Feb 02, 12
Hello and welcome to our inaugural posting on ePublish or Bust! My name is Jim Blanton, and I’m the manager of the Chesapeake Central Library in Chesapeake, Virginia. Along with me on the journey about to be undertaken is Phyllis Floyd, a longtime Library volunteer, and a partner on many programs I have been involved with during my tenure in Chesapeake. Together we are going to embark on an experiment here at the Library, as well as on this blog, Facebook, Twitter, and wherever fate leads us, both to explore the process of ePublishing and assert a dynamic new role in that arena for public libraries . . .
As the old curse goes, “May you live in interesting times.” It is definitely an interesting time to be a librarian. Over the past several years the ebook industry has exploded, causing libraries to re-evaluate how to make materials available in the march toward an increasingly digital future. From the dawn of their existence libraries have dealt in print of some kind, and books ultimately took the prize as the perfect technology for delivering everything from Aristotle to Stephen King. Now we’re seeing that medium gradually vanish, posing an unsettling prospect given that it has served so well for so long. Like it or not, the reality is that in the very near future, the overwhelming majority of books will be viewed on an electronic device rather than the printed page.
Complicating matters for libraries is the fact that the publishing industry has been understandably reluctant to jump headfirst into the deep end of the pool, due to concerns of losing their role in the marketplace. The overwhelming sentiment, as evidenced by actions taken by giants such as HarperCollins, has been to severely limit or entirely avoid libraries altogether. For our part we in the public library world have looked toward vendors such as OverDrive to be our middle men, bridging this gap and providing a means for us to offer electronic collections which mirror our traditional setup. But this has proven to be a less than ideal solution, as Overdrive and other companies have struggled to establish a seamless experience. Limited titles, restrictive lending policies, digital rights management (DRM), e-reader compatibility issues, and format standards are just a few of the roadblocks that have proven frustrating to libraries and their patrons when utilizing these services.
In the meantime booksellers, primarily Amazon and Barnes & Noble have managed to produce an excellent mode of delivery for their electronic books. So good in fact that Amazon has seen ebooks outpace sales of its print books, a circumstance that has had a ripple effect on brick and mortar stores throughout the country. The recent high-profile closure of Borders, along with hints of the same possible future for Barnes & Noble’s stores, does not bode well for the continued existence of these time honored retail outlets.
All this focus on the providers however leaves out perhaps the most important players of all – the creators! Not only have libraries, publishers, and retailers been scrambling to figure everything out, but authors have also seen their traditional sources of distribution and income change dramatically. They now have a host of options for electronic publishing, and can handle practically all aspects of the process without the aid of a traditional publishing company. While this is great in that it allows access to the publishing world for any budding writer with access to the Internet, it also has created an environment akin to the Wild West. The playing field is more crowded, making it much harder for anyone other than the big authors or random, overnight phenoms to distinguish themselves.
Since this is a library experiment/adventure, and I am a certified (or certifiable) library scientist, the library perspective is where Phyllis and I will be coming from with regard to the whole ePublishing conundrum. As such we propose to frame the problem, and our mission here at ePublish or Bust, within the context of what we view as the three core services of a public library: free access to books and information, providing reference service/reader’s advisory, and education/recreational programming. Over the course of the next however long it takes and then some, we intend to peel this onion and find the magical answers to maintain the vitality of these three core areas. As we forge ahead we’ll push some serious boundaries, challenge firmly held assumptions, and with a little luck spark a tiny revolution. In so doing we hope to blaze a trail for libraries struggling with this dilemma, lighting a four-alarm path that will show the way for the new generation of library professionals, paraprofessionals, and those who love them. And if all goes well we’ll entertain the heck out of you while we’re at it.
With all of this in mind, we see our challenge as nothing less than this:
To redefine what it means to be a public library in the 21st century, forge a new bond between publishers, authors, and libraries, and solve the ebook crisis once and for all.
So right now you’re probably saying “That’s some big talk Blanton, how exactly do you intend to back that up?” Glad you asked soon-to-be-hooked ePublish or Bust devotee. Like I said earlier, this is an experiment and a journey so we don’t claim to have all the answers – yet. What we do have in ample supply are ideas, intestinal fortitude, and dare I say a downright reckless disregard for adhering to conventional wisdom. In combination, these attributes are the rocket fuel for our 3-part plan we’ll be laying out in excruciating detail over the next several months. Without further ado, we present you with the basics of our grand scheme:
1 – The Book: The beating heart of our project from which everything will grow is our attempt to write and publish the greatest vampire novel in the history of ever. Why are we doing this? First and foremost vampires are cool and we find their zany antics pretty entertaining. Beyond that, we want to provide a live how-to for aspiring authors who want to publish. There’s a lot of options and information on how to self-publish out there, and we intend to navigate the terrain ourselves and show how it’s done. We’re going to talk to various authors, publishers, and experts as we go, and give you all the tools needed to figure out the best path to take for your own journey. We also intend to keep the process as simple as possible, so that anyone can follow our example regardless of the resources they have available.
2 – The Library: It’s one thing to wake up one morning with the goal of being a successful, self-published author, it’s another to pull together the resources to make it happen. This can include basic things like a computer, writing software, Internet access, and even a space to write and be inspired. We think this is an area where public libraries can be of tremendous value, so here in Chesapeake we’re going to try our hand at creating a place for authors to come and do everything from start to finish in producing their work. We’ll provide computers and software, inspiration rooms with themed decorations to inspire, and staff to provide technical assistance as needed. But wait, there’s more . . .
Producing the goods is only half the battle, most authors are also more than a little interested in making sure their work finds its way into the world. Here’s where things start to get really interesting. This, dear reader, is our shot across the bow of the good ship of ePublishing. We intend not only to help authors by providing tools, space, and sage advice, we also are going to help them market their works! On the technical side we plan to provide a means to host the works electronically at the Library, and we’ll be exploring various options on that front. The goal would be that authors can sell or donate their works to us directly, and then we can make them available electronically (and/or in print if they take that route). Whether we end up using third-party software to achieve this, or developing something in-house, remains to be seen, but we’re going to find a way to make it happen! But wait, there’s still more . . .
Getting the goods in the catalog is great, but we also need to help authors in making sure those goods get discovered. One of the big drawbacks of the ePublishing boom for authors is that they are now small fish in a very big sea. As a result it’s pretty tough to get noticed, and there’s no surefire way of drawing attention. This is where we believe libraries and librarians can make a huge difference. To this end we are going to set up a system for authors to promote their works. The goal is to develop a thriving program to make patrons aware of what’s being produced in their own community (and beyond), and to connect authors with their potential readers. Librarians will play a significant role in this, as reader’s advisory will see a pronounced focus on independent and local works. It’s easy enough for patrons now to find out that if they like Stephen King they may also like Dean Koontz thanks to sites like Amazon or databases such as NoveList. However, as we add more of the independent content and have the authors promote in-house at the Library, the librarians will be able to connect readers to under-the-radar works.
It should also be mentioned, that we intend for this system to work for independent and smaller publishing houses as well (and even the big ones if they are interested of course). Our connections can be one-to-one with the author, or working through an intermediary. It’s all about discovery!
3 – The Event: The final piece of our plan is to launch a yearly writing/publishing event at the Library, bringing in authors and publishers to talk about happenings in the publishing world and new books in the works. The goal would be to educate budding authors about options available to them on a grand scale, and as always to connect readers with books!
So that’s the plan sketched in broad strokes, expect lovingly-crafted, highly detailed musings and reports to arrive shortly and last for the duration. Our book will be the vehicle to carry us along this road as we become that author who wakes up one morning, heads out to this library of the future, and utilizes these services to create and promote his masterpiece. We invite you to join us on this path we’ve set for ourselves, as it is sure to be loaded with many enlightening revelations, thrilling discoveries, and of course goofy fun as we learn how this stuff all works and put our plan into effect. Welcome friends to ePublish or Bust!