Book saleIn an era of Google and Amazon and e-books, can the Net save us money on the construction of new libraries?

I say yes, over the long run. Increase both library spending and the percentage spent on actual books, as opposed to bricks and heating oil. Less than 15 percent of a typical library’s operational budget goes for content of all kinds.

Even so, cities need to ponder such matters carefully and not expect immediate miracles. Remember, that libraries can also be community gathering places, not just book warehouses. Besides, just a fraction of books have been digitized.

Issues like this are now under discussion in Lawrence, Kansas, setting for the library book sale shown here. Citizens are debating a planned library expansion from 44,000 to 100,000-150,000 square feet. The local paper’s story includes quotes from Garth Conboy at ETI, the company that along with Adobe is dominating the IDPF. Excerpt:

Some electronic book tablets already exist on the market for less than $150, and Conboy estimates at least half of the New York Times bestsellers are available in e-book form.

Not even Conboy, though, is so optimistic to predict that e-books will replace paper books anytime soon. That probably won’t happen in his lifetime, he said, but he believes the day is coming when e-books become the preferred choice for large segments of the population. That would be in addition to the growing audio book market that is allowing iPod users to download entire texts for their listening pleasure.

A survey from the American for Libraries Council–mentioned in the newspaper–suggests that e-books aren’t exactly a hit at this point for recreational reading:

Books are better for pleasure reading than electronic methods.
Agree: 86 percent
Disagree: 12 percent

May this change with (1) better hardware and the end of (2) the Tower of eBabel and (3) Draconian DRM! Garth could help in the first area by continuing to perfect hardware–I suspect that a new generation will soon be on the way from ETI.

In the last two areas, it would be great if Garth encouraged the IDPF to move standards setting to a more credible venue, where ETI could still be a key player.

Hey, Garth, how about it?

The more believable and robust are e-book standards, the faster will be the transition to e-books. And the more money can go for digital content over the long run, as opposed to bricks and heating oil.


  1. For those not familiar with Lawrence, it is a progressive, beautiful and leading edge city, about 30 minutes from Kansas City, with its population of close to 2 million for the metropolitan area. Most of all, Lawrence is the home of the University of Kansas. This puts things into perspective a bit – it’s not one of those dusty towns in western Kansas, Dorothy.

  2. In 2002, my hometown of Puyallup, WA built a gorgeous, much bigger building for its library. They needed a new building, in every respect, and while they could’ve built a more modest building and spent the additional money on digital resources, or what have you, I think it was a good long-term move. The new library building has a great atmosphere, and the bookshelves are juxtaposed with open space. Even if all books went digital tomorrow, I think people would still go there as a meeting place for book clubs and other community activities, book-related and not. If they had gone with a pared down, less nice building, once things go digital the place would probably lose its appeal.

  3. With digital reading, the size of the buildings is hardly going to matter. The belief in libraries is losing ground. In this era when the minutest information is available online, we can get the links for Shakespeare’s works and others. Why spend money–which the Net could save–on the construction of libraries?

    [Heavily edited for clarity. Also, I’m assuming that Candace was not being ironic. Very possibly she was. The last post I saw like this, however, came from a special-ed graduate who was being serious. So I’ll take the post at face value, at least for the moment. Compassion first! – D.R.]

  4. Roger: Thanks. I’ve heard some very flattering things about the paper in Lawrence and am not surprised to see detailed coverage of this important library issue.

    Quinn: I’m fiercely pro-library and want budgets to be increased. I simply feel that we should work for a higher percentage of money to go for content. Fifteen percent, the figure I’ve informally heard from more than one librarian, is far far too small. Yes, I know that libraries offer plenty besides books; I’d hate, for example, to see reference vanish. Moreover, I’ve recognize the importance of libraries–especially branches and small-town libraries–as community gathering places. I just want to see more efficiency, more balance, so that books and other content aren’t simply a budgetary details in the grand scheme of things.

    Candace June: Sorry. I guess I’m a little pro-library for your taste.

  5. Ben, you’re very welcome to your opinion, but as I’ve shown in detail, again and again, the IDPF in various incarnations over the years has not lived up to past ballyhoo.

    OpenRather, rather than claiming to have all the answers, is pushing to get standards setting in the mainstream via an OASIS tech committee with a wider and more diverse pool of technical talent. That is A Good Thing.

    The fact remains that people from one company, ETI, are running two crucial IDPF tech commitees. If that isn’t a symptom of the need for diversity, then what is? Adobe counted on having Jon F around, but he’s left the company.

    As for OASIS not being able to respond to the needs of the e-book industry, I respectfully disagree. The committee could be established with some very specific purposes in mind. If nothing else, I’d like to make sure an OASIS-type approach explicitly prevents Flash-style add-ons from being used to reconstruct the Tower of eBabel.

    Finally, if the access community is so powerful, why didn’t
    George Kerscher
    win re-election to the IDPF board? You’d think that the IDPF would cherish having a blind guy around to help it respond to the needs of the access community.

    Happy Fourth,

  6. 1. George was a special case–an accessibility advocate. It’s a real black mark on the IDPF that members didn’t see fit to return him to office despite all his good work. He wanted the progress that so many people at the big tech companies resisted. George, I guess, wasn’t plugged well enough into the old boy/old girl network. Another failing of the IDPF.

    2. People like George provided more diversity, not less.

    3. Thanks for noting that the IDPF members haven’t lived up to the hype; methinks the tech companies’ commercial immediate goals have come ahead of the long-range welfare of the e-book business. The group has a structural problem–too much domination by tech conglomerates with special interests.

    4. Fact remains that ETI is running too much of the show, and that this is a symptom of lack of sufficiently deep technical talent at the group level. I think Garth and friends should be involved in an OASIS-type approach and provide lots of input. I just don’t want them running so much of the show.

    5. A dependence on Flash would be outside the spirit of open standards. We don’t need either an open Tower of eBabel or a stealthy one.

    6. Jon actually would prefer NOT to chair the OASIS committee. As they say in the South, that dog won’t hunt. I myself would love to see someone neutral like a respected and well-informed academic run the committee.

    7. Adobe and other major tech companies have MILLIONS to spend on the influence game. The TeleBlog’s budget: $0. I’m flattered if we’re doing that much damage without one penny from anyone. No $100K-a-year director like the IDPF. Furthermore, Bill McCoy doesn’t just have a blog of his own, he also drops by here regularly to speak out against OpenReader. A blog is a mailing list not. The whole point is to have a view. And by the way, Ben, the TeleRead site existed for years before OpenReader happened. I grew interested in e-book standards because of my passion for a well-stocked national digital library system–a much more difficult goal to achieve, given the damage that the IDPF’s Tower of eBabel has done. The IDPF is doing consumer-level standards in respond to the pressure that OpenReader created. Frankly, however, as useful as OpenReader is, I’d much rather devote time to my main goals. It’s a shame that the usual suspects have been so balky. Beyond that, OpenReader stuff is just a fraction of what the TeleBlog covers. At times we actually draw more taffic than Publisher’s Weekly or Library Journal.

    8. While OASIS membership isn’t free, the pool of talent would still be bigger than at the IDPF.

    I know you’re proud of your past IDPF work, Ben; but you may want to consider the bottom line. IDPF has a sorry record in the standards area because of serious structural problems, and it should spin off the work to an OASIS tech committee. There’s plenty else for the IDPF to do. I think it could work out as a regular trade group–that’s the mindset (the same boosterism that’s interfered with standards development). The IDPF is way over its mistake quota, and it’s time to try a fresh approach while retaining good people and good ideas from the past.

  7. Jon would tell a different story about Adobe and accessibility.

    So would a blind friend of mine, a librarian. I’d love for him to be able to review books more easily, but thanks to Adobe and similar companies, e-books are just too much of a hassle. Ben, that says it all. For my friend, the IDPF’s mistakes are earth-shattering. Otherwise he’d be able to read regular e-books today via his speech synthesizer, a common make.

    Clearly the Adobes and Microsofts have not listened to George on standards matters. Talk to people all you want about donations, charity work, etc. What I care about, however, is the real world. The blind just don’t count sufficiently when it comes to e-books, and George would like to change that. Too bad he’s no longer on the IDPF board. The group’s priorities are elsewhere.

    Simply put, as both a creation forum for genuine consumer-level standards and as a solver of problems for people like my blind friend, the IDPF so far has been a risible failure–one reason why e-books today are a joke, with sales so small. Oh, the hatred that consumers feel toward Draconian DRM and the Tower of eBabel, when they’re not laughing! Meanwhile the typical library techie will rolls his eye if you bring up the topic of e-books. Some track record, eh? While the dotcom bust didn’t help, IDPF’s hype-heavy approach hasn’t exactly aided the medium’s credibility.

    Hey, Ben, sorry. Individually the IDPF people have many great traits. Collectively IDPF folks have done great harm in the standards areas despite some wonderful work at the production level. Until OpenReader came along, the IDPF in recent years was “agnostic” on consumer-level standards. I’d like to see IDPF redeploy its efforts into activities more in keeping with the role of a trade organization. I continue to believe that an OASIS-style approach would be better on standards issues ranging from the basics to the handling of plug-ins and fallbacks. More technical talent would be available, so ETI didn’t have to play quite as prominent a role even if it still enjoyed some influence.

    I’m out of time right now (unlike Adobe we lack a multimillion-dollar budget to hire flunkies), but Jon can reply if he feels like it.


  8. Well, these followup comments are certainly getting to be interesting!

    Ben noted:

    You’re still not selling me on how OpenReader, as a divergent standard based on OEBPS, is somehow better or more valuable than what IDPF is producing. Nor are you selling me on the idea that it’s anything other than a lark — a HTML 3.0 lark like what happened at W3C back in the 90s. “You’re not doing what we want! Well, ha! We‘re making an alternate!”

    Seen anybody using HTML 3.0? Ever? Me, neither.

    This is an unfair example. Build a strawman of your liking, and then knock it down.

    Either the OpenReader Publication Format (ORP) is just another “HTML 3.0 lark”, or it is truly a next-generation digital publication framework, meeting all the Generation 2 requirements and feature-set, plus more, which the Publication Structure Working Group (PSWG) established in the 2000 to 2003 timeframe (I refer to this collective knowledge as the “PSWG Roadmap”.)

    I know which one it is, but unless you’ve thoroughly studied ORP from the feature-set perspective (rather than poking at minutiae because we use IDREFS in a few places you disapproved of), and fully come up to speed with all the technical work done between 2000 and 2003 on the next-generation OEBPS, and then compare the two — until then you can only guess. Ben, you have been out of action in OEBPS development for several years, and since then a lot of water has passed under the bridge, both technically and politically (the latter mostly behind-the-scenes stuff you’re not yet aware of which I know you appreciate. You’ll catch up fast, that I know <smile/>)

    The current OEBPS WG effort, which I faithfully contribute to as you will, Ben, has strayed way off the path — OEBPS WG is now creating the divergent spec, not ORP. Why do I say this?

    The current OEBPS WG, which replaced PSWG (unceremoniously dechartered without any explanation to the members nor the public — so much for openness?), does not acknowledge nor follow the well-established PSWG Roadmap. Many PSWG luminaries contributed to the next-gen OEBPS effort — those who are no longer around, some of whom are thorougly disgusted with it all (culminating with the OEBPS WG chartering process), include Allen Renear, Dorothea Salo, Gene Golovchinsky, Garret Wilson, and Jerry Dunietz, to name just a few.

    In essence, the current OEBPS WG is simply ignoring all that work done by all those brilliant people, and as you noted, it’s not because the PSWG next-gen effort (and associated Roadmap) was flawed, but because of timing in the ebook industry. But OpenReader has not ignored their work — it has, in a way, built upon their work.

    Now some might say that the purpose of OEBPS WG is not to work on the next-generation spec, but simply to fix some flaws in the current OEBPS 1.2 spec and to “modernize” it (whatever that entails.) Fine in principle. But the problem with this is that the current OEBPS WG charter is not properly constrained to meet this goal — it is too loose, and implements new features without much thought given to whether they are needed in the OEBPS update or how they fit into a long term plan. How can one make decisions for the short-term without a long-term plan? It’s like trying to build a business without a business plan. It’s an ad hoc effort, a wandering in the desert.

    Late last year I worked on an OEBPS 1.2.1 spec to fix the glaring errors with OEBPS 1.2. I did this in my role as PSWG Maintenance Chair (yes, I faithfully held that role even after the Summer of 2003 suspension of PSWG activities, and continued to collect errata and the like.) OEBPS 1.2.1 was mostly completed as Garth can attest, and this work should have formed the effort for the updated OEBPS. It would have met all first generation needs and caused the least problem for publishers and software developers who currently work with OEBPS 1.0.1 and 1.2.

    And OEBPS 1.2.1 (or maybe it could have been called OEBPS 1.3) would have been completely finished a few months ago, it would not have required PSWG being decommissioned and OEBPS WG chartered, and could have even included a few “modernizations”. (Ben, I’ll be happy to share with you the URL to the latest OEBPS 1.2.1 draft.) This would allow PSWG to have begun focusing early this year on the next-generation OEBPS in the proper way, and how best to integrate the requested features (mostly by Adobe, and some by DAISY) based on proper long-term planning. OEBPS WG would actually be further along than it is now, and building a much sturdier next-generation base.

    Anyway, OpenReader is continuing to work with those planning to soon implement ORP. We can’t wait around for IDPF to maybe get its act together with respect to OEBPS and building the next-generation version properly, starting with the PSWG Roadmap. But we certainly want to work with IDPF on the next-gen. The offer for ORP to form the basis of OEBPS 2.0 is there on the table — it has always been. Even the trade name OpenReader is offered as part of the future collaboration — Nick has told me he likes the name, which I consider a real compliment!

    There’s lot more I could say in reply to the other points brought up in this blog article comment section (such as about IDPF vs. OASIS), but I’ll mercifully defer that for the moment.

  9. Funny, my blind friends can read ebooks via Microsoft Reader without any significant difficulty. Adobe ebooks? A whole other story.

    Again, you’re blaming a IDPF as a whole on the actions of a few. You make claims about IDPF without any experience or backing on them. And claiming that OpenReader and OASIS will make it all better. What has OASIS done for accessibility, hmm? As far as I know, they have one group focused on accessibility, and it’s trying to figure out how to make OpenDocument accessible after the fact.

    IDPF has been focused on accessibility since 1999. And a lot of work has gone into that. The toolmakers haven’t lived up it, in any significant way. The question is…who has? I believe accessibility has a better chance at IDPF than anywhere else, simply because the people who have a vested interest in accessibility are already there.

    You talk about IDPF failing as a place for consumer-level standards — let me tell you why that didn’t work. The content providers didn’t buy into it, way back when. Heck, certain authors’ organizations wrote editorials and took out full-page ads against ebooks as a general rule, and against IDPF, in specific.

    You can’t hang your hat on IDPF, in this regard. The entire industry is to blame — from the toolmakers, to the publishers, to the authors of content themselves. IDPF didn’t create any DRM — they never even finished investigating the idea. IDPF created a publication format, to allow content to be streamed into ebooks…and while you call them a failure, since IDPF came into existence, the publishers have come onboard to some extent, and we see greater ebook sales than ever before, by a very large margin. They’ve gained a level of traction in the mainstream that can act as a jumping off point for the next stage of ebooks.

    Your arguments for OpenReader and OASIS are hinged entirely on the perceived failure of IDPF…a failure based on criteria it was never intended to meet. You act as if IDPF is filled with people who have black agendas, meeting in dimly lit rooms to screw over the little guy.

    David, you correctly address a number of the problems the consumer faces in getting ebooks. I don’t see why you a) need to blame it on IDPF, and b) want to sabotage the focus IDPF provides.

    Multiple standards that address the same problem are never a good thing. I seriously doubt OpenReader will ever get any traction — all it seems to be good for is to confuse people as to which standard to work with. For a few small companies, adopting OpenRreader could be disastrous, as the content providers support OEBPS and continue to support OEBPS.

    Have you guys really thought this out? It sure seems like the impetus for OpenReader is based on bad feelings, mistaken assumptions, and erroneous facts. As far as I can tell, OpenReader isn’t necessary, doesn’t solve any major problems, and only serves to damage our community.

    I’ve yet to see an argument from you that convinces me otherwise.

  10. Well, I guess I’ll make a couple other points to this thread. <laugh/>

    It was disappointing to see George Kerscher not get re-elected to the IDPF Board. It is important for any multi-stakeholder trade organization like IDPF to have a proper balance for it to benefit everyone. In the specific case of IDPF, there has to be a balance between the creators and the users of content, and those stakeholders inbetween.

    Acessibility is so critical at all levels of the digital publication universe. Thus, it is important there always be an accessibility representative serving on the IDPF Board. This is why some have called for the IDPF Board to establish a permanent Board seat representing the accessibility members.

    I also make this call.

  11. In regards to a call for a permanent board seat for accessibility representatives…it’s a nice idea, but dictator-for-life never works out for anybody. Accessibility has never been under-represented at IDPF, Jon.

  12. To amplify my prior comment, Here’s the current makeup of the IDPF Board:

    Garth Conboy       eBook Technologies, Inc.
    Claire Israel      Simon & Schuster
    Elizabeth Mackey
    Bill McCoy         Adobe Systems, Inc.
    Steve Potash       OverDrive, Inc.
    Kelley Allen       Random House, Inc.
    Rick Weingarten    American Library Association

    Interestingly, if we analyze the current IDPF Board makeup, we have the following results:

    • Four Board members, a majority, represent companies that sit between the publishers and users of content, such as high-tech companies and distributors/retailers.

    • Two Board members represent publishers.

    • Only one, the ALA representative, represents content users.

    Unfortunately, this is highly skewed, and most disadvantageous for the users of digital content.

    Ideally, we should have nine Board members, of which three represent publishers (one of whom should represent the smaller, independent e-book publishers), three who represent the “inbetweeners”, and three who represent users. Of the three user reps, one should be from the accessibility community, one from the library/archives community, and one representing individual content users.

  13. Ben wrote:

    In regards to a call for a permanent board seat for accessibility representatives — it’s a nice idea, but dictator-for-life never works out for anybody. Accessibility has never been under-represented at IDPF, Jon.

    Laugh. It’s an interesting way to put it, “dictator-for-life”.

    Actually, the idea will work because:

    • One seat out of nine does not lead to the accessibility community controlling everything in IDPF. It assures them a voice.

    • As Ben noted, the number of accessibility members of IDPF is significant, so they will vote among themselves on who to represent their interests on the Board. There won’t be someone holding that special Board seat who claims to represent the accessibility community but in actuality does not.

    • It lets the world-at-large know that IDPF is committed to accessibility. It has a lot of positive public relations for the organization as a whole. There might even be positive ramifications in the regulatory arena which has been getting more and more pro-accessibility.

    • It helps to assuage the natural clash of interests between publishers and the accessibility community (and this does exist!)

    • Such special Board seats based on stakeholder are allocated in many non-profit organizations, so it’s not as if this is a radical idea.

    I see no downsides to this idea, and I’ve not yet seen a cogent argument as to why not. So why not? Saying that the interests of the accessibility community are adequately represented glosses over reality.

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