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Why I Changed My Mind About e-Books

When I first got a Kindle in December of 2010, I was so excited. I couldn’t believe how easy it was to buy a book and be able to start reading it instantly. And e-books were cheaper! I can’t resist a good bargain. Not to mention that that Kindle made travel far less of a back-breaking endeavor. I thought it was brilliant.

I read a lot of books on my Kindle over the next few years. I occasionally checked them out from my public library, although the selection was limited, the good stuff always had a long hold list, and a few times I wasn’t able to finish the book before it disappeared. I bought plenty of books, and found services that sent advanced reader’s copies of not-quite-published books for free. But in the last year my feelings about e-books have been souring.

The first thing to start making me a little fidgety is the whole ownership question. I knew that I didn’t actually own any of my Kindle e-books from the beginning, but I allowed myself to ignore the issue. But I hate the fact that I can’t legally lend an e-book to a friend, and that even under the rare circumstance that it’s “allowed” it’s for brief periods of time determined by the software, not by the reader or book owner. And I brindled at the terms that forbid me to migrate my books into a different format and read them on a different device. I hate being told what I can and can’t do.

Then I saw a few notifications that a book I’d previously purchased had been “updated.” Updated? I looked to see whether an errata had been added to the book, but none of the changes were obvious. As someone who cares about the integrity of the written record, this is unsettling. I know it reeks of paranoia, but I have images of history books and political works being altered to reflect majority opinions, or at least the opinions of the strongest shareholders.

Over time, I also started hating the intangibility of my digital library. I never felt that I had a sense of what books were part of my collection. I couldn’t remember buying things that were there, and worse, I often couldn’t remember reading them.

This has been the final nail in the coffin of e-books. My retention of digital material is much, much worse. For me, the first indicator of this was the realization that I didn’t have a physical sense of where a particular idea, phrase, or scene was in the book I was reading. When I read on paper, I can often recall where on the page something occurred, which makes it much easier to go back to it, and also makes that idea more real and concrete somehow. The physicality of reading a print book makes its content more solid in my mind. Ferris Jabr wrote about this over a year ago in Scientific American, saying “When we read, we construct a mental representation of the text in which meaning is anchored to structure.”

Jabr’s article points to many studies that have been done showing that reading a physical book is better for reading comprehension and retention, and nothing but my own anecdotal experience has proved that for me.

In the Library where I work, we’ve been building our e-book collection rapidly. In general, the default format for purchasing books at this point is to purchase them digitally. While there are many positive aspects of this for our collection and for the Library, I can’t say that I believe this is the best choice for our students. Several people have claimed that our students prefer them, but we have no evidence of this. And I’m not sure we should let students’ desire for convenience trump their learning experience. I’m a big meanie like that.

I never thought I’d be the person to take up arms for the print book, but the more I learn about learning and the act of reading, the more I want to fight for our print collection. And while my husband may sigh in distress about the size of my personal library, I know that for myself, I’ll be buying a lot fewer e-books in the future.

More on Serials and Linked Data

Last year I wrote an article on serials, FRBR, and linked data in the Journal of Library Metadata. My main goal was to re-think how libraries can make connections between articles and the journals in which they’re published using linked data. I used the FRBR model to link the article and the journal together at the Item level, envisioning both the article and the journal being positioned as Works.

I never felt entirely happy with my model, but I couldn’t figure out a better way at the time. I recognized several months ago that my thinking, when I wrote the article, was limited because I was focused on trying to create some kind of symmetry in the model.

Recently, I came up with another way to think about connecting journals and their articles, still using the FRBR model, and I think this makes a lot more sense. In my original article, I looked at the journal from a FRBR perspective and saw each individual issue of a journal as the Item in the FRBR hierarchy. But it was awkward, and I don’t think it worked particularly well.

In re-imagining this, however, I realized that an individual issue of a journal is really an expression of that journal.

A visual diagram of the FRBR hierarchy for a journal and an article in that journal

Serials FRBR model to link articles and journals together

The journal itself (“The New Yorker,” “The Paris Review,” “The New England Journal of Medicine”) is a work; it is a conceptual thing that doesn’t have expression outside of the issues that are published as part of its run. Each issue that is published is another expression of that journal. Similarly, if you think of an article as a work, they are published as an expression in a particular issue of a journal.

I think this model works much more organically, and makes a lot more sense that what I was originally trying to force to make sense because I was fixated on symmetry.

The other question I asked in the article was how we can deal with journal changes using linked data in the FRBR model. Merges, splits, and title changes can still create problems for someone in a library trying to find a particular resource. But I think linked data itself can solve this problem, without us needing to change the FRBR model by creating something like “super works” or “journal families.” We have a good way of linking former and succeeding titles together, but it doesn’t work as well when our metadata is contained in independent catalogs. However, if our “records” exist on the web and are openly linked, we can link to a former or succeeding title even if it’s not held in our own unique collection.

I don’t know if an idea like this will be picked up by the people who are currently arguing about the models we should use in a linked data environment. I suspect it’s too simplistic for them, which is what makes it appealing to me, but catalogers seem to like to make things as complicated as possible. But I felt that the niggling annoyance about my previously published model disappeared when I started thinking about linking resources together this way.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you think this model makes sense?

Onward and Upward

It seems way too recent that I was writing a similar blog post, but life is ever changing, right? Yes, I’m moving on yet again. I’ve accepted a new position as the Web Services Librarian at Sonoma State University.

I’ve been so lucky to be a part of the California Digital Library, for however brief a period. I learned a lot, and had the chance to work with some truly brilliant, not to mention fun, warm, and generous people. It was not an easy decision to leave, but it was the right one for me, and (I hope) for Sean and me, and for our future.

I’m looking forward to being back on a campus, and working directly with students and faculty again. My new position will encompass a very wide range of projects and responsibilities, and I will have the opportunity to collaborate with yet another great team on innovative, user-focused services and projects. This is also a tenure-track position, which is really exciting for me. And which means that hopefully it’ll be a long time before I have to write another of these posts.

We won’t be moving right away, so we have at least another six months or so to enjoy Oakland (whee!) before making our move up to wine country (apparently, I really like living in wine country).

Thanks to all of my amazing colleagues at CDL for teaching me so much. And thanks to my soon-to-be new colleagues at Sonoma State for welcoming me into your fold. I can’t wait to start working with you!

I fixed it!

Last week I discovered some wonkiness happenings with pages in my wordpress installation. I recently moved from one hosting account to another, and I figured something off must have happened when I was re-setting up this site. And I was right. I had some extra lines in my .htaccess file that were causing some issues, but I think I fixed them.

It’s always a little daunting for me when I have to dig around the innards of my websites. I am 50 percent confident about that kind of surgery, and 50 percent totally not sure what I’m doing. When it comes to web development stuff I am still the kind of amateur that is most of the time faking it and poking at things until something does what I want. I’m not sure I fixed this problem the correct way, but it looks like I fixed it, so…I’m good with that.

If you encounter any more wonkiness, please, let me know!

I busted it

You might notice that some of the links on this site are broken. Sad face! I recently transferred my domain to a new hosting account, and somewhere in the process of setting up this site, I busted it. I’m trying valiantly to fix it, so keep your fingers crossed that I can. In the meantime, if you’d like to see my resume or find out more about me, just ask! :-)

Supporting Infrastructure

I recently read a quote in OCLC’s report, “Libraries at Webscale”: Leslie Crutchfield says that “The expectation that collaboration can occur without a supporting infrastructure is one of the most frequent reasons that collective efforts fail.” That quote really stuck with me because it so aptly describes the project I’ve been working on for the last nine months. It’s a difficult project to describe, but I think this idea of creating a supporting infrastructure makes it a little easier.

In PAPR, we’re building the supporting infrastructure for one of the largest library collaborations being undertaken right now: The WEST project. I’ve talked about WEST here before, but a quick recap: WEST (Western Regional Storage Trust) is a collective serials preservation project being undertaken by approximately 100 libraries in the western United States. These libraries are coming together to make decisions about which libraries will continue to hold print copies of specifically chosen journals in order to allow other libraries to jettison that weight and free up storage space. The hope is that through cooperative collection analysis and selective archive building, everyone will be able to make more strategic de-selection decisions. Cooperative collection management moves like this will better allow us to adequately preserve what needs to be preserved, while not requiring that every single library hang onto everything forever.

I think WEST is a harbinger of things to come for libraries. We’ll be making many more decisions on a larger scale, and collaborative with each other to make the best decisions, not just for our own communities, but for the global community. But collaborative work like this, as Crutchfield points out, requires infrastructure. It requires a system to manage and analyze the massive amounts that will be generated once you start working on a larger scale.

I’m hopeful that what we’re building will prove to be a useful supporting infrastructure, not just for WEST, but for other libraries that decide to collaborate in collections management and preservation. Working together is, after all, our best chance for survival, the best chance, in fact, for us to thrive.

100 Best Novels

Awhile ago, I posted a list, purportedly from the National Endowment for the Arts, of “great books” which supposedly people didn’t read. However, the list was weird and I think the whole exercise would have been better served with a better list. So I’m going to try to re-start this meme with the list from the Modern Library, which I think more accurately reflects Great Books (though, really, no Jane Austen? I guess this is from the Modern Library. No list will be perfect, I suppose).

I could get all complicated with the list, marking those I read, those I loved, and those I want to read. But I’m trying to do this quickly as I take a break from record analysis, so I’m only marking those I’ve read in bold.

  1. ULYSSES by James Joyce
  2. THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  3. A PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MANby James Joyce
  4. LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov
  5. BRAVE NEW WORLD by Aldous Huxley
  6. THE SOUND AND THE FURY by William Faulkner
  7. CATCH-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. DARKNESS AT NOON by Arthur Koestler
  9. SONS AND LOVERS by D.H. Lawrence
  10. THE GRAPES OF WRATH by John Steinbeck
  11. UNDER THE VOLCANO by Malcolm Lowry
  12. THE WAY OF ALL FLESH by Samuel Butler
  13. 1984 by George Orwell
  14. I, CLAUDIUS by Robert Graves
  15. TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf
  16. AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY by Theodore Dreiser
  17. THE HEART IS A LONELY HUNTER by Carson McCullers
  18. SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE by Kurt Vonnegut
  19. INVISIBLE MAN by Ralph Ellison
  20. NATIVE SON by Richard Wright
  21. HENDERSON THE RAIN KING by Saul Bellow
  22. APPOINTMENT IN SAMARRA by John O’Hara
  23. U.S.A.(trilogy) by John Dos Passos
  24. WINESBURG, OHIO by Sherwood Anderson
  25. A PASSAGE TO INDIA by E.M. Forster
  26. THE WINGS OF THE DOVE by Henry James
  27. THE AMBASSADORS by Henry James
  28. TENDER IS THE NIGHT by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  29. THE STUDS LONIGAN TRILOGY by James T. Farrell
  30. THE GOOD SOLDIER by Ford Madox Ford
  31. ANIMAL FARM by George Orwell
  32. THE GOLDEN BOWL by Henry James
  33. SISTER CARRIE by Theodore Dreiser
  34. A HANDFUL OF DUST by Evelyn Waugh
  35. AS I LAY DYING by William Faulkner
  36. ALL THE KING’S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
  37. THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY by Thornton Wilder
  38. HOWARDS END by E.M. Forster
  39. GO TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN by James Baldwin
  40. THE HEART OF THE MATTER by Graham Greene
  41. LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding
  42. DELIVERANCE by James Dickey
  43. A DANCE TO THE MUSIC OF TIME (series) by Anthony Powell
  44. POINT COUNTER POINT by Aldous Huxley
  45. THE SUN ALSO RISES by Ernest Hemingway
  46. THE SECRET AGENT by Joseph Conrad
  47. NOSTROMO by Joseph Conrad
  48. THE RAINBOW by D.H. Lawrence
  49. WOMEN IN LOVE by D.H. Lawrence
  50. TROPIC OF CANCER by Henry Miller
  51. THE NAKED AND THE DEAD by Norman Mailer
  52. PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT by Philip Roth
  53. PALE FIRE by Vladimir Nabokov
  54. LIGHT IN AUGUST by William Faulkner
  55. ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac
  56. THE MALTESE FALCON by Dashiell Hammett
  57. PARADE’S END by Ford Madox Ford
  58. THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton
  59. ZULEIKA DOBSON by Max Beerbohm
  60. THE MOVIEGOER by Walker Percy
  61. DEATH COMES FOR THE ARCHBISHOP by Willa Cather
  62. FROM HERE TO ETERNITY by James Jones
  63. THE WAPSHOT CHRONICLES by John Cheever
  64. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger
  65. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE by Anthony Burgess
  66. OF HUMAN BONDAGE by W. Somerset Maugham
  67. HEART OF DARKNESS by Joseph Conrad
  68. MAIN STREET by Sinclair Lewis
  69. THE HOUSE OF MIRTH by Edith Wharton
  70. THE ALEXANDRIA QUARTET by Lawrence Durell
  71. A HIGH WIND IN JAMAICA by Richard Hughes
  72. A HOUSE FOR MR BISWAS by V.S. Naipaul
  73. THE DAY OF THE LOCUST by Nathanael West
  74. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway
  75. SCOOP by Evelyn Waugh
  76. THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE by Muriel Spark
  77. FINNEGANS WAKE by James Joyce
  78. KIM by Rudyard Kipling
  79. A ROOM WITH A VIEW by E.M. Forster
  80. BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh
  81. THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH by Saul Bellow
  82. ANGLE OF REPOSE by Wallace Stegner
  83. A BEND IN THE RIVER by V.S. Naipaul
  84. THE DEATH OF THE HEART by Elizabeth Bowen
  85. LORD JIM by Joseph Conrad
  86. RAGTIME by E.L. Doctorow
  87. THE OLD WIVES’ TALE by Arnold Bennett
  88. THE CALL OF THE WILD by Jack London
  89. LOVING by Henry Green
  90. MIDNIGHT’S CHILDREN by Salman Rushdie
  91. TOBACCO ROAD by Erskine Caldwell
  92. IRONWEED by William Kennedy
  93. THE MAGUS by John Fowles
  94. WIDE SARGASSO SEA by Jean Rhys
  95. UNDER THE NET by Iris Murdoch
  96. SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron
  97. THE SHELTERING SKY by Paul Bowles
  98. THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE by James M. Cain
  99. THE GINGER MAN by J.P. Donleavy
  100. THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS by Booth Tarkington

How many of these “Great Books” have you read?