Archive for the 'Books and publishing' Category

Making Book 5: Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs

Posted in Books and publishing on November 8th, 2013

In 1987, I went back to a book a year—for that year and through 1992 (although there was a second “book” in 1992, I’m not sure it counts).

To my mind, this book is the second one that changed the library field significantly (MARC for Library Use was the first): I believe online catalog patron interfaces in the late 1980s and beyond were significantly influenced by this publication, including the huge growth in gutter-aligned labeled displays.

How widespread are gutter-aligned labeled bibliographic displays? Take a look at your library’s online catalog, the detailed or full display for a single item. There’s a very good chance that it has a column of labels—and that those labels are right-aligned. (I know that’s true for my public library, and I believe that library uses one of the most widely-used ILSes.)

Before Patron Access, there were very few such displays. I didn’t come up with the idea (I saw it suggested by Joe Matthews), but I believe this book was the first to publicize it widely and show how well it worked—since it certainly didn’t sound intuitively attractive.

Background

This is the second book to grow out of the RLG Patron Access Project, the lengthy literature survey, and the enormous outline and bibliography I assembled during that project. (The outline included more than 250 specific issues relating to patron access: it did emerge as a three-part document in late 1985 or early 1986 (as far as I know, it is not available online). My superiors at RLG were happy to allow me to use the outline to prepare a book. As usual, a number of RLG colleagues (Lennie Stovel, Glee Cady, Kathleen Bales, Sarah How) commented on various drafts, as did my editor at Knowledge Industry Publications and my wife (Linda Driver, a professional librarian).

It’s probably worth quoting two paragraphs from the Acknowledgments:

This book builds on, but does not supplant, the landmark books on online catalogs by Charles Hildreth, Joe Matthews and Emily Fayen (all cited in the Bibliograph). Although I don’t agree with everything in those sources, I would be remiss not to express my appreciation for their work.

Finally, I should acknowledge the librarians who, over the years, have shown that the most important aspect of patron access is the concerned, professional librarian. Many names at UC Berkeley, Stanford, Palo Alto City Library and Menlo Park Public Library come to mind; Virginia Pratt at UC Berkeley’s Library School library deserves special mention.

The book was not published by Knowledge Industry. G.K. Hall purchased the Professional Librarian Series from Knowledge Industry, including existing contracts; this was my first book to be published by G.K. Hall.

Foreground

The preface to the book—a 259-page (plus xii pages) 6″ x 9″ hardcover and paperback—made it clear that the highlight boxes were “my own opinions and are intended to provoke thought, not to be accepted on faith.” And here are the final four paragraphs of that preface, which describe my aims fairly well:

Good patron access systems exist, and more are being developed. Online catalogs, though still in their infancy, have the potential to provide more and better access to all forms of bibliographic material, including materials never represented in card catalogs.

This book’s subtitle expresses its primary intent and focus: Issues for Online Catalogs. After some years of discussion, early research and early examples of online catalogs, the time seems right to discuss a broad spectrum of issues related to patron access. Some issues appear to be obvious and to have obvious answers. Some issues may appear extraneous to patron access. Many issues are controversial, and some may be impossible to resolve.

My intent in this work is to stimulate further thought and development, not to devise the perfect patron access system. Assertions should encourage challenges; if those challenges produce demonstrably better patron access, my goals will be achieved.

Patron access catalogs will improve. By 1991, many of the discussions in this book should appear quaint because the issues I discuss will already be resolved. That’s as it should be. I am building on the work of others, with the expectation that others will add more and better work to mine.

I believe that happened, and I believe this book played a significant role. I suspect some of the highlight boxes are still relevant. If you’ve always lived with online catalogs, you might not be aware just how primitive many patron interfaces were in 1986—if libraries had online catalogs with patron interfaces at all, that is. Remember patron access interfaces that were only to the catalog itself, without holdings or availability information? No? (When somebody talks about “online card catalogs,” it’s worth remembering that there was a time when many online catalogs didn’t provide status information—and in many cases provided less information than the card catalogs.)

The book’s organization stems from the master outline’s organization, refined over the course of a year or more. There are a dozen chapters, including “Presentation: Context in an Online Catalog,” “System Clarity,” “Feedback and Help” and “Display Issues.” (There’s also a glossary, an annotated bibliography and an index.) It appears that the longest single chapter is “The Database Engine: Computer, Files and Indexes,” but most chapters are roughly similar in length.

I am particularly proud of this book. I now own the rights to all of my books published by Knowledge Industry or G.K. Hall/Macmillan. This is the oldest one that, if I had the text in machine-readable form, I would actually be tempted to republish (quite possibly with a CC BY license) because it might still be useful for the field. (I don’t have the text in machine-readable form, and can’t see scanning the pages and cleaning up the OCR without any funding at all…but I do believe it would be a worthwhile project.)

Just to finish this off, here are four of the five assertions (highlight boxes) from the “Protection” section, each of which has several paragraphs of expansion. (The fifth may not be relevant any longer—it had to do with limited computer resources, very much an issue in 1987!)

A good patron access system protects the patron from the system, the patron from other patrons and agencies, and the system from the patron.

While patron access systems should show that items are charged out, and may show when they are due, no patron should be able to find out who has items charged out.

No records should link a patron to returned items, and no records should link an item to the patrons who have borrowed and returned it.

Records of commands entered at a catalog should never identify the patron who is using the system.

I believe those four (the last three are essentially expansions of the first) still describe a desirable state of affairs for every library’s online catalog—and I still believe that weakening those protections is dangerous.

Crawford, Walt. Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs. Professional Librarian Series. Boston: G.K. Hall, 1987. ISBN 0-8161-1850-7. ISBN 0-8161-1852-3 (pbk.)

Making Book 4. Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog

Posted in Books and publishing on November 6th, 2013

My third book for 1986 isn’t precisely mine and grew out of a two-year project at RLG, one that resulted in other later publications as well.

It was, among other things, a much earlier set of statistics for MARC field occurrence in a large set of bibliographic data than anything comparable I can think of—but that was actually a lengthy appendix.

Background

In 1984, the J. Paul Getty Trust funded a two-year RLG project with a number of aims. One portion of the overall project was the Patron Access Project. The goal of that project was to develop a design for a workstation-based patron access system to work with an online catalog based on RLIN software. The project rested on several assumptions, among them that online catalogs (and especially patron access) were just beginning a long process of development, evaluation and improvement; that scholars and research libraries might have special needs less likely to be fully addressed by commercial catalog development; that by 1990 scholars would have access to powerful microcomputer-based workstations; that RLIN itself (while “an unusually sophisticated database engine and retrieval methodology”) was not designed for direct use by scholars or other patrons; and that RLG should focus on the access needs of scholars as part of its overall goal.

I served as investigator for Phase 1 of the project, studying—exhaustively—the literature of online catalogs and preparing an extremely detailed outline of issues for online catalogs. (Remember when we used special outline software to develop outlines—before it was plausible to just use the outline functions of Word and competitors?) In 1985, I attended a CLR conference on online catalog screen displays and “came away convinced that the library community could benefit from large-scale tests of bibliographic display systems.”

Since I was still Product Batch manager (a post I gave up at the end of the project, becoming “assistant director for Special Services”), I was aware that RLG maintained the RLIN Monthly Process File, a file in MARC format containing 700,000 to 900,000 records (anything created or updated or used for catalog cards or other products during the previous six weeks)—and that it was feasible to use that file as a testbed. (At the time, computer capacity and handling methods didn’t really allow for processing the entire RLIN database for this sort of thing.) I developed the Bibliographic Display Testbed program, making it possible to try out a proposed set of display rules and see the results—both sample screens and how often, for example, records would run over to second or third screens.

A sidebar about the times and technology. In 1985-1986, and a few years beyond that, most library computer displays, especially for online use, were character-based, showing 24 lines of 80 characters each (fixed-width characters). You typically got from one screen to the next by typing a command, certainly not by scrolling down an effectively-infinite-length virtual screen. (What would you scroll with? Those smart terminals didn’t have mice.)

So there were real reasons to be concerned with how often users would need to go past the first screen of a record display, especially given the sense that a fair number of users might not bother.

I’d worked with MARC records—and specifically RLG’s MARC records, which included a lot of archival and manuscript control records—to suspect that bibliographic data was too heterogeneous for small samples to be terribly meaningful. We ran some 100-record tests, which satisfied my conviction: They varied so much from test to test as to be nearly useless.

RLG concluded (at my suggestion) that we could provide a useful product for the wider library community by testing a range of possible display designs and publishing the results. That would require work time, more than one analyst—and a means of distributing the result. Some portion of the time of two other library systems analysts (Lennie Stovel and Kathleen Bales) was made available, and Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. agreed to publish the results (with RLG owning the copyright and receiving what royalties might ensue, since this work was done on work time).

Foreground

This was a team effort. I wrote the programs and documentation, managed the large-scale test runs and wrote most of the text for the book. I also provided some possibilities for display design, based on the Patron Access Project study. Lennie Stovel provided much of the display design, investigating different possibilities for the top and bottom of the screen, different label alternatives and different sets of data elements. Kathleen Bales (some of you know her as Kathy) worked with Lennie to prepare the final sets of data elements and labels and to refine the designs. Both of them reviewed my program design and suggested improvements.

We were looking at several issues for online catalog design: which fields and subfields to include in each kind of display, how to arrange and group the fields, whether to use labeled or cardlike displays, what labels to use and where to put them, what techniques to use to improve legibility (remember, we’re talking about fixed-width characters with relatively low resolution), how many different display types to provide and what other information to put on the screen (and where!).

We saw five major questions: Does the display provide an appropriate amount of information? Will patrons understand the information as it is displayed? Is the display readable and attractive? Will patrons be able to find information rapidly and to find all the information needed? Will patrons be able to view the information on a single screen?

As far as we knew, almost no work had been done on the final question and not enough on the others.

We did hundreds of early test runs, mostly using a single day’s activity (19,000 to 25,000 records at the time), but several dozen using the entire six-week file. Based on those tests, we concluded that three levels of display were minimal—brief, medium and complete, each possibly either cardlike or labeled. The aim was for a brief display to leave at least seven lines for holdings information at least 90% of the timeand for a medium display to fit on one screen (with at least three lines of holdings) 90% of the time. It was clear that complete labeled displays would usually require at least two 24-line screens—but that complete cardlike displays could usually fit on one screen with minimal holdings.

We finally arrived at a common frame—the top and bottom of each screen—and a common set of data elements for medium displays. For various reasons, the dataset used for testing was reduced to a subset containing 395,000 to 405,000 records (or, for public libraries, a constant set of just under 35,000 records). We ran final tests against those records to determine percentages, and used a fixed set of eight representative records to prepare mockup displays.

The result was this 359-page 8.5″ x 11″ paperback. It includes eight chapters, most chapters combining discussions of specific display design possibilities, tables of the efficiency of those options and figures showing how the options worked out in practice. (There are a lot of figures—the book’s mostly tables and figures—with most chapters having anywhere from 46 to 99 half-page screen simulations and four or five tables each.)

Appendix A included field occurrence tables (showing for each USMARC field the occurrences per hundred records and the average field length) for all records except archival & manuscript control (a testbed of more than 628,000 records—that table is four pages long); field occurrences for 34,941 public library records; a comparison of two different 600,000-record samples (taken four months apart) for selected fields; and field occurrences for each bibliographic format (with sample sizes including 522,000 books records, 3,975 AMC records—which were and are distinctly different than most others, a mere 408 machine-readable data file records (there weren’t many of those back in the mid-1980s!), 1,000-odd maps, 11,600-odd musical scores, 50,000 serials, 4,450 sound recordings and 1,600-odd visual materials—and for each format, how the sample performed for each of 28 display possibilities. Another appendix provided a full MARC-tagged listing for each record used in most of the tests.

What was the impact of this book? I can’t say. I believe that the related Patron Access: Issues for Online Catalogs (more about that later) helped to convince designers to give “gutter-aligned” labeled displays a try—that is, displays where the label is right-aligned and the field text is left-aligned. Such displays were almost unknown before that book was published and became nearly standard (for labeled displays!) in later years: They sounded strange, but we found that they worked very well.

Are there huge differences between the field occurrence rates we found back then and those in the much larger grant-sponsored study (against a copy of most of the OCLC database) done more recently? Not really. The newer study took things down to the subfield level, but the general results were quite similar—as you’d expect. It’s not news that most bibliographic records only use a handful of fields; the question is whether the special cases that require oddball fields should be supported by the formats. I always believed they should, and continue to believe that, but—again—that’s another discussion.

Crawford, Walt, Lennie Stovel and Kathleen Bales. Bibliographic Displays in the Online Catalog. Professional Librarian Series. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1986. ISBN 0-86729-198-2 (pbk.)

Making Book 3: Common Sense Personal Computing

Posted in Books and publishing on November 5th, 2013

1986 was a big year for me for books—three of them in all, each with a very different background.

It was also the year after I was appointed LITA Newsletter editor and, in order to provide more coverage of conference events and other divisional stuff, changed the publication from traditional ALA layout and typography to desktop publishing: Eventually tripling the page count without ever increasing the budget. In the end, I edited (and produced the pages for) the LITA Newsletter for more than half of its life as a print publication (I was editor from 1985 through 1994)—a record I would rather not own, since once LITA Newsletter went e-only it didn’t take long to disappear entirely. But that’s another story and not directly relevant.

Background

I don’t recall the precise genesis—whether I was talking to Ed Wall at a party or one of “his people”—but I’d had an idea for an interesting little article back in late 1983 or early 1984. Those were the early days of serious personal computers: After the pure-hobby stuff but when IBM PCs were just starting to be significant.

The concept: I’d noticed, in shopping for a computer and reading early computer magazines, that there were three very different ways that personal computers were priced: “computer pricing,” hardware pricing and system pricing. The question was: “How much will that $1,200 computer really cost?”

  • Computer pricing meant a quoted figure that got you a computer and a keyboard—and not much of anything else. The classic examples were the Commodore 64 and early Apple and IBM PC prices. “You have bought an expensive paperweight; by spending more money (generally a lot more money) you can turn that paperweight into a system. Computer Pricing is like pricing an automobile without including windshield, seats, the engine, or controls.”
  • Hardware pricing meant a price that got you a computer, keyboard, monitor, disk drives, and enough I/O to attach a printer. Early examples were Compaq portables, the Mac and the Apple IIc. (The IIe originally featured computer pricing; when Apple introduced the IIc, it repriced the IIe as a complete set of hardware and substantially dropped the price.) As I noted, this was better—but was still like buying an automobile “which doesn’t have any steering wheel, gas pedal or brakes, or other controls.”
  • System pricing probably originated with Osborne—offering a system ready to do useful work as you buy it. The price would included not only a full set of hardware but also “relatively complete software”—typically word processing, spelling checker (those were separate back in 1984!), spreadsheet, database or file manager, and BASIC. All you needed was a printer, some paper and some diskettes. Morrow, Kaypro and Sanyo all used system pricing.

Anyway…I wrote the article, “Commonsense System Pricing,” which showed comparable system prices for ten different personal computers, trying to determine actual comparability. By the way: Only two of the ten systems had hard disks at all.

The article appeared in Issue 6 (actually volume 2, issue 2) (1984) of the young Library Hi Tech.

That article led to another article, “Common Sense Planning for a Computer, or, What’s it Worth to You?”—which appeared in Issue 7. (LHT was—is, I guess—a quarterly.) And another in the final 1984 issue. And four more in 1985, three in 1986, three in 1987 and three in 1988. (In 1989, I replaced the “Common Sense Personal Computing” articles with “Trailing Edge” articles, which appeared in most issues of LHT from 1989 through 1998: my vanity bookcase includes a 15″ deep collection of LHT issues. Then there’s “Trailing Edge Notes” and “Crawford’s Corner” in Library Hi Tech News, 10 times a year from 1995 through 2000…which, when I finally stopped doing it after the publication had been sold to what’s now Emerald and the prices were jacked way up, eventually led to Cites & Insights. But that’s a digression.

Foreground

Ed Wall (of Pierian Press, at the time publisher of Library Hi Tech) encouraged me to build a book around the columns, with some additional pieces added and making a logical whole. I did that in the latter half of 1985. The title of Chapter 1 may have been prophetic: “Just What The World Needs, Another Book on Microcomputers: An Introduction.”

The book has 16 chapters and totals 204 8.5″ x 11″ pages. It was produced from an HP LaserJet printer—but at Pierian Press rather than by me. As recounted in the preface, the writing and submission project involved portions of the book being worked on in up to five different word processing systems: WordStar (on my Morrow MD2 with CP/M and two diskette drives), NewWord (most of the chapters, on my later Morrow MD11—with a massive 11 megabyte hard disk, still CP/M), The FinalWord (at RLG on an IBM PC/XT running PC-DOS), PC-Write (my preferred writing/editing tool for the PC/XT and, because that’s what Pierian used, WordPerfect (also on a PC/XT).

It wasn’t a bad book. It was very much of its time. It’s now a quaint historical piece.

Crawford, Walt. Common Sense Personal Computing: A Handbook for Professionals. Ann Arbor, MI: Pierian Press, 1986. ISBN 0-87650-218-4 (pbk.)

Making Book 1: MARC for Library Use

Posted in Books and publishing on October 29th, 2013

This is the first in a (possible) series of memoirish notes on how my books came to be.

Prelude

MARC for Library Use was not the first book length manuscript I wrote.

That would have been the study of newspaper coverage of the Free Speech Movement, which I wrote (I think) two or three years after FSM itself—thus, in the mid-1960s. On an electric typewriter. Doing nearly all of my research from roll microfilm of daily newspapers. Which, as other oldsters might imagine, left me ever-so-fond of microfilmed newspapers and those lovely manual readers.

What happened to that manuscript? I have no idea. There were two copies—an original and a carbon copy. (Where, exactly, would a penurious student go to get a 400-page manuscript copied in, say, 1966? And how would he afford it?) I submitted the manuscript to the University of California Press. Which rejected it. I would have submitted it elsewhere, I think, but in the meantime loaned it to a “friend” to read. Who disappeared…with the manuscript in his possession. The carbon copy somehow wandered as well.

I think it was a pretty good project. I may be fooling myself. Anyway…

Background

I started developing MARC-based software in 1972, the year I moved from UC Berkeley Doe Library’s circulation department to the Library Systems Office. (USMARC goes back even farther: MARC II originated in 1968.)

When I moved to the Research Libraries Group (RLG) in 1979, I continued to work with MARC—unsurprisingly—and in 1980 became Product Batch Group manager, in charge of the behind-the-scenes work that produced all products from RLG member and user cataloging (except for catalog cards—my group made sure that the intermediate steps worked, but the phenomenally complex and flexible card production software was in another group). Most Product Batch work was in pure MARC—directory, leader and all. I retained one key piece of code from Berkeley: A very compact PL/I subroutine to extract desired fields or subfields from a MARC record with minimal overhead. (Back then, programmers spent a lot of time working on efficiency!) I would note that UC’s statewide library systems group, UCDLA, also borrowed that routine.

I was aware that library vendors, especially smaller-system vendors, had a tendency to call systems “MARC Compatible” that could not, in fact, import and export MARC records on a generalized basis, and that there was a need for better understanding of MARC itself. At one point, my group hired a library school graduate who’d taken a course on MARC and who had his syllabus from the course (since there were no textbooks). I read the syllabus and was horrified: Much of it was wrong or oversimplified (e.g., assuming a certain limitation was part of the format because one interactive system had that limitation).

The field needed a proper book on USMARC. I started talking up the idea with people at the Library of Congress, the people who were the actual experts. (I started serving as a liaison from RLG to the USMARC advisory group in early 1981 into 1987, the last two years as a MARBI committee member from LITA. I became acquainted with Henriette Avram in that role.)

I got nowhere with the effort. And finally said, “I’ll do it myself.” With considerable trepidation.

My vague recollections involve about 12-18 months of research and writing (fortunately, I had my first personal computer by then: A Morrow MD2 with no hard drive but two diskette drives, one for the OS and software, one for data: it had a honking big 128K of RAM and was, I believe, a Z80 CPU). I remember quite a few trips back to Berkeley to work with material in the Library School Library (since shut down, along with the library school). Eventually, I had a manuscript—and got reviews at various stages from several people at RLG, colleagues at OCLC and WLN and Penn State, and some of the actual experts at LC, including Henriette Avram. (Ms. Avram also provided a foreword.)

I submitted the manuscript to the foremost library publisher. They didn’t know what to do with it. They suggested rewriting it as a cataloging manual. They dithered. Eventually, I told them I was offering it elsewhere. Which I did—to Knowledge Industry Publications, Inc. (KIPI). The acquisitions editor there also wasn’t quite sure what to make of it—but thought the topic might be important and took a chance.

Foreground

In 1984, it appeared—a 222-page 8.5×11″ hardbound and paperback (back then, some library publishers did both versions).

It succeeded better than KIPI had expected and probably better than I had. Of all the books I’ve written (without co-authors), I’m pretty sure it’s the best-selling…and quite possibly the most important. I know that at least one major library automation vendor purchased a copy for each of its salesfolk and told them to read it. I know that within a year or two, companies claiming MARC compatibility had MARC compatibility.

It is a book of which I am proud.

Crawford, Walt. MARC for Library Use: Understanding the USMARC Formats. Professional Librarian Series. White Plains, NY: Knowledge Industry Publications, 1984. ISBN 0-86729-120-6. ISBN 0-86720-119-2 (pbk.)

Mostly numbers: Help needed

Posted in Books and publishing, Libraries on October 14th, 2013

If you’re in a library (either public or academic) and know of, and can access, “medium-size data” that regularly comes out of your ILS or other source in some semi-tabular form (comma-separated values, spreadsheet, database, table, whatever) and that could stand some analysis but is clumsy to deal with:

I could use your help. Specifically, I’d like to see the labels and a few rows of the data from such a dataset, with notes on how often it’s generated and the typical overall size. (I’m assuming that there is no identifiable borrower information in any of this: If there is, I don’t want it.)

Please either contact me (in comments or to waltcrawford@gmail.com) or send me the stuff–in some ways, comma-separated values are best, since they can’t harbor malware, they’re compact and (as far as I know) most programs can generate them. Send it as an attachment to that same email address.

If you’re one of the first three to send me something (I’ll add to this post when/if this happens), and if I’m able to use the submission to help me prepare a convincing proposal for a book (discussed below), and if the book is accepted by a real publisher…then you’d be mentioned in the acknowledgments and receive an actual physical copy of the book, autographed if you prefer. Alternatively, if this all leads to a webinar or some equivalent, you’d be mentioned in acknowledgments and I’d find some appropriate way to provide another form of thanks.

There are a lot of “Ifs” in that last paragraph, so maybe a little background will be useful.

Background

I had an idea for a book at one point–originally The Mythical Average Public Library and later Mostly Just Numbers, which has morphed to Mostly Numbers in the meantime.

I discussed the idea in this post in May 2013, actually preceded by this post in February 2013 and this post in March 2013 and, to some extent, in this post in April 2013.

Then I started working on other projects, and the less said about the current sales of those self-published books–so far at least–the better.

Along the way, I added two more brief comments on the possible project: One on June 10, 2013 and one on June 26, 2013.

Given the rousing response and dismal results of recent self-pub efforts, I’ve pretty much concluded that self-publishing this would-be book is absurd. One difference between the library-sayings and public-library-benefits projects and this one: The first was both fun and a voyage of discovery, the second was at least a voyage of discovery. This one would be trying to help librarians using some techniques I’ve “discovered” (they were there all the time, but finding them and thinking through their implications can be tricky)–without “mansplaining” or otherwise losing the whole point.

Doing something that’s inherently interesting and finding that it’s met with a collective yawn (or, rather, a collective total absence of any interest at all) is one thing. Doing something that’s mostly fairly hard work and facing a similar “Haven’t you gone away yet, old man?” response (or, rather, non-response) is quite another.

And yet, and yet, it’s not entirely easy to just give up and move on. It doesn’t help that, in the last couple of months, I’ve “discovered” a couple of additional techniques that are very powerful and not at all obvious (at least to me)–one of which probably saved me 90% of the time required to do one complex set of analyses.

So…

I don’t work in a library. I haven’t worked in a library for several decades, although I was working with a number of library statistical reports more recently–none of which I have access to any more. (None of which exist any more except possibly in some libraries as historical items…)

Having real example(s) of datasets that are potentially useful but a little cumbersome to analyze might help me decide whether this project is worth trying to sell to a publisher (or turning into a webinar or short course or something, in any case something with somebody else’s backing behind it, given the obvious quality of my own marketing efforts…).

I still plan to use the NCES academic library statistics and IMLS public library statistics as the basis for two chapters, to help librarians see how they can prepare their own specialized comparisons with relatively little effort. But adding to that a set of examples of how “advanced” spreadsheet techniques can make everyday (every month? every quarter? every year?) library analysis tasks easier and more productive…that might be worthwhile to more people.

To do that requires realistic examples. Thus my request.

Various somewhat obsolete versions of the potential book/webinar’s outline will be found in some of the linked posts.

If you can help and think it’s worthwhile, please do.

Lack of any response will also help me decide what to do, in its own way.

$4 to $1: Two Timely Announcements

Posted in $4, Books and publishing, C&I Books on October 10th, 2013

At least in my mind, $4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets is a much better overall discussion of public library benefits and budgets in FY2011 (and how they changed from 2009), and a much better tool for libraries to help tell their own stories, than was Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (still available, but you’re better off getting either The inCompleat Give Us a Dollar… in paperback or The Compleat Give Us a Dollar… volume 1 as a $9.99 ebook or $39.99 site-license ebook).

So far, apparently, nobody’s found it worth spending $9.99 (or $39.99 for a systemwide/statewide license) for the non-DRM PDF ebook to find out and use it–and only two people or libraries have purchased the $25 paperback, currently discounted to $19.96 at Lulu.

So, two timely announcements:

Now available at Amazon and elsewhere

If you just can’t cope with Lulu, you can now buy $4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets from Amazon–currently discounted to $21.72. (I get less revenue from this than from the Lulu sale, but that’s OK–at this point, I really want to see the book get some use!)

“and elsewhere”? It should be available at other online bookstores. So far, I don’t find it at Barnes & Noble, but…

It’s exactly the same book, ISBN 978-1-304-35588-1. (“Exactly the same” might or might not be correct–it’s possible that the copies produced for other sellers don’t use the wonderful 60lb. cream book stock that Lulu uses, but I think they do. Given the sales to date, I’m not going to spend $21.72 to find out!)

Discount ends soon unless there are sales

The current discount on the paperback book on Lulu will be retained until the book has been out for two months–it was first announced as available on August 23, 2013.

If there aren’t any sales between now and October 23, 2013, I’ll drop the discount: the price will go back to $25.00

At that point, it’s quite possible that the ebook price will be increased by $5.

[If and when there are Lulu sales, and I notice them, I'll announce them, and those are unrelated to my promise that the prices of these books aren't going down: They're temporary Lulu-wide sales events that don't reduce my income.]

I must admit, at this point $159.99 is beginning to sound like the appropriate price point for a somewhat specialized library research report in PDF form; I’ve seen that used elsewhere, by an outfit that must be selling enough copies to stay in business…but let’s not go there just yet.

Self-publishing Reality Check 3

Posted in Books and publishing, C&I Books on September 18th, 2013

It’s been a week since the last post in this series. (Actually, it’s been 8 days: Somehow, the previous post was updated rather than having a new post.)

There has been at least one sale at my Lulu bookstore—but it was Anna Julia Young–Autobiography, one of my wife’s projects. And if you’re interested in Livermore or East Bay local history, you might find it interesting. As for my books: not so much.

Since the existence of $4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets vol. 2: Libraries by State depends in part on sales of volume 1 and of Your Library Is…, and since the possibility of doing Mostly Numbers or any future project that could conceivably be sold to a traditional publisher as a self-pub to do it faster and make it cheaper depends on it being plausible to do self-pub books, it seems reasonable to track what’s new out there.

I’m using abbreviations (and hiss boo a table boo hiss) so I can track this over time—and have simplified the table for width reasons:

  • $4v1/p, e, s: $4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets, volume 1, paperback, ebook and site license versions respectively
  • YLI/p, e: Your Library Is…, paperback and ebook versions respectively
  • iC: The inCompleat Give Us a Dollar… (paperback only)
  • C$1: The Compleat Give Us a Dollar… volume 1, both editions
  • C$2: The Compleat Give Us a Dollar… volume 2, both editions
Dates $4v1/p $4v1/e $4v1/s YLI/p YLI/e iC C$1 C$2/s
To 8/29

2

1

8/29-9/3
9/3-9/10
9/10-9/18
Total

2

1

(The second date is “through around 2 p.m.” and the first date on the next row starts right after that.)

These are, to be sure, still early days. I’ll keep saying that for a while… although it’s getting harder.

Next update no earlier than 8/26, a month after the three new books were published, and I may try to make it every other week, as it’s starting to get pretty discouraging to admit how things are going on a weekly basis.

Academic library spending problems: The Big Deal, an FAQ

Posted in Books and publishing, C&I Books, Libraries on September 9th, 2013
The Big Deal and the Damage Done

The Big Deal and the Damage Done

What is it?

A segment-by-segment study of U.S. academic library spending on current serials (mostly Big Deals), “books” (that is, all acquisitions except current serials, including backsets), and everything else–staffing, archives, etc.

The 125-page 6″ x 9″ paperback book (or PDF ebook) looks at spending from 2000 to 2010 (and, briefly, 1996 through 2010), broken down by Carnegie Classification but also by size and sector (public/private, nonprofit/profit).

I believe it makes a detailed and convincing case that Big Deals have done damage to academic libraries and the institutions they serve by siphoning off so much money that non-serial acquisitions budgets have had to be slashed and there’s less money left to pay for librarians, other staff and everything else that makes an academic library work.

How is it available?

The paperback version costs $16.50 (plus shipping) from Lulu.

The PDF ebook (no DRM) costs $9.99 (no shipping) from Lulu.

There’s also a special campus/site license edition, $40 (no shipping) from Lulu, which is the PDF ebook with a modified copyright page to explicitly permit loading it on a campus or site server that allows multiple simultaneous reading or downloads within any reasonably well-defined community (including online students at library schools).

Why is there a site license edition?

Two reasons:

  1. A library asked about the possibility.
  2. There were murmurings about “unglueing” the book, making an ePub version free for everybody, specifically so it would be available to LIS students, and the more I looked at the process, the less I wanted to be involved with it [a long post that I don't much want to write], but I wanted to fill the need.

Will the book get cheaper if we wait?

No–although if it ever reaches $2,500 in net proceeds for the ebook edition(s), I’d be willing to make it freely available at that point. There’s a long, long way to go (around $1,930) before that could happen.

What will happen if everybody waits: The book will disappear from the market.

Will it be replaced with a newer version?

Yes and no.

There will be an updated study that goes through 2012.

No, it won’t be a Cites & Insights book.

No, it won’t be $9.99 or $16.99.

No, it won’t happen until the late spring/early summer of 2014 (assuming NCES releases the numbers in December 2013).

The updated version will be shorter, probably less complete, certainly more expensive.

Can I get a sample?

Yes. There’s the preview of each version at Lulu, but you can also read the first 11 pages and a portion of the conclusion in the July 2013 Cites & Insights (this link is to the one-column “online version,” since it’s a truer replication of the book pages than the two-column “print version”).

Tell me a little more…

Here’s the beginning of the first chapter:

When publishers began offering Big Deals and other forms of serial bundling, they were touted as win-win-win situations: Publishers could remain profitable, libraries could slow down the rate of increase of serials spending and users could gain access to many more serials.

When there’s that much money at stake (over $1 billion since at least 2002) and only one aspect of library collections and services is being addressed, it’s fair to wonder whether there might not be some losers in with all that win. Given that some publishers and librarians continue to tout the Big Deal as a wonderful thing, some going so far as to say that the serials crisis was solved in 2004 with the widespread adoption of Big Deals, it makes sense to look more closely at the current situation.

I believe that Big Deals did some good—but they also did some damage, damage that gets worse as the amount spent on serials (in Big Deals and otherwise) continues to ratchet up faster than inflation.

Damage is done to scholars and students in the humanities and social sciences, where books continue to be key, as money continues to be shifted to serials (most of it for STEM—science, technology, engineering and medicine) at least in many libraries.

Damage is done to libraries as serials take an ever-bigger chunk of the total budget, leaving less for not only books but also staff, preservation, computers, archives, programming and new initiatives.

I began looking at actual numbers while preparing a preconference on open access. One of the sillier arguments against open access (and especially against gold OA) is that there’s really no serials problem—that Big Deals solved it.

That’s only true if “solved” takes on a fairly unusual meaning. In 1996, before Big Deals had become common, taking U.S. academic libraries as a whole, serials took 17% of all spending. Books (including back runs of serials and other materials) took 10.4%.

In 2002, at which point Big Deals were well established, serials were up to 22.5% of all library spending—but books were up a little too, taking 11.9% of library spending.

In 2010, serials were up to 26.1% of all library spending—nearly as much as books and serials combined in 1996. Books? Down to 10.6%–frequently of reduced budgets.

Meanwhile, the remainder budget—that is, everything except current serials and other acquisitions—fell from 72.6% to 63.3% of library budgets overall. That’s a serious drop.

How much of serials spending is for electronic access? At a minimum, it’s grown from 15% in 1998 (the first time it’s broken out) to 70% in 2010, doubling its market share since 2004 (when it was 35%).

Library Publishing Toolkit (and more)

Posted in Books and publishing, Writing and blogging on September 2nd, 2013

In case you haven’t already heard about it, you should be aware of the Library Publishing Toolkit, edited by Allison P. Brown and published by IDS Project Press.

Here’s the brief description from the project website:

The Library Publishing Toolkit looks at the broad and varied landscape of library publishing through discussions, case studies, and shared resources. From supporting writers and authors in the public library setting to hosting open access journals and books, this collection examines opportunities for libraries to leverage their position and resources to create and provide access to content.

The Library Publishing Toolkit is a project funded partially by Regional Bibliographic Databases and Interlibrary Resources Sharing Program funds which are administered and supported by the Rochester Regional Library Council. The toolkit is a united effort between Milne Library at SUNY Geneseo and the Monroe County Library System to identify trends in library publishing, seek out best practices to implement and support such programs, and share the best tools and resources.

You might also want to visit the publication’s page at opensuny.org, since it’s part of the IDS Project.

I would be lying if I said I’d read the entire book (402 pp. 8.5″ x 11″). I haven’t. I will…but I haven’t yet.

It’s pretty clearly a worthwhile project, a collection of essays on real-world aspects of library publishing.

You can get the Toolkit in two forms:

  • PDF ebook, free for the taking, no DRM–and it’s published with a Creative Commons BY-SA license, so you’re also free to pass it along. There appear to be two PDF downloads, one slightly smaller than the other; I’m not sure what the difference is.
  • Paperback (PoD using CreateSpace), list $9.19, currently $8.18; I’m guessing $9.19 is the CreateSpace production cost, and of course Amazon (owner of CreateSpace) can discount that cost. Either price is very low for a handsome 402-page 8.5 x 11 paperback.

It is indexed, to be sure.

How do I know about it? I contributed the Foreword, “Makerspaces for the Mind.” It was a pleasure to do so. I’m pleased with the resulting publication.

(and more)

It’s odd. I rarely contribute to collections–after all, tenure’s never been a possibility (even pay seems unlikely these days) and I’ve always had mixed feelings about most (but not all) edited collections.

“Rarely” isn’t never, to be sure, and as it happens I’ve contributed to two other collected works in recent days. In one case, it was for a modest sum of money; in the other, it was because a long-time friend and colleague asked.

The June 2013 issue of Against the Grain features a set of nine articles on self-publishing, edited by Bob Holley. I contributed “Self-Publish or Traditional? My Experience with Books for Librarians.” (As a sidenote, the sixth essay in the collection is by Rory Litwin, who refers to me twice–by last name alone, that is, “Crawford”–and who might be surprised to know that I agree with most of what he says.)

Using Social Media in Libraries: Best Practices is from Scarecrow Press, edited by Charles Harmon and Michael Messina. I wrote the Introduction. I have no comments on the collection as a whole–except to note that the contrast between my views in the Introduction and Laura Solomon’s views in the Foreword is, shall we say, substantial.

The Compleat Give Us a Dollar…ready now

Posted in $4, Books and publishing, C&I Books on August 1st, 2013

The most in-depth discussion of public library benefits and budgets in FY2010 you’re likely to find (or at least that I’m aware of) is now available in a form that combines tables, graphs and comments.

The Compleat Give Us a Dollar vol. 1, Libraries by Size combines all of the text from Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) except Chapter 20 with several hundred graphs to accompany the tables–and all of the commentary provided in Cites & Insights and in Graphing Public Library Benefits.

The ebook is 361 8.5″ x 11″ PDF pages (actually 353 pages + viii front matter)–8.5″ x 11″ so the graphs would work, ebook-only because it requires color to work properly. It’s the usual $9.99–but there’s also an explicit site-license version allowing multiple simultaneous download/reading for $39.99, ideal for library schools (including distance students), single-state consortia, state libraries, whatever.

The Compleat Give Us a Dollar vol. 2, Libraries by State, combines Chapter 20 from Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13), the commentary from Cites & Insights and, for 49 states, new scatterplots showing circulation per capita plotted against spending per capita. (The District of Columbia and Hawaii each have a single public library system, and a one-point graph seems silly.)

The ebook is 195 8.5″ x 11″ PDF pages (actually 191 pages + iv front matter)–8.5″ x 11″ so the graphs are as large as possible and for consistency with volume 1, ebook-only because, well, see below. It’s also $9.99–and the explicit site-license version is only $34.99.

Both ebooks were created as PDFs directly from Word, including all bookmarks–so you can navigate to any chapter or subsection of a chapter directly from Reader’s sidebar.

For those desiring the ease of flipping back and forth of a print book, or who want a print book for other reasons, I’ve combined the two volumes and removed the multicolor occurrence-by-spending-category graphs to create The inCompleat Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four, announced yesterday. It’s a big book–433 8.5″ x 11″ pages (actually 425 pages + viii front matter). It will set you back $26.99.

You can use the coupon code FAST5–once per account–to save 5% on your order, if you haven’t already used it for some other purpose.

Two ebooks out of print

With publication of the new books, Graphing Public Library Benefits is now redundant (and had total sales that, when rounded to the nearest five, come out to zero) and has been deleted.

Additionally, the ebook version of Give Us a Dollar and We’ll Give You Back Four (2012-13) has been retired from Lulu, but you can still buy the paperback or hardcover versions–and an ebook version is still available for the Kindle.

One final note: If the crowdsourcing for $4 to $1: Public Library Benefits and Budgets continues as it is going now, then any chance of Volume 2 (libraries by state) actually emerging in the future will be conditioned on additional sales of these books.


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