MLA Conference Recap Part Deux

When last we left you, we had just talked about an Authors’ Panel. Today, we’ll cover a possible answer to one of the many eBook issues and an innovative idea for a new service libraries can offer.

View From the Hyatt

The view from the conference

Readers First

This talk was given by Micheal Colford and Christopher Platt of the Boston and New York Public Libraries respectively. The first thing I learned was that outside of baseball, Boston and New York seem to get along swimmingly! But seriously folks, the mission behind ReadersFirst.org is a great one. It is, as they say on their site, “A movement to improve e-book access and services for public library users.”

They are aiming to create a one-stop shop, so to speak. Thanks to the challenges eBooks present to publishers and libraries, the catalog for eBooks is separated from the catalog for print books (and other materials). As a result searching a library’s catalog isn’t guaranteed to bring back results from the eBook catalog. If it does, the patron is usually taken to a completely different interface, which presents them with a different method for checking out out the book. But wait there’s more. Should that not deter a patron from continuing down the eBook path, the next obstacle they run into is availability. If they’re looking for a popular book, chances are the library won’t have a copy available. Yet despite all this, eBook circulation continues to grow.

Think about that for a moment. What other product this hard to acquire, and has a viable alternative, continues to grow in demand? That’s what Reader’s First is aiming to fix. They’re working with publishers to streamline the process for checking out an eBook. The first thing they’re aiming to do is present the patron with a single interface. No matter if the book is print or electronic, they want the experience to be the same. In addition, since it’s such a large and complex organization, the New York Public Library is working with eBook publishers to pilot different models of the eBook checkout process. I, for one, and looking forward to seeing how this develops.

Maker Spaces

Maxine Bleiveis is the directory of the Westport Public Library down in Connecticut. She’s a bit of a maverick and always has been. This is made evident by her definition of a library: “A library is a place where people can come to learn and be inspired.” Notice the word “book” isn’t mentioned. She feels that the focal point of a library isn’t books but rather people. To that end, she urges librarians everywhere to stop thinking in terms of transactions (aka circulation numbers) and start thinking in terms of transformations (aka help people learn stuff). She aims to foster “participatory learning”  and that learning is where Maker Spaces come in.

As with most librarians, she’s not shy about asking for money, which she did when she procured the cash to buy the keystone of her Maker Space: a 3D printer. Once she got that she started living by the motto “fail fast”. Since she was in uncharted waters with her Maker Space she tried out all sorts of activities and if it didn’t work, she scraped it and moves onto the next thing.

Let me back up for a moment and define a Maker Space. It’s literally just that, a space set aside in the library to make stuff. The 3D printer is being used by inventors to develop new patents. It’s also being used by teenagers to create iPhone cases. But there’s more to it than just the 3D printer. There has been a soldering class, a woodworking class, and there’s even going to be a puppet-making class. So the possibilities of a Maker Space is bound only by your imagination. But it starts with a grounding in reality.

So many people see a library as simply a place for books (be they in print, cd, or digital form) and to start to use the library as a way to connect people with ideas will rub them the wrong way. I admit, I was much too focused on the technology side of things to have given Maker Spaces much thought. But that all changed after this talk. As I said in these pages before, I fervently believe that a library is a place to put people in touch with information. It should be a place where you can go and learn about something. And, as Ms. Bleiweis said “It’s not the making’s end product, but the process of making that’s important.” I agree because, after all, the process of making is also the process of learning.

If I’ve piqued your interest with my summary of this talk, please go check out more info on the Maker Space.

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