Friday, January 30, 2009

Lead Law Could Cause Big Headaches for Libraries

Toys with dangerous levels of lead, toxic chemicals in clothing, hazardous baby cribs — the soon-to-be-enforced Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act aims to protect children from all of them.

But library books? Unless the Consumer Product Safety Commission exempts them from the sweeping legislation, libraries nationwide could be forced to pull children’s books from their shelves or, alternately, ban children. The law is scheduled to take effect on February 10.

“You’re talking about separating children from books, which has got to be the most ridiculous thing this commission has ever attempted,” said Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s Washington office. “Books are safe. They are not a dangerous product.”

Paper cuts maybe...but lead? Kansas City Star reports.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

10 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2009

Written by Ravit Lichtenberg / January 27, 2009 10:00 AM

"Social media" was the term du jour in 2008. Consumers, companies, and marketers were all talking about it. We have social media gurus, social media startups, social media books, and social media firms. It is now common practice among corporations to hire social media strategists, assign community managers, and launch social media campaigns, all designed to tap into the power of social media.

But social media today is a pure mess: it has become a collection of countless features, tools, and applications fighting for a piece of the pie.

Facebook, a once groundbreaking online community, has become the ant colony of third-party applications. Twitter users now have a dozen or so additional applications they can use to overcome Twitter's ever-present shortcomings. People spread themselves across a number of tools and maintain different networks on each (large portions of which they don't even know), making it nearly impossible to decide what to share and with whom.

Users, marketers, and companies face an incredible amount of noise, too. For every new application that relies on a network, another crops up that helps users manage it. While "eyeballs" used to be the coveted metric, both ad publishers and investors now realize that having smaller well-targeted niches can lead to much better returns than marketing to one large undifferentiated mass of users.

Meaning and connection -- two key anchors of all things social media -- are corroding by the day as people's ability to organize their experiences and find the relevance of their networks declines. Social media, in essence, is bumping up against its own ceiling, no longer able to serve the needs of those living within its walls; and for these reasons, social media as we know it is changing course.

Social Media is Evolving

Social media is morphing into a holistic experience that speaks to people's social needs in new ways. If you are a CEO of a startup who is focusing on the next generation of social media, here are 10 areas you'll need to take into consideration in the coming year:

1. It's About People

We're moving away from "users," "customers," and "shoppers": social media is bringing back the human element to all digital interaction. People now deliberately seek meaningful connection, self-expression, and a relevant and receptive community. Forrester's Social Technographic research and Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff's Groundswell represent a huge step towards a new kind of behavior-driven segmentation, but companies that want to succeed will need to take it further and tap into people's evolving needs, using the social media context as the new baseline.

2. Creating Meaning and Value

Social media will no longer be about features and applications. These have become a dime a dozen. People will be looking to get tangible and relevant value out of their social experience; they'll be looking for meaning and for order. "Social media online is no different from social media offline," said Brent Csutoras at a recent Social Media Club event. People will be looking for ways to keep their networks going regardless of device or platform. They will connect around meaningful topics and have live and simultaneous conversations within parameters they themselves define, which will bring relevance back to their interaction with others.

3. Enabling Convergence

FriendFeed -- now both a destination and an API -- is growing rapidly, despite a miserable wiki-like interface and interactive experience. That's because people are at a loss when it comes to pulling their conversations together from various sources and assigning meaning to them. Companies that deliver beautifully designed, easy-to-use, searchable, flexible, aggregating platforms will become more important than any social media tool by itself. Deb Schultz, a San Francisco-based web strategist, compares social media to an art exhibit and says people will "curate their live presence through the web ecosystem as needed." Noovo and Zannel are examples of early attempts to enable this.

4. Building a Truly Cross-Platform Experience

The iPhone experience has changed the playing field for users, companies, and developers. In Q1 of 2009 alone, Apple sold 4.4 million iPhones, and Google's Android and the new Palm continue to build on the cross-platform, application- and service-driven model. In the new landscape of social media, people are seeking solutions that seamlessly cut across mobile, web, and live interaction, hopping on and off them like double-decker buses, all with the same pass.

5. Creating Relevant Social Networks

People will create, join, and seek social networks that enable them to have meaningful and relevant experiences with each other. They will measure their return on investment (time spent, level of disclosure, etc.) in replies, comments, their ability to influence, and the value of their learning. Rachel Masters, VP of Strategic Relationships at Ning -- a social network that grew a massive 388% in 2008 -- says, "the Internet is confusing because it can be used to replicate almost any previous medium. Ning addresses this by delivering social networks that allow people to connect around the things they love."

6. Innovating in the Advertising Space

Ad publishers and the attached ecosystem will continue to lose revenue until they realign their understanding of what appeals to people who are conversing, connecting, and expressing. The next phase of social media is a gold mine of targeted niche demographics. Nuconomy, an Israeli startup, experiments in creating and delivering highly targeted, dynamic display advertising. Shahar Nechmad, Nuconomy's co-founder and CEO, says that, on average, Nucomony customers see six to nine times higher click-through rates on targeted ads than on non-targeted ones. "People do click on ads and buy things in the same session," says Nechmad. Ad agencies and publishers that are able to quickly realign their thinking and create an innovative and relevant product discovery experience will gain significant competitive advantage.

7. Helping People Organize Their "Old" Social Media Ecosystem

As aggregating platforms enter the field, people will seek to bring order to the endless bits of information available to them. Video tagging, conversation archiving, taking cloud computing to the next stage, and making search more relevant are some of the new baseline requirements. These represent a significant opportunity for companies willing to undertake this massive endeavor.

8. Connecting with the Rest of the US and the World

With some exceptions, today's active social media users are early adopters. In the next one to two years, the benefits of social media will cross the chasm and reach the mainstream, not only in the US but around the world -- especially in community-driven regions like Southeast Asia and countries like Brazil, Russia, and Germany. Companies will need to understand the explicit and implicit differences between adoption patterns in different countries and adjust their products to meet these different needs.

9. Preparing for New Social Media Jobs

It has been a harsh year for marketing firms. Companies are looking to divert marketing dollars to more targeted social media destinations. And this is just the beginning. David Spark, founder of Spark Media Solutions, says that businesses will need to go beyond paying people to Tweet or put up a Facebook page. Social media's new job descriptions will call on subject-matter experts who can plan for relevant interaction within networks and aggregating platforms and bring together products, services, and people.

10. Making Money

The next phase of social media will bring plenty of lucrative opportunities. With the rise of aggregating platforms, social networks, and new mobile and location-based features, we're bound to see an increase in targeted and personalized ads, "freemium" packaging, revenue sharing between strategic partners, and a flow from the offline world to online social engagement (such as when real goods complement virtual ones).

Social media has forever changed the way people use technology to interact with others, but it can no longer satisfy people's needs in its current form and must change course.

The new form of social media will be about creating "whole products" and complete experiences, all in real time, across the web, mobile, and live. Each user will be able to create his or her own experience using tools, features, and apps that magically coalesce. People will be able to move seamlessly through information that is available to them anywhere, anytime, sharing rich content with a rich set of groups and networks that they themselves define. Innovative companies that are able to listen to these needs and deliver products based on them will not only survive but thrive in the coming months and years as people eagerly advance on the inviting waters of the new social alchemy.

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Generations Online in 2009


The Pew Internet & American Life Project has published a new report titled Generations Online in 2009 which breaks down online activities by generation. After defining the scope of the generations, the study goes on to summarize that Teens and Generation Y are the most likely to utilize the Web for entertainment purposes while older generations use the Internet primarily for conducting information searches, email, and online shopping. However there are some universal activities that span the generation gaps such as downloading videos, online banking, travel reservations, and job searching. The report has an excellent chart which breaks down each activity type by generation.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Mad Magazine Becomes Quarterly


Weekend Funnies

Today's Weekend Funnies is more of a Weekend :-( as several news agencies are reporting that Mad Magazine will no longer be a monthly. The news came after years of the magazine experimenting with different page layouts in hopes of getting more readers (you just weren't the same when you went from black to color...there's no humor in color...everyone knows that).

The magazine will now be published four times a year as a quarterly. When asked to comment, the magazine said, "What, me worry?" The now cliche Mad phrase wasn't even funny this time was just sad.

Mad monthly, you shall be missed.

Can Libraries Act With Freedom Online?

Highlighted on NZ-LIBS today was a piece in the left-leaning British publication The Guardian. The essay by Wendy Grossman is entitled Why you can't find a library book in your search engine. Of note is the discussion of e-commerce and OCLC's most recent annual revenue being calculated at USD$246m.

Google & the Future of Books

By Robert Darnton

How can we navigate through the information landscape that is only beginning to come into view? The question is more urgent than ever following the recent settlement between Google and the authors and publishers who were suing it for alleged breach of copyright. For the last four years, Google has been digitizing millions of books, including many covered by copyright, from the collections of major research libraries, and making the texts searchable online. The authors and publishers objected that digitizing constituted a violation of their copyrights. After lengthy negotiations, the plaintiffs and Google agreed on a settlement, which will have a profound effect on the way books reach readers for the foreseeable future. What will that future be?

No one knows, because the settlement is so complex that it is difficult to perceive the legal and economic contours in the new lay of the land. But those of us who are responsible for research libraries have a clear view of a common goal: we want to open up our collections and make them available to readers everywhere. How to get there? The only workable tactic may be vigilance: see as far ahead as you can; and while you keep your eye on the road, remember to look in the rearview mirror.

When I look backward, I fix my gaze on the eighteenth century, the Enlightenment, its faith in the power of knowledge, and the world of ideas in which it operated—what the enlightened referred to as the Republic of Letters.

Little Bookroom / Savoir Fare London

The eighteenth century imagined the Republic of Letters as a realm with no police, no boundaries, and no inequalities other than those determined by talent. Anyone could join it by exercising the two main attributes of citizenship, writing and reading. Writers formulated ideas, and readers judged them. Thanks to the power of the printed word, the judgments spread in widening circles, and the strongest arguments won.

The word also spread by written letters, for the eighteenth century was a great era of epistolary exchange. Read through the correspondence of Voltaire, Rousseau, Franklin, and Jefferson—each filling about fifty volumes—and you can watch the Republic of Letters in operation. All four writers debated all the issues of their day in a steady stream of letters, which crisscrossed Europe and America in a transatlantic information network.

I especially enjoy the exchange of letters between Jefferson and Madison. They discussed everything, notably the American Constitution, which Madison was helping to write in Philadelphia while Jefferson was representing the new republic in Paris. They often wrote about books, for Jefferson loved to haunt the bookshops in the capital of the Republic of Letters, and he frequently bought books for his friend. The purchases included Diderot's Encyclopédie, which Jefferson thought that he had got at a bargain price, although he had mistaken a reprint for a first edition.

Two future presidents discussing books through the information network of the Enlightenment—it's a stirring sight. But before this picture of the past fogs over with sentiment, I should add that the Republic of Letters was democratic only in principle. In practice, it was dominated by the wellborn and the rich. Far from being able to live from their pens, most writers had to court patrons, solicit sinecures, lobby for appointments to state-controlled journals, dodge censors, and wangle their way into salons and academies, where reputations were made. While suffering indignities at the hands of their social superiors, they turned on one another. The quarrel between Voltaire and Rousseau illustrates their temper. After reading Rousseau's Discourse on the Origins of Inequality in 1755, Voltaire wrote to him, "I have received, Monsieur, your new book against the human race.... It makes one desire to go down on all fours." Five years later, Rousseau wrote to Voltaire. "Monsieur,...I hate you."

The personal conflicts were compounded by social distinctions. Far from functioning like an egalitarian agora, the Republic of Letters suffered from the same disease that ate through all societies in the eighteenth century: privilege. Privileges were not limited to aristocrats. In France, they applied to everything in the world of letters, including printing and the book trade, which were dominated by exclusive guilds, and the books themselves, which could not appear legally without a royal privilege and a censor's approbation, printed in full in their text.

One way to understand this system is to draw on the sociology of knowledge, notably Pierre Bourdieu's notion of literature as a power field composed of contending positions within the rules of a game that itself is subordinate to the dominating forces of society at large. But one needn't subscribe to Bourdieu's school of sociology in order to acknowledge the connections between literature and power. Seen from the perspective of the players, the realities of literary life contradicted the lofty ideals of the Enlightenment. Despite its principles, the Republic of Letters, as it actually operated, was a closed world, inaccessible to the underprivileged. Yet I want to invoke the Enlightenment in an argument for openness in general and for open access in particular.

If we turn from the eighteenth century to the present, do we see a similar contradiction between principle and practice—right here in the world of research libraries? One of my colleagues is a quiet, diminutive lady, who might call up the notion of Marion the Librarian. When she meets people at parties and identifies herself, they sometimes say condescendingly, "A librarian, how nice. Tell me, what is it like to be a librarian?" She replies, "Essentially, it is all about money and power."

We are back with Pierre Bourdieu. Yet most of us would subscribe to the principles inscribed in prominent places in our public libraries. "Free To All," it says above the main entrance to the Boston Public Library; and in the words of Thomas Jefferson, carved in gold letters on the wall of the Trustees' Room of the New York Public Library: "I look to the diffusion of light and education as the resource most to be relied on for ameliorating the condition promoting the virtue and advancing the happiness of man." We are back with the Enlightenment.

Our republic was founded on faith in the central principle of the eighteenth-century Republic of Letters: the diffusion of light. For Jefferson, enlightenment took place by means of writers and readers, books and libraries—especially libraries, at Monticello, the University of Virginia, and the Library of Congress. This faith is embodied in the United States Constitution. Article 1, Section 8, establishes copyright and patents "for limited times" only and subject to the higher purpose of promoting "the progress of science and useful arts." The Founding Fathers acknowledged authors' rights to a fair return on their intellectual labor, but they put public welfare before private profit.

How to calculate the relative importance of those two values? As the authors of the Constitution knew, copyright was created in Great Britain by the Statute of Anne in 1710 for the purpose of curbing the monopolistic practices of the London Stationers' Company and also, as its title proclaimed, "for the encouragement of learning." At that time, Parliament set the length of copyright at fourteen years, renewable only once. The Stationers attempted to defend their monopoly of publishing and the book trade by arguing for perpetual copyright in a long series of court cases. But they lost in the definitive ruling of Donaldson v. Becket in 1774.

When the Americans gathered to draft a constitution thirteen years later, they generally favored the view that had predominated in Britain. Twenty-eight years seemed long enough to protect the interests of authors and publishers. Beyond that limit, the interest of the public should prevail. In 1790, the first copyright act—also dedicated to "the encouragement of learning"—followed British practice by adopting a limit of fourteen years renewable for another fourteen.

How long does copyright extend today? According to the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 (also known as "the Mickey Mouse Protection Act," because Mickey was about to fall into the public domain), it lasts as long as the life of the author plus seventy years. In practice, that normally would mean more than a century. Most books published in the twentieth century have not yet entered the public domain. When it comes to digitization, access to our cultural heritage generally ends on January 1, 1923, the date from which great numbers of books are subject to copyright laws. It will remain there—unless private interests take over the digitizing, package it for consumers, tie the packages up by means of legal deals, and sell them for the profit of the shareholders. As things stand now, for example, Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt, published in 1922, is in the public domain, whereas Lewis's Elmer Gantry, published in 1927, will not enter the public domain until 2022.[1]

To descend from the high principles of the Founding Fathers to the practices of the cultural industries today is to leave the realm of Enlightenment for the hurly-burly of corporate capitalism. If we turned the sociology of knowledge onto the present—as Bourdieu himself did—we would see that we live in a world designed by Mickey Mouse, red in tooth and claw.

Does this kind of reality check make the principles of Enlightenment look like a historical fantasy? Let's reconsider the history. As the Enlightenment faded in the early nineteenth century, professionalization set in. You can follow the process by comparing the Encyclopédie of Diderot, which organized knowledge into an organic whole dominated by the faculty of reason, with its successor from the end of the eighteenth century, the Encyclopédie méthodique, which divided knowledge into fields that we can recognize today: chemistry, physics, history, mathematics, and the rest. In the nineteenth century, those fields turned into professions, certified by Ph.D.s and guarded by professional associations. They metamorphosed into departments of universities, and by the twentieth century they had left their mark on campuses—chemistry housed in this building, physics in that one, history here, mathematics there, and at the center of it all, a library, usually designed to look like a temple of learning.

Along the way, professional journals sprouted throughout the fields, subfields, and sub-subfields. The learned societies produced them, and the libraries bought them. This system worked well for about a hundred years. Then commercial publishers discovered that they could make a fortune by selling subscriptions to the journals. Once a university library subscribed, the students and professors came to expect an uninterrupted flow of issues. The price could be ratcheted up without causing cancellations, because the libraries paid for the subscriptions and the professors did not. Best of all, the professors provided free or nearly free labor. They wrote the articles, refereed submissions, and served on editorial boards, partly to spread knowledge in the Enlightenment fashion, but mainly to advance their own careers.

The result stands out on the acquisitions budget of every research library: the Journal of Comparative Neurology now costs $25,910 for a year's subscription; Tetrahedron costs $17,969 (or $39,739, if bundled with related publications as a Tetrahedron package); the average price of a chemistry journal is $3,490; and the ripple effects have damaged intellectual life throughout the world of learning. Owing to the skyrocketing cost of serials, libraries that used to spend 50 percent of their acquisitions budget on monographs now spend 25 percent or less. University presses, which depend on sales to libraries, cannot cover their costs by publishing monographs. And young scholars who depend on publishing to advance their careers are now in danger of perishing.

Fortunately, this picture of the hard facts of life in the world of learning is already going out of date. Biologists, chemists, and physicists no longer live in separate worlds; nor do historians, anthropologists, and literary scholars. The old map of the campus no longer corresponds to the activities of the professors and students. It is being redrawn everywhere, and in many places the interdisciplinary designs are turning into structures. The library remains at the heart of things, but it pumps nutrition throughout the university, and often to the farthest reaches of cyberspace, by means of electronic networks.

The eighteenth-century Republic of Letters had been transformed into a professional Republic of Learning, and it is now open to amateurs—amateurs in the best sense of the word, lovers of learning among the general citizenry. Openness is operating everywhere, thanks to "open access" repositories of digitized articles available free of charge, the Open Content Alliance, the Open Knowledge Commons, OpenCourseWare, the Internet Archive, and openly amateur enterprises like Wikipedia. The democratization of knowledge now seems to be at our fingertips. We can make the Enlightenment ideal come to life in reality.

At this point, you may suspect that I have swung from one American genre, the jeremiad, to another, utopian enthusiasm. It might be possible, I suppose, for the two to work together as a dialectic, were it not for the danger of commercialization. When businesses like Google look at libraries, they do not merely see temples of learning. They see potential assets or what they call "content," ready to be mined. Built up over centuries at an enormous expenditure of money and labor, library collections can be digitized en masse at relatively little cost—millions of dollars, certainly, but little compared to the investment that went into them.

Libraries exist to promote a public good: "the encouragement of learning," learning "Free To All." Businesses exist in order to make money for their shareholders—and a good thing, too, for the public good depends on a profitable economy. Yet if we permit the commercialization of the content of our libraries, there is no getting around a fundamental contradiction. To digitize collections and sell the product in ways that fail to guarantee wide access would be to repeat the mistake that was made when publishers exploited the market for scholarly journals, but on a much greater scale, for it would turn the Internet into an instrument for privatizing knowledge that belongs in the public sphere. No invisible hand would intervene to correct the imbalance between the private and the public welfare. Only the public can do that, but who speaks for the public? Not the legislators of the Mickey Mouse Protection Act.

You cannot legislate Enlightenment, but you can set rules of the game to protect the public interest. Libraries represent the public good. They are not businesses, but they must cover their costs. They need a business plan. Think of the old motto of Con Edison when it had to tear up New York's streets in order to get at the infrastructure beneath them: "Dig we must." Libraries say, "Digitize we must." But not on any terms. We must do it in the interest of the public, and that means holding the digitizers responsible to the citizenry.

It would be naive to identify the Internet with the Enlightenment. It has the potential to diffuse knowledge beyond anything imagined by Jefferson; but while it was being constructed, link by hyperlink, commercial interests did not sit idly on the sidelines. They want to control the game, to take it over, to own it. They compete among themselves, of course, but so ferociously that they kill each other off. Their struggle for survival is leading toward an oligopoly; and whoever may win, the victory could mean a defeat for the public good.

Don't get me wrong. I know that businesses must be responsible to shareholders. I believe that authors are entitled to payment for their creative labor and that publishers deserve to make money from the value they add to the texts supplied by authors. I admire the wizardry of hardware, software, search engines, digitization, and algorithmic relevance ranking. I acknowledge the importance of copyright, although I think that Congress got it better in 1790 than in 1998.

But we, too, cannot sit on the sidelines, as if the market forces can be trusted to operate for the public good. We need to get engaged, to mix it up, and to win back the public's rightful domain. When I say "we," I mean we the people, we who created the Constitution and who should make the Enlightenment principles behind it inform the everyday realities of the information society. Yes, we must digitize. But more important, we must democratize. We must open access to our cultural heritage. How? By rewriting the rules of the game, by subordinating private interests to the public good, and by taking inspiration from the early republic in order to create a Digital Republic of Learning.

What provoked these jeremianic- utopian reflections? Google. Four years ago, Google began digitizing books from research libraries, providing full-text searching and making books in the public domain available on the Internet at no cost to the viewer. For example, it is now possible for anyone, anywhere to view and download a digital copy of the 1871 first edition of Middlemarch that is in the collection of the Bodleian Library at Oxford. Everyone profited, including Google, which collected revenue from some discreet advertising attached to the service, Google Book Search. Google also digitized an ever-increasing number of library books that were protected by copyright in order to provide search services that displayed small snippets of the text. In September and October 2005, a group of authors and publishers brought a class action suit against Google, alleging violation of copyright. Last October 28, after lengthy negotiations, the opposing parties announced agreement on a settlement, which is subject to approval by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York.[2]

The settlement creates an enterprise known as the Book Rights Registry to represent the interests of the copyright holders. Google will sell access to a gigantic data bank composed primarily of copyrighted, out-of-print books digitized from the research libraries. Colleges, universities, and other organizations will be able to subscribe by paying for an "institutional license" providing access to the data bank. A "public access license" will make this material available to public libraries, where Google will provide free viewing of the digitized books on one computer terminal. And individuals also will be able to access and print out digitized versions of the books by purchasing a "consumer license" from Google, which will cooperate with the registry for the distribution of all the revenue to copyright holders. Google will retain 37 percent, and the registry will distribute 63 percent among the rightsholders.

Meanwhile, Google will continue to make books in the public domain available for users to read, download, and print, free of charge. Of the seven million books that Google reportedly had digitized by November 2008, one million are works in the public domain; one million are in copyright and in print; and five million are in copyright but out of print. It is this last category that will furnish the bulk of the books to be made available through the institutional license.

Many of the in-copyright and in-print books will not be available in the data bank unless the copyright owners opt to include them. They will continue to be sold in the normal fashion as printed books and also could be marketed to individual customers as digitized copies, accessible through the consumer license for downloading and reading, perhaps eventually on e-book readers such as Amazon's Kindle.

After reading the settlement and letting its terms sink in—no easy task, as it runs to 134 pages and 15 appendices of legalese—one is likely to be dumbfounded: here is a proposal that could result in the world's largest library. It would, to be sure, be a digital library, but it could dwarf the Library of Congress and all the national libraries of Europe. Moreover, in pursuing the terms of the settlement with the authors and publishers, Google could also become the world's largest book business—not a chain of stores but an electronic supply service that could out-Amazon Amazon.

An enterprise on such a scale is bound to elicit reactions of the two kinds that I have been discussing: on the one hand, utopian enthusiasm; on the other, jeremiads about the danger of concentrating power to control access to information.

Who could not be moved by the prospect of bringing virtually all the books from America's greatest research libraries within the reach of all Americans, and perhaps eventually to everyone in the world with access to the Internet? Not only will Google's technological wizardry bring books to readers, it will also open up extraordinary opportunities for research, a whole gamut of possibilities from straightforward word searches to complex text mining. Under certain conditions, the participating libraries will be able to use the digitized copies of their books to create replacements for books that have been damaged or lost. Google will engineer the texts in ways to help readers with disabilities.

Unfortunately, Google's commitment to provide free access to its database on one terminal in every public library is hedged with restrictions: readers will not be able to print out any copyrighted text without paying a fee to the copyright holders (though Google has offered to pay them at the outset); and a single terminal will hardly satisfy the demand in large libraries. But Google's generosity will be a boon to the small-town, Carnegie-library readers, who will have access to more books than are currently available in the New York Public Library. Google can make the Enlightenment dream come true.

But will it? The eighteenth-century philosophers saw monopoly as a main obstacle to the diffusion of knowledge —not merely monopolies in general, which stifled trade according to Adam Smith and the Physiocrats, but specific monopolies such as the Stationers' Company in London and the booksellers' guild in Paris, which choked off free trade in books.

Google is not a guild, and it did not set out to create a monopoly. On the contrary, it has pursued a laudable goal: promoting access to information. But the class action character of the settlement makes Google invulnerable to competition. Most book authors and publishers who own US copyrights are automatically covered by the settlement. They can opt out of it; but whatever they do, no new digitizing enterprise can get off the ground without winning their assent one by one, a practical impossibility, or without becoming mired down in another class action suit. If approved by the court—a process that could take as much as two years—the settlement will give Google control over the digitizing of virtually all books covered by copyright in the United States.

This outcome was not anticipated at the outset. Looking back over the course of digitization from the 1990s, we now can see that we missed a great opportunity. Action by Congress and the Library of Congress or a grand alliance of research libraries supported by a coalition of foundations could have done the job at a feasible cost and designed it in a manner that would have put the public interest first. By spreading the cost in various ways—a rental based on the amount of use of a database or a budget line in the National Endowment for the Humanities or the Library of Congress—we could have provided authors and publishers with a legitimate income, while maintaining an open access repository or one in which access was based on reasonable fees. We could have created a National Digital Library—the twenty-first-century equivalent of the Library of Alexandria. It is too late now. Not only have we failed to realize that possibility, but, even worse, we are allowing a question of public policy—the control of access to information—to be determined by private lawsuit.

While the public authorities slept, Google took the initiative. It did not seek to settle its affairs in court. It went about its business, scanning books in libraries; and it scanned them so effectively as to arouse the appetite of others for a share in the potential profits. No one should dispute the claim of authors and publishers to income from rights that properly belong to them; nor should anyone presume to pass quick judgment on the contending parties of the lawsuit. The district court judge will pronounce on the validity of the settlement, but that is primarily a matter of dividing profits, not of promoting the public interest.

As an unintended consequence, Google will enjoy what can only be called a monopoly—a monopoly of a new kind, not of railroads or steel but of access to information. Google has no serious competitors. Microsoft dropped its major program to digitize books several months ago, and other enterprises like the Open Knowledge Commons (formerly the Open Content Alliance) and the Internet Archive are minute and ineffective in comparison with Google. Google alone has the wealth to digitize on a massive scale. And having settled with the authors and publishers, it can exploit its financial power from within a protective legal barrier; for the class action suit covers the entire class of authors and publishers. No new entrepreneurs will be able to digitize books within that fenced-off territory, even if they could afford it, because they would have to fight the copyright battles all over again. If the settlement is upheld by the court, only Google will be protected from copyright liability.

Google's record suggests that it will not abuse its double-barreled fiscal-legal power. But what will happen if its current leaders sell the company or retire? The public will discover the answer from the prices that the future Google charges, especially the price of the institutional subscription licenses. The settlement leaves Google free to negotiate deals with each of its clients, although it announces two guiding principles: "(1) the realization of revenue at market rates for each Book and license on behalf of the Rightsholders and (2) the realization of broad access to the Books by the public, including institutions of higher education."

What will happen if Google favors profitability over access? Nothing, if I read the terms of the settlement correctly. Only the registry, acting for the copyright holders, has the power to force a change in the subscription prices charged by Google, and there is no reason to expect the registry to object if the prices are too high. Google may choose to be generous in it pricing, and I have reason to hope it may do so; but it could also employ a strategy comparable to the one that proved to be so effective in pushing up the price of scholarly journals: first, entice subscribers with low initial rates, and then, once they are hooked, ratchet up the rates as high as the traffic will bear.

Free-market advocates may argue that the market will correct itself. If Google charges too much, customers will cancel their subscriptions, and the price will drop. But there is no direct connection between supply and demand in the mechanism for the institutional licenses envisioned by the settlement. Students, faculty, and patrons of public libraries will not pay for the subscriptions. The payment will come from the libraries; and if the libraries fail to find enough money for the subscription renewals, they may arouse ferocious protests from readers who have become accustomed to Google's service. In the face of the protests, the libraries probably will cut back on other services, including the acquisition of books, just as they did when publishers ratcheted up the price of periodicals.

No one can predict what will happen. We can only read the terms of the settlement and guess about the future. If Google makes available, at a reasonable price, the combined holdings of all the major US libraries, who would not applaud? Would we not prefer a world in which this immense corpus of digitized books is accessible, even at a high price, to one in which it did not exist?

Perhaps, but the settlement creates a fundamental change in the digital world by consolidating power in the hands of one company. Apart from Wikipedia, Google already controls the means of access to information online for most Americans, whether they want to find out about people, goods, places, or almost anything. In addition to the original "Big Google," we have Google Earth, Google Maps, Google Images, Google Labs, Google Finance, Google Arts, Google Food, Google Sports, Google Health, Google Checkout, Google Alerts, and many more Google enterprises on the way. Now Google Book Search promises to create the largest library and the largest book business that have ever existed.

Whether or not I have understood the settlement correctly, its terms are locked together so tightly that they cannot be pried apart. At this point, neither Google, nor the authors, nor the publishers, nor the district court is likely to modify the settlement substantially. Yet this is also a tipping point in the development of what we call the information society. If we get the balance wrong at this moment, private interests may outweigh the public good for the foreseeable future, and the Enlightenment dream may be as elusive as ever.


[1]The Copyright Term Extension Act of 1998 retroactively lengthened copyright by twenty years for books copyrighted after January 1, 1923. Unfortunately, the copyright status of books published in the twentieth century is complicated by legislation that has extended copyright eleven times during the last fifty years. Until a congressional act of 1992, rightsholders had to renew their copyrights. The 1992 act removed that requirement for books published between 1964 and 1977, when, according to the Copyright Act of 1976, their copyrights would last for the author's life plus fifty years. The act of 1998 extended that protection to the author's life plus seventy years. Therefore, all books published after 1963 remain in copyright, and an unknown number—unknown owing to inadequate information about the deaths of authors and the owners of copyright—published between 1923 and 1964 are also protected by copyright. See Paul A. David and Jared Rubin, "Restricting Access to Books on the Internet: Some Unanticipated Effects of U.S. Copyright Legislation," Review of Economic Research on Copyright Issues, Vol. 5, No. 1 (2008).

[2]The full text of the settlement can be found at For Google's legal notice concerning the settlement, see page 35 of this issue of The New York Review.

Wordsmith Word of the Day - Ex Libris

ex libris

(eks LEE-bris, LI-)

1. From the library of (a phrase inscribed in a book followed by the name of the book owner).
2. A bookplate.

From Latin ex libris (from the books), from ex- (from) + liber (book).

Novelist and Nobelist Anatole France once said, "Never lend books -- nobody ever returns them; the only books I have in my library are those which people have lent me." An ex libris inscription identifies the owner of a book, and supposedly prevents others from building their own libraries by borrowing. I've also seen bookplates that say "Stolen from the library of ..."
Typically an ex libris is placed on the inside cover or the front end paper. Earlier bookplates featured coats of arms. Like everything else, there are bookplate enthusiasts and collectors with their own societies, conferences, journals, blogs, and more.

"I found a copy of Mein Kampf with Hitler's ex libris bookplate."
Timothy W Ryback; Hitler's Secret Library; The Sunday Times (London, UK); Jan 11, 2009.

Got a Question? Ask K.G.B. Agents for the Answer

Let’s say you were lost in downtown Washington, D.C., and needed directions to the closest train station. Or you wanted to settle a bar bet on the average lifespan of a dolphin or whether it’s Alexander Hamilton or Thomas Jefferson on the two-dollar bill. Would a specific, accurate and rapid response from a human researcher be worth 50 cents?

Bruce Stewart, the chief executive of mobile and digital for kgb, hopes so. The New York company, which has been providing directory assistance services in the United States and around Europe since 1992, this month unveiled a human-powered mobile search service called kgbkgb. If you send a question via text message to kgbkgb (or 542542), a human “kgb special agent” will find the answer and text it back. (The company’s name is an obvious play on the name of the former Soviet Union’s intelligence agency, known by its Russian initials, KGB.)

“The mobile browsing experience is getting better, and text is on a significant upswing and adoption curve in the U.S.,” said Mr. Stewart, who estimated kgb and its subsidiary companies answered a billion voice and text queries last year. “It was very natural for us to move from a strong position answering voice information calls into mobile apps and the Web.”

Response times varies depending on the difficulty of the texted question, but a typical turnaround ranges from two to four minutes. A test question — “How many Oscar nominations did “The Wrestler” receive for the 2009 Academy Awards?” — was answered accurately in three minutes.

Kgb will have to compete with free mobile-based search services that don’t charge fees beyond standard messaging rates. For example, sending a search query for local addresses, weather reports, directions or work definitions via Google’s SMS service, returns results in a text message. Yahoo’s Mobile Search also offers cellphone users the option of texting inquiries for information like restaurant addresses, celebrity news, sports scores and movie reviews.

In addition, there’s ChaCha, another two-way mobile texting service that funnels queries to a team of human experts and allows users up to 20 freebie queries per month.

Mr. Stewart, who helped roll out Yahoo’s Mobile Search before leaving in 2008 to join kgb, is hoping to carve a niche out for kgb’s mobile service by placing a heavy emphasis on precision and accuracy for cellphone users who may not be equipped with a smartphone or are in too much of a hurry to browse for answers on their mobile Web browser.

“If you need a precise answer in minutes, you don’t want to hunt and navigate to find it,” said Mr. Stewart.

The company relies of a team of experts who work primarily from home. Kgb agents, which Mr. Stewart says number in the thousands, are first vetted with a series of trivia questions and then interviewed to pinpoint particular areas of expertise, such as language proficiency, geography, film awards or pop culture. Incoming questions to the service are analyzed and categorized by topic and routed to the appropriate person.

The idea is that someone who already has a working knowledge of food chemistry might be more adept at quickly researching suitable substitutes for eggs in a crème brûlée. For popular topics that have already been fielded –- such as inquiries about Sarah Palin or Barack Obama –- incoming text questions can be matched to previously answered queries for an even quicker turnaround.

In addition to the mobile texting service, kgb is currently working on versions for the Apple iPhone and the Web.

Kevin Trudeu - The Fraud THEY Didn't Want You To Know About

Despite being utterly, and embarrassingly, full of crap, Kevin Trudeau's books are still popular. I've got patrons asking for them every week and I have to put them on hold because they're usually checked out. Never mind that the man's a fraud and a con-artist spreading false information about everything from cures to cancer to ways out of debt, people want to read his stuff.

So while I applaud the recent actions of a federal judge who ordered Trudeau to pay US$37 million for violating a 2004 order regarding false claims in his weight loss "cures" book, I doubt it'll have an effect on those wanting to read it. However, we can at least take solace in the fact that he's also been barred from publishing anything or creating infomercials for the next three years.

More from, where else?, the Federal Trade Commission.

Iowa woman arrested for keeping library book

An Independence woman was arrested on theft charges Thursday for failing to return a library book.

Shelly J. Koontz, 39, was arrested just after 8 p.m. at her residence after a warrant had been issued. She was originally charged with fifth-degree theft for keeping "The Freedom Writers Diary," which she checked out from the Jesup Public Library in April 2008.

Jesup Police Chief Rick Deitrick said the book was valued at $13.95.

"Theft is theft, no matter what it is," Deitrick said.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Scanner Turns Books into Audio Files

Plustek's updated Book Reader V100 can instantly turn your reading material into MP3s. Simply place the book on the scanner, and with the push of a button, it does the rest for you.

Like their previous book scanner, the V100 uses character recognition technology to scan every word on a page, even words curved into the spine of your book. More than just cloning your books into PDF and other visual files, the Book Reader can automatically convert your literature into MP3s, which will use a "natural voice synthesis" as your storyteller.

Having your books in MP3 format would mean that you will be able to easily carry your books around on an existing MP3 player without having to purchase an electronic reader. However, as they are currently priced at $700, forking up the cash for a Kindle does seem cheaper in comparison. [Wired]

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Books fly off shelves as library use soars

Phenomenon may be a chapter in story of nation’s economy

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin
Published: January 08. 2009 4:00AM PST
Judith Ellis, 69, of Bend, pulls a book off a top shelf while browsing at the Bend Public Library on Wednesday. Ellis said the parking lot was full, an indication that the library was busy.

People are flocking to Deschutes County libraries, and officials say the slumping economy may be bringing them business. From July through November, patrons checked out about 10 percent more books and other items compared with the same period last year.

On Wednesday, the Bend Public Library was already bustling 15 minutes after it opened. Families gathered for story time in the children’s section, and on the second floor, people sat at most of the library’s 51 computers, which all have an Internet connection.

“We’re up about 10 percent (over last year) since July in overall circulation, and that’s a big number,” Todd Dunkelberg, the director of the Deschutes Public Library system, said Tuesday. The system’s circulation was growing more slowly prior to July, by 5 percent over the prior year. Circulation growth for the month of December dropped back to approximately 5 percent higher than the previous year.

At the state level, data on library circulation is not available for the past six months. State Librarian Jim Scheppke said circulation increased by 2.5 percent between the budget cycle that ended in June and the previous budget cycle, and the state set a circulation record of 51.7 million items. Scheppke was impressed by the circulation growth described in Deschutes County.

“The Deschutes numbers sound pretty amazing,” Scheppke said. “It is something we’re hearing in all the public libraries right now. We’ve known ever since the Great Depression in the 1930s that library use pretty much tracks the economy. In bad times, library use has always gone up.”

The Deschutes Public Library system currently circulates approximately 2 million items per year, a number that includes checkouts of the library system’s 365,000 books, DVDs and other materials, Dunkelberg said. Circulation has doubled in the past nine years.

Two factors have likely contributed to greater demand for the library’s services, Dunkelberg said.

The library system increased its spending on new items over the past two years, including more copies of best-selling books to help decrease the time patrons wait for items on hold.

“I think the other part is the economy,” Dunkelberg said. He recently spoke to a mother who told him the library was a nice place she could take her children and check out books, without having to pay anything.

“Because at the time, she was dealing with bills and lowered income because of the economy,” Dunkelberg said. “I think for some people, that’s what is happening right now, is we’re a place they can go and not have to feel all that financial pressure.”

On Wednesday morning, Clifford Lyon, of Bend, was reading the newspaper at a desk next to a sunny window in the Bend Public Library.

“I come here because I live at the Bethlehem Inn (shelter), and have to leave in the daytime,” Lyon said. At the library, Lyon said he browses the Internet, reads and checks out books. Lyon sometimes checks job listings on the Craigslist and Oregon Employment Department Web sites, and he will start looking in earnest when his unemployment benefits run out this week, he said.

Internet is a draw

Internet access at public libraries continues to draw patrons, Scheppke said, despite some early predictions that some people would get their own computers and Internet connections, and stop using libraries. “Our business is bigger than it’s ever been, and this economic situation has really added to that,” Scheppke said.

It is difficult to judge whether more people used the library system’s public computers in recent months, Dunkelberg said, because the computers have historically been in use 90 to 95 percent of the time.

“I can tell you anecdotally the change I’ve seen is a lot more people doing résumés on the computers, especially because a lot of businesses now will only take electronic applications,” Dunkelberg said.

“We’re seeing a lot of people who are actually having to start their computer literacy skills with their job search,” Dunkelberg said.

Other attractions

Patrons at the Bend Public Library on Wednesday morning gave a variety of reasons why they use the library. Joseph Hollander, of Bend, said he can get almost any book he wants and likes the convenient e-mail notifications that tell him when books are ready to pick up. Several parents and a nanny in the children’s section said the library is a great place for children to interact with each other.

“She loves story time,” Dave Nissen, of Bend, said about his daughter, 3-year-old Annicka. On Wednesday, however, they decided to skip story time so Annicka could put on large headphones and play on a computer, one of her other favorite library activities, her father said.

Lance Mousel, who was browsing the bookshelves on the second floor, said he comes to the library because “it gets me out of the house,” and he is using the library to learn more about Oregon history.

“We hate to see all these economic difficulties, but on the other hand, it’s really good for our business,” Scheppke said. “And I just hope people see that libraries are really important to families and to everybody, and that the services we provide are really heavily used.”

Adults Reading More Fiction


For the first time since 1982, "the proportion of adults 18 and older who said they had read at least one novel, short story, poem or play in the previous 12 months has risen [to 50.2%]," according to a National Endowment for the Arts study being released today, reported by the New York Times.

The increase was most notable among 18-24 year olds and involved novels and short stories more than poetry or drama. Literary reading also increased among Hispanic Americans.

For the first time, the study included Internet reading, which some thought might have helped boost rates, although the AAP's Pat Schroeder suggested that some people don't count reading online or on e-readers as "book" reading.

Other possible explanations for the jump: one community, one read programs; the popularity of the Harry Potter and Twilight series; and "individual efforts of teachers, librarians, parents and civic leaders" to promote literature and reading. Booksellers, too, we'd think.

The study is called "Reading on the Rise: A New Chapter in American Literacy" and is based on data from the Census Bureau compiled last year.

Monday, January 12, 2009

10 Librarian Blogs To Read in 2009

I started the "10 Blogs To Read in..." 3 years ago to find people in different areas of librarianship doing the most interesting and original writing on the web. Each year we've gathered a group of librarians working hard to increase the understanding our profession and it's place in the rapidly evolving online world. Again this year I tried to choose 10 writers who cover very different aspects of our profession, 10 sites that inform, educate and maybe amuse. I hope you'll find the list a nice place to find something new to read, or a place to gain better understanding of a part of librarianship that's outside of your normal area. We all have much to learn from each other, and these bloggers are working hard to share their knowledge and understanding with you. Read on below to see why each site made the list.

David Lee King Feed
David King is the Digital Branch & Services Manager at Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library as. He says his blog tends towards library website stuff - managing, marketing, experimenting, usability, and planning. Sometimes he strays into other related-yet-cool (translation: fun) topics, like video blogging, experience design and planning, and web 2.0 / library 2.0 topics.

In The Library with The Lead Pipe Feed
Written by " six librarians working in academic, public, and school libraries across the United States." In The Library with The Lead Pipe "is intended to help improve our communities, our libraries, and our professional organizations. Our goal is to explore new ideas and start conversations; to document our concerns and argue for solutions. Each article is peer-reviewed by at least one external and one internal reviewer."

And now for something completely different… 2 communities from Livejournal. Choose your favorite based on your tolerance for chaos.
The Society for Librarians* Who Say "Motherf*@!%r" Feed
If that sounds like it's a bit too much for you, try
Library Lovers' LiveJournal Feed.
A post from yesterday to The Society for Librarians* Who Say "Motherf*@!%r":, " Is it Saturday or the full moon that brings out all the jackasses today?" Both of the LiveJournal groups are wonderfully eclectic and active places to catch some interesting reading.

David Lankes Feed
R. David Lankes is director of the Information Institute of Syracuse, and an associate professor in Syracuse University's School of Information Studies. He posts video and audio from his presentations, and writes about a range of issues from an academic view point.

Planet Cataloging Feed
If there's a more exciting topic in librarianship than cataloging, I haven't seen it. And there's no better place to keep your finger on the pulse of catagloing than Planet Cataloging (unless you can handle AUTOCAT). Planet Cataloging is an automatically-generated aggregation of blogs related to cataloging and metadata designed and maintained by Jennifer Lang and Kevin S. Clarke.

Alternative Teen Services Feed
The Alternative teen services blog is maintained by teen librarians who share ideas, resources, and advocacy about serving teens. By sharing their ideas in a fun and supportive environment, the say they'll gain perspectives that improve our library services to teenage youth.

Designing Better Libraries Feed
Designing Better Libraries is a blog about design thinking and how it applies to library settings. The goal of this blog is to provide information, news and ideas that librarians can use to design a great library user experience for their communities. Among the topics they'll be covering are instructional design, innovation, technology design, and the application of new media to design - and of course - design thinking.

Closed Stacks Feed. Closed stacks was the "readers favorite" this year. Although I got far fewer votes this year than in years past, Closed Stacks was most popular. A group blog written by a variety of librarians, they cover just about everything.

Brave New World Feed
Topical items and views on the impact of digitisation on publishing and its content and the issues that make the news. Run by Martyn Daniels, Value Chain International's VP Marketing, Media and Publishing. The blog covers book digitization and Internet, bookselling and publishing.

Open Source ILS Vendors, choose your favorite.
The Liblime Folks: (Feed) and/or (Feed) and/org (Feed).
The Evergreen Folks: (Feed)
I'm a BIG believer in Free and Open Source Software, and I made a prediction that 2009 will be a big year for the open source ILS vendors. Follow along on their blogs to see what they're doing to give you control of your ILS.

The Librarian, 1947

click to play movieclick to play movie
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Congress bans kids from libraries?

New safety law may prohibit children under 12 from libraries – or make many books illegal
By LISSA HARRIS | January 9, 2009

Is it possible that Congress has just inadvertently turned millions of children’s books into contraband? At the moment, anything seems possible with regard to the sprawling, 62-page Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), passed this past August with overwhelming margins in both the House (424-1) and the Senate (89-3).

The CPSIA, intended to keep lead out of toys, may well also keep books out of libraries, says Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association.

“We are very busy trying to come up with a way to make it not apply to libraries,” said Sheketoff. But unless she succeeds in lobbying Capitol Hill for an exemption, she believes libraries have two choices under the CPSIA: “Either they take all the children’s books off the shelves,” she says, “or they ban children from the library.”

On February 10, the new law gets teeth. After that day, all products for children under 12 — books, games, toys, sports equipment, furniture, clothes, DVDs, and just about every other conceivable children’s gadget and gewgaw — must be tested for lead, and fall below a new 600 part-per-million limit, or face the landfill. Thanks to a September 12 memo from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), the lead limit applies not only to new products, but also to inventory already on store shelves.

“Under this new regime, you are suspect until proven safe,” says Allan Adler, the American Association of Publishers’ vice president for legal and governmental affairs.

As the February 10 deadline approaches, the CPSIA has been causing increasing consternation — and, at times, hysteria — among makers and sellers of children’s products, who are just beginning to realize the financial and logistical nightmare they face in trying to comply. Lead testing promises to be expensive — from several hundred to several thousand dollars per test, depending on the product. And each batch of each item must be tracked and tested, making compliance brutally expensive for items with small runs.

Historically, books have been considered more dangerous to read than to eat. Regardless, a memo from the CPSC, issued the day before Christmas Eve, explicitly quashed any hope that books might escape the new law. To make matters worse, even publishers that have already had their products tested for lead will be forced to retest. In the same memo, existing test results based on “soluble lead” — a measure of whether lead will migrate out of a product — were rejected by the CPSC because they did not measure “total lead content.”

The CPSC has not issued any ruling on whether libraries, schools, and other institutions that loan — rather than sell — books will be subject to the law. Without such clear guidance, says Adler, schools and libraries should assume they have to comply.

“If [the CPSC is] going to say that we’re being alarmist,” says Adler, “that’s fine, as long as they provide an explanation that we can understand and rely on. That’s what’s been missing from this entire discussion.”

Regardless of whether libraries and schools are affected, the CPSIA is poised to take a massive bite out of the book industry. Large retailers are beginning to demand that publishers comply, even in advance of the law’s deadline. This Wednesday, sent a general letter informing its vendors that, if they did not certify their products by January 15, the items would be returned at the sellers’ expense.

Like their peers in the toy and garment industries, many sellers of children’s books are just beginning to try to understand how the CPSIA will affect their businesses.

“All of us are totally in the dark,” says Terri Schmitz, owner of the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline. “I can’t make a decision, because I don’t know what the regulations are. We’re all sort of in limbo here.”

Libraries may yet escape unscathed. The CPSIA is changing rapidly as the CPSC scrambles to clarify the confusing lead law before it goes into effect. Thrift stores, consignment shops, and other used-goods stores got a partial reprieve yesterday in a hastily drafted CPSC memo: While resellers still face stiff civil and criminal penalties if they sell lead-contaminated items, used goods will not have to be tested for lead.

In lieu of actual testing, the memo urged resellers to “pay special attention to certain product categories,” like jewelry and painted toys, which are “likely to have lead content.”

Which prompts the obvious question: If other children’s products aren’t likely to contain lead, why is the CSPC regulating them?

From the sweeping language of the law, it appears Congress left them no choice. The Act covers any “consumer product designed or intended primarily for children 12 years of age and younger.”

“Consider for a minute that a twelve-year-old is a junior high school student,” says Adler. “This is not somebody who is likely to be chewing or sucking on a book.”

Lissa Harris can be reached

Friday, January 09, 2009

More people using libraries in tough times

Julian Guthrie, Chronicle Staff Writer

Nona Nangalama checked out a dozen books from the San Francisco Public Library this week, saying that in better economic times, she would have gone to Borders to shop for the items.

The San Francisco resident and unemployed mother of two is using public libraries even more in these tough times. She is checking out books instead of buying them, and using the Main Library's job and career center to begin her search for employment.

"I live right near the Borders South of Market, so that would be easy for me to go there," Nangalama said, holding 12 books on mastering algebra and geometry that she had checked out for her daughters. "You come here and get advice, guidance and books - all for free."

As the economy slides into a recession and families are cutting back on expenses big and small, libraries in the Bay Area and beyond are experiencing a big increase in membership and circulation.

But as demand rises, libraries are also seeing a squeeze in funding. Libraries rely on property taxes, and city coffers everywhere have been hit by the bad economy. Library officials from San Mateo to Marin County are beginning to look at ways to cut costs without reducing services.

"We're trying to be conservative looking at the next fiscal year," said Martin Gomez, director of library services for San Mateo County, which has 12 libraries in 11 cities. "All of our numbers, in terms of visits and circulation at branch libraries, are up by around 5 percent. But real estate drives our revenue, and property taxes are down. We're not looking at layoffs or reduced hours of operation, but we know the economy is going to take a while to bounce back."

San Francisco's public libraries have seen a 27 percent increase since July in the number of people seeking library cards, and a 12 percent increase over the same period in the number of materials checked out. That amounts to 32,000 cards issued and 3.8 million books, CDs and DVDs checked out.

"We are seeing a significant increase in folks coming into the library to access our computers, to visit our job and career centers, and find information on government aid and look up credit ratings on financial institutions," said Luis Herrera, city librarian for San Francisco, which has 27 branch libraries and the Main Library at the Civic Center.

"When the economy is down, library use is up," he said.

More library cards

More Americans have library cards than at any time since 1990, according to the American Library Association.

"Across the country, in every kind of neighborhood and community, library use, by various measures, is up," said Jim Rettig, president of the American Library Association, which has 66,000 members and promotes libraries and librarianship. "At this point, we have an entire population affected by the recession. People are discovering they can save money by using libraries, and they can develop their knowledge and seek employment."

Rettig said the 2 billion items checked out from U.S. libraries this year is 10 percent more than during the economic downturn in 2001. But books, DVDs and other material are only part of the story, he said.

"In 73 percent of U.S. communities, the only place a person can get free Internet access is libraries," Rettig said. "Libraries in areas hit hard by factory closings are playing an especially important role in the economic recovery. Most job applications are now submitted online."

Branches closing

Rettig noted that a number of cities, including San Diego, Philadelphia, Trenton, N.J., and Mesa, Ariz., are looking at closing branch libraries. "Public libraries are facing the most severe cutbacks in decades," Rettig said.

He said the American Library Association will submit a proposal to Congress early in the new year seeking $100 million in stimulus funding. The funds would go to enhance services and materials; extend hours of operation; and offer more classes and workshops focused on financial literacy, housing counseling and small business development. He also hopes a portion of the funds would go to renovating and upgrading facilities.

San Francisco's Herrera said the city's funding for libraries is holding steady.

"We have support through a set-aside in the city's general fund and property taxes," he said. "But we are going to be very prudent in how we approach spending. San Francisco is really committed to providing library services for free." In fact, Herrera said, San Francisco has been increasing hours and services. In November, seven of the 27 branches opened for an additional day each week. Four libraries are under renovation. The number of public computers at libraries has increased by 48 percent in the last two years.

Job seekers

Susan Cohen, a librarian for 15 years who now runs the job and career center on the fourth floor of the Main Library, is seeing more people come in asking for help with resumes and job searches. She said applications for most jobs - from dishwashers to civil service positions - are submitted online.

She has worked in recent months to increase the number of books on how to find a job, start a small business or change careers.

Standing next to stacks of job-related books, with titles including "Jobs Directory," "Resume Book," "Your Next Move" and "Hire Me, Inc.," Cohen said she's doing what she can to help those who are struggling.

"I chose this job because I thought I could be useful," Cohen said. "It's as satisfying as it's ever been. But I can feel that times are tougher. There's a nervousness that people have over the economy. I'm happy I'm in this position to be helpful."