OverDrive takes one step forward, many steps back

As you may recall, I recently said some nice things about recent developments at OverDrive. Unfortunately, I have nothing nice to say about their most recent developments.

The news has had the biblioblogosphere buzzing (e.g., Library Journal, Jessamyn West at librarian.net, Sarah Houghton-Jan at Librarian in Black): OverDrive has announced that they will be changing their ebook lending policies to allow publishers to limit the number of times an item can be “borrowed.” More specifically, each title published by HarperCollins will expire from the library’s collection once it has been used 26 times. Naturally, this is in addition to the restriction that only one person can have an ebook “checked out” at a time (what OverDrive calls the “one-copy / one-user model”).

Now, for those of us who work with technology, the one-copy / one-user model is frustrating; it’s a way of artificially reducing the usefulness of electronic content. But the fact is, this model makes ebook lending more like the lending of physical books, so it’s not completely outrageous. On the other hand, limiting the number of uses is not related to traditional lending. Although it’s true that books wear out eventually, I would question the binding quality of any book that was damaged beyond repair after 26 instances of normal use. I understand that it would be unfair for a consortium of libraries to pay for a book once and then allow all of their clients to simultaneously download it and keep it forever, and that’s why we have the one-copy / one-user model and digital files that become inoperable after a designated loan period. Limiting the total number of downloads makes OverDrive much less attractive to libraries, and I would expect that some libraries who have been considering subscribing to OverDrive will decide against it after hearing this news.

The Library Journal article, among others, seems to be placing the blame mainly on HarperCollins; the policy seems to come straight from this publisher, who then put pressure on OverDrive. However, while I’m disappointed in HarperCollins, I’m more annoyed with OverDrive for a number of reasons:

  1. As an academic business librarian, HarperCollins simply doesn’t affect my part of the world too much.
  2. I’ve been writing nice things about OverDrive lately.
  3. I’m concerned that OverDrive may be opening the floodgates for other publishers to further restrict library use of their electronic content.

I should point out that the OverDrive announcement also included other bad news that I expect would be more relevant for public libraries; read the Librarian in Black article for more details.

The ebook industry is still relatively new, so it’s normal for it to be experiencing growing pains. As the popularity of Kindles and Sony Readers has increased, so has ebook piracy, and publishers have every right to be concerned, both for themselves and for their authors. In the early days, most publishers avoided letting libraries lend electronic materials at all, so OverDrive itself was a major step forward, and librarians have hoped that openness and usefulness would continue to improve. By offering compatibility with more devices and improving ease of use, OverDrive took another step forward. By limiting the number of times an item can be used, OverDrive is taking many steps back.

Update: for extra credit, take a look at the ebook user’s bill of rights over at in forming thoughts.

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Don’t get mad; get a job

Much of this is territory I’ve covered already, but it can never be repeated too many times. Words of wisdom from Tiffini Travis:

Advice to current graduate students:

  • Do a practical internship where you actually perform the duties of a librarian. Lack of reference experience is usually the number one reason for not making the first round of cuts in the job application process. At academic libraries, taking an information literacy course or having teaching experience is definitely a must.
  • Take as many discipline-specific reference courses as possible. Taking the business reference course at my program was the reason I was hired for two part-time positions when I first graduated.
  • Take the time to learn theory and stay abreast of new trends in the profession. Not being able to answer interview questions in a deep and meaningful way can kill your chances of being hired.
  • Get a mentor who is already in the profession. This can help with navigating the hiring process and finding out what common issues occur in the daily functioning of a library.

Check out the full post: Where the &*!@*%;*%$#* are all the Library Jobs? Advice on what to do while you are waiting to join the workforce

As much as I agree with this advice, I’d like to point out that students who are graduating soon and haven’t managed to do all of these things shouldn’t panic. Personally, I never took a business information class and I was still hired at a business library. I spoke to a student recently who said that librarians had told her she should be presenting at conferences and working multiple library-related part-time jobs if she wants to have any chance at getting hired after graduation. These are all great things to do, but don’t drive yourself nuts trying to accomplish them all! Volunteering at a conference might be more realistic than presenting, and you’ll still learn a lot and have something to put on your CV. Being a student should be fun, at least some of the time.

Career Planning at Any Stage Workshop with Ulla de Stricker

As I mentioned in my last post, Ulla de Stricker was in Montreal on Friday for Web 2.You. At the suggestion of Cabot Yu from CLA-CASLIS, the CLA McGill Student Chapter (led by Adam Baron) and the CLA Montreal Chapter (led by yours truly) were lucky enough to be able to host Ulla for a career planning workshop on Saturday. Although the audience was composed mainly of students, I certainly learned a lot, and I believe the other professionals did as well.

In case you don’t know, Ulla de Stricker is the President of de Stricker Associates, but before becoming a consultant in 1992, she worked in a variety of information-related roles. The breadth of her experience was apparent throughout the workshop, and she emphasized the value of having twenty years of experience as opposed to having one year of experience twenty times over.

She said that if we only took away one piece of advice from the session, it should be to become active in professional associations. This is one of the things I keep saying to students, so I guess this means I’m on the right track in my advice-giving! She told the very sad story of a woman who lost her job after many years and struggled to find a new one because she hadn’t been active with any associations.

The meat of the content included how to create a resume/CV that’s attractive in terms of content and layout (don’t focus on job descriptions, tell your potential employer what you accomplished and took away from previous positions), how to appear and behave at job interviews (bring a nice pair of shoes in a bag if the weather is bad), and how to market yourself and make your work visible (identify your most important clients and do everything you can to learn about their needs and market your services to them).

The slides are available online, so I won’t rehash the entire presentation. I just want to urge everyone, students and professionals alike, to take every opportunity to learn from respected experts like Ulla de Stricker. Until her next presentation, I suggest you look through her slides and consider checking out the book she just wrote with Jill Hurst-Wahl as soon as it’s available.

Web 2.You 2011: A success for the 4th year in a row

I attended the 4th annual Web 2.You conference yesterday, and it did not disappoint. As you may know, I was co-organizer of Web 2.You 2009 and last year I was a presenter, but this time I was perfectly happy to sit and simply enjoy the day. The only small role I played was ambushing Web 2.You co-founder Amy Buckland at the opening by presenting her with the SLA Eastern Canada Chapter 2010 Member of the Year award. After that, there were no more surprises, just the high quality presentations we’ve come to expect each year.

Joanne Mayhew kicked things off with a presentation about Industry Canada‘s corporate wiki. The project has really taken off, and if they had only started a year earlier, I might have been able to have been involved with it when I worked there in the summer of 2008. At any rate, it was an interesting look at a successful wiki launch, and I have no doubt it will be useful for anyone in the audience who might work on a similar project in the future.

Next up, Rajiv Johal and Michelle Lake talked about LinkedIn, which is one of those social sites on which many people create profiles but fail to maintain them after the first month or two. I have the feeling that when the audience went home last night, we all either signed up for the site or updated our profiles. It was especially interesting for me because I gave a presentation on LinkedIn for MBA students last semester, and Rajiv and Michelle covered some angles I hadn’t considered before. I had looked at the site mainly in terms of networking and job hunting, but Rajiv pointed out that it can be a powerful tool for business librarians doing research on small companies. I definitely picked up some tips that I will be able to use in the future.

After lunch, we heard from a panel made up of Ulla de Stricker, Robin Canuel, and Carolyn Hank. For a group of people who had never met in person before, they did a remarkable job of feeding off of each other’s enthusiasm while maintaining a smooth flow of conversation. Topics included the ownership of tweets, data loss through reliance on USB sticks, and the belief of some students that all important old research has already been digitized. If the audience didn’t already have enough ideas to occupy our thoughts, we certainly had plenty to ponder after watching the panel discussion.

Jason Puckett wrapped things up with a fascinating look at “open formats, open source, open access, and open publishing.” He demonstrated the importance of openness to libraries, pointing to examples of where closed formats limit our users; for example, DRM on music and DVDs may actually encourage piracy because the pirated version is more useful. After pointing out the flaws in our current electronic environment, Jason gave examples of content creators, like Cory Doctorow, who are finding creative new business models that allow for openness and profits to coexist. He concluded on an optimistic note, suggesting that librarians are in a position to influence vendors and demand that they provide their information in open formats.

As usual, the event was followed by a 5 à 7, where the audience was able to interact with speakers (and perhaps to ask the questions we hadn’t been brave enough to ask in front of the whole group). All in all, it was a terrific day – congratulations to the organizers, MLIS students Adrienne Smith and Bruno Therrien!