Tag Archives: Libraries

Research Mode

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Image Source: Tumblr

I just got my first interlibrary loan yesterday (ILL for all you bibliotheque nerds). It is an interesting mix of adult responsibilities and genuine excitement. The book is due on April 30th (no renewals), and I will be fined $2.50 a day if it is not returned. There’s an envelope it must be returned inside, and a sleeve that is stuck to the outside cover. The cheapest I could have bought this book was $20, with most copies ranging more in the $50-$60 range. As I continue on the journey from a general interest in fractals to a more specialized exploration, there are only going to be more such books and loans (though I still have to fight off the hoarders mentality that I’d have if I had a University Library’s budget).

It struck me the other day how different the way I conduct research now was from when I was in highschool and college. The internet was a strong resource in both times, but where I’d be printing off papers in college and compiling them in a notebook, now I am just throwing things on my tablet. I found a 2000 page math encyclopedia on the Internet Archive the other day, and I can carry it around in my bag without any back strain.

Yet I still find myself working with paper when it comes to taking notes and working things out. Part of this is simply mobility, it’s easier to take notes on paper at idle moments than it is to use a computer. And part of it is that I believe as many do, that taking notes on paper is a better way to retain information and to organize thoughts. Plus it’s a way to make use of the dozens of notebooks that have piled up in my house that have yet to be filled with brilliant short stories.

I’m a little more specialized with these notebooks than college. I got into a genuine discussion with Brian over whether Moleskine is pronounced “Moleskin” or “Moleskeen” (I prefer the later even though it is likely wrong). And I have all different sizes, larger stay at home notebooks for rough work, smaller reporter pads for technical notes, and mid-size for more general information. My “go bag” has a tablet, an eReader and six notebooks!

And even when I find myself frustrated with pay-walls for articles, or expensive books, I am amazed at how much knowledge is just out there for free. Even with the potential for steep fines, getting a book from an inter-library loan was cheaper and almost as quick (if not faster) than buying the book myself. I do admit to some impatience with having to wait for physical materials, both waiting for them to arrive, and waiting for time to read them at home. It’s why I’m a fan of writing affordable eBook reference materials. But sometimes there’s nothing like a good primary source from an author whose name you need a pronunciation guide for.

How do you do research? Are you still a pencil and physical book sort of person, or is Google the way to all knowledge?

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One of the results of previous research projects was Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach. If you’re looking for a gateway to understanding fractals, particularly how to make them, it’s not a bad place to start, and it’s free on Kindle Unlimited.

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Guest Post: Carrie Bailey – “Confirmed Independent Publisher”

We all take different roads to becoming a writer. Some of us have been writing since before we can remember, while others put pen to paper far more recently. As the first of what I hope will many posts from other fellow travelers, I’d like to introduce Carrie Bailey. Carrie is a fellow avid coffee drinker, and has the dubious distinction of being one of my first four Twitter followers (sorry for that, Carrie).

Carrie is very generous and encouraging to other writers around her. And she has a wonderful and unique voice born from ten lifetimes of experience crammed into one. She writes honestly and openly about the tough spots in life, while still having plenty of room for the whimsical and the fantastic. If you’re not reading her work, you really should be.

Anyway, enough out of me…

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rural-library-bookmobile

I’m a confirmed independent publisher. I knew I was more attracted to making books than fame and fortune before I started, but I lived a justified lie about my writing for years.

In truth, I’m a librarian. Or I was when I started. I drove a bookmobile once, years before I started. One of the regular patrons brought her writing to me. I blew past the first pages trying to imagine how not to hurt her feelings and I was shocked to see by the third page, she’d created a scene every bit as good as the sort of romantic fiction I respect, but couldn’t be forced to read.

That happened in 2008.

By 2010, I’d worked my way across forums and social networks posing as a writer to make contacts and figure out how to get her published. And then the guilt set in.

The writing community doesn’t ignore anyone. Someone will read your work. Someone will love it. Someone will be negative. Someone will be critical. Someone you want to care about your work will ignore it. And if you keep writing, you’ll probably get stalked a little, too.

I still chat with the people I met online that supported me when I was a fraud. In an uncoordinated huddle, they changed the course of my life. I began to organize them so we could write joint publications and form online writing communities. I knew a passion I had only ever felt before while drinking coffee even if I went months without working on my own fiction.

My artistic skills never involved language. I’ve earned significantly more money as a painter than a writer. And as a librarian, I repeated this conversation daily:

Everyone, “So, you must like to read a lot, huh?”

Me, “No, I read nonfiction sometimes. Online. Librarianship requires database management skills more than anything else.”

I published my first novella after moving to New Zealand from Oregon to study my Masters in Information. My confusion about identity, writer or librarian, deepened quickly. I began to add insightful footnotes to my work in progress while quoting humorous popular fiction in an academic context. Professors were not amused.

Thirty thousand words of nonsense cobbled together from Star Trek’s Ferengi culture, Ayn Rand and Machiavelli appeared on Amazon before I completed my thesis. On a whim, I’d made a fake book cover for a reptilian personal finance book to amuse my sister and then, for practice, wrote the book to go with it.

That barcode has been viewed MILLIONS of times, because someone liked the idea, borrowed the code and put his own false covers on books in actual bookstores. He went viral. I saw no increase in sales. I had a good idea, but someone else executed it better. At least, he used my ISBN.

Five years, four boyfriends and six apartments on three continents later, I finished my novel and rather than query and I find a small press that wanted it. I released it on Amazon. I earned a 100 USD per month for the first six months, which were most pleasantly, the last six months of my writing career. Then, over the holiday, still intensely pleased with myself, I opened a physical copy to take notes for the second book in the series and discovered every single version I’d created had been a draft complete with typos and an unrevised ending where two critical characters had the wrong background.

I ignored everyone who said that it read like a draft, because I thought they were just being negative. Writers have to be positive. We can’t network with the naysayers.

This is 2016.

I love writing. I made a Jurassic Park-style world with extinct Pliocene-like megafauna, because post-apocalyptic genetic engineers needed something better to eat. I killed 13 million people with two sentences. I have people obsessed over finding a specific strain of coffee. The entire Old Testament hierarchy of angels has gotten a knowledgeable if irreverent fantasy world makeover worthy of a Final Fantasy game. I wove in some Chippewa mythology to honor my father. And I’ve just started to realize my great vision to coordinate a choose-your-own story where one man searches for coffee and dies multiple horrible deaths as contributed by other writers and delivered via website.*

No, I know who I am now. I never wanted to just write books or just catalog them or just design the covers. I want to make books. To format them and feel their spine and the hours I spent building them page-by-page. To carry them to the post and mail them. And I absolutely love it.

*only a massive undertaking if you consider the structure and number of pages involved.

 

So what does being an indie author mean to you specifically?

I believe independent publishing allows us to send a ripple out into the world, specific and unique to our own experience, as artists. Certainly, I have to learn more technical skills to distribute my work, but I get to say exactly what I want before becoming so popular a publisher is willing to take risks with me.

One reviewer said my first novel, “…felt like a warm ’emergency-jumper’, the one you throw on to slob about at home in and is always the most comfortable item in your wardrobe.” He found and delivered my motivation for publishing independently better than I could have expressed it. No chasing trends. No fear of the bottom line. Not for me.

After fifteen years watching people walk in and out of libraries looking for distraction when their life became too turbulent and making safe spaces for people to hide from the world, books stopped looking like books. They’re ships. They’re hugs. They’re helping hands. They’re a new palette for weary artists. With books, we can sail through the hardest experiences and emotions, the complexities and yet, emerge with hope or trigger a cathartic purge from the bilge of our most guarded thoughts. We unveil inspiration in the parallel universes of other people’s minds. With books.

Books aren’t books. They’re thoughts. They are us. And independent books represent the most potentially genuine expression a person can make.

Some writers use their unique voice to scream, “I want your money and I think you’re stupid!” They care so little for readers that not even the most desperate publishers want their work. But, many independent writers roll out every sentence for their readers like a red carpet. Even if the first show isn’t that great, it’ll get better.

 

What happened with your friend’s writing? Do you two still keep in touch?

We were very close for a few years. I even went on a chartered fishing trip with her extended family. And we talked about jealousy when I started writing, but in the end, it damaged our connection. I can certainly feel the distance when we chat.

I don’t think she ever got comfortable enough to put her work in circulation. Maybe she wrote from a deeper place that I may not understand, but I can face criticism.

 

Where do you do most of your writing?

During daylight hours and on the weekdays, I rent close to town. I have few possessions, being a minimalist, and most of them are art supplies. They fit comfortably in that small space. On the evenings and weekends, I am out of cellular range at my boyfriend’s home though I do bring my laptop whenever I spend a week here and there at friends’ homes and work a few hours out of their spare rooms.

I’ve tried working in a coffee shop before I left New Zealand, but I distract too easily and fail to keep ordering refills when a scene starts coming together.

 

Do you remember your first cup of coffee?

I was a thirteen year-old high school freshman in a small town on the Oregon Coast during the 1990s. I left campus to get lunch at the local grocery store. A 20 oz Styrofoam cup with a plastic lid, two packets of non-dairy creamer and a red straw to stir it cost fifty cents.

I didn’t need the coffee, but it had symbolic value. Coffee represented adulthood and the freedom I craved. I drank it almost everyday like an elixir, not in quantity or for quality, because it felt so hopeful. I never stopped.

I did not need permission to start drinking coffee and no one could stop me. At times, people have discouraged my coffee habit, but they do not understand the joy it gives me. This is also true of being an artist or a writer. Coffee reminds me to endure resistance we encounter and share the passion wherever I go.

 

What is the first rule of acquisition?

Once you have their money… you never give it back

I found it hard to switch from being an altruistic book-loving librarian to a heartless ebook vendor. I love and respect independent writers, but some of the publicity schemes show so little respect for readers that it embarrasses me to say I self-publish.

And when I worked in libraries, I had a few colleagues who dismissed all books from smaller publishers as inferior and blamed all digital formats for reducing public support and funding. I watched their anger spread to all ereaders, all non-print media and even to all the independent writers who upset the system and made it difficult to identify the “good” authors. I’ve been equally embarrassed to say I was a librarian.

As an independent publisher, I embrace ebooks as the fastest, simplest and most accessible method for transmitting a story or information between two people. As a former librarian, I want to increase the quality of my work until I can confidently say it is worthy of public collections. As an artist, I know my novels, print and digital, are a work in progress.

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unnamedCarrie Bailey is working slowly on the second book of the Immortal Coffee Novels while planning an escape from Vermont, which is too cold. She tweets as Peevish Penman even though someone bought the domain with same name out from under her in 2013. And she’s a huge fan of Ben’s blog.

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Ben’s Vigorous Defense Of Libraries

Since everything’s available on eReaders these days (or at least will be) why should I still go to the library?

This is a question a lot of people seem to be asking, especially since 30% of adult book sales this year were eBooks, up from 13% from the previous year. With acquisition budgets shrinking, it’s a question that is very much on the mind of library directors as well, especially those at the premiere New York Public Library. In his article for The New Republic, David A. Bell addresses what the future “bookless” library might look like, and the steps libraries need to take to remain relevant (You can read the full article here). There are many interesting issues to explore (more than we have space to cover here), but two questions worth some consideration are:

1) Why should libraries have public domain, pre-1923, books on their shelves (especially since I can get them for free on Amazon)?

2) What do libraries have to offer besides books (Hint: They wear glasses)?

To the first point I have to admit I’m a little unsentimental. Even if you don’t assume Bell’s point that eBooks will be something everyone can read in the next 30 years, I don’t think these are books that people are actually reading all that much outside of the classroom. I’m not saying that no good books were written before the modern age, but I am saying that some classics are better than others. After all some of these guys were paid by the word and it shows. If they’re not circulating, and it can help give the library valuable shelf space and money for things that will, then I think it’s okay to assume that people will read Dickens in school. I know this can sound a little sacrilegious for a writer to say, but I think sometimes it’s better to acknowledge the truth than to hold onto some vague sensibility that these are sacred books that should always be available. A couple of months ago I sold a number of physical copies of the classics and replaced them with free copies for my eReader. Frankly, if anything, I increased my chances of someday reading them by the virtue of them always being available, and in the meantime they’re not taking up shelf space.

The second point I think has a couple of answers. Let me start with a broader question. Since the internet is increasingly becoming a place where we can find out reliable information about everything, why does anyone write non-fiction books any more?

I sometimes think about this with my current project. While I’ve added some personal touches, a lot of the research and techniques I’m presenting are available in a few dozen sources. If someone really wanted to learn about this subject, and didn’t want to part with any money, they could spend the hours going through all of the other existing sources, training themselves much as I have. (This is not to say that you shouldn’t buy my book. After all internet browsing is so much work 🙂 ). The problem is, sometimes there are too many sources, to many places that may or may not have the answer. If you’re trying to get a simple straightforward answer, the world of the internet or even the myriad of books on the subject can seem a little daunting and frustrating.

This is where libraries, and good authors, come in. They curate knowledge, selecting from the hundreds of potential sources, and narrowing it down to the ten or so that have the best scholarship, that cover the broadest spectrum, and that will actually help answer questions. Just as I’m working to give straightfoward non-nonsense information in my book, libraries can often clear away some of the clutter and get to what you’re looking for faster than you might think. And librarians have a special knowledge for parsing this information, for wrangling the random data down to an answer to just about any question you can ask. Sure we have to become pretty saavy searchers ourselves in this Google age, but *shocker* Google doesn’t always do a good job of answering the question we actually have.

This is all leaving aside how libraries are a good place to read, write, study and gather in community. Even those libraries that have given far too much focus to computers (like my old library which is more like an internet cafe these days), still are places where you can ask good questions and get good answers. I don’t think a completely “bookless” library is a good idea, but I do think it’s important to be flexible on format, and to think about what really matters.

How do you feel about libraries?

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Quit Giving My Books Away For Free!

I love my local library.

I frequent the Old Worthington Library, which is one of a number of libraries that offer digital lending of audiobooks and eBooks. Digital borrowing is still fairly new, and negotiations between publishers and libraries can be tense.

This week libraries in Nova Scotia boycotted Random House books because of price hikes as much as three times the retail price of the book.The theory behind increased library costs for books is to compensate for the potential loss of revenue due to someone reading the book for free, but many in the library community consider the Random House pricing excessive.

Publishers have had an uneasy relationship with libraries. After all, if someone reads a book for free, what motivation do they have to go out and buy it? But the digital eBook revolution has only increased this tension, in large part because of a perceived increased risk in piracy.

As I’ve discussed before there may be actual benefits to pirating books, but I also think it is important to understand the technologies involved in this specific case.

My library uses Overdrive, a service that allows you to download audiobooks and eBooks to a variety of readers. The program even allows you to burn some audiobooks to a physical CD. For audiobooks, this effectively means that you can recreate the digital file by ripping the burned CD and converting into your favorite DRM free format. This has always been the case with anything CD based. My library carries a number of CD audiobooks, none of which have the sophisticated rootkit protections that some music CD’s contain, meaning that for even the average computer user there are only minimal barriers to piracy.

But eBooks are a different story. Almost everyone knows how to rip a CD (Windows Media Player or iTunes makes it very easy), but how many people know how to crack a DRM protected eBook? And most libraries, including mine, treat digital books like their physical inventory, meaning they own a certain amount of digital copies of that book, and only lend out a certain number at a time.

Now I’m not saying it’s impossible to crack a eBook, the piracy market wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a way, but your average consumer isn’t going to know how. There are no free and legitimate programs for copying DRM protected eBooks, whereas every new computer comes with a way to pirate CDs.

And libraries can generate customers, regardless of ways they disseminate the material. The bread and butter of most publishers is series. Libraries provide a way for someone to get to know a series, when otherwise they might have not bothered  because of the cost. Reading is one of the best ways to determine if you actually like an author and want to plunk down some money for them. And people still like to own books, digital or otherwise. Library eBooks have lending periods like anything else, meaning if you want to refer back to a book, you need to borrow it again or buy it.

I’m an aspiring author, and I do want to get paid for my work, but I also want people to read what I write. As we transition into new ways of reading, libraries can and should still be a place for people to do just that.

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