Why do I have to wait SO LONG for library ebooks?

It’s been an increasing source of frustration for many library users: waiting weeks, sometimes months to get to the top of the waiting list for a popular eBook or e-Audiobook.

As I write this, the ebook for Michelle Obama’s 2018 memoir, Becoming,  has over 200 people waiting for their turn at one of 16 eBook copies. If each of those 16 copies is checked out for the full lending period of 21 days, well, that’s a very long wait if you’re at the bottom of the list. (Take heart, if you’re using a Cheshire library card, your wait won’t be quite as long.  We have purchased 2 additional copies for Cheshire cardholders exclusively, so CPL users will move through the hold queue a little faster).

Why does it take so long? After all, it’s not a physical object, it’s a digital file that lives in the “cloud”, why can’t multiple people access it simultaneously instead of only one at a time? Barring that, why doesn’t the library just buy more copies so that the waiting list is shorter? Getting people access to books and information is what libraries are all about, but the struggle for acquiring lendable e-content is very real, and it’s getting harder all the time. Why? What’s the big hairy deal? For that answer, you have to look to the “Big 5” Publishers, who are responsible for close to 80% of trade book sales.

First, a little background. When Cheshire Library started offering eBooks to their patrons in 2006,   lending of downloadable items was in its infancy.  Publishers were extremely wary about allowing library users virtual access to their books. After all, digital copies of books never wear out or have to be replaced, and are more vulnerable to unauthorized copying (“pirating”). Publishers were afraid if they allowed libraries access to their books digitally, they would be losing money. Individual publishers came up with their own sets of rules for libraries to access their e-content, and they have been tweaked many times since 2006. The graphic to the right outlines the current purchasing & lending restrictions for libraries purchasing e-Books from the “Big 5”. Over the years, all 5 publishers have gone to a “metered access” model, meaning that titles expire after a set number of uses or months, at which time the library has to purchase the item again if they want to keep it available to their patrons.

And, unfortunately, the prices libraries must pay for ebooks and e-audiobooks are very high. Libraries must pay up to 4X the retail price for digital versions of books (which only one user can have access to at a time).  Meeting the library patron’s needs for downloadable content is a very expensive enterprise, indeed! Take a look at this comparison of the prices for various versions of the same book:

e-Audiobook publishers have used a “perpetual license” model in the past, (meaning a title only needs to be purchased once, regardless of the number of uses or months) but that is starting to change. Many are converting to a “metered access” model like the eBook publishers, which will have a significant impact on how many titles a library is able to purchase.

Recently, another way for libraries to offer digital content has emerged, the “pay-per-use” model. Platforms like Hoopla, Kanopy, and Freegal, are examples. These platforms offer libraries a pre-curated collection of digital items that have no limit on how many people can check them out at the same time. Rather than buying individual titles, the library pays a fee each time an item from the collection is checked out. For a while, this sounded like a good solution to the long waiting periods users experienced on traditional platforms. The drawback? The service can become so popular that the monthly fees quickly become unmanageable. This is what happened at CPL when we tried Hoopla.  The monthly fees kept skyrocketing,  even when we lowered our checkout limit to 5 items per month. It became impossible to sustain the expense without reducing the service even further, so we discontinued Hoopla and looked for something better.

Since discontinuing Hoopla, CPL has added a platform with a new lending model for e-Audiobooks that we hope will ease some frustration. RBdigital began offering a new service with a core collection of 30,000+ audiobook titles that allow muti-user access (always available, no waiting lists), plus the ability for libraries to add newer and more in-demand titles to the collection (following the one copy/one user model). RBdigital charges libraries a flat monthly fee for the “always available” content, so the library doesn’t have to limit the amount of items patrons check out, and knows exactly how much to budget for each month. We’ll continue to look for ways to bring the most value to the library experience.

The digital media landscape for libraries is constantly changing and adjusting. Here are some articles to check out if you’re  interested in learning more on the subject:

www.cnn.com/2019/08/02/opinions/libraries-fight-publishers-over-e-books-west/index.html

www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2019/07/ala-uneasy-about-simon-schuster-digital-lending-model-changes

www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2019/06/ala-concerned-over-hachette-book-group-ebook-and-audio-book-lending-model

www.inquirer.com/news/ebooks-free-library-philadelphia-costs-budget-20190117.html

https://slate.com/business/2019/09/e-book-library-publisher-buying-controversy-petition.html

Devil in the White City

NOTE: This post deals with a difficult subject matter, serial killers, so if you’re easily disturbed, you might not want to read any further.

A book kept passing through my hands and it seemed intriguing – psychopath, history, award-winning – probably good, and I read it at last. The Devil in the White City  by Erik Larson tells the true story of the great Chicago World’s Fair of 1893, a celebration of Columbus’s 400th anniversary of discovering the new world and an attempt to outdo the 1887 Paris World’s Fair, which amazed the world with the new Eiffel Tower, the tallest structure in the world. The fair covered more than 600 acres – almost six times the size of Disney’s Magic Kingdom – and attracted more than 27 million visitors in its 6 month-run (versus 20 million visitors to Magic Kingdom in 2016). It also chose Tesla’s AC electric current to power it because it was cheaper than Edison’s DC current, cementing the road for America’s future electrical grid.

Chicago was no charming city, known for stink (stockyards), grime (trains and soot), crimes and vice. And in this mix lurked a serial killer, H.H. Holmes. Holmes’s background was a perfect mix of known factors of psychopathic development – strict, cold, abusive parents with severe religious obsession. By the age of 6, Holmes liked to dismember animals, and by his teens was implicated in the death of a young boy but cleared due to the pitiful state of investigations. He fled to Chicago, where he became a con artist, bilking insurance companies, furniture companies, and drug supply stores. He also charmed single ladies, killed them, reduced them to skeletons, and sold them as medical supplies. He built an elaborate hotel nicknamed “The Castle,” complete with gas jets in the rooms, soundproof rooms, and a personal crematorium in his basement. When finally cornered for killing his long-time assistant, Holmes confessed to 29 killings, though only 9 could be proven, but his total might have been as high as 200. He was hung for his crimes. Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights to the book, and a film is in production with Martin Scorsese as director (it had a tentative 2017 date, but is still in process).

Serial killers – those that kill large numbers of victims over time – are rare as far as murder goes, but the extent of their crimes garners a lot of press. Connecticut has its own serial killer in Amy Archer Gilligan of Windsor, who killed as many as 48 of her nursing-home patients for insurance claims between 1885 and 1917. Some of the more notorious American serial killers include:

Jeffery Dahmer (1991), who killed (and ate) at least 16 young men and boys. Not a high count for a serial killer,  it was the cannibalism that made him famous. He was beaten to death in prison not long after his conviction. Some things scare even murderers.

John Wayne Gacy (1978), who dressed as a clown for kids’ birthday parties and killed more than 33 men.  Stephen King said “It” was fiction.

Charles Cullen (2003), convicted of 40 murders while he was a nurse, but possibly responsible for up to 400, making him the most prolific not only in New Jersey, but the USA. Carl Watts (1982) was also a nurse, convicted of six murders but possibly as many as 130.

Ted Bundy (1975), one of the most famous and perhaps sickest, who killed more than 30. He decapitated at least 12 victims and kept the heads in his apartment, and often performed sex acts on rotting corpses (I warned you). He was executed in Florida.

Gary Ridgeway (2001)  the “Green River Killer”, with 49 proven deaths, 71 confessions, with a probable total closer to 90.

Ed Gein (1957)– Gein was convicted of only two murders, but if you’re looking at psychopaths, Gein is King. Gein had a bizarre attachment to his mother (back to that cold/abuse/super-religious thing), and would go to graves and dig up women’s bodies, skin them, and save parts attempting to wear his mother. Gein was the inspiration for Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs. He was diagnosed as schizophrenic, incompetent, and died in a mental facility.

What predicts a serial killer? Most professionals look for early abuse, neglect, brutality, bullying, and mental illness. Animal cruelty, especially in young children, is a warning sign. Killers are often charismatic (Holmes, Bundy, Jim Jones, too) and manipulative, gaining friendship and trust.  Lack of empathy for their victims is  always present. Some do it for attention, especially media attention. One interesting point: 70% of serial killers had experienced significant head trauma as children; with what we now know about violence among football players and boxers who receive blows to the head, could this be a risk factor?

So hug your kids. Be patient. Be kind to them and to others, and teach them to be kind as well. Take bullying and animal cruelty seriously, and report it to authorities. You don’t know how many lives you might save.

What is an MP3-CD Audiobook, Part 2 – Why We Still Love Our LPs

My blog post about MP3-CDs several years ago generated an unexpected interest – what was different about an MP3-CD audiobook? Did I need a special player? And how did they get an entire book onto one single disk? I answered the questions, but it bugged me that I didn’t answer them enough. And when I dug just a little deeper, I realized the answer might be why there’s such a resurgence in old-fashioned vinyl LP records (kids, ask your grandparents).

Format Development

Back in the 1980’s, as CD and digital technology was taking off, committees were formed to create the format, so that the technology could be used anywhere. JPEG, that familiar photo tag, was formed first, the Joint Photographic Experts Group (1986), and they set the coding and standardization of digital transfer and storage of still photographs. MPEG-1 committee followed a year later, the Moving Picture Experts Group, Phase 1, which included both video and sound. It remains the most widely compatible audio-visual format in the world, and we all know the MPEG-1 Layer III by its short form of  .mp3.

When CDs hit the market, they took off like wildfire. You didn’t have to worry about compact discneedle and dust scratches ruining the fidelity of a record, and even better, you could carry that music with you wherever you went, just like a tape cassette but without all the mess and rewinding. Not all musicians jumped on it, though. Just as John Phillip Sousa hated the invention of the record, Neil Young was one of the earliest critics of CDs and delayed putting his music onto digital format, as is David Crosby, two men who know just a bit about music and the recording industry.

The Battle for Quality

high res vs. low res imagesAnd here’s why: MP3-CDs use what’s called lossy compression, a form of psychoacoustics (your gold-star word of the day). What it does is reduce or eliminate sounds that the system thinks the human ear can’t hear, either because they’re out of normal frequency or other sounds might be louder and keep you from hearing them. Once all that “useless” noise is gone, the audio files are a LOT smaller – enough to fit that whole audiobook onto one or two discs. Of course, in doing so, you lose a lot of sound quality, like when you send a low-resolution photo over the internet, or use a cell phone inside a tunnel.

The Return of the LP

And for all those people who said LP records were dead, here’s why more than 14 million of them were sold last year (14% of ALL album sales).  By the early 1900’s, when records became a thing, they were made of shellac (that bug resin), had a wide, noisy, grinding groove (think of those 1920’s recordings), and at 78 rpm (the speed they spun at), you could get no more than 5 minutes of play to a side – no American Pie, no Thriller, and forget In a Gadda Da Vida. That lasted until 1949, when Long-Playing (LP) records came out on vinyl (good ol’ PVC). At a speed of 33 rpm, with a finer groove that runs almost a third of a mile, they played more than 20 minutes of music per side, with a much higher sound quality. Stereo, which recorded two channels and put one on each side of the same groove, giving you that left and right sound, came in 1957. In a vinyl record, the sound waves from the microphone are transferred directly by needle to a core, which is transferred to a metal master, which is then pressed into vinyl. A needle then rides the groove, transferring those same exact soundwaves to the speakers. With proper speakers and tuning, the result is a rich, deep, acoustic sound much more like live music. Listen to enough LPs, and you really can hear the canned music effect on a CD recording. There is no comparison if you are a music purist.

Vinyl is Final

So, what’s playing on modern LPs? Ed Sheeran’s Divide was a top seller in 2017, and the old/new sound track to Guardians of the Galaxy, Awesome Mix No. 1, but so were the classics – Sgt. Pepper’s by the Beatles, Abbey Road, Thriller, and still, forty five years later, the champion of staying power, with more than 1,000 weeks on the top-200 best-selling albums, STILL selling more than 8500 albums a week, Pink Floyd’s 1973 Dark Side of the Moon.Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon album cover

For audiobooks, where one or two voices may recite a book in a calm, steady voice, you might not notice just how much sound is missing when you listen to it – enough to cut out six or seven discs worth. For music, I urge you to find a friend or a library that still has music LPs and players. Listen to the album (Dark Side of the Moon is amazing with serious headphones and a very dark room), and then listen to the digitally compressed MP3 files, missing highs and lows and the depth they provide. It might take a few tries, but you will start to hear the differences, and while MP3s are so fabulously convenient and almost foolproof, it just can’t compare to a good LP.

Fun fact: There is a gold-plated LP traveling the galaxy. Sent aboard the Voyager spacecraft in 1977 with recordings of Earth music, it is now more than 11 million miles away. MP3s only made it as far as the Space Station.

Tracking Black Panther

One of the more controversial topics in Hollywood is the concept of whitewashing – casting a white actor in a role meant to be Black, Asian, Native American, Latin, or other ethnic group. Some of the more egregious examples are Laurence Olivier (and Orson Welles) playing  Othello – in blackface, Ralph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson; Mickey Rooney (Breakfast at Tiffany’s), Katharine Hepburn (Dragon Seed), and John Wayne (The Conqueror) as Asians; Johnny Depp as Tonto (Lone Ranger); Tilda Swinton as an Asian man (Dr. Strange), or the one that ruined my childhood: finding out that Native American Iron Eyes Cody of the 1970’s Keep America Beautiful campaign was actually a man of Italian descent.

Big-Budget Black-Lead Films

In fact, serious big-budget black films are hard to come by. Indeed, most of the highest-grossing black-lead films are comedies (Eddie Murphy has 5 of the top 7, not including Beverly Hills Cop), despite some very top-quality dramas (The Color Purple, Fences, Moonlight, The Help, Soul Food). Yet Samuel L. Jackson – I’ll see anything he’s in – ranks number TWO on the list of actors with top box office revenues, pulling in a combined domestic gross of more than 7 BILLION dollars for his 126+ films (#1 is Stan Lee. He has a cameo in every movie he makes). Even Hollywood protested the lack of serious roles for black actors, and stirred a controversy over a glaring absence in Oscar nominations despite worthy black films, a problem starting to be rectified in 2017. Not great if you’re a black kid looking for role models. The Adventures of Pluto Nash just doesn’t cut it.

A New Superhero

Now, Hollywood may be on the verge of a true black superhero blockbuster with the release of February’s Black Panther, Marvel’s 18th release into its megahit superhero franchise. Following his debut in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, T’Challa – holding the title Black Panther – is the king of the fictional African country of Wakanda, who gains superpowers from a heart-shaped herb and connections to a mystical Panther God. When his father is assassinated in Civil War, T’Challa returns to Wakanda to discover his claim to the throne being challenged. T’Challa must team up with a CIA agent and the Wakanda Special Forces to prevent a world war.

The History of Black Panther

Black Panther was the first black comic book superhero, ever (1966), so early he predates the political party. Chadwick Boseman does a phenomenal job as T’Challa, and the movie promises to have the same serious craft and attention as the rest of the Marvel films. The previews are visually stunning, with rich ethnic textiles and cultural details that leap off the screen, drawn from no fewer than five different African cultures. Not only a superhero, but a culturally relevant one as well – which of course, immediately started another controversy whether or not the movie is celebrating African culture or trying to appropriate it. The movie was originally green-lighted in 2011, and the script approved in 2015. Hollywood doesn’t get better than this.

Of course there are now other black superheroes. Luke Cage’s TV series has had luke-warm reviews. As the XMen movies progressed, Storm played less and less of a role. Sam Wilson is a great sidekick, but no Captain America. Iron Man’s buddy Rhodey Rhodes/War Machine/Iron Patriot may be Don Cheadle, but he’s still just a sidekick called in when an extra guy is needed (at least, in the films). In Black Panther, black youth – and everyone else – may finally have found a superhero they can look up to, in full, serious, big-screen, big-budget glory, and he is Marvel-ous.

What Kind of Services Can You Find at the Library? (You might be surprised.)

Most people know that libraries provide books, magazines, movies, music, audiobooks and ebooks. What many may not realize are all the other ways libraries support their communities. Here’s a sample from the librarians of the Cheshire Public Library.

“An appreciative patron had these flowers delivered to me for helping her on the computer & with her gmail to locate and print some important personal documents. It made my day!”

“A woman came in this afternoon and wanted to print some coupons from her email. English was not her first language, she did not have computer skills, and she did not know her email provider or her password! Our technology coordinator saved the day and was able to help the woman print her coupons. The really nice thing: it was the woman’s birthday and the coupons were for free coffee and other things that she could enjoy on her special day.”

“A senior who wanted to learn how to add minutes to her flip phone came to tech help yesterday. When she left, she noted that this is the only place in town to get answers to these types of questions and that her kids yell at her when she asks for them for tech help. She said she’s going to tell all of her friends to start coming here because they also have grouchy kids/grandkids…”

“An older man approached me a few weeks ago to say how glad he was to have our library. He comes in most days to read the papers and to visit with other regulars. He said it makes him feel more connected with the community.”

Email from patron: I just saw the Positive Discipline class recently on the events calendar and am super excited about it. I’ve read some of the Positive Discipline books and would love to do a better job actually incorporating it into our lives. I’ve looked into workshops before, and it just wasn’t realistic for us financially. I already have it on my calendar to sign up when it opens.

“I had a patron come to the circ desk this week saying the last two books her book club (not associated with the library) read were duds. Since they buy their books, she wanted to be sure to pick a good book this time. I brought her over to the Reader’s Advisory bulletin board and let her peruse the content. She happily found four titles, and all were on the shelf for her to check out. She was so happy and commented that she wished she had come to the library sooner.”

“A patron whose husband recently passed away came to drop-in today. She wanted to know how to use email so she could email people in a support group she’s been attending. She never used her husband’s laptop before, and English is not her first language, so she was nervous about coming in today for help. I got her all set up, and she’s going to come back next week and report how it’s going. She was very appreciative that we’re providing this service.”

“A few weeks ago, a woman was looking for tutoring help for seven children from two families newly arrived from Saudi Arabia.  Our teen librarian had a contact in the high school for a teacher who arranges peer tutoring, so I got the teacher’s email and contacted her. She emailed to let us know that she has arranged peer tutoring for the 5 younger children (in the library!) and is arranging help for the older ones. It was great that the needed resources exist in our community. I was especially touched by the fact that the woman who made the initial contact thought of the library as a place to go for help. Yay us!”

Want to know more about the Cheshire Public library? Click here for our website.