Archive for July, 2012

A book is a book is a…well, no, not really

Posted in Books and publishing on July 5th, 2012

I got into a discussion today over at FriendFeed that began with a statement I just didn’t get…and evolved into a situation where, if I’m not mistaken, people (or at least one person) read something that I didn’t write. I thought I’d bring it over to a post for explication, rather than cluttering up a thread.

I’ll skip most of the stuff having to do with fetishizing “reading/books”–and while I can see that some people might make fetishes of particular print books or print books in general, fetishizing reading strikes me as incredibly improbable except for an early reader–“Look, Ma, I’m only 3 and I’m reading Shakespeare!”

Anyway, here’s part of the place where I think I was badly misread, leaving out the personal identification:

I didn’t do the “reading/books” bit, but I will damn well assert that reading is the principal way of overcoming ignorance. (And are you saying ebooks aren’t books? I don’t say that.)

A bit later on, Steve Lawson talked about a class on the history and future of books that he’d taught and a final exam question he did not actually give:

Here is a final exam question I wish I had given, but did not. I think the last sentence is pertinent: “For a college book-collecting contest, a student wanted to submit a collection of electronic books. Would you allow such a submission? In supporting your answer consider some of the following: What are good criteria for judging a collection of tangible, physical books? Is it possible to evaluate a collection of electronic books the same way, or would you propose different criteria? Is it possible or useful to compare collections of paper books and electronic books? How do concepts of “individuality,” “ownership,” and “scarcity” affect your answer? Is book collecting of any kind merely a bourgeois exercise in Pokemon-esque conspicuous consumption, narcissism, elitism, and crypto-fetishism by an anal-retentive phallocracy of bibliobores?”

I responded:

Wow. Interesting final question. I guess I’d distinguish between a book collection as an act of curation (real curation) and a book collection as a neato set of objects. In the former case, it strikes me that a collection of ebooks would be entirely appropriate. As to the last sentence, I’m almost inclined to say “Probably. Is something wrong with that?” but I’m afraid my tongue would puncture my cheek.

(Lawson says an essay version of that answer might have scored well.) A little later, I got a remark that appeared to me (perhaps wrongly) to suggest that I was equating ebooks and print books–saying “there’s no difference.”

And that’s just plain wrong, at least for me. (I’d say it’s just plain wrong, period–but read on for a key distinction.)

The simple truths

I do believe this statement and regard it as a general truth (one that everybody should believe, much like evolution and human-induced climate change):

An ebook is a book.

Which, to me, means that it’s perfectly reasonable to have (curated) collections of ebooks–collections that have clear merit and reasonable organizational axes. Authors, topics, publishers, prose styles, lots of other possibilities. For PDF ebooks, even typography and layout (and I just don’t know enough about EPUB and .MOBI, but my sense is that these “true” ebook formats don’t allow for much author/designer/publisher control over typography and layout; I could be wrong). So:

You can as readily curate collections of ebooks as you can collections of any other kind of book.

But that does not imply…

The next level:

There’s no difference between ebooks and print books.

I do not believe that, and I think it’s a silly statement. There are differences between kinds of print books–a hardcover or trade paperback is a very different kind of book from a mass-market paperback, for example. And print books are different creatures than ebooks. But they’re both books.

I think that’s a reasonably universal truth. Here’s a more local one:

Only the text matters: Everything else is irrelevant.

That’s the true “A book is a book is a book…” assumption, and I think it may be true for some people. It’s not true for me. If it’s true for you, I won’t argue the case: If the typeface, layout, and physical characteristics of a book are simply irrelevant to you, that’s your choice.

Here’s an example. I’ve read most of Sir Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, and loved them. Other than new ones and some of the offshoots, I have eight more left to read, eight from the middle of the series.

I first encountered Discworld from the library of a cruise ship (and yes, those are libraries), in the best possible form (for me): A handsomely-produced hardback. I think I managed to read the first four in that manner.

Later, I read close to a dozen of the novels in what may be the worst form: Second-hand mass-market paperbacks, with their yellowing paper and small type.

Since then, I’ve read some of the earlier and all of the most recent either on cruise ships (in hardback) or from my public library (in hardback).

The eight that remain? (Jingo through Monstrous Regiment, if you’re curious.) They’re new mass-market paperbacks that I picked up to read while traveling, but I haven’t been doing as much traveling. Now, since I don’t foresee too many more emerging, I’ll admit that I’m saving these…but Jingo is 12 years old already, which for the crap paper used in mass-market paperbacks suggests I really should get to them some day soon…

Anyway: These are different kinds of books. Yes, the text is the same in the hardcover and mass-market paperbacks, but the hardcovers are considerably more pleasant to read. I suspect a really good ebook edition on a really good ereader would be somewhere in between–not as pleasant as the hardcover (but I could be wrong) but more pleasant than the cramped-margin, small-type, yellowing-paper mass-market paperback.

Similarities and distinctions

In any case: What I wrote was that ebooks are books. What I neither wrote nor said was that ebooks are the same as print books.

They’re not.

For some people for some texts under some conditions, they may be superior. (As I’ve said frequently: If I was still traveling 6 times a year, I’d either have an ereader or a netbook or, sigh, maybe even a tablet.) For some people for some texts under some conditions, they’re probably inferior.

But then, a mass-market paperback is pretty clearly an inferior reading experience to a trade paperback or hardcover, all else being equal.

All else rarely is equal.

None of this is rocket science; indeed, none of this is really new.

And, who knows, maybe nobody really misunderstood me. That happens too.

Never underestimate the power of good editing and focused writing

Posted in C&I Books, Liblogs, Writing and blogging on July 4th, 2012

Laura Crossett sent me a fine reminder of the worth of good editing and focused writing. She looked at the core paragraph in this post (down below the first two horizontal rules) and offered an alternative version, which is far superior to what I wrote.

Here’s her version:


Your public library is in competition with a lot of other agencies–city, county, district, even state–for money. You want your library to sustain its current services and expand them in the future. You know you get a lot of bang for your buck, but how do you show that to the people who hold the purse strings? One way is to use the data in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. Walt Crawford has compiled, analyzed, and organized library funding and service data from all around the United States. Give Us a Dollar will let you compare your services to those of other similar libraries at a glance and will help give you the data you need to show your funders how much you already stretch their dollars–and how much more you could provide with even a few dollars more.


She also asked who I thought the key audiences were, and I came up with some answers–leading to the first part of the now-revised post.

So, if you’re a library consultant, public librarian, state library person or library school person–please go read the original post again (specifically the top part) and let me know: Does this sound interesting?

To clarify: Telling me “this might be interesting” or “this might be worthwhile” is not saying “And I’ll buy a copy.” No obligation or expectation of any sort.

And if enough people do think it’s interesting, I will find a way to thank the six libraries who did buy the preliminary version (so far), if only by providing a substantially discounted version of the much-improved book.

And, well, what I say in the post title: Never underestimate the power of good editing and focused writing.

 

Give Us a Dollar: The Open Question

Posted in C&I Books, Libraries on July 2nd, 2012

UPDATE: Here’s a new and much better paragraph* describing the (future) book, quick notes on who it’s for, and then the original post.

Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four

Your public library is in competition with a lot of other agencies–city, county, district, even state–for money. You want your library to sustain its current services and expand them in the future. You know you get a lot of bang for your buck, but how do you show that to the people who hold the purse strings? One way is to use the data in Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four. Walt Crawford has compiled, analyzed, and organized library funding and service data from all around the United States. Give Us a Dollar will let you compare your services to those of other similar libraries at a glance and will help give you the data you need to show your funders how much you already stretch their dollars–and how much more you could provide with even a few dollars more.*

Who It’s For

The key audience

This book is for directors of small and medium-size libraries, those who make the case for funding directly.

It’s for the people in larger libraries who make the case for retaining and improving funding.

It’s for library boards as they look at library performance and library funding, and for Friends groups concerned with library performance and funding.

Other audiences

Some library consultants will find it useful in working with public libraries.

Some state library agencies may find it a useful supplement to their own work.

Library schools should find it useful as one aspect of contemporary public library usage and funding.

And a few library people may find it worth reading.

Does this sound interesting?

If this sounds interesting and worthwhile, let me know. And maybe read the original post, under the first line below. I’m not suggesting that you go buy the book right now: The preliminary version might be useful, but the new idea (discussed below) is much, much better.

But mostly: If you think it might be worthwhile, let me know.

*Thanks to Laura Crossett for this wording. Good editing and copywriting too often go unappreciated.


Original post follows.


In case it wasn’t clear, I’ve entirely dropped the idea of a Kickstarter campaign for an ongoing social network survey–and the survey itself, since without institutional support it’s too much effort, and such support is unlikely given the Gates-supported self-reporting survey that includes social networking. In some ways that’s a relief; the book from ALA Editions will, I believe, be useful (and have ALA Editions’ marketing…), and doing another round would take several hundred hours I could use for reading, other writing, watching old movies, etc., etc…

The one response that I did receive to either or both Kickstarter possibilities was email and pretty clearly sent with the expectation that it would not be shared, so I won’t. Let’s say it wasn’t exactly encouraging–and used this phrase regarding the Give Us a Dollar project: “Give Walt money so he can play with spreadsheets”

If what I was trying to do with Give Us a Dollar comes down to “Walt playing with spreadsheets,” then obviously I should abandon the idea completely. The person sending the email had not read the book or requested a review copy, but had read at least parts of my related blog posts and found them incomprehensible–and felt that most other people would also find them, and the whole point of the project, incomprehensible.

And if that’s the case, I should abandon the idea completely.

But…I really would like to hear at least one or two other opinions, possibly including some from somebody who’s actually attempted to use the book. (I know there are seven copies out there, and I’m once again offering free review/feedback copies to those willing to provide feedback. But, as you’ll see below, what I think could be done isn’t at all what I did do.)

So: Here’s a one-paragraph version of why I think a much different version of Give Us A Dollar could be worthwhile for a few dozen or a few hundred libraries (certainly not every library!), possibly a few or a few dozen library consultants, and possibly a few state libraries or library groups:


Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four: What it could be good for

Your library competes with other agencies for improved or retained funding. Establishing that you use public funds well, and showing how better funding could make your library more beneficial, can help. With this book, you can readily determine how your library compares with libraries of similar size on a selection of key usage metrics and how funding affects those metrics. You can also determine how your library compares with others in your state, and in both cases the baseline for how much return the public gets for each dollar spent. By showing where you’re lagging and leading, and how funding correlates with use, you can help make your case for improved and retained funding levels.


Now, if the paragraph above doesn’t seem interesting at all, then the game’s over. Public libraries have the tools they need, or readers don’t find my idea worthwhile.

If it does interest a few of you, I’d still be happy to send PDF review/feedback copies (and the library stats line to support them) to those who’re willing to provide feedback (up to some not-yet-set limit). Send me a request. (waltcrawford at gmail dot com).

But the preliminary version is badly flawed–it slices the same set of data too many different ways, and fails to provide enough detail in some areas. It’s both too long and too short.

You’re really better off reading the first six pages of the one-column version of the  July 2012 Cites & Insights (up to “The Current Structure”) as an example of what I have in mind (if you prefer straight HTML and want to avoid tables split across pages, use this instead, again up to “The Current Structure”).

I need feedback–positive or negative, although in the lack of additional feedback the totality of current feedback is negative enough to discourage this or any future projects.

If there’s some reason to believe that a cleaned-up version with 2010 data could be useful for 10% of America’s public libraries (directly or via consultants, state libraries or groups), I’d definitely do it. If there’s reason to believe it would be useful for even 1%, I might do it.

I don’t need to make a decision until the 2010 IMLS database is available (which I’m guessing might not be until October, but I have no inside knowledge). But the lack of any additional feedback by the end of the summer will, at least, be strongly suggestive. And maybe that’s right.

[As to Kickstarter, where my lack of salesmanship and video editing qualities have always made me reluctant to mount a project even before the strongly negative feedback: If there was significant positive interest, one way to approach it could be to do a Kickstarter "watch-style" project, that is, use Kickstarter as basically a way to sell the book in advance. I don't know that this is particularly sensible, however, and in the absence of "Yes, that's what you should do" comments, I'm inclined to stay well away from Kickstarter.]


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