A good read might be the perfect antidote to a day of mall shopping… or the perfect gift, allowing you to avoid the mall entirely.
Happy Cyber Monday.
These deals are available only today and only from Musa Publishing.
Public libraries are part of a great democratic tradition, increasing literacy, offering access to information, enhancing creativity, imagination, empathy, wonder… I buy all that. Libraries are enormously important. But what happens to them as more and more publications shift to e-versions? How do libraries preserve access? Should they clear out more shelves for computer terminals? Loan e-readers instead of print books? Can’t we convert those gorgeous old library buildings into condos now?
Part 3: Libraries
I’ve always believed that one of the best ways you can support your local public library is to use it. Thus, no series on socially conscious ebook purchasing can be complete without a conversation about libraries. Ebook borrowing is a great alternative to online ebook shopping.
The first bookless public libraries have already opened. Traditional libraries are rapidly expanding ebook holdings and most library card holders can now access an incredible array of free ebooks.
I am very excited that several members of the awesome staff of the Pima County Public Library system in Arizona (serving the Tucson area, where much of my novel, Drowning Cactus, is set) agreed to answer my many questions about libraries and ebooks. Please welcome Kenya Johnson, Community Relations Manager, Karyn Prechtel, Deputy Director of Public Services, Richard DiRusso, Manager of the Collection Development Office, and Sherrie Baltes, Web Editor. Quite a line up!
You’ve probably heard that a bookless library has opened in the San Antonia area, the Bexar Bibliotech. This library provides stripped down e-readers to patrons and access to e0book holdings as well as computer terminals. Do you think we’ll see more bookless libraries in the future? I hear a lot of people bemoaning society’s move from contemplative reading of books and newspapers to quick data downloads via tweets and podcasts. Are people still reading books? Are ebooks helping or hurting society’s literacy?
Karyn: People are still reading books! Pima County Public Library customers have been checking out books at a consistent rate over the last 10 years – regardless of format. Some patrons are moving to reading electronic books exclusively, while many others will read either print or electronic books – whichever is available first.
In many ways, eBooks enhance literacy and learning opportunities. They are changing the way readers interact with the written word – many e-reader devices allow for note taking, underlining or highlighting of text, and have built-in dictionaries. Literacy in the digital age requires not only the ability to understand the printed word on paper. Visually literate students must be able to interpret, understand and communicate fluently through words in print and digital formats (“Keep Teens Reading for Information and Entertainment”, Library Media Connection, Nov/Dec 2013, vol. 32, Issue 3). Similarly, enhanced eBooks can engage young children with their interactive elements and can attract reluctant readers.
I understand the Pima County Library system opened a bookless library back in 2002, but that the experiment was short-lived. Can you tell me a bit about it? Did the bookless library focus on ebooks, or was it mostly a venue for computer usage and other library services?
Kenya: The Santa Rosa Learning Center Library was part of the HOPE VI Barrio Santa Rosa Neighborhood Center Project funded by the City of Tucson in the late 1990s. They initially planned and designed a state-of-the-art computer center for the adults who lived in the area to provide a comprehensive range of services, including computer literacy job training classes, Web-based resources, and access to the Internet. The library was not part of this original plan or design, so there weren’t any books when the facility opened in 2002. At that time, the library functioned as a place where our patrons could pick up reserves. That was it.
It was the community – the people who lived in the surrounding neighborhoods – that requested that print books be added to the library. They expected books, and they wanted books. Today, the Santa Rosa Branch Library provides everything you would want to see in your library.
Sherrie: There’s really not a big difference when it comes to looking for eBooks. It’s just a different format. If a friend recommends a book to you, or you see a book review in The New York Times, you can easily find out if we own it in the eBook format. We have two eBook services available to our patrons: OverDrive and OneClickdigital. People can start by taking a look at our eBooks and Digital Media page. From there you can access one of the services, and they both offer browsing and searching in their sites.
A lot of readers I speak to simply can’t figure out how to get ebooks from the library. Are librarians in Pima County offering assistance with this? Any tips?
Kenya: We know that ebooks aren’t easy for everyone to figure out, but we’re here to help. Our library offers free classes and drop-in sessions for using eReaders and downloading eBooks and audiobooks. Anyone can take a look at our online calendar to see where and when they can some help in-person.
Sherrie: If you can’t get into a class, contact your closest library and see what help they can offer in person. We also have a help page on our website that people can use if they can’t make it to one of our libraries.
Many of our staff members are eBook users themselves and can help walk you through the process.
Is one e-reading device easier to use at the Pima County Library than others? The Kindle, for example, or Nook?
Sherrie: It’s really a personal choice. However, things can change at a moment’s notice with technology. Right now, one e-reader may be easier to use than others. People like using their tablets and their smartphones for e-reading as well.
The downloading process for eBooks can be complicated and frustrating for people, but the classes that we offer might help you determine which device would be easier for you.
Libraries, of course, always have to work within budget constraints. Are ebooks an added burden for library systems, or are they a cost effective way of increasing library holdings? Should Pima County readers expect fewer books on shelves and more e-reader holdings in the coming years? Will we see another bookless library in the Tucson area?
Richard: I wouldn’t say that eBooks are a cost savings or a burden; they just are a format that people expect or want us to carry. When formats become obsolete or nearly obsolete that is when, in my opinion, they become a burden.
We no longer carry audiobooks on cassette or VHS videos. Maintaining those formats had become a burden since we couldn’t replace them, yet we still had to transport and house them.
Digital formats are the wave of the future. How we incorporate them into our existing collections will play a large role in keeping the library relevant to our communities.
Thank you, Kenya, Karyn, Richard and Sherrie.
Bexar Bibliotech is getting a lot of press for pioneering the bookless library, but, as far as I can tell, the Santa Rosa Learning Center was one of the very first. Here are some other library firsts (as claimed by the libraries listed below):
- Boston Public Library, Boston, Massachusetts: first publicly supported free municipal library in the world.
- Peterborough Public Library, Peterborough, New Hampshire: Oldest free public library in the world supported by taxation.
- The Sturgis Library, Barnstable, Massachusetts: oldest building housing a public library in the United States.
- Wayland Public Library, Wayland, Massachusetts: first public library in Massachusetts, second free public library in the United States, and first library to grant me a library card.
You buy your fruit at a farm stand to support local sustainable agricultural. You purchase holiday gifts at Ten Thousand Villages to support fair trade practices. What about the books on your e-reader?
Can your e-book buying choices make a difference?
In this series, I examine alternatives to the mega-online booksellers.
I love independent bookstores, but I rarely visit one to buy a book. In fact, I rarely buy any paper books at all. Thankfully, more and more small, locally owned bookstores are offering e-books.
It’s so easy to buy through the e-book Goliath, but, really, it’s pretty simple to buy e-books from an independent bookstore.
Today, Josh Cook of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts is visiting my blog to answer all of my questions (and hopefully some of yours) about e-books and the future of independent bookstores.
Fun Fact: Several scenes of my novel, Drowning Cactus, are set inside Porter Square Books.
Hi, Josh. Thank you so much for taking the time for this conversation.
To get started, can you tell me why might someone want to buy an e-book from you instead of one of the mega-online bookstores?
For the same reasons they would buy a regular book from us; the sense of community, the benefits of shopping locally, the recommendations from and relationships with the staff.
With the rise in popularity of e-books, do you see your business changing? Will there always be a place for bookstores housing bookshelves full of paper books?
…physical bookstores aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future.
Ebooks are just part of an overall changing landscape for independent bookstores. The big box stores, Amazon, online shopping in general, and now ebooks have changed how people buy books even if they haven’t done much to change why people buy books. Bookstores have had to go online, start carrying more gift items, and find ways to emphasize the particular value they bring to selling books. Many stores are successfully doing just that.
Furthermore, there is still plenty of other data to suggest that physical bookstores aren’t going anywhere for the foreseeable future. For example, most ebook buyers also buy print books. And there is also some indication that ereading will reach a plateau. Already the year-to-year increases in ebook sales have been slowing down. That doesn’t mean ebooks don’t pose a challenge to stores like ours. Right now, ebooks prices are so low that almost nobody can make a profit selling them, but our response to that challenge is to continue to be a great resource to all the readers in our community. And, at the moment, it seems like there are enough of them to make a place for this bookstore full of paper books.
Through the Kobo partnership with the American Booksellers Association we carry every ebook in the Kobo catalog; new bestsellers, classics, free public domain ebooks, and self-published ebooks, all in the .EPUB format. I believe the total catalog is well over three million titles. In the store we have physical limitations on what we can and cannot carry which makes certain kinds of books, like self-published books by non-local authors, almost impossible for us to stock and sell. But there are no physical limitations with ebooks. We’ll probably never be able to carry Amish romances, or self-published conspiracy theories, or every book by Anthony Trollope in the store, but we can provide the ebook editions to readers who want them.
So, how does it work? Can you talk my readers through the e-book purchasing process?
There are two ways you can buy ebooks from us. If you’re in the market for an ereader as well, you can buy the device from us. When you start up the device you’ll be prompted to create a Kobo account. Kobo will recognize you bought the device from us and will associate that account with Porter Square Books. After that all the purchases made with that account, whether through the ebook store on the ereader or on a separate device, will credit the store.
If you already have a device you can buy through our website. Find the book using the Kobo ebooks search box on the left side of the web page and buy it like you would anything else online. You’ll be prompted to create a Kobo account and just like with the device, that account will be associated with Porter Square Books, meaning your purchases will credit us whether you start on our webpage or not. If you read on an iPad or an Android device, download the Kobo reading app. Login with your new account when you launch the app. When you synch the app, your book will be there. If you are reading on a Nook, Sony Reader, older Kobo or other non-Kindle ereader, download the .EPUB file to your computer after you’ve complete the purchase. Then download and install Adobe Digital Editions (it’s free). Open the .EPUB file in Adobe. It will now be on your Adobe “shelf.” Plug in your ereader of choice. An icon for it should appear in the lower left of Adobe. Drag the ebook from the shelf to the device and you’re done. If the ebook is DRM-free and your ereader has a web browser, sometimes you can download the .EPUB directly, but there really isn’t a way to tell from the purchase if this will work.
(You can find out everything about our ebooks, including the devices we sell here: http://www.portersquarebooks.com/ebooks-resource)
Books make great gifts but what about e-books? Can people gift an e-book from Porter Square Books?
Not really. Though Kobo has been exploring ways to gift ebooks, I’m not sure they will be able to create a mechanism that is as emotionally satisfying as wrapping a book and handing it to a friend or loved one.
The key to a successful future for independent bookstores, I think, will be embracing technology, while maintaining the pleasures of traditional ways of reading, browsing and meeting to talk about books. It seems Porter Square Books is managing that balance admirably.
- Even if you don’t have an independent bookstore near you, you can still buy e-books from many, via their websites. Though e-books aren’t terribly profitable for them, I’m certain your business would be welcome. Click here to buy my novel, Drowning Cactus, from Porter Square Books.
- Readers: Got a favorite small bookstore that sells e-books? Share your tips in the comment section! I hear great things about Parnassus Books in Nashville and The Collected Works Bookstore and Coffeehouse in Santa Fe.
- Coming up next in the series: Indie presses and libraries, including those that don’t shelve any books!
Maybe you’d like to take a break from the reading about the U.S. government shutdown, angry finger-pointing, and exasperated hand-wrenching. If so, I’ve got something completely unrelated but equally troubling today.
Humor writer Scott Erickson is visiting my blog, sharing his thoughts on satirical writing, genetically modified seeds, and pesticides. Heavy stuff, but, amazingly, Scott manages to write about it with levity. Scott is the author of a number of books, including his latest, an eco-satire, The Diary of Amy, The 14-Year Old Girl Who Saved The Earth.
Thanks, Scott, for visiting!
Oh, and, in case any Monsanto executives, attorneys, or goons are visiting today, the views and opinions in the following blog post are soley those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily represent those of other contributors to this site. See, you can take the lawyer out of the law practice, but you can’t take the law practice out of the lawyer.
Without further ado, here’s Scott Erickson:
SATIRE IS HARD TO WRITE
How long until Monsanto proposes genetic engineering of the human race?
The hardest part about writing satire is trying to write things that are more absurd than what real life comes up with.
In the novel, our young protagonist Amy Johnson-Martinez encounters the evil corporation GloboChem. A spill of the agricultural chemical “GrowMagic” has led to a hospital full of sick babies. Amy does some research into what “GrowMagic” is, and she is shocked – SHOCKED! – to discover that “GrowMagic” is actually ONE OF THE MOST POISONOUS AGRICULTURAL CHEMICALS EVER MADE.
This is what she finds on the GloboChem website:
“Our main product is HappySeeds™ which grow 73% of the world’s vegetables and grains. Most of those seeds are Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ that are genetically engineered to accompany GrowMagic™ “agricultural helper.” As happy farmers around the world say, “I need the miraculous GrowMagic™ to keep my Magic-Ready HappySeeds™ happy!”
If you guessed that “GloboChem” is a thinly-disguised “Monsanto,” and that “GrowMagic™” is a thinly disguised “Roundup,” then good for you! You win 10 points and advance to the semi-finals.
Later in the story, things take a darker turn. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. Thus, GloboChem’s spokesperson announces a radical new proposal:
“I am proud to announce that GloboChem has developed an innovative new product that will absolutely end all problems with human exposure to agricultural chemicals.
Our new product is a highly-advanced version of our famous ‘HappySeed’ technology. As you surely know, ‘Magic-Ready HappySeeds’ are genetically engineered to go with our ‘GrowMagic’ agricultural helper. I am proud to announce GloboChem’s brand-new product, which we call ‘HappyHuman.’ It will make human beings – people like you and me – able to withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us the clean and inexpensive food you serve to your loved ones.
Each capsule of ‘HappyHuman’ contains specially-engineered radioactive isotopes that go throughout the body, miraculously altering the genetic code to change the cell chemistry in each and every cell. Then, our bodies can withstand the ‘GrowMagic’ that brings us attractive pest- free food at a reasonable price. In other words, it will make us able to withstand ‘GrowMagic’ 100 percent naturally!”
Funny stuff, huh? Well, maybe less funny after the recent announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency. Since weeds have evolved into super weeds that are increasingly resistant to agricultural chemicals, bold measures are necessary. The EPA has decided to allow larger traces of the herbicide glyphosate in farm-grown foods (http://rt.com/usa/monsanto-glyphosate-roundup-epa-483; http://truthstreammedia.com/epa-to-raise-allowable-glyphosate-levels-in-food-crops-3000).
Yes, glyphosate is the key ingredient in the company’s GrowMagic™ label of herbicides. Sorry, I meant to write Roundup label of herbicides.
Don’t worry, though – the acceptable level of glyphosate is only rising a little bit. The EPA is increasing limits on allowable glyphosate in food crops from 200 ppm to 6,000 ppm. That’s not much – only 3,000%.
Yes, scientists have linked glyphosate to cancerous diseases.
Yes, a study by The Cornucopia Institute concluded that glyphosate “exerted proliferative effects in human hormone-dependent breast cancer.”
Yes, another study concluded that “glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.”
Later in The Diary of Amy, the story eventually takes an even darker turn. The public has so far resisted GloboChem’s plan to genetically alter the human race. But the situation has gotten worse, and the economy is in a tailspin due to a sudden oil shortage. We have to act fast! Fortunately, GloboChem comes to the rescue:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
We recently announced our new HappyHuman™ product and sought to receive congressional approval to market it. But public reception was less-than-positive and the congressional bill stalled in committee.
We believe that now is the time to pass the bill and rush HappyHuman™ to the American public. Only by genetically engineering a human race able to withstand our products can we preserve our American way of life.
We must increase the “magic” within GrowMagic™ to a level high enough to kill every form of life that has not been genetically modified to resist it. In other words, the only way to sustain human life is to modify ourselves to resist killing the rest of it.
This was much funnier to me when I wrote it. Now, not so much.
I’m just wondering how long it is before I see such a press release in real life, or before I see such a plan being proposed by a GloboChem spokesperson. Sorry, I meant to write Monsanto spokesperson.
Last week, I was invited to join a new book club. I also heard three different book clubs will be reading my novel. I’m over the moon.
I’m so excited that people are actually reading my book and talking about it together. I’m probably even more excited, though, to be in a new book club of my own. I’ve been in a number of them over the years and, truly, book clubs have completely changed my perspective on books and reading.
Everyone knows that reading is a subjective experience, but I didn’t fully understand the extent of this until I started attending book club meetings. I’d find a book absolutely captivating and others—intelligent, thoughtful people– would hate every page. Not only that. They’d have a completely different idea about what a main character’s intentions had been, a completely different sense of the significance of a symbol, even a different memory of basic plot points.
I found the divergence of our reading experiences pretty jarring for a while. Reading is intensely personal. Different, I think, from many other ways one might experience a story. Movies, television and plays are shared. Reading is typically an independent activity. Books give their audience a chance to create their own version of a story, their own images and sense memories. There’s a lot of room for creativity and individual expression between the letters on a printed page. Thus, everyone’s experience of a book can be unique.
When I read a book, I feel that I know the story and the characters, as if they are people that I’ve met. Usually I like them.
For a while, I really disliked subjecting my pristine reading memories to book club scrutiny. But I got over it because, well, I love getting new suggestions for books to read, I’m always eager for the chance to chat and drink wine with friends in the evenings, and, perhaps most importantly, I had the good sense that I could learn something by listening to others’ interpretations.
What did I learn? Writers should be humble.
Writers supply one part of a story, but, ultimately, the reader controls the experience. Readers don’t just interpret writers’ words. They play a vital role in creating characters, plot and meaning. So writers everywhere need to loosen up and let go a bit.
A book club is also a great reminder that successes and failures should be taken in stride. One reaction to your writing doesn’t amount to a definitive statement about its merits. For every person who loves your book, you will almost certainly encounter one who thinks its worthless sludge, and vice versa. Don’t get too caught up in reviews or rejection letters. Readers are fickle and varied. Some are discerning, some have no taste, and some, like me, tend to adore every single thing they read, whether it’s the charming slogan on their granola box or the challenging novel they pulled from the shelf in the library.
I think every writer should be in a book club. A book club is a very different animal from a writing group and serves a different, perhaps equally important function. Both will take you down a notch. The book club will probably serve up the humble pie with other baked goods and a glass of wine.
I am certain the book clubs reading my book will have their own good ideas about discussion topics, but, since a few people have asked, you can now find a Reader’s Guide to Drowning Cactus on this website, here, and below the description of Drowning Cactus on the BUY MY BOOK page of this website.
Since I’m not even slightly famous, thus far I’ve been able to oblige every book club that has asked me to make a virtual appearance to answer questions. Interested in hosting me at your next book club meeting via skype? Just ask.
Big news: I packed away my beloved Joy of Cooking today.
I’m clearing my house out for renters because I leave in about two weeks for a year away. As I reluctantly sealed the box of cookbooks, my husband teased, “We’re in for a year of joyless cooking, aren’t we?”
For just a second, I panicked. We are in for a year of joyless cooking. Maybe a joyless year entirely. Fortunately, the thought and my anxiety evaporated almost instantly, replaced by a cracker jack idea.
You’ve probably read the book Julie and Julia based on Julie Powell’s blog, or seen the movie. It was fun to read about Ms. Powell’s attempts to tackle aspic, but aren’t you dying to hear about my free-style hard boiled eggs? Simmer or boil? How many minutes? Fourteen, right? I totally have this under control. Wait! Is that for large eggs or medium? You just know I’m going to end up with some hilariously green-tinted yolk rings.
Yes, I think the world might be ready for Carrie without Irma (Marion, and Ethan): My Year of Cooking Joylessly.
I can already predict that my homemade mayonnaise is going to come out runny. I’ll almost definitely rush my frittatas without my J of C’s warnings to cook them low, slow and steady. All those disasters and I haven’t even thought past the chapter on eggs! Oh, Joy of Cooking, I miss you already!
Sure, I could look recipes up on the Internet and I can probably improvise a frittata, but that would be boring. If I try hard enough, I’m almost certain I can come up with some disastrous culinary experiences–perfect fodder for a blog on joyless cooking.
Foodies have been hip for a while. Kitchen klutzes are poised to hit the big time. Who better to fill the role than me?!
Now, excuse me while I attempt an impromptu zucchini/barley flour/dried porcini casserole. I won’t blog about it though. The world is so NOT ready for posts about the meals I’m creating as I attempt to use up the remains of my pantry. You guys want humor, not horror, right?