it,” said Wick. Maturevich talked about printed brochures, online resources, and videos; Robins talked about beginner classes, one-on-one sessions, and “Wired Wednesday,” when patrons can drop in for tech help. Robins has also had reps from Barnes & Noble and Best Buy come in to help people with e-reading devices, and she often uses the resources at GCF LearnFree.org. Homer teaches intermediate classes in the Wellesley computer lab, and other Wellesley staff teach beginner classes. Clearly, there are many approaches, and flexibility is key.

Litten suggested taking the time to read instructional design blogs; most librarians don’t have a background in instructional design, but the field does exist and there’s a lot we can learn. “We have to focus on what’s going to work,” she said. “If it’s not working, abandon! Abandon!”

What to do when you offer a class and no one shows up? Wick and Litten talked about forming partnerships in the community. “We can be really useful to you in ways you didn’t even realize,” said Litten. “Listen,” Wick encouraged. Ask people, “What do you want? We’ll give it to you.” As for whether teaching technology is part of the library’s mission, Wick said, why wouldn’t it be? “We help everybody with everything else. Why aren’t we helping them as much as we can, more than they’re asking?” Find your audience first, said Wick, then design your classes.

Some library staff are reluctant to teach classes, but that isn’t the only kind of teaching. Nor do tech teachers have to be experts; in fact, said Wick, good teachers can be just one step ahead of their students. Knowing the librarian/teacher is not an expert but a fellow learner can put patrons/students at ease. Confronted with a question she doesn’t know the answer to, Maturevich often uses the line, “I don’t know either, but this is how we find out.”

“Good instruction depends on having good goals,” said Litten. “We’re already doing these things, we just need to do them a little bit better.”

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That’s all, folks! If you missed it, you can read about Wednesday’s sessions here (part 1) and here (part 2).

See the whole MLA conference program here [PDF]

 

MLA Conference 2014, Day One (Wednesday), Part Two

Read a recap of the first three sessions of the day in Part One.

Working with and Managing Multigenerational Staff/People

In a day full of really good sessions, this might have been my favorite. Presenter Cally Ritter was fantastic: organized, energetic, a skilled moderator who blended small group talk with lecture and discussion. The lack of diversity in libraries is a common topic, and it’s true that in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, library staff skews toward middle-class Caucasian women, but in terms of age, library staff spans the whole range:

“Traditionals” (b. 1945 or earlier; 69+) 4% of the workforce
“Baby Boomers” (b. 1946-1964, 50-68) 44% of the workforce
“Generation X” (b. 1965-1980, 34-49) 44% of the workforce
“Generation Y” (b. 1981-1999, 14-33) 8% of the workforce

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In small groups, we talked about what characterized each generation, from pop culture (TV/movies, music, hairstyles) to historical influences to preferred working styles. Because of the generational differences, Ritter said, we all need to “upgrade” from the Golden Rule to the Platinum Rule: Treat others as they wish to be treated. In order to do that, we need to listen to what people want. Ritter suggested having a conversation about preferred communication styles (face to face, phone, e-mail, paper memo, text, etc.) and then establishing norms (because it’s not efficient to send the same message through five different channels). In a situation where coworkers’ communication styles are different, Ritter asked, whose responsibility is it to shift their style? Who needs to change? (Answer: Yes!)

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The age diversity among library staff as compared to other professions is remarkable. What could be the cause? One idea is that the age diversity of staff reflects the age diversity of the “customer base” – library users are all ages. One audience member/participant said, “We need all these generations to do what we do.” To which Ritter responded that every workplace needs age diversity. We should remember that what we have in common unites us more than our differences separate us; we are more similar than we are different. We should avoid stereotypes, communicate strategically, encourage collaboration, and capitalize on the diversity of thought. And get ready for “Generation Z” (b. 1999-), the Millennials…

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Building Intergenerational Collaboration & Programs: Serving People of Different Ages

Andrea Weaver developed the Bridges Together program, which brings different generations together. It has been used in school systems, and recently at the Goodnow Library in Sudbury, MA. Weaver started the session at MLA by asking the audience to think of their first memory of interacting with an “older adult” (OA). Many people mentioned grandparents, great-aunts and great-uncles, neighbors, or teachers. Then, Weaver asked what activity this interaction included, and people mentioned reading (of course – it was a room full of librarians), music, games, food, holidays, and gardening.

The term “multi-generational” means that multiple generations are included; the term “intergenerational” indicates a skipped generation, e.g. grandparents and grandchildren.

Demographically, there are more and more OAs, but there are fewer opportunities for interaction. Many kids now have little or no experience interacting with OAs, and that’s what the Bridges Together program aims to correct. OA volunteers are paired with children and they build a relationship over the course of several weeks. According to Weaver, these intergenerational programs help reduce or prevent ageism, increase compassion and respect, give kids a chance to learn about possible careers, give OAs a chance to reflect on their experiences and share their stories, and give kids (and OAs) attention.

Where do libraries come in? Libraries build community by giving people permission to engage with each other. This can take the form of the Bridges Together program, or any other form; potential programming partners include the Council on Aging (every city/town in MA has one), the senior centers, garden clubs, theater troupes or dance companies, the Cultural Council, the historical society, the Parks & Rec department, and after-school programs. Other ideas mentioned: an oral history project; watching and discussing silent films, then looking them up in IMDB; hosting an intergenerational book club. (Weaver suggested books by Jennifer Chiaverini, Adriana Trigiani, and Dorothea Benton Frank; these authors generally write about multiple generations of families. She also read from a book used in the Bridges Together project, How Old Is Old? It’s out of print now, but there are still a couple copies in Minuteman.)

That’s it for the Wednesday sessions! Thanks to those who live-tweeted other sessions on Wednesday, especially Kristi (@booksNyarn), Anna (@helgagrace), Clayton (@cfcheever), Erin (@ErinCerulean), and Beth (@infogdss29).

Thursday session post(s) coming soon.