At the Only Edge that Means Anything / How We Understand What We Do
by Dennis Brunning (Associate University Librarian, Arizona State University)
Annals of Analytics: Usage Data
Library use is like Donald Trump’s delegates. We’ve got plenty but somehow they get no respect.
My own library drowns in numbers. We’ve got millions and millions of article downloads.
eBook use isn’t too shabby either.
Why be surprised, the industry and its customers, librarians, are a massive knowledge engine.
Yet ask anyone in academia, even high mucky mucks, and everyone says they get all their information from Google. Thank you.
What’s the deal?
Well, borrowing from David Weinberger’s observation that there is a library size hole in the Internet we can state a corollary. There is a huge leak in publisher Websites, flowing from Google, pooling in Dropbox and other cloud redoubt.
Check with your usage people, I’ll bet numbers, especially STM downloads, are huge. Who is even tracking views? Requests arrive from many places, mainly Google Scholar. So why doesn’t this use lift all ships, that is, get our users to applaud us?
Our users, myself included, search Google and find much library content on the open Web. We can blame Sci-Hub, but c’mon, it’s much bigger than that.
Sci-Hub easy? You’d have to be a professional skip tracer to find it. Find it at best, it’s bad aggregation. It’s about as easy to use as the “tear here” instructions on convenience store aspirin packets.
Our stuff is easier to open than bitty aspirin packs, often (sorry OA advocates) as economically priced, and more often than not the results of a highly efficient search engine.
Still the “got it Google” bias or hyperbole lingers.
What we need is the right data. User data is the money machine for Web companies. We need to know where they are coming from. Good that they find our content through our search engines; great if they find our content from any search engine. Fundamental if we learn we’ve poured billions into the greatest open access repository the world has ever known.
Annals of the Reader’s Advisor(y) Bookbub
Bookbub gets me. Yes. Everyday, around 9am, Bookbub emails me at Gmail and I get a half dozen eBooks — mostly Amazon and Apple iBooks — recommended. The suggestions are okay but when combined with a steep discount — those impulse buys at $1.99 are addicting.
Less than two bucks beats library free. Even if it is a library eBook there’s so much work involved in choice, in logging on, in remembering to go the library Website. Go to the library itself? Please!
And Bookbub gets me in no way that I get myself. It’s not Amazon’s know-too-much about me approach that suggests titles from other readers. I can only sing “you ain’t me.” And Amazon doesn’t know $1.99 unless we are talking about self-published books. Clicked on any of these? You’ve really got to enjoy reading to read these eternal beta versions. There is no shortage of creative intent in Kindleland.
Bookbub promotes and refers books. They make money from authors and publishers. Promotional fees aren’t cheap so low retail priced books seldom get promoted in my Bookbub feed. Rather, I get selections that often find me clicking “buy” when interest intersects with a darn good price.
If I read the FAQ for authors and publishers correctly, Bookbub categorizes books over 52 genres that resemble BISAC classification. As I buy I suspect Bookbub tracks my purchases by categories then shoots any new deals that fit my purchases and offers them up.
This approach has become quite on point for me. I get at least two selections each day that I’m likely to buy. Content intersects with an iTunes like price point. My eBook shelves are filling like those days I used to buy books for a quarter at Goodwill. And no silverfish!
Yes, Bookbub gets me. And it gets me in way that my library doesn’t. I feel Melvil Dewey turning in his grave. Unless of course that in his everlasting rest he has an iPad and a Bookbub membership.
Downloads from the Zeitgeist
Negative Rates — Central banks throughout the world are lending money to banks at zero to minus zero interest rates. This quantitative easing keeps a lead lid on inflation and makes money cheap. The idea is to promote economic growth while holding inflation at bay.
Unfortunately, growth in jobs or capital expansion has occurred; instead companies hold on to cash only to spend while buying up competitors.
Negative rates are the new normal. It explains the M&A in our industry. This is good business; as about the only customers for many of these companies, we should expect no less. We should also expect some price relief. Or some awesome tech advancement at modest cost.
Lo and Behold — sounds biblical but deployed by Werner Herzog as the title of a new documentary on the Internet, it’s a play on the first message sent via the Internet. The time and place was UCLA engineering, room 3041. A military grade steel case server stands tall and 1950s-ish in a corner. There. UCLA. 1950. Yet to be released, nevertheless the good parts flow as snippets all over said web. Self-defined a non-user, Herzog sees the Internet as an extreme environment capable of social media’s “massive, naked onslaught of stupidity” to a once-in-a-millennium existential event. Herzog is after ecstatic truth of what most of us take for granted not the accountant’s truth of a Waze estimate of commute time. “Have the Thai monks stopped meditating? They all seem to be tweeting…”
GE — General Electric? — a smart series of TV ads sets young geek graduates against a world convinced that innovation is exclusively about “digital.” An old school Dad cajoles his tall skinny coding graduate to lift Grandpa’s sledge hammer; same kid faces his friends insisting in vain that trains powered by GE turbine engines require intricate programming. The message:apps haven’t disrupted industry — don’t forget to send your CV to GE.
Wrong — the assumption that our predictions play out right may be wrong and all those forecasts may turn out some variation of wrong. Or so says Chuck Klosterman in his new book, But What if We are Wrong. Klosterman’s thesis isn’t new — that we have no idea of what now will be important in the future or what will be wrong or plain forgotten. Chuck is a cultural critic so mainly he challenges us on such questions of how important rock music will be — is it here to stay or will the Beatles go the way of John Phillips Sousa — a side influence. Something to ponder as we work out our ideas of the library’s future.
Library Sized Hole in the Internet — Ever since Internet clairvoyant and pundit, David Weinberger, coined the phrase in a 2012 OCLC interview, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for said hole. I’m familiar with holes, real and metaphorical, by having dug many according to my parents, worked construction, dug foxholes in ROTC, and paid my dentist a mint for those holes called caries. Also found that philosophers concern themselves with holes as a peculiar form of absence. This I discovered on the Internet from sources I would describe as library sources. I learn that we look more closely at things when they disappear. Holes are a great place for things to disappear. Are we looking closely?
Technology Doping — Olympic swimmers, especially the Gold Medalists, break records in waters stilled from drag producing waves over waters deep enough for optimum buoyancy. Smart pools through smart design. So why can’t our industry use the cheap money to produce smart UI, heck, smart content. Yeah, an Olympic award winning Website…
Edtech — so new it confounds spellcheck, so promisingly vast, Fintech places a global 5 trillion valuation, we’re talking an uberization of every teacher, professor, university administrator. Why? Well just about every educated parent feels a kid could learn more, faster, and safer with a computer and an Internet connection; every taxpayer lusts to be unburdened from subsidizing the teaching of someone else’s kid, and legislator’s can only smile. How? Oh, apps of course, free information, regulated access pipes, and interactive visual learning that scales. Never? Sure, every trillion dollar reference is either debt or Silicon Valley bubble, but, heh, here comes my Uber ride, while I refinance via Rocket, eating a Calzone Jimmy John’s delivered to me wherever…