Category Archives: Commercialization

Another Case of the Missing Library

Steven just remarked on the Educause training toolkit for information literacy that somehow missed the fact that libraries have been working on it for some time. D’oh! This presentation on an Annenberg School-sponsored media survey also struck me as a place where “library” as a source of information is noticeably absent. (So are books.) Admittedly, the focus is on how media can recapture people’s attention as a trusted source of information, and it’s really focused on “how do we get consumers to pay attention to our advertising so we can recover that revenue stream.” But still … the survey asked about where people turn to find trusted information. The library is not one of the options. (See especially slides 20 and 24.)

The survey focused entirely on sources of information that can be optimized for advertising dollars – and how to drive the public toward news media for purchasing decisions – so they may have just decided libraries don’t belong on the list. But when they ask about “where you go for information” and libraries aren’t there, it suggests value is only attached to information sources that exist to generate advertising dollars and stock dividends.

The study reports that people are increasingly skeptical about mass media and that “word of mouth” is more important than being told what to read through PR and marketing. In other words, you PR flaks have shot yourselves in the foot and are now trying to learn how to talk like a human.

Maybe our users need to get a little more outspoken. Libraries have net assets worth billions! You can claim your dividend every time you use them! You can use them online with no pay wall! And no harvesting of personal information or annoying banner ads!

I think we have an edge, here, if only we were able to get the word out.

Out of Control, Into the Future

There are some interesting responses showing up to LC’s draft report on the future of bibliographic control. Karen Schneider, Roy Tennant, and (in great depth) Diane Hillmann have weighed in. So has Tim Spaulding of LibraryThing, who urges the Library of Congress – and libraries generally – to make bibliographic records open for reuse. He points to a petition that argues for the virtues of open records.

Bibliographic records are a key part of our shared cultural heritage. They too should therefore be made available to the public for access and re-use without restriction. Not only will this allow libraries to share records more efficiently and improve quality more rapidly through better, easier feedback, but will also make possible more advanced online sites for book-lovers, easier analysis by social scientists, interesting visualizations and summary statistics by journalists and others, as well as many other possibilities we cannot predict in advance.

Government agencies and public institutions are increasingly making data open. We strongly encourage the Library of Congress to join this movement by recommending that more bibliographic data is made available for access, re-use and re-distribution without restriction.

I’d love to hear what academic librarians say about all this. I’d especially love to hear from academic libraries that are using LibraryThing for Libraries. What have been the benefits? How have people responded?

A lot of us think the NIH is right to open up federally-funded research. Is open the way to go for LC, too?

Information Wants to be . . .

Bah humbug. ‘Tis the season to be saturated with consumerism. I’m tired of advertisements. I’m especially tired of advertisements that purport to be tailored to “my interests” by looking over my shoulder.

Yes, Google. I’m talking to you. Not just because you do it, but because now everyone wants into the act.

I’d heard of British libraries inserting advertising into books. That was extremely distasteful. But this program really takes the cake.

Wait, what am I saying? It doesn’t take the cake, it waits for you check out a cookbook and entices you to buy the ingredients at a particular store. According to the Orlando Sentinel:

On Saturday, the Leesburg Public Library kicked off a program to link patrons with community vendors and activities.

The program, Youniquely 4 U, is free for anyone who holds a Lake County Library card, and it offers personal recommendations and coupons based on what a library patron checks out, drawing from general categories of the patron’s book or video selections to suggest similar events or businesses.

“It’s similar to what you would see at Amazon,” the online retailer, said Stuart Sugarbread, events director with Youniquely 4 U. “The library can now serve up all of the resources it has to a person at the time they’re most interested in them.” . . .

Barbara Morse, the library’s director, said Checkpoint Systems Inc., a New Jersey security company, first approached her about the program earlier this year. The library had a prior relationship with Checkpoint because it uses the company’s technology to prevent people from stealing materials.

Morse said she views the program much like any other database subscription, except that rather than just providing links to other library materials, it also connects people to products, services and activities that are available throughout the whole community.

“I hope it’s going to provide our patrons with another level of information,” she said, “and that makes us more valuable.”

Valuable to whom? And is there not some irony that this product is coming from a company that prevents theft of materials? It only takes your privacy. Bizarrely enough, the library does not make money from this benighted scheme, they apparently pay for the service.

And since when did libraries consider advertising “another level of information”? God help us.

How to Lose Friends and Influence People

The good news is that libraries can have Facebook pages again. Many used to, and then were evicted when Facebook decided only individuals could apply. (Whether you can run apps that lead people away from Facebook – say, into your catalog – is another matter . . .)

The bad news is that Facebook’s new advertising policies are alarming. They hope to recruit members as a sales force for participating products – they call it social advertising. Not only will ads be tailored to what I’m doing online (yes, we’r getting sadly used to that), they will be sent to others with my face on them. Well, maybe not MY face, surely Facebook has better sense than that. But the idea that my “friendships” would be used for spamming acquaintances in my name is disturbing. It may also be illegal. Facebook isn’t too worried, though. We can opt out if we so choose. If we don’t, though, we’ll be recommending products to friends. The New York Times examined this in its advertising industry coverage.

“Nothing influences a person more than a recommendation from a trusted friend,” Mr. Zuckerberg said.

Facebook users will not be able to avoid these personally recommended ads if they are friends with participating people. Participation can involve joining a fan club for a brand, recommending a product or sharing information about their purchases from external Web sites.

Mr. Zuckerberg said he thought this system would make the site feel “less commercial,” because the marketing messages will be accompanied by comments from friends. When asked about people who might not like ads, Mr. Zuckerberg shrugged and said, “I mean, it’s an ad-supported business.”

Librarians have a healthy concern for reader privacy. Our assumptions have been challenged lately by Web 2.0 affordances like book recommendation engines and social networking around what we read. (Sometimes the response to privacy concerns is “just get over it!”) We want to enable the kinds of social networking that people want, without storing permanent records of every book they choose to explore. Our main concern has been Big Brother. Now it’s clear we have to watch out for Big Business. (Well, we knew that . . . but this is a new and insidious move.)

We don’t always do a good job of explaining our values to non-librarians. We explain them when asked, and when we’re really cornered, as with the PATRIOT Act, we might go so far as to put up a sign. But privacy – the use of information about me – is something that is increasingly “opt out” only and the violation of that privacy is becoming the engine of commerce. Our discussion of the ethical use of information (per the information literacy standards) tends to begin and end with plagiarism. Shouldn’t we also be talking about the ethics of information more broadly?

Goozamazon UP

So libraries came up with an an alternative to Google. They are working with Amazon to digitize out-of-copyright or library-owned-copyright books and sell POD copies through the megasite. Only unlike the Google library project, the libraries do all the work. And unlike Google, Amazon sells printed copies, with a kickback to the libraries that do all the work.

We’re talking about books that need no editorial work. Libraries create the digital files. The books are in the public domain. Libraries are institutions that preserve and lend books but don’t sell them. Universities that exist to promote and pass on knowledge, and yes some of them publish and sell books, but for the greater good. Not for shareholders.

Would it be possible to do something creative with Association of American University Presses? Develop some print on demand relationship with a company that focuses on printing, as Rice UP is doing. Maybe use it as a testbed for new publishing models, instead of letting Amazon use universities as a testbed for becoming a publisher – and for riding on the coattails of the good press Google got for digitizing libraries?

Somehow, seeing Amazon as the alternative to Google seems lacking in imagination. But I’d be happy to hear from libraries (and university presses, for that matter) about why this is a good idea.