Category Archives: In The News

Five Things Make a Post: News from the Book World

1. It sounds like Borders is going down. This is…less than awesome news, personally and for the industry. (My roommate is one of those 11,000 people now looking for a job.) Borders has been the ugly stepchild of the big bookstores for a while, but it’s still sad to see them go.

2. A new company called Blue Ink Reviews is offering self-published authors the chance to have their books reviewed — for a fee. I am not a fan. Self-published successes, while not unheard of, are vanishingly rare, and the majority of “services” offered to self-publishing authors are really scams designed to part the desperate from their money. This sounds like another one of them. (If you’ve been thinking about self-publishing, do be sure to check out the SFWA’s Writer Beware site and make sure you’re doing it with your eyes open. Your book deserves real attention, not scammers.)

3. I have been loving the Breathing Books tumblr blog. (Books are pretty.) This shelf really caught my eye, though – incredibly nifty, although I’m afraid that’s a waste of a space that could fit a five-shelf bookcase that I simply could not afford.

4. Have you seen the Giveaway Blitz for Eve Langlais’ Delicate Freakin’ Flower? I don’t really read romance novels, but if I did, this one would be more up my alley than most. My friend the Inspector Librarian is giving away copies; go! see!

5. I have given in; I am going to read A Game of Thrones. I dislike unfinished series, and after seeing how crazy people were getting about the wait for A Dance With Dragons, I was going to just wait until the whole series was out to get into it, but I’ve been convinced. I’ll be starting sometime in the next couple of weeks — how would people feel about a read-along?

I Aten’t Dead (I was at the North American Discworld Convention)

I attended my very first fan con over the weekend (I went to ALA last summer, but that doesn’t seem to count), and it was amazing, I want to do it again. But maybe not for a few more months. I think I need some time to recover.

NADWCon logoI went to the North American Discworld Convention as an assistant to my friend Raven, who took most of her shop Ravenworks over to the con to vend as the only costumer there. We shared a room with Amanda of Mad Hattery and had way too much fun sending people back and forth across the room. “Buy a fantastic hat and get a costume to wear with it!” “Get an amazing dress and an amazing hat to match!” We dressed so many gorgeous people in so many gorgeous clothes. It was glorious.

I was too busy dressing people most of the time to get to see panels, but I did pop in for the two big ones. I managed to make it over to catch all but the first few minutes of the reading from Snuff, the new Discworld book due out in October 2011. From the bits I heard, it sounds very much like English cozy country mystery with Vimes. Vimes in the country! Vimes as a country lord! Solving crime! I am in love with it already. (I wish I could remember enough of the Discworld’s Newton-apple tree story to recreate it, but alas, I can only tell you to look forward to it come October.)

Saturday we were swamped with customers and I didn’t get to see anything — anything, that is, but the amazing costumes moving through. I saw several excellent Granny Weatherwaxes, more than one lovely goddess Anoia, the very best (and definitely tallest) Death I have ever seen, a Dibbler with a tray of sausages (named meats extra), a truly dedicated Death of Rats, and many small Feegles. Ten year olds are perfect Feegles. Throughout the weekend, we contributed a couple of Dukes, a small Lord Vetinari, a vampiress (Black Ribbon, I hope), several wizards, and more than one Assassin to the throng. (Only appropriate: to get into the spirit of the thing, we dressed as Assassins and displayed our special dispensation from Lord Vetinari, allowing us to pose as merchants selling our wares in order to gather information about our potential targets. We were very polite and did not inhume anyone all weekend.)

Dangerous Beans

Dangerous Beans, advocating for rat rights at the Discworld con

On Sunday we had a slow day, still equivalent to a good vending day anywhere else we’ve ever been, but slow enough that I could stand in the doorway and listen to the Good Omens panel. Although he wasn’t on the program, Neil Gaiman showed up, and he and Sir Terry spent two solid hours telling stories and jokes and generally being wonderful. I particularly enjoyed the story they told about auctioning the book to publishers when it was finished — as the bids grew higher and higher, Neil said he got more and more excited, and Terry admitted to being underneath the bed, holding on to the floor. <3 I am reassured by the news that, although it is not the same production company, it is largely the same people making the Good Omens miniseries as made the spectacular Hogfather. This is going to be good, folks. Also, I think I need to reread Good Omens.

Although the con was still running today, I was not; after three ten- to twelve-hour days (taking into account not only the vending but the frantic trips across town to the storefront and the suppliers to restock) I need a day off before I go back to the day job. But I’m pretty sure I had the best first con experience I could ever have hoped for, and oh, I will be doing it again. Hopefully next year, in Birmingham.

Signal Boosting: China Miéville is being impersonated on Facebook (and Facebook doesn’t care)

I found this blog post this morning via one of my favorite blogs, Making Light. In brief, speculative fiction author China Miéville doesn’t have a Facebook page, but you wouldn’t know it from checking Facebook: there are at least two, possibly more, fake profiles claiming to be him, which people are friending. Miéville has tried contacting Facebook a number of times to get them removed — which is apparently nearly impossible if you don’t have a Facebook account, and he doesn’t want one — but the pages are still there.

This would be one thing if it were something like a fake Twitter account (of which there are plenty), but with all the recent Facebook privacy scandals demonstrating just how much of your personal information you share with people you friend, this is downright scary. And the fact that Facebook doesn’t seem to be doing anything to stop it is even worse.

Now, I don’t have a Facebook account. I did at one point; I signed up when it was first opened to all college students. I never really got into it; I preferred online services that offered richer communication. (No, I will not link to them or even say which ones they are. I have been online in some form or another since 1997, and until the past couple of years I was not thinking about how any of this would look in my professional career, so I am doing my best to keep my online identities segregated.) I deleted my Facebook account last year, through the overly-complicated full delete process rather than the misleading “close account” process which really only closes your account until you log in again, after the third or fourth major Facebook privacy scandal.

As a librarian, I feel obliged to protest Facebook’s extremely low privacy standards and do my best to educate others about them as well. I know that lots of libraries do some outreach and advertising through Facebook, and while I understand it, I can’t support it. Librarians are hugely concerned about privacy, but we jump through all these hoops to keep peoples’ library records private while the information we have about people is negligible compared to what Facebook is releasing all the time. (Most recently, they’re failing to do anything about FarmVille sharing private, personally identifiable information.) I don’t really believe that people don’t care about privacy any more, I think this is just another instance of technology moving faster than human culture can keep up. Unfortunately, if we don’t keep an eye on it, technology might take the choice out of our hands before we can do anything about it.

Is censorship still censorship on the Internet?

(Short answer: Yes.)

This article floated across my feed reader yesterday: Ruling: Washington Libraries Can Deny Adults Unfiltered Internet. From what I can gather, the Washington Supreme Court decided that it was okay for libraries to refuse to turn off an Internet filter at an adult patron’s request. I was going to give it the benefit of the doubt, try to see all sides of the issue, but no, this is ridiculous.

“A public library can decide that it will not include pornography and other adult materials in its collection in accord with its mission and policies and, as explained, no unconstitutionality necessarily results,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote. “It can make the same choices about Internet access.”

Well…yeah, kind of. A library can certainly make decisions about what they will and won’t collect. But deciding that you won’t collect, say, books on gay rights because you think that material is inappropriate is also censorship. Even if it’s done at the collection development stage, excluding material from the collection for ideological reasons is censorship. Add to that the fact that the Internet is not like books: there is no way to separate the “good” from the “bad” on the Internet without locking access down to a bare handful of sites, and that is pretty much definitely not okay. (Is it, actually? Would a library be able to say “we’ll allow access to Hotmail and Yahoo and this list of library-approved reference sites but nothing else”? Even if that would pass constitutional muster, your patrons would explode.)

This is the quote that really drives me crazy, though:

Washington State Librarian Jan Walsh also praised the decision. “It strikes a blow for kids and it strikes a blow for taxpayers,” she stated, by giving public libraries “flexibility to reflect their community values as they adopt Internet policies and use of filters on certain content.”

What does this have to do with kids?!? If the computers are filtered and an adult requests that the filter be removed so they can look at perfectly legitimate stuff that’s been blocked by the filter — which phenomenon is, I hate to tell you something you’ll never be able to avoid — what does this have to do with kids? At all?

I started reading a book yesterday called Harmful to Minors, which was recommended on a totally unrelated blog somewhere. The author argues that American culture has gone completely insane on this whole protect-the-kids-from-sex craze, and I have to agree. When adults using the Internet at their public library (increasingly the only place adults *have* to use the Internet, particularly in a terrible economy when an Internet subscription at home is just not affordable) are being denied information in the name of “protecting the children,” we’ve completely lost perspective.

In totally unrelated news, patrons are coming up with “clever” ways to censor library collections themselves. Librarians still disapprove.

It’s National Library Week in Madison!

It’s National Library Week (as you surely know by now) — what’s going on with you? Some of the local Madison events include —

Today I went to a talk on the Wisconsin Historical Society’s “Odd Wisconsin” program, which started out as a little blog feature on their website and has turned into a newspaper feature, a book, and an extremely popular museum exhibit. It’s a lot of fun, check out the archives.

The Madison Public Library is still advocating for a new building, although it looks at this point like it’s going to be a renovation instead. I have to say, it needs it. The architecture and decor is very “1970s Institutional,” and it’s one of the least welcoming libraries I’ve ever been to. Of course, with the economy the way it is… Oh, you know the way this paragraph is going to end.

The UW libraries are hosting an Edible Book Festival, which I only wish I had had time to put something together for. I look forward to checking out all the other entries.

The UW-SLIS library is having their annual silent auction, which I’m expecting to drop…more money than I’d expected on.

And of course, since this looks to be turning mostly into a book review blog, I feel I should add a plug for this year’s honorary chair, the First Neil of the Internet, Neil Gaiman. He’s so ridiculously popular at this point that it’s almost cliche to talk about him as one of my absolute favorite fantasy authors, but it’s true. I was introduced to Gaiman’s work through his absolutely phenomenal Sandman, which is more than twenty years old now and still one of the best comic book series I’ve ever read. If you have any affection for mythology, philosophy, or storytelling, I can recommend it without reservation. If you can get ahold of it (and WorldCat says that a surprising number of libraries have purchased it), I recommend the Absolute Sandman edition, at least for the first volume. The recoloring they did for that edition improves the first few stories to no end. (Ah curses, now I’ve reminded myself how much I love Sandman, and I’ll have to take the time to reread it again…Life as a book-lover is hard, I tell you.)

Oh My God, Amazon

You really have to wonder what kind of company they’re running here when the response to everything is to pull the buy buttons. Yes, it’s true that this particular glitch looks as though it isn’t Amazon’s fault — but when they’re just recovering from the whole Macmillan debacle, is this really the best they could do?

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe most people (that is, people who don’t follow book and bookseller news) don’t notice when Amazon suddenly stops selling huge quantities of inventory, but I can’t imagine this is creating a good impression with the public on the whole.

Amazon.com Continues to Fail

The other day I posted about Amazon’s snit-fit, pulling all Macmillan titles from their store during an argument over ebook pricing. I also posted that Amazon had capitulated, agreeing that they would have to go along with Macmillan’s pricing plans.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that, as of this writing, Amazon still hasn’t returned Macmillan titles to its store. You the consumer still can’t buy the books from them. The authors whose books have been pulled are losing sales figures, which is going to impact both their royalties and their contracts for new books.

I agree with John Scalzi on this: while I can understand if not condone pulling titles as a negotiation tactic, keeping them pulled at this point is just petty, and is (or at least should) do Amazon more damage than good in the long run. And if you have a favorite author published by a Macmillan press, consider buying one of their books from somewhere else to help them out.

Amazon.com Fails as a Reference Source

Anybody try to buy books from Amazon.com this weekend? Odds are you had a problem, because in the midst of a scuffle over price points and definitions of publishing, Amazon pulled all Macmillan titles from their site. The books were still available, but only from third-party sellers (meaning your Amazon Prime subscription does nothing for you). Macmillan publishes books under the St. Martin’s Press and Tor imprints, among many others, and is one of the six largest publishers in the US — so basically, Amazon pulled a sixth of their stock. Smart.

And this morning, they caved. Amazon is willing to allow Macmillan their tiered price scale for ebooks, although they object to what they call Macmillan’s “monopoly over their own titles” (Source: NY Times). Setting aside the arguments over how ebooks should be marketed (and whether offering a unique product means you have a monopoly), I wonder what this means for libraries.

It’d be nice to think this had nothing to do with libraries at all, but I’m afraid that’s just not the case. I know I’ve used Amazon any number of times to double-check publication data when a patron couldn’t remember the correct spelling of a name or title. It’s one of the built-in searches in Firefox and Internet Explorer, and some libraries have used Amazon affiliate accounts for a little extra revenue or as a wishlist for books they couldn’t fit into their budgets. (Heck, Koha offers built-in support for Amazon connections.) The perception seems to be that Amazon is making money off this, so it’s in their best interests to be as complete and up-to-date as possible, right?

This is not the first time Amazon has pulled a stunt like this one, although this might have been the biggest. Last year, authors and publishers noticed that LGBT titles weren’t showing up on sales rank pages. Turns out that they had intentionally removed “adult” books from both the main search and the Amazon Sales Rank pages, which carry a remarkable amount of promotional weight. The inclusion of non-explicit LGBT, health reference and sexuality titles in this “adult” category was termed a ‘ham-fisted cataloging error’ and quietly changed. Whether or not Amazon intentionally de-listed these titles, making them difficult to find unless you knew exactly what title you were searching for, the result was that Amazon’s search was definitely not a good way to double-check information for those titles.

What this incident really brings home is that while Amazon sometimes functions as a reference source, particularly because of its ubiquity and ease of use, that’s not what it’s there for. Amazon as a company sometimes — possibly frequently — makes decisions that librarians would not approve of, and if we use Amazon as a kind of substitute Books in Print, we risk running afoul of these corporate decisions. Yes, I know we allknow we shouldn’t use Amazon this way, but how many of us do? I’ve been trying to retrain myself  to link to books on WorldCat or at least LibraryThing or GoodReads before Amazon, but after this, I will be making a much more concerted effort.

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