10 Takeaways from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference for Librarians

Earlier this week I attended the O’Reilly Tools of Change (TOC) Conference for the first time.  Over 1250 attendees gathered in New York City to discuss and network   about issues and trends in publishing, in particular, digital publishing.  While much of the information presented was for the publishing industry, I did manage to find several great ideas and concepts that relate to libraries.  I’d like to share these with you, in no apparent order.

1.  Social Media Marketing is huge in the publishing industry and it should be huge in libraries as well.  The potential for building communities around the library is enormous.  Tim O’Reilly, in his keynote said, “you gain and bestow status through those you associate with in social media,” and “don’t focus only on you and your product.”  Is your library using Facebook, Twitter, blogs, wikis, and other social media to communicate with your patrons and the greater community?  If not, you should be.    When you do get your plan in action, make sure you go beyond promoting library events and services.  If you are a public library, build your community around other organizations, businesses, and schools in the area and promote the groups who meet at the library, local authors or artists, and those groups that share the same values with the library.  Academics, the same goes for your library, focusing of course on the students and faculty and even other local colleges and universities. “Create more value than you capture.” (O’Reilly)

2.  eTextbooks are here, and there are more on the way.  Libraries need to do more to promote electronic textbooks to their communities.  Do you know about Flatworld Books, Agile Mind, Merlot, Connexions, and the CK12 Foundation?  All of these organizations offer open source and low cost alternatives for textbooks from Kindergarten through College.  CourseSmart offers digital textbooks and is now affiliated with 15 textbook publishers, offering over 10,000 titles.  Textbook rental is a growing market too with Chegg.com, Barnes and Noble, and Cengage all offering services.

3.  Keep your eyes out for the enTourage eDGe reader.  It’s has a dual display to combine eReading with note taking, web browsing, or document creation.  It’s large, like a notebook.  Could this be the future of eTextbooks?  Not at $499 a pop, but only time will tell.

4.  Going open access for monographs was the topic of a keynote speech by Frances Pinter of Bloomsbury Academic.  Frances discussed the endangered species known as the academic monograph.  She proposed a solution to this problem using existing library budgets and open access through an international library consortia for open access books (ILCOAb).  She thinks we can get the price of a monograph down to $2.00 with collaboration and open access.  Her idea is one worth considering.  I’ve asked Frances for an interview and hope to post this soon.

5.  Libraries need to seriously consider digital printing or print on demand options as revenue generating sources.  All of us have unique archival collections (many of which are now digital), we all have access to public domain digital materials, and some of us may even host publishers ebook content on our own servers with the ability to POD titles or chapters.  All we need now is a POD machine, like an Espresso.  They aren’t cheap, so what if we purchased these at the consortia level?  Member libraries could print and sell materials from their special collections, “chunk” together a variety of public domain materials to create custom books, or create keepsake gifts by personalizing books. Why should publishers and search engine companies be the only ones bringing in revenue from library collections?

6.  Apps – everybody has an app, why not libraries?  It’s a great way to take your products and services mobile.  Rana Sobhany conducted a workshop on selling in the mobile market.  She provided a long list of tips for folks considering the development of an app.  If only they weren’t so expensive!

7.  Do you know what it takes to convert a print book to electronic?  I didn’t either until I attended a workshop on practical ebook formatting led by Phil Frank and Joshua Tallent.  Both provided tips and tricks for those converting from InDesign to ePub and Kindle formats.  It’s not an easy process folks and takes days to convert just one title.    Phil was cutting and pasting and zipping files all over the place, saving charts and images separately and anchoring them to text, and was doing lots of other things I didn’t understand and was glad I didn’t have to do!  I’m going to remember this each time I see the price of an ebook.

8.  We all know there are tons of eBook readers out on the market, and more pop up each day.  No particular reader was designated the clear cut leader or winner, the message was rather – interoperability!  Liza Daly and Keith Fahlgren discussed the issues with interoperability and DRM in their session, networked, mobile and landlocked – current ereaders.  One thing was certain from their presentation, “in a cloudy world, networking wins; devices without web connections are not landlocked, they are landfill.”  (check out slide #10 on Liza’s presentation here)

9.  More and more authors are self-publishing, and making money.   When does it pay for an author to go electronic only?  Michael Mace in his presentation on the lessons learned from the failure of ebooks in 2000, discussed this vital tipping point.  He said when 20-30% of the public have ebook readers, book publishing will change dramatically.  The iPad, competition between Amazon and Apple, and rising prices of trade ebooks all bring the tipping point closer.  Libraries take heed, when publishing changes we will have to adapt.

10.  Cali Bush of O’Reilly Media presented on ebook contracts.  Her presentation focused on the contracts between distributors and publishers, but it got me thinking about the contracts between publishers and libraries.  Of particular interest to me were her list of “gotchas” and “gimmes.”  What are the gotchas and gimmes in publisher/library ebook contracts?  Also interesting was her visualization of rights, starting with the complete pie for authors, 3/4 pie for publishers, and 1/2 pie for distributors.  Couldn’t help but make me wonder where libraries and users landed in the pie (a small slice maybe?).

5 thoughts on “10 Takeaways from the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference for Librarians”

  1. Joe – why? simply for revenue and as a novelty type service. I like the concept of academics collaborating with university presses.

  2. JC, thanks for the feedback. I had hoped there would be a much cheaper option for libraries to develop an app and to share development costs across libraries by making it more open source. I doubt anyone has the $20 – $50 K for this. I like your ideas for mobile web, thanks for the article link. Hopefully those who read my top 10 will read your comment too!

  3. Hi Sue,

    Thanks for the great TOC recap.

    Regarding #6 Apps, I’d like to add that there is growing, and justified, sentiment in the library industry and beyond that native OS-based apps are not the best mobile solutions to serve the greatest number of patrons.

    The Krafty Librarian recently posted a great article called “Stop the App Madness” – http://kraftylibrarian.com/?p=349 – where she addresses the shortcomings associated with designing, developing and maintaining apps across 7+ mobile operating systems, and suggests a simpler, cheaper solution in mobile websites that have a much broader reach to all web-enabled phones, not just smartphones, android, blackberry or iphone. Plus, no download required.

    The idea that libraries can recoup the $20k-$50k+ cost through pricing an app at $1-$3 makes assumptions that a) all of your patrons own the specific phones for the apps the library offers, b) that patrons will be able to find them amongst the 100,000 apps in app stores, and c) that patrons are willing to pay for the app itself. Not to mention that if an app falls short of patron expectations, associated negative reviews can further hinder purchase by other patrons.

    In addition, remember that once a native app is developed there is ongoing maintenance (read: costs) required to update newer versions of the various mobile OS’s and your content.

    If a library is considering developing native apps for mobile handsets, there is not only a lot to consider in reaching patrons, but in managing costs as well. It is most definitely worth considering what your goals are and what can also be accomplished in using the mobile web instead.

    With HTML5 & CSS3 technologies becoming more standardized, it’s going to be much easier to get an app-like experience through the mobile web.

    In case you’re interested, here’s a great article that gives a rundown (coding language included) with tips on designing and developing mobile websites: http://journal.code4lib.org/articles/2055.


  4. Re: Number 5 – why? What about selling books (or generating revenue) is core to a libraries’ mission?

    Or to be more positive, what changes would be necessary in our libraries to make it part of our mission? Who are the potential partners who might find POD right in their natural wheelhouse?

    As an academic librarian, instead of going a consortial route, I’d be more interested in partnering with a university press or bookstore. Is the new publishing environment going to force our institutions to create closer relationships between libraries, presses, and bookstores?

  5. About point 7: If one is working from InDesign files set up for print, then, yes, a lot of massaging will be necessary before they can be output to .epub. And, yes, support for graphs, images, tables and so on in .epub is not yet very robust. But, if a publisher sets up a workflow that anticipates export from InDesign to .epub, the process will become much more efficient. If the publisher goes a step further and makes the investment of setting up a workflow that uses a single source tagged in XML, producing publications in print, PDF, and EPUB becomes, if not trivial, very much easier.

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