Thursday, February 28, 2013

Second Date

Since February is ending, the time has come for me to take down my Blind Date with a Book display (or for a co-worker to ask "do you mind if we take it down for you?").

I've never done a display quite like this one, and it was a learning experience.  Not everyone liked the display idea, and that was to be expected.  Of course someone was going to find the idea silly, or corny, or whatever they felt.  But largely the patrons who expressed an opinion loved it.  First off I learned that nice, decorative wrapping jobs take longer than I expect.  Next time around I might do plain paper wrapping.  I am undecided if I want to stay with the short summary of the book or go to keywords, but keywords written in marker would work well on plain paper.  Either way, food for thought.

The first week and a half of the display the books largely remained untouched.  Then I was not at the library for various reasons from the 14th-18th and came back to find that all but 8 books had been taken out.  I was so happy.  Even better, my (the Reference) volunteer was in on the morning of the 19th and loved the task of wrapping and decorating books for me.  If it wasn't for her, I probably would have put out the new books wrapped with hearts drawn on in Sharpie.

//Note to self: I should ask my volunteer if I can refer to her as my library minion.  Awesome volunteers are awesome, and when I know them from outside the world of libraries my sense of humor may come into play.  A note for anyone who is going to library school: if you don't have any library experience on your resume go volunteer at one.  It gives you something to put on your resume and shows that you have reason to believe, beyond school room experience, that you want this as your occupation.  And now back to the original topic.

The biggest feedback I got on the display to integrate for future planning is related to format.  I went with normal print books, a mix of hardcover and paperback.  A specific demand was voiced for audio books and for large print.  I would have tried to work some of those in, particularly the audio books, had I learned this before I reloaded the display.  I need to think of how I would best incorporate the alternative formats.  A wrapped audio book would generally look and feel different than a book, but likely still worth the effort of the label flagging it as audio book.  Large print would require flagging as LP.  Audio and LP would in some ways make the display easier, in particular it would allow duplication of titles.  Ultimately it comes down to balance, do I duplicate titles across formats, if so, what percentage of the selection do I want in Audio and/or LP?  Or do I put out the titles in a opportunistic manner, avoiding duplication, but going for even distribution between formats.

I definitely got better at putting together the brief summaries the second time around.   The first set of books I pulled out some reviews I had written myself and others I edited bit-by-bit out of full text book teasers.  Most of these ended up with short paragraph blurbs.  Second time around they were still culled mostly from teaser text, but I started looking for the most encompassing statements.

Here's a few of the blurbs, any of them sound interesting?  Want to make a guess at what the book might have been?
  1. Hard times? Why not try bounty-hunting?
  2. For one year, they'd only buy food raised in their own neighborhood, grow it themselves, or learn to live without it.  An enthralling narrative that will open your eyes in a hundred new ways to an old truth: You are what you eat.
  3. A clear-sighted, unflinching document that gives lasting and specific dimension to our definitions of sane and insane, mental illness and recovery.
  4. The lives of two women born centuries apart linked by a common destiny hidden in a labyrinth.
  5. A poignant story of a man pulled between two nations as they invent their modern identities.
  6. The magical, epic tale of an extraordinary man who arrives in New York in 1740 and remains... forever.
Just an example of the text used.  Looking at it again I can see where I could have tweaked things more.  Taken out some redundant wording, maybe made them more catchy.  My favorite blurb is #1, which is really in the type of voice I would have liked to have infused in more of the summaries.  Some of the books would have been easier for me to summarize had I read them, some it would not have made a difference.  Amusingly my favorite book is both one that I have read and one that would have likely ended up the same had I not read it.

It seems highly likely that I will do this again next year.  Next year's display will likely have the benefit of more planning, rather than this year where I came across the idea a week before it we would want it up.  Possibly the selections might even be themed, but we will get to brainstorming that closer to next February.

Monday, February 25, 2013

eBooks in Meatspace

I want to preface this by if you have the time to dedicate to the sheer volume of information Warren Ellis shares, I highly recommend tracking him down via his website or other social media page and follow him (I follow him on Goodreads).  At least I recommend this if you don't mind creative and liberal use of profanity (after all, he did write Transmetropolitan).  I find him creative, highly intelligent, and he finds the most unusual... snippets of cultural phenomenon (I really am not sure how to put it).  I have seen the speculative events and technology in his comics become eerily close to truth years after his publication, and I have seen the more bizarre snapshots of modern day life woven into his fiction such as in Crooked Little Vein).

So, Ellis came across "Download Wristbands" - which is a neat physical vector to distribute digital media.  The first time I encountered an artist exploring this vector was about two years ago at a Steampunk convention, Eli August had these little stoppered glass bottles for sale, each one containing a code good for the download of a song.  Not quite as streamlined as a wristband, but something that isn't going to be forgotten about quite as easily as a business card.

Ellis took it to the next step, what if we applied this to ebooks?  Everytime I go to a convention, trade show, expo, whatever, I end up with so many business cards and other sundry that I've collected that I don't know what to do with half of it.  In case you were worried, I do know what to do with the several shelf-feet worth of ARCs I brought home from last year's Book Expo America.  Regardless of my preference for physical copies of books, I am very opportunistic when it comes to books.  If someone hands me a free book that looks interesting I will read it.

I do not think I have claimed a single one of the digital copies offered through a business card or other similar medium.  They get misplaced, forgotten, or otherwise lost in the shuffle.  I don't have this problem with the bound books I collect, the worst that happens there is they get shuffled along my "to-read" list.  They're sitting their staring at me from their bookshelf, its sort of hard to forget they are there.  In terms of the pure volume of books available at shows like BEA, individual wristbands would become quickly overwhelming, and I'm not really sure what the best next step would be.  Maybe a large scale option could be something like a single wristband giving access to a library for the event, or a charm bracelet to collect vendor tokens.

So that's large scale, a conference hall filled with vendors, in the situation that every publisher and author has ebooks as give-aways (either solely ebooks or ebooks as an alternative to their bound copies).  I'm going to flat out state that at this time QR codes are not sufficient for on-the-spot sharing of books.  They work find on business cards, fliers, bookmarks, books, if we remember to look for it later, but not right there at the vendor table.  Convention centers do not always offer free wireless, and don't always have the best cell phone reception.  No internet connectivity gets in the way of instant offers.

Exclusively digital imprints exist, and self-publishing is thriving in the digital book market.  How do you then promote a purely digital item in the physical meatspace of a convention?

Smaller, more specific events is where I think something like download wristbands for books could really thrive.  Author signings, guest lectures, themed events.  Something where you still don't want a scrap of paper to be forgotten in a pocket.  Ellis mentions they could be used as a way of promoting work at a party.  It occurs to me that download wristbands could be a way that people like me could still collect author signatures for books without a physical edition (not really the same, but I take what I can get).

In the larger picture, the issue goes beyond whether or not there is internet connectivity for attendees, or even if all the attendees have devices that are capable of reading QR codes.  The bigger hiccup to me is the lack of a device agnostic platform for distributing files.  The nice thing about being handed a book is that it does not matter if you read on a nook or Kindle, on your phone, if you have a PC or a Mac.  I am generally unhappy with the landscape of the ebook 'ecosystem', which is full of walled gardens and various hindrances in access and sharing of books.

I am not trying to propose a model to fix the ebook market, but I can't deny that some of my thoughts on the subject of a distribution model for promotional ebooks come from interactions with the ebook market.  In all honesty, ebooks make for great promotional copies.  The savings in shipping costs alone pay tribute to that.  Additionally ARCs are not for sale, they're really meant as one shot books.  We're still in the midst of litigation about whether it is legal to re-sell songs purchased through iTunes (Capitol Records vs ReDigi), and a win for ReDigi does not automatically open the doors to ebook resales.  I get a number of ebook ARC's through NetGalley in exchange for writing reviews, the system works reasonably well.

For the foreseeable near future, format is going to remain an issue.  PDFs can be read on e-readers, but do not handle resizing/flowable text all that well.  Additionally if there is any sort of DRM on the PDF it may or may not work with your designated device without various hoops.  In all likely hood there would have to be both an .epub and Kindle file available (because Amazon is quite happy using a different file format than everyone else).   

Ideally, I'd love to see something like this where you can go, claim your book with a code, and not need to create a bloody account.  Sometimes, I just want a one-time transaction without having to put in a username and password for an account I may not come back to for a year if ever.  Maybe they system would let you download right after entering the code, maybe it would send you an email with the file.  An account really would not be necessary, especially if we are talking about trade shows where most of the titles would be ARCs, and a free promotional copy does not necessarily need to be indefinitely redownloadable.  If we're talking about something that you purchase then ability to re-download becomes more important, but I can speak from personal experience and say that not every place to buy ebooks from allows indefinite downloads.  I have encountered vendors that provide a download link sent to your email that is valid for 30 days.

This actually does tie into the need for a theoretical book wristband to be format/platform agnostic.  At this point, while there are handfuls of other music file formats, if you have a device that is capable of playing music files it will play a mp3.  We just are not there with ebooks.  There are ebooks I would like to read but are only available for Kindle, which means there is no way that I am purchasing them.  I don't even like "purchasing" free Kindle books even though I can convert the files.  I have a rather long rant about Amazon and their business ethics, in particular (but not limited to) as related to ebooks, that I'm not going to go into right here.  We need format agnostic options so that a independent author or publisher can offer their titles to someone regardless of what device they use.

DRM would remain an issue.  I doubt that all of the publishers and authors would consent to their books being given out (or sold) DRM-free.  Some do, and some authors even actively fight with their publishers for their ebooks to be available DRM free or with a Creative Commons license (Corey Doctorow is known for this, and Charles Stross has made a number of his ebooks available for free as well).  In the case where DRM is the sticking point something like the DRM for the Harry Potter ebooks available through Pottermore could be an answer.  Digital watermarking provides some amount of tracing if the file ends up on a torrent site.  On the other hand, for years Baen Publishing provided the Baen Free Library, which anyone could download free copies of DRM-free a huge selection of titles, and saw their sales rise.  Sadly the Baen Free Library is not what it used to be, after they signed a distribution agreement with Amazon (Baen titles are available through other ebook retailers as well as still through their own site).

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

[Book Review] Cold Days

Cold Days (Dresden Files #14) / Jim Butcher (Powell's Books)

"For years, Harry Dresden has been Chicago's only professional wizard, but a bargain made in desperation with the Queen of Air and Darkness has forced him into a new job: professional killer.

Mab, the mother of wicked faeries, has restored the mostly-dead wizard to health, and dispatches him upon his first mission - to bring death to an immortal. Even as he grapples with the impossible task, Dresden learns of a looming danger to Demonreach, the living island hidden upon Lake Michigan, a place whose true purpose and dark potential have the potential to destroy billions and to land Dresden in the deepest trouble he has ever known - even deeper than being dead. How messed up is that?

Beset by his new enemies and hounded by the old, Dresden has only twenty four hours to reconnect with his old allies, prevent a cataclysm and do the impossible - all while the power he bargained to get - but never meant to keep - lays siege to his very soul.

Magic. It can get a guy killed"
I have been an avid fan of the Dresden Files for close to 10 years.  A college housemate was a huge fan of video games, heavy metal, swords, Dewar's, and Harry Dresden.  Unsurprisingly we got along reasonably well and I enthusiastically read through his collection of Dresden books, then waited anxiously alongside him for the next book to come out.

Cold Days made me laugh, tear up, and I had a hard time putting the book down.  After the first read I really had a hard time summarizing my reaction or writing any sort of review.  It was just sort of "wow."  I just finished a second run through Cold Days, this time as audio book (read by James Marsters who is perfect for the series).

While attempting to avoid spoilers, I have to admit I was... dubious about Cold Days before I started it.  Largely due to the previous novel Ghost Stories which stars a spectral Dresden, there were many ways that the series could have become unbearable.  The fact that there was a book with him as a ghost had previously made me leery, but it was well handled and now was just my qualms about the inherent cheese risk of Dresden still being around.  Happily my fears are pretty much solidly stamped out and I cannot wait for the rest of the series to come out.

I do not recommend starting the series with Cold Days.  The first 7 or 8 books in the series can pretty much be read without familiarity of their predecessors, as Butcher does include little reminder summaries so that the reader can place the significance of who or what Dresden encounters.  As the series has progressed, especially around book 10, back story becomes very important as the previous incidents start being woven into the now-current events.  Cold Days is built solidly on the world and its events that Butcher has created through his earlier novels.

So, I guess by raving about Cold Days, what I'm really saying is "if you haven't read any Dresden Files, go read the whole series."  The Dresden Files remains one of my all time favorite series.  Some of the books I like less than others, but whenever I re-read any of the books I discover I still adore it regardless of how it stacks against the other Dresden novels.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Love Your Library Month

We celebrate "I Love My Library" all throughout February with a variety of activities.  Past years we had free DVD rentals, but we no longer charge $1 to borrow a DVD so we don't have that as a special treat anymore.  The whole month we have variously themed activities and events, including a benefit concert, movies, "food for fines" (donate canned/dry goods for a food pantry collection and we forgive fines), cake & punch, and other activities.

Some how a "Blind Date with a Book" display photo found its way to my Facebook wall, and I loved the idea.  Even better, when I brought it up at work everyone else also loved the idea and I was given permission to go ahead and put together a "Blind Date" display.

My first step was to get staff input on titles.  I specifically did not want new or current best sellers, either of which are likely to be in popular enough demand that our copies would likely be out, on the holds-shelf, or wanted within the time period of the display.  I also really wanted this to be a "favorites" display, not just staff picks, but staff picks of books we really love.  This endevor may have not gotten quite the high level of response I was hoping for, but I still got a fantastic list of titles from my co-workers to start with, and a second list since compiled by one of them for me to re-fill the display from.

I should warn you, I like puns.
The sign was actually the last step in this process for me, and the part that required the least amount of time to get together.  I've developed a reasonable working relationship with Publisher 2010 and on top of that it just happened to have an appropriately themed event flier template.

As it turns out, wrapping and decorating the books took WAY longer than I thought it would.  I put little blurbs about each book on the covers, most edits from the actual teaser text on the books, but a few using text from my own reviews.

I put up the display on the fourth, and while books aren't flying off the display like I could hope, they are going out.  I'll be grabbing a bunch more titles to add to the display on Tuesday (Monday is a holiday anyway).  However, while I like how the display looks, I will go far simpler in the decoration!

Librarian Schwag

I'm not going to lie, I absolutely love library gear and assorted trinkets.  Which is why it is totally awesome when my friends forward awesome stuff they've found to me.  On the other hand, I'm also pretty horrible at actually purchasing things online because I procrastinate like crazy before doing it.

A friend sent me a link to an "Evil Librarian" patch, so I figured I might as well share some that I've come across.  The moral of this story is I LOVE geeky library things, and always want people to let me know about fun stuff they find in that realm.

Evil Librarian Patch:

I'm not evil, I'm just drawn that way

This one I'll probably purchase in the near future, its low cost and pretty damn awesome.  Seems that with shipping it will be about $6.40 at current conversion rates.  I need to poke around on the site and see if there are other goodies that I'd like first though.

Mini Book Necklace:

So, it is totally out of my price range, and I honestly cannot image I'd ever wear it... but I can't help bu think it is damn cool.

A Likely Story:

Literary, book, library, and sundry related awesome geeky jewelry.  I would totally wear their Librarian Bracelet.

So true...

This is an awesome web-comic,  a "tales from the library trenches" comic.  The writers of this comic are how I actually was able to attend BEA last year, as it seems each year they receive a number of extra passes to give out to librarians.  They have a fantastic sense of humor, with so many shirts in their store that I'd like to pick up at some point.  If you ever have a chance to catch them speaking at an event do it, they are worth it.  I have their Intellectual Freedom Fighter shirt already, but will be getting more at some point.

A few of my favorites that I have yet to pick up:

Also, their Library Notebooks that I picked up a handful for my fellow Reference Librarians for fun last year are quite amusing:

Some things I already own, but want to share:

Guild of Radical Militant Librarians:

I would like this one, wouldn't I?  My mom got it for me as a gift a year or so back.  The motto translates (approximately) to "We know what you read, and we're not saying."

She Blinded me with Library Science:

I've been reading Questionable Content for years.  This one a friend came across in a second-hand store and immediately picked up for me.  I wore it to BEA last year and was constantly stopped and told how awesome the shirt is.  QC sells their shirts through TopatoCo, which has a theme section for "Literature and Education" with a few other awesome shirts.

Through work I also have a collection of Summer Reading shirts, plus two shirts we made for our library including one that says "Librarians : Information Ninjas."

I've even roped my other half into it, as he has adorned his box with a sticker that I brought home from a conference ("<3 a librarian" sticker on the side locker):

Thursday, February 14, 2013

[Book Review] Sexy Feminism : A Girl's Guide to Love, Success, and Style

Sexy Feminism : A Girl's Guide to Love, Success, and Style /

While by no mean's an in-depth treatise on feminism, it is a an eminently readable discussion of feminism in reflection to the lives many of us want to live.  While feminism has made gains over the years, it hasn't been without its losses and setbacks.  How do we balance wanting to be sexually active and sexually appealing partners while being respectful of ourselves and escaping the constant bombardment of what we "need" to be the perfect sexy woman.  It definitely made me reflect on a few things about myself, such as why many of us, myself included, find the label feminist uncomfortable. This is a book on feminism that is friendly, encouraging women to find men who will love them as an equal, and giving advice on how to examine one's own desires in lifestyle and action for ways to stay woman-positive.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Darker Side of Snow Days

I'd be lying if I said I didn't love snow days.  I've loved them since I was a kid, not only because of the day off but because I love playing in the snow.  So we've got to shovel a bit, that's fine.  To be honest, I could use the extra exercise.  Am I worried about a power outage?  Possibly not as much as I should be, but the leaves are off the trees this time of year and we've had some big storms take out a bit of the deadwood in the past few years.

For some reason today it struck me quite how lucky I am.  I am gainfully employed.  I may have very tight constraints on my funds, but I do make enough to pay for rent, groceries, and the various unavoidable bills.

Libraries all across the state are closing early today and will be closed tomorrow.  Considering the snow we are due to get, and the hazards associated with too many people on the roads while they are trying to clear them (a problem with early closings), this makes sense.

Last October, after the ice storm, my library was asked to function as a warming shelter.

Every day libraries get patrons who spend their days in the library because the shelters at which they sleep are closed during the day.  The library is a place where they can stay warm and dry.  A place where they have internet access to contact relatives and do job searches.

Obviously they manage on days when we are not open, we are closed on Sundays and holidays.  But after big storms and natural disasters, we are seeing libraries becoming very important as a haven during the recovery efforts.  In larger towns and cities they are usually positioned in an area to have power restored soonest if it goes out.  We usually have some line of communication open, even if it is not an idea public channel.

Just something that is on my mind today.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Forget the Ides of March, I'm worried about April 15th!"

At this point, my taxes are pretty easy to do, so largely filing my taxes requires me to finally stop slacking off and just do them (actually, thanks to years of having to file early for the FAFSA that generally happens somewhat early regardless).  I generally get a nice refund too, which is generally split between student debt and my savings, with maybe an expense I've been putting off also taken care of (one year I got a pair of Birkenstocks for my "big" tax refund purchase).  So really, I don't find filing a hassle to get done.

I've worked full time in a library for these past few tax seasons, and it has taught me to dread tax season.  I manage to largely forget how much I dread it in between, but once it starts the memories come flooding back.

Tax instruction booklets aren't being sent to as many homes anymore, though mine showed up in my mailbox today.  Increasingly libraries are becoming the place to get your forms and instructions.  Yes, everything is available online, but if you don't have an internet connection at home (or a printer, or a computer, or you're out of ink, or whatever reason) it immediately costs you money to print out the forms and worksheets. 

Problem 1: Hey Santa, want to deliver mail in your off-season AKA "Why don't you have the forms yet?"

At the earliest tax forms/instructions start showing up for distribution by mid-January.  We start getting calls about tax forms mid-December.  Believe it or not tax forms are ordered months in advance by the libraries, with the amounts needed estimated by previous demands.  This year and last year there has been legislation passed enacting last minute changes delaying the release of federal forms (the revision date for this year's 1040 is January 10th, now give the government offices time to get that printed and shipped out).  My third tax season here and every year we've not put out the tax forms until the last week in January, and discussion with staff has led me to believe that historically that is when we put the tax forms out regardless of last minute changes.

This year the tax forms/instructions are coming in all over the place.  We just received the 1040A forms today.  The 1040 and 1040A instructions are due by the end of the week.  We get to answer a lot of phone calls with ambiguity, since none of us want to give a blanket statement "yes" in answer to having tax forms.

Problem 2: Limited supply and selection of forms AKA "Soon everything will be online and we will all be ****ed" (or some variation thereof)

We hear this one constantly, and not just about tax forms.  We honestly sympathize with this, we KNOW that we're the only internet access many of our patrons have.  I even get the simple preference to do taxes by hand.  While I may use an online form to create a nice clean PDF of my taxes each year, I do a "draft" by hand with pencil and paper first.

The IRS only sends us the higher demand forms, similar to how those of us lucky enough to still get tax forms in the mail only get the the universal paperwork and not the special case forms.  Regardless this leads to sub-problems 2A and 2B of "Why don't you have the 4077MD form?" (because maybe two people in town come for it, or because that form doesn't exist perhaps it is called something else).  We do a lot of free printing of individual forms to for the lack, but it boils down to the IRS and the state want to supply as close to demand as possible with this as a result.

Two years ago we received a total of FIVE instruction booklets from the state.  Five booklets and most of the residents did not receive state tax forms in the mail.  In this case we did have to charge for full copies of the booklet, but we charged a drastically reduced amount than it would cost otherwise and cataloged both original and duplicate copies for circulation and for in-library use.  Our state tax forms have been available to the public for a week and we've gone through THREE of our five boxes already.  I'm seeing libraries on the network and state mailing lists that have run out and are looking for reordering information and extras if any library can spare them.

Problem 3: How long exactly does it take to do your taxes?  AKA "So are they going to extend the filing date then?"

No.  They really aren't.

This one might be a pet peeve of mine, but when I start hearing this in mid-January, and even now at the beginning of February, I'm a bit flummoxed.  I have never in all my years of employment, gotten all of my W-2s before the end of January.  I have never found the forms in my mailbox before February.  The fact that we may not have the core instruction booklets until the end of this week (though they are available online) should not send you into a panicked rage that you are expected to still file by April 15th.  Particularly since you may actually have a set of personally (or at least automatically) addressed forms and instructions making their way to your very own mailbox.

But really, how complicated are your taxes that 2 months is not enough time?

EDIT: I'd like to acknowledge that I know students have to file earlier for FASFA... my best guess is not a single person who has made this complaint to me is in fact a student filing their FASFA based on additional information from the conversation.

Problem 4: Tax advice AKA "Do I need these forms?"

Don't ask us this.  Seriously.  We legally cannot give you advice on your taxes.  We can tell you what the form says it is for, or point out that one booklet is for non-resident state taxes and one is for resident, stuff like that.  The rest of all this may cause some annoyance at worse, but this one is serious.

We can give you some information about our public computers, but it is ultimately up to the individual if they feel comfortable filing online on a public terminal.  We do what we can to secure the computers, and while they are very likely more secure than a number of personal computers I may have encountered at various opportunities, they are still public terminals.  Please plan your adventure accordingly.

Actually, you CAN ask us for tax advice... we just cannot give you a helpful answer.  And everyone knows librarians hate not being able to give helpful answers, so please, thinking of the librarians.