Category: libraries

Libraries Boycotting eBooks

I’m not sure how much knowledge of this has spread outside library land, but inside library land, one of the biggest pieces of news in the last while has been centered around Macmillan Publishing’s decision to change the way it sells eBooks to public libraries.

Publishers have come up with a number of wonky ways to handle the way they sell eBooks to libraries. Some of them have done it by charging libraries more for the product, or by restricting the number of checkouts a library can let an eBook circulate for. The basic concern on the part of publishers is that people will discover libraries exist, and if it’s too easy to borrow an eBook from a library, they’ll stop buying any eBooks at all, choosing instead to just borrow the book whenever they want. With print books, there was a “shelf life” of the book: once it’s been checked out too many times, the books physically begins to fall apart. Copies get lost. They get ruined by rain. They get eaten by dogs.

Libraries have to buy more copies to replace those copies, in other words. But with eBooks, none of that happens. Publishers worry that people will just stop buying books altogether, and that the bottom line will be seriously affected. To combat this, Macmillan’s new approach is to refuse to sell libraries any eBooks until after a book has been in print for 8 weeks. Those first few weeks are crucial to a book’s success, they say, and they want to be sure libraries don’t cannibalize that success.

Of course, librarians argue that they themselves are part of a book’s success. They buy eBooks. Many, many eBooks. Readers find new authors through libraries. Libraries promote authors. It’s been a formula that’s worked well for a long, long time. They say Macmillan is doing a blatant money grab with a thinly veiled excuse that doesn’t pass muster.

And here I stand, a librarian and an author. What do I think of the whole situation?

On the one hand, part of me can see Macmillan’s point. There are certainly already models in existence that follow the new model they’d like to establish. No one complains that first run movies aren’t available in a library when they’re still in theaters. They premiere in a theater and then, months later, they’re on DVD or streaming, and that’s when people can buy them and watch them at home. Except . . .

These are books we’re talking about. When they are released, they are released in a format everyone can buy them. Libraries want to buy them. Macmillan just doesn’t want to sell them to libraries, and that feels petty and artificial. Honestly, it feels like Macmillan is stabbing a long-term partner in the back.

I buy the books I want to read. I buy almost all of them on my Kindle, because that’s the way that’s easiest for me to read them. I don’t check them out from the library, because I prefer to read what I want, when I want. I really dislike having to wait for the next book I want to read, and I like knowing I can read that book whenever I want. Yes, I know the way I read books isn’t the best way for long-term health of book stores. Giving money to Amazon isn’t nearly as good as giving money to my local bookstore. At the same time, I believe in Reading more than I believe in the business of books. People should read what they want, when they want, how they want, and no one should be sent on a guilt trip for reading the “wrong way.”

When I write books and publish books, I want people to read those books. The way that would make me the most money is if they’d buy them in hardback in the first 8 weeks of publication. That has a big impact, since it’s what makes the biggest splash (putting books on bestseller lists, catching attention, etc.) But I’m not in this game to just get as much money out of people as I can on one or two books. I’m in the long game. I want to publish more books, and the way that happens is by more and more people being exposed to my books and finding out how much they love them. (Hopefully)

There used to be four ways for people to discover new books. Libraries. Book stores. Reviews. Word of mouth. Book stores have been severely hampered the last few years, as more of the big chain stores went under, having already driven the independents under. Thankfully, there’s been signs of a growing resurgence of independents in some areas, but it’s still not back to where it was. Reviews still play a part, as does word of mouth. You could argue online stores like Amazon have taken the place of brick and mortar stores.

But any which way you slice it, libraries still play a key role in exposing readers to authors. And libraries pay for the privilege to do it. They buy the books. They talk the books up. When they succeed, publishers succeed. At first blush, I can see the argument Macmillan is making. But the more I look at it and think about it, the more preposterous it sounds. “We want to stop selling books to you, because you’re making it so too many people are reading our books.”

The more people read those books, the more fans those authors get. The more fans they get, the their books are going to be in demand. Libraries are now threatening to boycott Macmillan over this issue. If I were an author published by Macmillan, I’d be very upset over the potential loss of readers. Maybe if I were an author selling a gazillion copies of my books, I’d be upset that I wasn’t wringing every last dollar out of my potential audience that I could. But I doubt it.

For the long term health of reading and the book industry in general, libraries need to remain in the look. Macmillan is abusing a long-term ally to make some short term gains. It’s true that having their books only be available outside of libraries the first 8 weeks might make it more likely fans would want to buy a personal copy. But you know what else is out there? Pirated, free copies. Streaming has shown that if you make something available reasonably easily for not too much money, most people would be fine paying for it. If you make it expensive and difficult to obtain, more and more people will just steal it. Is that really what Macmillan wants?

True, I get that “people will just steal it” is a pretty base argument, but so is “too many people are reading our book from the library” . . .

What will I do? I’m going to continue buying books I want to read, regardless of publisher. At my heart, I’m pro-author, and I’d hate for some people’s careers to suffer because of this. (And some careers will suffer. No doubt.) I can’t blame libraries for boycotting, though. Macmillan is trying this to see what they can get away with.

Why can’t we all just get along?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Bringing Board Games to the Library

When I was down at ALA this summer, I attended a session focused on board gaming and libraries. As an academic librarian, I’ve often looked with envy at the fun activities public libraries get to run from time to time. Movie nights. Festivals. Board games. So much of what I do is focused purely on the academic side of reading. Research. Information evaluation, etc. We do a few things more slanted toward fun, but I’d never really considered board games as a good fit for the library.

But while I was at that session, I suddenly found myself questioning that assumption. Why wouldn’t board games fit with the rest of my offerings? We have space where people could play games. College students love games. We do activities from time to time focused on stress relief. What was stopping me? What’s the point in being the director of a library if you can’t bring board games into the fold?

While that thought was still fresh in my head, I went with a friend to a board game cafe. (Thirsty Dice in Philadelphia.) It’s such a great set up. You’ve got all these games waiting to be played, arranged by type of game, number of players, difficulty, length of time to play it, etc. There are “board game baristas” waiting to give game recommendations and teach people how to play if they’re not sure. You can go in and spend hours playing old favorites or learning new ones.

Wouldn’t it be great to bring that to my institution?

I’ve decided to go ahead and give it a shot. There are a couple of issues that I’m not 100% sure won’t cause problems, of course. My plan is to have the games stay in the library (non-circulating), but I’m also planning to just have them out in the general area where people can see them and use them as they wish. I debated putting them back behind the circulation desk, but in the end I thought that would make it less likely that the games get used. Of course, with them out in the open, we run the risk of the games being “permanently borrowed” or of pieces wandering off. I want to believe that won’t be a huge issue, however. It’s been my experience that board gamers want to play games. If they have a game they love, they want to own it. If they want to own it, they want a fresh, pristine game to own, and not one that’s been communally used.

In the end, I decided I’d just try it out and see how it went. I have some games I’m donating to the collection to start things off, and I might buy a few more core games to get the ball rolling. From there . . . we’ll see. See if the games get used. See if the pieces go missing. See what the response is from students. At the very least, it’ll be a fun experiment. In an ideal world, I’ll start to offer some programming around the games. Have game nights. Work with some student clubs to run activities. Foster more gaming events. If things go well, it could be a really fun addition to our offerings.

Wish me luck!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Three Days of Retreats

I’ve got three days of library retreats in front of me. That might sound like it’ll be tons of fun to some of you. “Retreat” always used to bring to mind lots of fun images. Perhaps canoeing down a river, or maybe trekking across the fields somewhere picturesque. (In fact, the first retreat I ever had in Maine involved going orienteering, which was a whole lot of fun.)

I’m not going to say these retreats (one of which is two days, and one of which is one day) will be no fun at all. I’ve got friends who will be at both of them, and no doubt there will be laughter and food, but there’s also going to be meetings. Lots and lots of long meetings, full of sitting and talking. You see, these days, the meaning of the word “retreat” in my life has somehow changed to become synonymous with “day long meetings that involve free food.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of free food. (Perhaps too big a fan of it, if we’re being honest.) But I’m also not a fan of long meetings. Your brain starts turning to jello about four hours into a long meeting, which as around the time you realize at a retreat that you’ve got another four hours to go, and that resolution you made to stop at one brownie was pretty much laughable. You’re going to need five or six to get through this day.

“But Bryce!” you say. “You’ll be away from the office! Won’t it be great to have a change of pace? Mix things up a bit?” Typically, I’d agree with you. When the retreats line up in a row like this, however, I begin to feel a little daunted. Am I up to that much retreating? At some point, if you retreat too much, isn’t that considered a bad thing? Isn’t retreating cowardly?

The courageous thing to do would be to take a stand against retreat, I say. To plant my flag firmly in the soil and declare, “No! We’re not doing another one of these things unless it involves a canoe or a compass!” To stand like Gandalf before the Balrog that is twenty-one hours of meeting and boldly tell those hours to go back to the shadow. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn.

But who am I kidding? Not only do I not have the flame of Anor tucked away in a pocket somewhere, I’m fresh out of flags to plant. And to be honest, there are actually important things these meetings need to get accomplished. Will there be padding? Sure. But we’ll also get some good stuff done. It’s the price we pay for progress.

So forgive me if I’m blog silent the next few days. I’ll be stuffing my face with brownies and doing my best to somehow get through so much retreating. Here’s hoping I don’t just retreat in one big circle and end up right where I started.

Wish me luck.



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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.



The End of an Era: Stepping Down from the Maine Library Association Presidency

I had my last meeting as part of the Maine Library Association presidency today. It’s hard to believe it’s been six years that I’ve been doing this. Six years! So much has changed in that time. I remember first getting the phone call from the incoming president, asking if I’d be interested and willing to serve in the presidency (as Vice President for two years, President for two years, and then Past President for two years). It was a big commitment, especially for someone who had just been in the Maine library world for less than six years.

In the time since then, I’ve had five different bosses. I’ve changed jobs two or three jobs (at the same institution). It’s been a huge learning curve for me, and I can point to so many things that I’ve gotten better at through the opportunity to assume that leadership role in the state. A stark example would be conference planning. When I came on as VP, I suddenly found out it was up to me to set up the annual conference. That first year was very rocky (for a number of reasons), but when I contrast it with the conference I set up yesterday for Maine Academic Libraries Day, the difference is night and day. People kept coming up to me to thank me for setting it up so well, and I just didn’t feel like the thanks were that necessary. I found some presenters, arranged for food and rooms, emailed to promote it, had multiple meetings to coordinate it, negotiated some vendor sponsorship . . .

When I rattle off the things I did, it suddenly does sound significant, which is just a sign to me of how much I’ve learned being part of the presidency.

The organization itself has changed a ton as well. When I came on, we had around 300 members. Now we’re over 600. Six years ago, we were losing money, with our sole reliable “income stream” being membership dues. Now, we have multiple successful conferences that pay for themselves and bring in funds to help cover other important initiatives. We’re taking on new responsibilities and tackling new projects, like revising the public library standards for the state.

Through my time on MLA, I’ve gotten to know so many more awesome librarians across the state, to the point that I almost always feel like there’s someone close by I could reach out to for help, should I be anywhere in Maine. I know what libraries are struggling with, and where they’re excelling. I know about the challenges we face locally, across the state, and nationally.

It’s all come with a cost, of course. Weekly teleconferences. Board meetings every other month. Committee work across the gauntlet. When I first came on, we began weekly presidency meetings. For the first two years, it was just me and the president. Then we added a new VP for the next two years, and then I shifted to the past president role for the last two. It’s to the point now that those meetings are a permanent fixture (at least, that’s how it feels to me). We found a new Executive Director, revised the bylaws, and I learned much more about Roberts Rules of Order than I ever wanted to.

I could go on, but I won’t. I’m grateful for the chance I had to make an impact, and happy the impact appears to have been a positive one. I still plan on being involved with MLA however I can help. Its mission is near to my heart for multiple reasons.

To all those who’ve helped me over the past six years, a huge thank you. It’s very much a group effort. I’d call you out by name, but I’ll hold back. For one thing, not everyone’s comfortable being name dropped on a blog without permission, and for another, I would inevitably forget someone hugely important. But I really am thankful for all the help I’ve gotten these six years, and the awesome things we’ve come together to achieve. I’m sure there’s even more awesomeness to come.

Go Maine Libraries!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Good Intentions Don’t Make a Bad Law Better

A few months ago, a Maine lawmaker’s 12th grade son was assigned to read a graphic novel in school: Kafka on the Shore. It’s not an obscure book. It won the World Fantasy Award in 2006, appeared on the New York Times’ 10 Best Books of 2005, and has received a fair bit of acclaim.

It also contains explicit depictions of sex and rape.

The lawmaker was shocked by the assigned reading, and so she decided to do something about it, proposing LD 94, a bill which would make it illegal to provide obscene material to children in school. (Which has since been amended to make it so educators must alert parents that materials have objectionable content, and parents have to opt in to let their children access it.) Educators who fail to do so can be charged with a Class C felony, which carries a sentence of up to 5 years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

A few comments. First, I have not read the book in question. Frankly, I don’t think the specific book in question should enter into the discussion, since this isn’t a proposed law to declare Kafka on the Shore an obscene work. Rather, we need to look at what this law would do and what its implications would be.

I get very uncomfortable the moment laws start bandying around words like “obscene.” Maine already has a law prohibiting the dissemination of obscene materials to minors. (It has an exception for materials that are provided for educational purposes, so it exempts libraries, public school, universities, etc. from that law. This amendment looks to take “public school” off the list of educational exemptions, which is ironic.) In the law, “obscene” is defined as material which:

(1) To the average individual, applying contemporary community standards, with respect to what is suitable material for minors, considered as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
(2) Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive manner, ultimate sexual acts, excretory functions, masturbation or lewd exhibition of the genitals; and
(3) Considered as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.

(And never mind that Kafka on the Shore wouldn’t qualify as obscene under this guideline, because as I said, this isn’t about the book in question. It’s about the greater implications of the law.)

This definition is hard to meet, making it really only applicable in blatant cases of obscenity. That’s just fine by me, because I have seen far too many examples of times when someone else’s definition of “obscene” was far different than my own. (True story: when I worked at Orem Public Library, there were numerous times people came to the desk wondering why we didn’t put ratings on the books. “Just like with movies.” They wanted some restricted so that certain ages couldn’t check them out. Pro tip: asking a librarian to start censoring the collection or limiting it in anyway is a good way to get ignored. We’re kind of all about freedom of information.)

In the end, this bill is unnecessary and a huge overreach. It’s using a bazooka to solve a simple problem. There are already mechanisms in place for individual schools to have books challenged and decided on at a local level. There’s no need to blow up the entire system of how things work in public schools just because one parent didn’t like the way that system worked. The Maine Library Association spoke out strongly against this bill, and I’m 100% in agreement with them.

I have nothing against people deciding what sort of things they do and do not want their family to read, watch, or listen to. I was assigned a book my senior year of high school (Rabbit, Run, by John Updike). As I read it, I was uncomfortable with its depictions of sex. I went to my teacher and asked for an alternative assignment. She gave me Quentin Durward, instead. It was great. No big fuss needed. No big hullabaloo made. When it comes to my approach as a parent, I keep an eye on what my kids read and watch. I have conversations with them about things they’re consuming. I’m an active part in it. These days, my experience leads me to believe parents should be far more worried about what their kids can see online than what they’re getting in school. But if there is something that comes up that makes a family or student uncomfortable, there’s a system to challenge it.

Here’s hoping this bill comes to a quick and painless end.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve been posting my book ICHABOD in installments, as well as chapters from UTOPIA. Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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