This is the text for my half of a session at the 2014 BC Library Conference. The first half belonged to Myron Groover and can be found here.
Before I get started I have to make clear that though I work in a public library and a lot of what I’m saying today is informed by my time directly serving the public at an information desk, it is not an accident I’m not telling you where I work. ‘Cause, though when Myron’s king I’m sure I won’t be the first against the wall, till then my opinions are of no consequence at all. All the sawed-off shotgun words I might be using today are completely my own (as much as anything can be one’s own) and emphatically do not represent the views of my employer. I am not their fault.
The point of combining our talks into one thing today goes kind of like this: We’re both public librarians devoted to serving our publics. Myron’s been talking about how we can protect our users from malicious entities on the internet (and just to lay my cards on the table my definition of malicious entities includes everyone trying mine and get information out of unsuspecting folks), and I’m going to talk a bit more about how we could expand our users’ knowledge of what they can do with regards to one of the stupid terrible things we’re caught up in today. And by that of course I mean Overdrive ebooks.
So I am aware of very important high-level talks about ebooks and publishing and that’s all cool. In her talk Tuesday morning Christina de Castell mentioned how in a perfect world we’d be sharing DRM-free books with our members, but that’s not the kind of thing they’re really going for. They’re making the current system work more smoothly. I’m talking about how to subvert that system so we can share DRM-free books with our members as individual guerrilla librarians.
How many of you have spent time helping users download ebooks? I’ll do this quick without speaking in maths:
That’s basically the process.
Now here’s a question: How long does that process take? Not the actual downloading, but the teaching someone how to make this whole system work? Assuming everything is in its right place, that no one forgets their password to their device’s app store, or the time on a laptop isn’t set incorrectly? For me, one-on-one that’s about a 15 minute interaction at the reference desk. Like most public libraries, we also do workshops so we spend an hour with 10-15 people at a time.
At the end of those sessions, those excellent interactions where you’re being the compassionate face of the library helping with a technological challenge, what has the user learned?
I posit that if we go into these interactions just trying to teach our users to jump through technological hoops we’re fucking up as librarians. Because here’s a selection of bad habits and lies we’ve just been complicit in teaching:
Do you think that is all fucked up? I think it is. Here are some reasons why:
If we don’t like these lessons, we can’t blame this on satellites or the falling sky, but only on ourselves for not providing alternatives that better fit our values. For me those values are sharing, and like Ivan Coyote said on Monday, honouring that librarian code of silence.
A few weeks ago I started an ebooks workshop and a woman in the group had a Kindle she wanted to use with the library. What do you say to her? In my library branch our circ staff have (quite good) step-by-step how-to documents they give to people when they ask about ebooks based on their device. When they get someone asking about a Kindle they know that technically Kindles don’t work with our Overdrive system, but they also have a resource over at the info desk that might be able to fix things up for them.
It is totally possible to get Overdrive ebooks onto a Kindle. There are a couple of tools you need to do it. Calibre, the open-source ebook management software and ApprenticeAlf’s DeDRM plugins for Calibre. Add these tools to the whole Adobe Digital Editions process and you can set up your users to take control over their ebooks. They still borrow the book through the normal channels, open it up in Adobe Digital Editions, but then drag the file into Calibre and it strips off all the stuff that stops you from modifying the file. Then you can convert it into a mobi file and pop it onto a Kindle. No problem.
Now when I say “strips off the stuff that prevents you from modifying the file” I am referring to Digital Rights Management, or, in the Canadian legal environment a TPM or a digital lock. When you strip that lock off, you’re breaking the law. You’re also stripping off the bits that prevent you from reading the book once you return it, and prevent you from making a copy to share yourself outside the Overdrive environment. I always tell people who want to use their Kindles that it is possible, but the laws say you technically are not supposed to be cussing around with that stuff.
The beautiful thing about stripping the DRM off an Overdrive book is that you’re now addressing a bunch of the problems I talked about earlier. They can use the tools of their choosing (which I realize sounds a little neoliberal of me, so I am sorry) which makes sense because an ebook is just a packaged up html file that people can save to disk read in their browsers. Users don’t need any extra apps or IDs to leak any more info about them, or to join in on the forced technology march of planned obsolescence.
To me that is exactly what librarians need to be doing. Our job is to serve our communities, not to make money for private companies.
Now you can totally say that my thoughts are misguided and a little naive, and I totally admit there’s a bit of a problem of scalability in the “teach everyone how to strip the DRM from their ebooks” approach. Not everyone wants to add that extra layer to their downloading process. There is a bit of extra software installation involved here, and it’s not something you can do right on an iPad. But I’ve helped people do it.I mean, it’s totally possible to automate the process on people’s individual computers, but many of our ebook users aren’t going to want to do that.
So my proposal is that librarians should be doing this ourselves for our users. We should be stripping DRM from our collections to give people a private (as in privacy, not as in how it’s paid for) option outside the corporate system, where we can be the secret keepers Ivan Coyote talked about in the opening keynote. In my perfect world public libraries would be the biggest seeders of ebook collections through bittorrent, and our catalogue links to ebooks would be direct to DRM-free ebooks in multiple formats.
Before we get there though, there are smaller scale ways to serve our ideals in the ebook-sphere & ideally not get sued to oblivion (though obviously I ain’t promising anything).
Thank you. I’m sorry for cussing so much.
When I taught English in China, I wasn’t a very good teacher. I did it though. It was a good experience, doing something I knew I was bad at, trying to get better, but not really knowing how. Me blundering along through failure for a couple of years was great for everyone. Except my students. And my self-esteem. Erm.
The thing is that when I got back to Canada and especially when I started working at a library reference desk I realized I’m not too shabby at one-on-one/small group instruction, especially when everyone is speaking the same language. It was teaching people to talk I was terrible at. But I still didn’t have a good handle on how to teach better or how to develop a lesson plan or anything like that.
So for me, my hands-down most useful class in my MLIS has been LIBR535: The Instructional Role of the Information Professional. The past couple of weeks we’ve been doing our short lessons and with actual guidance on how to do this stuff (simple guidance like “plan your lesson backwards from its objectives” and “making people physically do stuff is good because…”) I felt really good about it. And man oh man does it ever help when you’re teaching something you find interesting.
Librarianaut has been taken over by a school project (check the About page for details on the course). Each of the posts with twitterbrary in the title are trying to address issues of how different libraries use Twitter as part of their overall webpresences.
Here’s what I’m trying to address in each twitterbrary post:
A review of how easy/hard it is for patrons to locate the tool/service from the library’s homepage.
The overall usability of the chosen tools or services. How easy would it be for someone to use it if they had never used that tool/service before?
A review of how well the tool/service seems to fit in with the other tools/services offered by the library.
An evaluation of whether or not you would want to use this tool/service if you were a patron of the particular library.
Suggestions for how the tool/service could be improved for the particular library.
Other points as relevant.
I’ve looked at a mixture of public and academic libraries, but tried to stay with smaller schools or cities. My rationale is that these smaller places probably don’t have dedicated staff just for their social media, so they’ll have more modest presences. I figure that gives us a bit more scope for interesting comparisons. I’ve been finding most of my libraries through Lindy Brown‘s list of international Twittering libraries. Seven of the libraries are in Canada, one is from Australia and one is from Jamaica. Three of the libraries are academic libraries and the other six are public. It’s not a terribly scientific analysis or anything like that but there was an interesting range of Twitter integration into these websites.
Anyway, that’s the project. Enjoy.