E-content should be easy

January 4, 2011
Posted in: Board Member Posts

There is this feeling that I get —the psychological equivalent of drinking orange juice right after brushing my teeth — when I have to explain to my library’s patrons onto what devices and under what device-specific conditions they may be able to upload an audiobook or ebook. Simple questions require explanations so complex that they undermine the patron’s interest in the services themselves. That’s bad enough.

Worse are the times I’ve had to say, “No, I’m sorry. That device isn’t supported,” the device a person just bought in order to use library ebooks and/or audiobooks, a device that is the market leader in its category.

Worst of all is when a patron gives up, having decided that he or she is incapable of learning to use these overly-complicated electronic content services, and leaves the library after apologizing for having—as he/she saw it—taken up so much of my time.

I have worked in public libraries as a paraprofessional and a librarian. I troubleshoot patrons’ device and download problems. I collaborate with my dedicated coworkers on pathfinders, signage, bookmarks and videos, all in hopes that we can guide our patrons through the technological, DRM, and format minefield that impedes their use of electronic content.

Given my background, this is what I see:

  • Staff members go the extra mile and then some, to help patrons learn how to use electronic content, and feel foolish when the vendor-provided training and documentation fall far short of patrons’ real-world experiences.
  • Patrons, eager to use electronic content, invest effort in learning and money in devices, only to give up in frustration.
  • Administrators sign contracts with vendors only to be disheartened when the frustration swells in both their employees and customers. Because the library market is underserved by competitors, their only recourse is to try the only other vendor in the category in hopes that the grass is greener.
  • Through it all, vendors keep designing systems for our budgets, but not our values.

In the end, these expensive services are often underutilized by the community and the money already invested must be weighed against additional investment; but if the library decides not to renew, all of the content they have “bought” disappears with the expiration of the contract.

We complain about these problems within our departments, or in small groups—even large groups—at conferences. We tweet and form facebook groups. We feel the impulse to come together, to unite as an industry. We have ideas, but not the means to overcome our isolation and engage entertainment and technology sectors in ways that will bring about real change.

Behind Library Renewal are intellect, ambition, passion and drive. That’s why I jumped at the chance to get involved. Library Renewal is a place where we can direct the same energy that we put into improving our patrons’ experiences at the local level, into national projects that will improve library services for everyone.

I am collecting and organizing the best articles, blog posts, videos, etc., on electronic content into a digital library that will appear on our website. I will also contribute with writing, and connect with anyone who cares about these things.

Library Renewal doesn’t exist for its own sake. We are here to support libraries and patrons. The future of libraries must include electronic content systems that alienate no one, and leave both staff and patrons smiling brightly, without the bitter vendor aftertaste.

Matt Weaver

Library Renewal board member

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