Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Art of Text Digitization


Recently I completed the digitization of Eugene Oneguine [Onegin]: A Romance of Russian Life in Verse by Aleksandr Pushkin, translated into English by Henry Spalding, published in 1881. This text version of Spalding’s translation is now available on the Project Gutenberg site.

Spalding’s translation of Pushkin’s most famous work, Eugene Onegin, was the first published in English and beat all other attempts by about half a century. It’s not considered a great translation, but then neither are most of the others. Pushkin's poetry presents many problems for translators.

Spalding apparently learned Russian while stationed at the British Embassy in St. Petersburg. His translations include Suvoroff, Khiva and Turkestan, On the Island of Saghalin, and The Tale of Frithiof (translated from Swedish). Spalding retired from the 104th Foot Regiment (Bengal Fusiliers) in 1880 with the rank of Major.

In Vladimir Nabokov’s commentary to his own English translation of Onegin (1964), he calls Spalding “bluff Spalding” and “Matter-of-fact Lt.-Col. Spalding.” It was the controversy surrounding Nabokov’s translation that first interested me in the poem many years ago. Nabokov decided that absolute literalness could not be retained alongside Pushkin’s rhyme and melody, so he translated Onegin with a rigorous literal exactness and jettisoned the rhyme. This led to Nabokov’s friend Edmund Wilson writing a scathing review of the translation in the New York Review of Books, although given his limited knowledge of Russian, Wilson was in no position to criticize Nabokov. The two exchanged rebuttals and were never friends again. Many believe Wilson became jealous over the success of Nabokov’s book Lolita, while his own Memoirs of Hecate County went virtually unnoticed.

I began this project a couple years ago. At that time, Spalding’s book was available in just a couple dozen libraries. The only way to read it was to somehow find a copy for sale, probably at an expensive price due to its scarcity, or borrow it through interlibrary loan—and a lot of libraries won’t loan such an old book. Spalding’s translation was all but lost to the world outside the handful of libraries that owned it. I realized that I was in a position to resurrect Spalding’s translation back from the dead.

But my interest in the project waned as I involved myself in other writings. Within the past few months, I noticed Spalding’s book had been digitized as part of the Google Book Library project, and the entire scanned book was freely available to anyone. Sadly, but predictably, not all the pages were scanned accurately, so some of the text is missing in the Google edition. But it did make me wonder about the future of Project Gutenberg.

The digitization of the world’s literature has begun in earnest. Here are the current numbers for the bigger players, as best as I can guess:

Google Books 2,000,000
Microsoft Live Books 1,500,000
Amazon 400,000
Internet Archive 315,000
Project Gutenberg 20,000

In the past year or so, we have seen the introduction of e-book readers by two major players—Sony and Amazon. Sony’s bookstore offers about 25,000 books for sale that can be read by its Reader; Amazon offers about 90,000. More books can be had in the Sony format on the internet—Amazon’s Kindle-formatted books are now following. The wave of the future? Yeah, but is the future now or at some point down the road, that’s the only question. Will this generation embrace the digital book or will it have to wait before any real romance develops between readers and e-books? So far, there hasn’t been a generation raised on e-books.

Digitization initiatives such as Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, Google Books, and Microsoft’s Live Search Books have sprung to life many thousands of books hidden away in the catacombs of a few libraries. Once digitized, these books become available to the entire world. Spalding’s Onegin, basically lost to the greater world of scholars for over a century, is now available to all on the internet in a digitized version. It’s something like the way we’ve been losing and finding ancient works after many years—Archimedes’ Palimpsest, for example, although these books were never lost, but were not widely available until right now.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Ludlum Vault


Speculation on who wrote the recent novels published under the name Robert Ludlum has continued over the years since his death in 2001. If we are to believe his agent, the answer is Robert Ludlum, with a little help from his friends.

The New York Times and The Independent have just published articles quoting Henry Morrison, Ludlum's agent. Recent books published under Ludlum's name were manuscripts written by the thriller author himself, but were completed and polished by uncredited writers who, Morrison claims, want to remain anonymous. At least one writer--who completed the The Bancroft Strategy-- was supposedly a personal friend of Ludlum. Apparently additional shadowy unnamed and uncredited scribes had a hand in "polishing" books published under Ludlum's name as well.

I translate this to mean that the unknown writer(s) is not a big name and revealing his identity would deflate the Ludlum balloon in the eyes of his reading public resulting in diminished sales figures.

The Bancroft Strategy "sat around in a safe awaiting its turn. There are others that will be finished, as suitable." The Independent article says Morrison himself polished the book for publication.

This tells us the book was unfinished, but the question still remains, how much unfinished? And how many more manuscripts--close to completion--are there? Morrison is silent on the crucial questions, and that suggests the answers will depend not on how many there really are but how many the Ludlum Estate wants to present to the world in the coming years. My concern isn't with the books credited to other authors but accompanied with the Ludlum brand name. They can publish those for all eternity. But I think some honesty is due when publishing a new thriller solely under the Ludlum name.

I've always said the lack of transparency suggests a deception. If there really are several almost completed novels, revealing them in some concrete way would enhance their worth. We have only the agent's word for any of this and he has a vested interest.

What is left in Ludlum's vault? It may operate something like a magician's top hat when he removes it and plunges his hand into its depths and repeatedly draws out numerous unlikely items one would never have imagined could have fit inside.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

New Audiobook Survey


The Audiobook Publishing Association recently surveyed the British public on what they think of audiobooks and just issued a press release on the results.

The traditional method of interacting with books is visual, by reading a printed copy. Audiobooks represent a new way because they are an auditory experience--one typically listens to a CD of a person speaking the words written in a book. How does the general public typically react to the idea of doing something in a different way?

The British public feel audiobooks are designed not for them but for people who are either physically or mentally defective. Audiobooks are "talking books for the blind," for the elderly, for small children, and probably for people who are too insane to turn pages--not for the average normal person.

It's a common reaction to interacting with something by a non-traditional method. I've seen similar responses from people when the topic of ebooks is discussed. The immediate reaction is that they would be good for people with some type of infirmity, and the second reaction is a strong concern for the social implications of participating in the new method of book interaction: "I've never seen anyone reading an ebook," is a standard objection, implying that the dissenter will not participate if the activity isn't already approved and used by a significant majority of society at large.

I'm not here to advocate for audiobooks because I've never listened to one myself, although I can see they would come in handy during long car trips when I'm the one driving. So under certain situations audiobooks could be the right answer. Apparently one person speaks the words of the entire book--either the author or someone touted as a great speaker. The attraction of listening to a favorite author is obvious, but one speaker for the entire book? I would think I would want to hear different voices when the dialog of several people is presented in the book. One person doesn't handle that well. But then, that would be more mouths to feed and the price would skyrocket.

Price was mentioned as a problem in the survey. And price is also considered a problem with ebooks, not coincidentally. Publishers seem reluctant to grow these markets by dropping prices to encourage more people to become consumers of audio- and e-books. The reasoning I suppose is that if publishers charge less for these types of books, they lose a print sale that would have been at a higher price.

Last year, the US-based Audio Publishers Association surveyed for industry sales data and found a 5% increase in sales from 2004 to 2005, with total audiobook sales reaching $871 million. 58% of books purchased were fiction. 32% were nonfiction. Other: 10%. What could be "other" than fiction or nonfiction? Perhaps the respondents were thinking of those "nonfiction novels" that combine aspects of both.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

World Ebook Fair Begins

The World Ebook Fair begins today with free downloads of over 500,000 full-text ebooks from July 4 to August 4.

Most of the books appear to be in the public domain and could be downloaded off the internet for free anyway. Project Gutenberg is an affiliate. You won't find Tom Clancy or Stephen King here. Some recent fiction titles are available from the Baen Science Fiction collection. Those novels are sci-fi and fantasy and some of them seem to be well-regarded by fans of the genres.

It would be a nice touch for giant publishers like Random House or HarperCollins to join a promotion like this and find an out-of-print backlist title to make available, then promote and market their participation while patting themselves on the back for giving away something "for free." Just an idea.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Ebooks: Amazon Joins Google, Microsoft


It finally happened. Amazon will provide online access to the full-text of hundreds of thousands of ebooks with a library program similar to Google Books and Microsoft's Live Search Books.

According to the latest issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education, Amazon will partner with several libraries and supply only books that are in the public domain or those that their partners own the copyrights to.

I'll note here that Microsoft started with just public domain books, but recently made deals with a number of publishers to provide access to newer in-copyright books as well. I wouldn't be surprised if Amazon eventually did this as well. Although Amazon will digitize books with just its library partners for now, Amazon's stated goal, the article says, is to digitize as many books as possible. This sounds strikingly like Google's statement.

This news, coming at this time, is especially exciting since Amazon is rumored to be releasing their own dedicated ebook reader, "Kindle," sometime this year. This new digital initiative would work well with that.

Amazon's library partners include Emory University, the University of Maine at Orono, Toronto Public Library, and the Public Library of Cincinnati. Apparently the libraries will do the scanning themselves with equipment from Kirtas Technologies. The libraries will decide which books will be digitized and will share the profits for any hard copies of the books purchased through Amazon.

Ebook activities seem to be accelerating despite much ink spilled in the press that the industry has so far been "disappointing." Significant changes in the way people read books seem on the way soon, especially considering that younger people are much more willing to use ebooks than older folks. The future in this regard seems rather clear.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Stephen King's "The Gingerbread Girl"

No one reads magazine fiction anymore. I know that because Esquire Editor-in-Chief David Granger said he has been trying to “breathe life” back into this formerly spry but now moribund literary outlet.

How to accomplish that? By publishing nothing other than “event fiction.” A good yarn written by an unknown writer isn’t enough. Nobody buys that these days. Some additional attractive ingredient must be present to call attention to the tale. An extremely famous author, for example, like Stephen King. Other ways to lure modern readers to short fiction? Presumably Esquire has more ideas up its sleeve. I hesitate to give suggestions.


“The Gingerbread Girl” (July 2007 issue of Esquire) begins with the death of Emily Owensby’s baby. It was “defective.” So Emily takes up running. She runs so much she pukes. Henry, her husband, argues with her about her new obsession. She hurls a book at him and flees the house, and her marriage.

Emily relocates to a shack owned by her father on the southern Florida coast near Naples. She runs along the beach and encounters a dead body in the trunk of a Mercedes. Soon thereafter, she unexpectedly meets the owner of the car. Jim Pickering can boast possession of a yacht, a Mercedes, and a winter home in Florida he inhabits when Chicago gets too cold, yet when Emily looks into his eyes, she “saw nothing in them she recognized as sanity.” In addition, he “looked crazy. In fact, there was no doubt about his state of mind.” Perhaps several Constant Readers are scratching their heads at this rather implausible creature.

Pickering laboriously binds Emily to a chair with duct tape so she can hardly move, even though his intent is apparently to rape and murder her. How to rape a person fastened securely to a chair? Pickering would need to kill her or at least knock her out, then undo all the tape, then rape her. But then, why the tape job in the first place? Just to ask who might know she was at his house? Why would such a madman even think about that?

Pickering improbably decides to exit the house to kill someone Emily said knew she was there. While he’s gone, she manages—after herculean effort—to free herself just as he returns. They fight. She wins. She runs through the house but can’t get to the main door to leave. Pickering runs after her. She’s trapped! She barricades the door to the room. Just as Pickering breaks down the door, Emily crashes through a window. Freedom! She runs along the beach with Pickering not far behind—and he’s carrying a big pair of kitchen scissors.

Is Pickering what he seems or is he perhaps a physical manifestation conjured up by someone’s subconscious, a la the monster in Forbidden Planet? Emily needs to “explore the limits of her endurance”—Pickering obliges. She wishes there were a pill to get over the death of a child—she later calls his house “the Pillbox.” Overcoming Pickering is a necessary catharsis that would enable her to move forward with her life.

How does it end? Poorly. I mean from a literary point of view. There is no “wow” ending here. This world ends not with a bang, but a whimper.

Looking back on it, the story seems hardly worth the effort to tell it. A woman encounters a crazed maniac who ties her up, she escapes, he runs after her, one of them perishes and the story is fini. That’s pretty much it. It’s all too familiar and there is nothing remarkable to recommend the story.

“The Gingerbread Girl” is a somewhat shaky launch of the new “event fiction” craft, but that’s judging only the fiction, not the “event”—which is Stephen King the famous author writing something short (that’s an event right there) for a magazine. And it worked on me—I bought my first copy of Esquire magazine ever. It’ll take a doozy for me to buy my second.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Social Book Catalogs

Social book catalogs are growing in popularity and I'm curious to know which are the most popular and compare their features. I'm primarily interested here in finding out which are discussed the most on blogs by checking their numbers on Blogsearch and Technorati.

First a few random notes on some of these sites:

LibraryThing
Easily the biggest of them all. It claims 228,000 members and 15 million books. What struck me when sifting though the blog posts was the number of people trashing the design and usability of the site, usually by people recommending Shelfari. I keep looking back and forth at both sites and still an unclear what they mean. They both have a similar appearance to my eyes.

LT is one of the few that charges for its service: it's free if you have only 200 books; a life membership can be had for $25. 40% is owned by AbeBooks. Random House is a partner for an early book review program.

Shelfari
A relatively new site that has attracted a lot of attention. It's unclear to me how many members or books it has. I'm assuming those numbers aren't prominently placed because as a new site they are still building up their membership.

I imported my library from LibraryThing with some problems. I have a number of books in foreign languages (Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese) that I manually loaded into LT because they couldn't be found in places like Amazon and I had to look them up in online library catalogs in China and Japan. The titles include Chinese characters and Japanese kanji. Shelfari couldn't load any of these.

Shelfari doesn't allow for manually adding books, and to me, that is a serious weakness. I'm sure it's a problem for serious collectors who have unusual items that can't be found in the standard online catalogs.

aNobii
This site has been lauded for its many features. It claims over 1 million books. Based in Hong Kong, it's not surprising to see a lot of Chinese members here. Would aNobii easily import my LT library with Chinese language books? I can't answer that yet. I tried to import my library several hours ago and it sent back a message: "Got your order! You will receive an email from us once your data is ready." Every other site took only a few minutes to import.

I see only 32 groups, far fewer than the other large sites. Like Shelfari, aNobii doesn't allow for manually entering a book. You have to either import or find it, otherwise you're out of luck. Not good news for bibliophiles! I can't take aNobii or Shelfari seriously until they include this option.

Goodreads
I'm not a fan of the graphic of books across the top of the page. It looks unkempt and unsightly, but like the debate over the design of Shelfari and LibraryThing, I suspect beauty is in the eye of the beholder. GR imported my LT xls file, but not the cvs--and of course it couldn't handle the foreign-language books. Thankfully, GR allows for manually adding books.

BookTribes
BookTribes claims 1,500 members and 2.5 million books. That's 1,666 books per member. I think there is a credibility problem here, unless there is some bizarre explanation of why so many books could possibly be in the database with so few members. Are there importing or exporting options I'm not seeing? Or manually entering a book? I can't see the attraction of this site.

Some numbers (Blogsearch numbers are the total claimed number; not the actual number of viewable entries):


Social Library Catalog Blog Numbers






























WebsiteBlogsearchTechnorati
LibraryThing194,4077,350
Goodreads8,4171,210
aNobii7,2361,462
Delicious Library6,6251,465
Shelfari3,8511,161
Booktribes22466
lib.rario.us13962
Gurulib130144


NOTE:
aNobii has been coming on strong the previous month (June 2007), with triple the numbers of Shelfari and double the numbers of Goodreads. But LibraryThing is still far ahead of all the others.

I know there are a lot more sites, but I'm not including them yet. Stay tuned.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Ebooks: The Waiting Game

Book publishers have no favorite among the various ebook formats and are playing a waiting game, according to a new TechNewsWorld article.

"Ultimately, the consumer will decide what it likes," said a VP at Simon & Shuster. The status quo of publishers reluctant to take charge and shape the future is consistent with comments made at the recent "Ebooks 2.0" forum at the ALA annual conference I wrote about recently.

The waiting game presumably includes not releasing all popular frontlist bestsellers in ebook format at the same time they are made available in print. The cost of ebooks is also similar to print versions--and sometimes more expensive. Enthusiasts can expect to pay a premium until the industry shakes out. Some had thought it would be necessary to drop the prices significantly in order to build the market, but so far it isn't happening.

A great ebook reader device at a reasonable price is necessary for widespread adoption by the public, but Sony's reader and the iRex Iliad are far too expensive to be catalysts. On the horizon are new readers, such as Amazon's Kindle and Bookeen's Cybook, as well as others from Asia. Will any one of them capture the imagination of the public, dominate the market, and usher in the era of leisure reading with ebooks? The answer is currently inaccessible.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Ebooks 2.0

Ebook usage is up, but how are they used? That’s the Big Question that emerged from the “Ebooks 2.0” forum at the ALA annual conference in Washington, DC, which included reps from libraries, vendors, and a publisher. The publisher was Island Press, the vendors were Ebrary and Ingram Digital Group (MyiLibrary), and the libraries were National University and the University of Denver.

Brian Weese of Island Press said they know ebook usage is up but the problem is they don’t know how ebooks are used. That’s what’s holding publishers back. Most believe free content will bite into sales. He brought up the anecdote of a Stephen King book that was put up online in installments and readers were asked to voluntarily donate a buck on the honor system—but few did that.

How to distribute content without losing sales? Weese said publishers don’t want a PDF emailed around the world with no one paying for it. So fear is a major factor resulting in ebooks limitations. Publishers have experience with the hardback, paperback, and audio versions of books, but not much with the electronic format. They are waiting for someone to lead the way forward but no one has taken charge yet. What is needed is ebook usage information. They have received minimal feedback so far.

Rich Rosy of Ingram echoed Weese by saying ebook usage is up but they don’t know how they are used. Google Book project publishers say their print sales are going up as a result of their inclusion but they can’t validate that claim, he said. National Academies Press ebooks are available free online but their print sales are still high.

University libraries are doing studies on how ebooks are used and those will provide needed information to vendors and publishers, Rosy said. There are many platforms—but there is no ideal platform yet. Some publishers now include in their catalogs a statement like, “This book will be available in ebook format,” whereas before vendors like Ingram didn’t know what would be available. The timeframe is contracting—things are moving forward quickly.

The Next Big Question: How is the ebook really being used, Rosy said. Every vendor has stats that say ebook usage is up, but what does that mean? Change will be driven by librarians who will decide what purpose and role ebooks will play.

Leslie Lees of Ebrary said the development of ebooks is dependent on librarians and their tolerance, as well as trial and error. Some answers are emerging, such as the need for ebook approval plans to make choices. In 2008, ebooks will be integrated into approval plans with all the major vendors. The question remains: How does everybody make money with ebooks? He talked about Ebrary’s recent survey to librarians on ebooks and the finding that most patrons find ebooks not through Google but by way of the library catalog and website. Usability studies and usage statistics will drive purchase decisions.

A couple of the speakers didn’t have powerpoint presentations. They just stood up and spoke. I found them difficult to follow at times whereas if a slide is up on the big screen, I can always look at that. I can’t imagine getting up on stage in front of a roomful of my peers at a national conference and just talk without having cobbled together a presentation. I think it’s a matter of professionalism.

None of the participants was such great a public speaker that he could rely on just his voice to get his points across. One of the university reps spoke from written notes in a monotone. It was almost painful to try to follow along with him. Too busy to create slides? Then why speak? Having said A, you must say B. Very few people are so good that they can educate and entertain an audience without slides. I didn’t hear any today. I think it should be understood that anyone who is speaking should take the time to bring slides. It’s a matter of respect for your audience and professionalism as well. I’m surprised to see this isn’t the case!


Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Glitch in Live Search Books


Earlier I wrote about some problems with Microsoft's Live Search Books. For example, if I type in a search and the results total, say, 750, Live will only give me 250 results and no more. Why is that?

I talked to a Microsoft rep at the ALA conference in Washington, DC. I told him about the 250 limit and he said someone else had mentioned it to him. "It's a bug," he said. It is a problem on Microsoft's end. It has nothing to do with the user's computer memory or anything like that. He said he was passing along the information to the appropriate parties and they would try to fix it.

Will Live include an advanced search page like the one Google Books has? He said yes, it was in the plans for some point in the future. He said they had just put up the copyrighted material from publishers within the past few weeks, suggesting maybe now some work would be done on these problems I mentioned.

As with Google Books, it just seems this isn't a high priority with them.

The Glitch in Google Book Search


Earlier I wrote about a glitch in Google Book Search. For example, when I type in the phrase "Homeland Security" Google returns roughly 5,000 hits--or so it says. But when I try to actually see those 5,000 hits, the results dry up after only 150 or so. What happened to the other 5,000 Google promised?

I had the opportunity to speak to a Google representative at the ALA conference in Washington, DC. She said it was a glitch and "they are working on it." She also corrected me on the notion (or wishful thinking on my part) that Google Books was a separate database from the main Google one. It isn't. They both draw from the same thing, she said.

I'm not sure how much some of the vendor reps really know about these things, but surely the people working on Google Books know very well about this problem and hopefully are finding a solution. It doesn't seem like a high priority, does it?

Can Blogs Be Trusted?

This presentation was supposed to feature 2 bloggers: Jason Zengerle of The New Republic, and Eric Alterman of The Nation. Alterman never showed up. Zengerle's remarks, I thought, seemed designed for an insider political blogging crowd. I'm not sure that's what was in attendance. I follow the political blogs a bit but a lot of his discussion focused on events I was unfamiliar with, and I'm sure many others in the audience were having trouble following along as well.

In the photo above, Zengerle is in the blue shirt sitting at the table. The other 2 people are looking for Alterman.

Can program descriptions be trusted? I don't recall the write-ups of this presentation I saw before the conference advertising it as what I heard. I find this is a problem with not only ALA but SLA as well: pre-conference program descriptions promising one thing and delivering another.

I have to question the choice of speakers as well. Zengerle and Alterman are both liberals. Propping both of them up on the stage with no countering conservative would have been like listening to a two-headed monster (if Alterman had actually shown up). Why was no conservative blogger invited? There are plenty out there. I fault the Law & Political Science Section (LPSS) of ALA/ACRL which seems to be the party responsible for this presentation. That is not competent event planning. Should I conclude that the people running LPSS are a bunch of liberals who have a psychological problem handling an opposing viewpoint?

ALA has earned a reputation as a biased left-wing outfit that shuns a large portion of the American political public. This doesn't help.

Zengerle got in a few good shots at his right-wing counterparts. "Power Line used to write about Bush as if he were Einstein," he said, claiming he reads that blog "just for amusement." And Hugh Hewitt "writes about [Mitt] Romney the way Power Line writes about Bush."

Exhibits at ALA & SLA


What's the difference between the exhibits at the American Library Association (ALA) and the Special Libraries Association (SLA) annual conferences?

A lot of them are the same companies. One difference is that the women reps at SLA this year in Denver were hotter than the women at the ALA booths in Washington, DC. At SLA, I'd rate the woman at about 7.5. From what I've seen at ALA so far, I can only award a rating of 6.5.


But the really big difference, which I'm sure people who have been to both have noticed, is that there is no free food at the ALA exhibits! You have to pay for everything, and the food offered for sale at the Washington DC Convention Center is grotesquely overpriced. At SLA, you could eat all day long in the exhibits. Free food and drink everywhere! But today at ALA--nothing!


Is the free food coming? Maybe it will arrive Sunday--or Monday at the latest? What are exhibits worth without free lunch or free desserts or free drinks like I got at SLA?

I haven't been to the ALA conference in several years. Is this the way it always is? No food? You have to buy that expensive garbage they sell there? I take this to mean the vendors don't feel they need to offer free food at ALA. They've got the librarians on a leash. No point in spending money when you don't need to. ALA, the bigger conference of the two, seems more of a prole event, while SLA caters to a more refined audience.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Google Book Search vs Live Search Books

Google Book Search and Live Search Books are the largest databases of full-text books on the internet. Most of their holdings are books in the public domain, but both now include more recent copyrighted titles as well. Google claims over a million records, while Live had over 800,000 last I heard.

The Shifting Sands of Google Book Search

For the past several days, I input the same words and phrases into Google Book Search. Every day, it spit back a different number for each search. Maybe they added some books, so the number is higher for each succeeding day? Not so--the number has actually been going down every day! Perhaps publishers are insisting that Google remove their books? Or could it be the search engine is either intentionally or sinisterly inaccurate?

I tried the phrase "Next Attack" today and Google returned a result of 904 items. But what does this number mean? 904 books? When I went through all the pages and tried to get to that 904th book, Google stopped at number 484! Where are the other 400+ plus books I was promised? 904 doesn't exist when I try to find it. Well, it's just a glitch that wouldn't be repeated with another phrase, right?

Next I tried the phrase "Homeland Security" which gave me 5123 results. I decided to go through all the pages, but that would take some time, wouldn't it? But wait! To my chagrin, there are really only 155 books! Where are those other 5,000 books on homeland security Google assured me were in this database? False advertising? (In fairness, I just tried the search again--5,161 results! But of course, on the last page is book number "162 of 172."

How about a rare word? "Sapajous" garners 645 results, but after going through all the pages it gives me only "416 of 436"! Google rarely gives as much as it promises!

If Google has a display limit, why does it differ for each search? Of course, the same thing happens when you search the open internet at google.com. As you sift through the results of your search, the numbers often pull back once you go through all the result pages. But surely with a much smaller, finite database, such as Google Books, this shouldn't happen. Can't I receive an honest number when I'm only searching a mere 1 million records?

The Brick Wall of Live Search Books


The numbers at Microsoft's Live Search Books don't move. Same thing every day I try the same search. And there is a limit to how many of your results you can view. That doesn't change either.

The phrase "homeland security" draws 749 results (the search process is slower than Google's, but that's okay as long as the results are honest!). But wait! When I try to see book number 749 by moving the scroll button all the way down to the bottom, it stops on book number 250! I can go no further.

Let's try "Next attack." 732 results. The same story. The results stop at book 250 and won't give me the rest, although I suspect they really are there. I take this to mean if I want to see all results for any search, I must get the result number down to 250 or less. That's easily accomplished. My rare word "Sapajous" draws 43 results and Live give me all of them.

"Jesus Mohammed Buddha Moses Krishna" gives me 260 results. Will Live give me 251-260? No way. 250 is the absolute limit.

The answer for using both search engines, I suppose, is that you need to get your results down to no more than 250 so you can be sure to see everything. But I'm the sort of person who wants to sift through all results on a topic and pluck out those that are useful. This often involves going through literally thousands of records. That just isn't possible with either of these databases that I can see.

Live's book result numbers are usually much lower than Google's. The only exception seems to be Religion, where Live often beats Google. I'm not sure what this really means anyway, since Google's numbers seem to be inflated.

Unlike Google, there is no advanced search page for Live Books. The "intitle" limiter works (although that isn't advertised anywhere) but "inauthor" doesn't.

Conclusion: I'm not satisfied at all with either book search product. Both refuse to give me what they promise! If I can't see 750 books, don't promise that many!

Google will have a booth at the ALA conference in Washington in a couple weeks. I'll be sure to go there and ask about the Book Search engine.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Library 2.0 Bubble

Google's Blogsearch shows a heavy increase in the use of the term "Library 2.0" in 2007 compared with 2006. The increase is 6-10 times greater. Is a bubble forming (possibly to burst) or is this merely the initial part of a long, upward graph to last for many years?

The only reason I ask is because there is a lot of talk about a Web 2.0 bubble and whether it exists or not, and will it burst. Are MySpace and Second Life positioned for a hard fall?

I've noticed on some of the Library 2.0 social networking groups on places like Ning and Facebook that many of the librarians actively involved say they are having trouble keeping up with all the various social sites and saying anything substantial. I keep hearing librarians say they are the only ones at their library with an interest in 2.0. Something like a wiki is set up at their library site, and then abandoned, because there isn't really much use for it or interest in it.

The librarians on these sites represent a very small minority of the total number of librarians. It's really just the vanguard that has any involvement whatsoever with 2.0. Most librarians have no interest in it, and when it comes up in a discussion, they pretend until the topic goes away.

Will some members of this vanguard of librarians get tired of it, frustrated with their solitary fascination with online social tools not shared by their co-workers, and drift away? Or will more and more librarians become inoculated with the 2.0 virus, inject fresh ideas and keep the trend line moving upward for years to come? As goes Web 2.0, so goes Library 2.0?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ALA's Stand on Iraq

Years ago when I was a library student, several of the older veteran bookmen told me they weren't members of the American Library Association (ALA) and strongly disapproved of it because it involved itself in things that had nothing to do with librarianship and catered toward fringe elements within in.

Times haven't changed at all. At this year's ALA annual conference in Washington, DC, one of the marquee events will be a forum entitled: "Should ALA Take a Stand on the War in Iraq and Other Non-Library Issues?" Aren't you just dying to know what librarians of the ALA variety think of the war in Iraq? Don't you think Congress and the White House are wringing their collective hands and pacing their collective floors wondering what that verdict might be?

ALA became over-politicized a long, long time ago. I imagine it occurred alongside the cultural shifts brought about in the 1960s. Radicals have embedded themselves in ALA and it is now a left-wing association far removed from the political mainstream of America--and of course, it shouldn't be overtly political at all.

The person arguing "for" ALA participating in non-library issues is Michael Gorman, the notorious ex-president of ALA. This is significant. Gorman is a Luddite who has disparaged such groups as bloggers and internet surfers.

The radical left librarians are in the profession primarily to spend their time advocating for non-library issues. They are here because no one else would take them. That's why I call such people "fake librarians." Their first impulse is to spend their time and effort on non-library matters. Such as politics. Social work. "Causes" such as global warming, world poverty, and the like. Library problems don't interest them. Library trends, especially those involving the latest technology, leave them cold and fearful.

Library Science is alright with them; Information Science (IS) isn't. I believe there is great fear among the political fringe elements regarding IS, and the reason is that expertise in IS tends to elbow out the political radical mind, which has no interest or aptitude for it. The greater IS is integrated into librarianship, the greater the threat to the extremists. It will eventually destroy them. That's why I see IS as the savior of Library Science, because it will upgrade the library profession in terms of the average required skill level, it will upgrade the quality of students who enter the profession, salaries will rise, and the fringe elements will be pushed out and will be forced to migrate elsewhere.

The social workers masquerading as librarians want ALA to spend its time on worthless, pointless, embarrassing resolutions on issues like Iraq precisely because it has nothing to do with libraries--that's the point, that's their point. They don't understand, or care, that such proclamations erode the reputation of librarians in the eyes of Congress and others.

I met several academic librarians at the recent Special Libraries Association (SLA) conference in Denver. I wondered why they joined SLA as I thought most academic librarians were in ALA, and their response was that ALA didn't have much for them. They agreed with me that the ALA conference program had little of interest to them or to most other librarians.

I haven't been to the ALA conference for several years, but it's in DC and I'm in DC so I'll go and see the carnival this time, despite the strange program. Of course, there will be the usual Democratic Party stars in force--Bill Bradley and a Kennedy. Wouldn't be ALA circa 2007 without that, would it.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Ebrary's Ebook Survey

Ebrary has released an ebook survey conducted earlier this year. Almost 600 librarians responded, although the vast majority of them are academic librarians. Few public or special librarians are represented.

The most surprising news was that most students & faculty find ebooks through the library catalog or the library website--not Google or other search engines. But I'd like a clarification on this particular question, because it was worded this way: "How do patrons find ebooks?" Librarians answered the survey, not patrons, so how do the librarians know the answer? If I were a student, how would my university know how I was finding ebooks?

The librarian who was asked to comment within the survey noted:
Until e-book reading devices are preferred to printed books and are commonly available, the e-book collection will not be seen as preferable when the intent is to read an entire work.
Ebooks are mostly used for research, not for pleasure; most titles purchased are nonfiction. They are not intended to be read from cover to cover, and are used differently if the user is acting as a researcher or as a leisure reader buying the latest bestseller. The ebook market for research books is much more well-developed than the leisure market because it is supported by the academic community. One must wonder if public library support is necessary for the leisure ebook market to take off, as well as the introduction of low-cost dedicated readers that would be as desirable for reading as ipods are for listening to music.

A strong majority of librarians preferred not to duplicate the purchase of print and electronic titles. I wouldn't prefer to do that either, but it depends on your users, and what they want, and where they are, and how they use the books.

A majority of the respondents are "somewhat to very concerned" about the implications of interlibrary loan and ebooks. My view on ILL is that those transactions will continue to decrease as more and more ebooks are available to the user--either through vendors like ebrary and NetLibrary, or by way of free ebooks on sites like Google Book Search or Live Search Books. ILL will eventually become a last-resort service for finding those few scarce items that have never been digitized.

I keep hearing so many people who still seem skeptical that ebooks are the wave of the future. But they represent the only practical way libraries can continue to satisfy the information needs of their users. In many ways they easily improve upon traditional library models--ILL, physical books available only to those who are able and willing to go to the library, etc. It's not a steep upward curve at this time, but it will be, eventually.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Which Ebooks Are Popular with Consumers?

The consumer ebook market has been a dud, according to some industry watchers. But what types of ebooks can or would sell well?

Success stories so far include Ellora's Cave and eHarlequin. Some people buy ebooks because they have an advantage over paperbacks: it's tougher for other people to see what you're reading. So if you want to read something raunchy in public, an ebook offers you a measure of privacy you wouldn't otherwise have.

Another market for ebooks are tech geeks who want the latest ebook readers and huddle close to the cutting edge of new technology and have something cool that most people don't.

So then it's easy to predict other potential ebook markets that would be profitable during the early stages of its development as well: hardcore fringe political writings on both the far left and right of the spectrum, and incendiary, extremist religious writings. In other words, the edges will fill in first, while the traditional stuff in the middle will be the last to make a big splash in the ebook world. In this scenario, during the early days of ebook reading, if you want to identify a fanatic, you would look for someone carrying a dedicated ebook reader.

Google Books Adds Big 10 Libraries

The Big 10 university libraries have signed on with the Google Book library project, adding a potential treasure trove of millions of new books to their database.

This announcement comes on the heels of Microsoft Live Search Books, Google's main competitor in this arena, adding copyrighted content from major publishers to its online library.

We now have these 2 giant skyscrapers--Google Book Search and Microsoft Live Search Books--adding new "floors" to their edifices as they race to ebook heaven. Will they ever join? Should they? Will one abandon the race--and its books--leaving the other as the sole victor? Or is it 2 separate forces forever, neither completely conquerable?

Metaphysical questions aside, these are heady (heavenly?) times for those of us (consumers and librarians) wanting more print books digitized and made available for full-text searching, for many reasons as I've outlined before.

SLA Denver Attendance

At the closing session of SLA Denver 2007, I heard SLA President Rebecca Varga announce the total attendance as 5,046.

I think that's what I heard. I just searched the net for confirmation of the figure but can't find anything about it--not sure what that means. Shouldn't SLA have something about it on their website? Not to rush anyone, but what are they waiting for? Did I miss it? I don't see a link. Well, eventually.

Varga said words to the effect that she was "very pleased" to announce that number, but looking over previous conference attendance figures, it doesn't look good at all, especially considering the high-profile opening and closing session speakers (Al Gore and Scott Adams). Denver doesn't seem like such a bad place to go for a conference either. No worse than other places SLA has ventured to lately.

If we go back as far as 15 years, Denver attendance was third lowest. Only Nashville (3,852) and Los Angeles (4,652) were lower. 5,046 is nothing to write home about, and is a big drop from last year's attendance at Baltimore of 5,844.

What conclusions can we draw from this?

Al Gore didn't pull them in. No one can seriously make a case that Gore brought in a lot of people to this conference. He's a politician, and he is a speaker-for-hire. That's pretty much his job these days. I imagine he was paid a pretty penny for bringing his song-and-dance routine to SLA. I'm kind of heartened about this because I don't think members should be pulled in to the convention by a politician and I'm skeptical any should be invited as the featured speakers.

There are risks in lassoing a politician as the keynote speaker. It is tantamount to an endorsement, especially when the SLA CEO was an appointee by the administration of said politician. Funny thing about politicians, they have a way of dividing people, and in this case, association members. The risk is in ripping apart SLA and creating divisions where none were before by trotting out such a controversial figure while no one on the other side of the aisle showed up.

Varga also mentioned at the closing session that a speaker had been invited to SLA 2008 in Seattle but he backed out. I didn't hear any mention of who what person was, but I'll go out on a limb and suggest it wasn't a prominent Republican. And that's what SLA needs to invite, in the interests of political neutrality. This is the Special Libraries Association, not the Janice LaChance Association. When it reflects the biases of one or a few of its leaders rather than the ideals it should embody, all is lost. God help SLA if they invite Michael Moore next year. Obviously, I don't think they get it.

Denver is not a place a lot of members want to go to. What else should I think? I had never been there before, and I wasn't that impressed with the place. Too many aggressive panhandlers on the 16th Street mall, and too many "skid row" type boarded up stores for my tastes.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Microsoft Live Books Improves

Microsoft Live Books now includes many recent copyrighted titles, added as part of a deal with dozens of publishers. You can now search the full text of these books and view a certain number of pages, about 20% of the total. I don't see a feature for printing pages.

The new interface tells you how many pages you can still view under the copyright terms. There is a slide rule on the far right for quickly moving to any section of the book. Here is a screenshot of the interface:



Links are provided if you want to buy the book from the publisher, Amazon, or B&N. For older books in the public domain, you can download the entire file.

This takes us another step forward in the ability to search as many full-text books as possible without needing to check dozens of URLs, which is still necessary for a comprehensive search. Anyone interested in ebooks as either a consumer or librarian should applaud this move.

Microsoft Live Books hasn't received nearly as much publicity as Google Book Search, but it is a great resource as well. Last I heard Live Books had close to a million titles but probably they've gone over a million with this deal.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Taking the Ebook Train

Bill Gates said "Reading is going to go completely online." Are you ready? Do you own an ebook reader? Have you downloaded full-text ebooks onto your computer? Probably I should work up a test to determine how ebook-savvy a person is.

I look at ebooks primarily in 2 ways:
  1. As a consumer
  2. As a librarian
Reading is not yet completely online. Ebook sales for 2006 totaled a mere $56 million--a drop in the bucket compared with print sales. Why don't more people buy them? Why not buy the latest bestseller by Tom Clancy or Janet Evanovich and read it on a Sony Portable Reader System? That product costs $350, far more than the average person thinks it's worth. Prices for competing products are similar, at the least. (The cheapest I see is the ebookwise reader costing a little over $100, but it doesn't use the new electronic ink technology like the newer, more costly ones.) Not all books are published in ebook format, and when they are, the price isn't much better than a paper copy. It's not yet part of our culture to read an electronic book for pleasure, though I think that will change one day. A thousand years from now, I can envision the demise of print books, but certainly not digital ones.

Some commentators say ebooks are a solution in search of a problem, and there is nothing wrong with paper books, but it is undeniable ebook readers have some nice advantages: the ability to store many books--just go to your menu and pick the one you want, you don't need to carry a truckload of paper books with you. And you can always download a new book into your reader with immediate access no matter where you are as long as you have an internet connection--some print books can be hard to find in a bookstore, and if you order one you'll have to wait for the mailman to arrive.

Until more readers make their way on the market with reasonable price tags, and more bestsellers are available in ebook formats much cheaper than the paper copy, it'll be awhile before a critical mass develops and we see a full-blown ebook market.

A librarian looks at ebooks in a different way. They are an opportunity to provide reference service that just wasn't possible before. Full-text repositories (mostly free copies) are being developed by Google Book Search, Microsoft Live Search Books, Amazon Search Inside The Book, Project Gutenberg, the World Public Library, the University of Michigan Digital Library Text Collections, as well as databases offered by commercial vendors: Ebrary, netLibrary, Springer, Books24x7, Gale, Safari, etc.

Why full text? A librarian can do a lot with full text:
  1. Verify a citation, chapter titles, copyright
  2. Compare different editions of the same book
  3. Find a book from just a quote
  4. Find books discussing obscure topics
  5. Find books on relatively unknown organizations, people, etc.
  6. Plagiarism check
  7. Distance reference (librarian & remote user viewing the same pages)
  8. Loan out copies of digitized rare books too fragile/expensive to leave the premises
The main problem at this moment in history, is trying to discover whether a particular book is available online in full-text. If it is, where is it? How would you find it? How can you know for sure if it's out there somewhere or not?

There are many players in the full-text ebook game--some of which I've listed above. But there are also smaller players, and let's not forget full-text books available at publisher websites as well (Random House, HarperCollins, eHarlequin, etc.).

Is there one metasearch engine that searches ALL the full-text sites--both free and fee--so you can find all the books available in ebook format and where a particular book might be? No. There isn't. I looked.

(Possible solution: WorldCat. It is the biggest book database out there with something like a billion records. It already tells you who has a print copy, and even gives URLs for some online books from netLibray and NAP. Imagine one day if WorldCat would list all the places you could get an online full-text copy: Project Gutenberg, ebrary, etc. WorldCat seems to be the logical party for this.)

But the librarian has a few options for conducting a decent search anyway. One of those options is creating a DIY ebook search engine. This can be done easily with the help of any one of the custom search engines currently available. Here are the major ones I've looked at:
  1. Google Co-Op
  2. Rollyo
  3. Yahoo Search Builder
  4. Microsoft Live Search Macros
  5. Gigablast
The one I'm most familiar with is Google Co-Op. You create a search engine by populating it with URLs for ebook repositories. You cram as many of these URLs into your search engine as you can. Then you enter your search term into the search box and your DIY search engine searches all those URLs at once, and spits out the results in a nice, neat format, just like you would get in a regular google.com search results page.

It's easy to find dozens of these ebook sites on the internet--this is probably all ho-hum stuff for some reference librarians as you've already done this.

The advantages of this DIY search engine is that you can search numerous sites at once. The search engine isn't computer-specific--you can log on to your account on any computer with internet access and search your engine.

But not all ebook sites allow for full-text searching (digitalbookindex.com comes to mind). My original plan was to have one search engine just for full-text sites and another for everything, including those that search only author, title, etc. But I've since just put everything into one engine.

Some sites don't allow you to use them in conjunction with this DIY approach. You can't use Google Book Search, Microsoft Live Books, or Amazon Books with Google Co-Op, Rollyo, or the others. I tried, and it doesn't work. I asked Google and they verified Google Books doesn't work with Google Co-Op and probably won't anytime soon. Another problem is that some URLs don't work easily with these search engines. The URL may not be something simple and there's no easy way (that I can find) to make them work with these. The University of Michigan collections come to mind--Eighteenth Century, and Making of America Books. At least they don't work for me.

But many of the ebook sites do work with this approach so give it a try if you haven't. I would think every reference staff at every good-sized academic and public library would have already built one of these engines for their reference desk. Yours hasn't? Good heavens.

There is another way to search for full-text ebooks online, and it solves some of the problems associated with the 5 products I've listed above. But it too has its advantages and disadvantages. I'll have to write about it later. This is supposed to be a blog post, after all, and I tend to get carried away.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Blogging SLA Conference Again

Once again this year I'll be one of the official bloggers on the SLA Conference Blog. The conference is in Denver and I'll be there June 3-6.

Two keynote speakers have been invited: one is a serious commentator on modern society, and the other is a comedian. Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert cartoon, has earned plaudits for getting at the heart of many problems associated with today's business culture. Al Gore, a firebrand preacher of the Church of Global Warming Alarmism, will entertain us with his over-the-top "we're all gonna die" shtick and no doubt highlight some passages from his new highly-partisan book as well. I know he'll win a few laughs from me.

One thing I'll watch for over the course of the conference is if it devolves into some sort of ALA-lite Republican bashathon, or if that is restricted merely to the opening session wag. By inviting Bill Clinton (who reneged) and now Gore, I can only assume this is where the SLA folks are taking us--defenestrating the idea of a politically non-aligned association in favor of a liberal relative of ALA, although I can't imagine the point of doing that. I can't recall any prominent Republican as a keynote speaker, which I think would be mandatory now if SLA had any concerns about perceptions of its political leanings. Could be a watershed conference, no doubt about it.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Google Books' Plain Label Books

Several years ago I uploaded a plain text book to Project Gutenberg called "Chess History & Reminiscences" by H. E. Bird. Recently I wondered if the book had been digitized and was available through Google Book Search and I found that it was. The first page of the full-text copy was titled "Plain Label Books." Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I wondered what this was and couldn't find anything in a google.com search. The second page with the copyright notice caught my attention:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Many questions come to mind: Who are Plain Label Books? They are responsible for a lot of texts in Google Books. Who is the Editor, "Chumley P. Grumley"? And is he related to "Chumley P. Crumley," another Editor with the good folks at Plain Label Books? Someone has assigned ISBN numbers to this text as well (but they aren't in WorldCat). I see the words "Not copyrighted in the United States," but at the bottom right of every page is a watermark that reads "Copyrighted material." Who is copyrighting what, and where?

Looking through the text itself, I have the overwhelming suspicion that it is the exact same text that I uploaded to Gutenberg five years ago, except the introductory Gutenberg-related text has been stripped off. Nowhere do I find any explanation of the relationship between this text and the one I sent to Gutenberg. Why not? And why the bogus "Grumley" character?

A search of google.com provided no light as to the identity of Grumley or his doppelganger, Crumley. A pity, because surely they deserve at least a biographical Wikipedia page for their work in Google Books. I'd like to know something about them and their editorial philosophy.

Google's mission, as I think we have all memorized by now, is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. But a goal such as this demands transparency, and I can't see through the first two pages of this digital book.

Looking through other books, I was distressed to see the full-text copy of This Side of Paradise. Many of the words along the inner margin were cut off during the scanning process, making the book of limited value. Once scanned, aren't the books returned to their library? But if the scanning was unsuccessful, as I think we can say in this case as well as many others, wouldn't it need to be rescanned at some point? It seems to be an inefficient process. Someone should be on hand to review the scans and determine if changes need to be made. Obviously, that isn't happening.

The Google Book project is a wonderful thing. I hope the bugs can eventually be ironed out. But if the goal is to make information accessible, the Google scanning process has a long way to go to claim success. And so the question remains whether that really is the goal.

UPDATE: See my "The Mystery of Plain Label Books Solved."

UPDATE: See my "Google Responds to Our Plain Label Books Post."

UPDATE 092908: Daniel Oldis of Plain Label Books recently sent me a note describing his fascination with Google Books. He posted every book he could find, and included some of his own published writings as well. He could download, format and convert a book to pdf in 5 minutes! Like me, he was unimpressed with the quality of Google's own scanned facsimiles. I well understand his obsession with digital books, but it does drain one and we might not see any new Plain Label Books.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Ludlum Betrayal

“Does this industry have a conscience anymore?” Norman Mailer, 15 years ago, raised the question that has been asked repeatedly of the book publishing business since soon after it began and which seems at least as appropriate today as any time previously. If books can now be published under the names of famous people who didn’t write them, what does that say, if anything, about the current and future health of the industry?

The death of a famous and popular writer is often an inconvenience—especially when unfinished manuscripts are left behind. Vladimir Nabokov didn’t live to complete his final novel, The Original of Laura. He instructed his wife to destroy the manuscript (said to be about 40 pages in length) after his death, but she then left the decision to their son Dmitri. The latest word seems to be that he will not burn it but may instead bequeath it to a scholarly institution with heavy access restrictions and no plans for publication. (But then why the tantalizing praise in public for a manuscript that if completed would have been “his most brilliant novel, the most concentrated distillation of his creativity,” as Dmitri proclaimed it, if we are never permitted to judge for ourselves?) This manuscript, if published, would outsell anything by Nabokov since Lolita. The heirs are not thirsty for easy lucre but instead anguish if those 40 index cards shouldn’t be incinerated without anyone ever viewing them.

Franz Kafka, who published almost nothing before his death, requested the destruction of his papers as well, but his wishes were ignored and he subsequently became one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. (Was Nabokov unconsciously echoing Kafka, one is tempted to wonder.)

Ernest Hemingway asked that his letters not be published but that wish was ignored. He also left several manuscripts which over the years have been edited and published as A Moveable Feast, Islands in the Stream, The Garden of Eden, True at First Light, and Under Kilimanjaro.

In these cases, the value of the written words is often seen as superseding the specific request of the author; everything each wrote is considered of significant value to society at large and what is best for all is the deciding factor.

But not all famous or best-selling authors are great writers, and when the expiration date of this sort of writer arrives, few if any seem to have left directives to dump their unfinished scribbling. Publishers and heirs, confronted with the loss of a valuable stream of income, scramble to find some way—any way—to keep the silenced golden pen penning.

V. C. Andrews is credited as an architect of a genre of books described as “children in jeopardy.” She died in 1986. Since then, books under her name have been written by horror author Andrew Neiderman and published by Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster. Neiderman isn’t named as the true author in any of the books I’ve seen, although it isn’t a secret he is the one behind the Andrews name (except no doubt to some of the readers!). The copyright page of the recent “Andrews” books sheds some light on what we will see below in the recent Robert Ludlum novels:

Following the death of Virginia Andrews, the Andrews family worked with a carefully selected writer to organize and complete Virginia Andrews’ stories and to create additional novels, of which this is one, inspired by her storytelling genius.

That spells it out rather well, except that the name of the person who wrote the books (Neiderman) isn’t mentioned. The page informs us that “V. C. Andrews” is a registered trademark, and sure enough, it is listed in the US Patent & Trademark Office’s database.

Let us turn now to the recent Ludlum novels. No doubt emboldened by the Andrews example, on the copyright page of The Tristan Betrayal, The Ambler Warning and The Bancroft Strategy, I find this pithy clarification:

Since his death, the Estate of Robert Ludlum has worked with a carefully selected author and editor to prepare and edit this work for publication.

The language of the Andrews statement was apparently a heavy influence. It’s a lawyer’s word wiggle because I don’t see where it admits even one syllable was crafted by Ludlum. It simply states that this work has been prepared and edited since Ludlum died. But what connection, if any, is there between Ludlum and these assembled wordsone sentence scribbled on a napkin? The implication we are expected to draw is that these new novels are based on something Ludlum wrote, but for the present we are left to imagine what it was and how many pages of it he left behind to be passed like a relay baton, as it were, to the living ghostwriter. Only a lawsuit or the public scrutiny of Ludlum’s manuscripts will solve the mystery. From what I’ve seen, many readers and critics are concluding that these novels are substantially the product of someone other than Ludlum. Wouldn’t it be in the interests of the Estate, as well as the publisher, to submit proof contradicting that view were it untrue?

The name “Robert Ludlum” includes a ™ with it on recent books but there is no trademark notice on the copyright pages, and there is no record for that name in the US Patent & Trademark Office database. What could be the holdup?

The two differences of note between the Andrews and Ludlum publications are that we know who is writing the Andrews books and they freely admit someone is creating new novels from nothing more than “inspiration” from Andrews. Novelist Gary Jennings died in 1999, but Aztec Rage was published in 2006 with his name printed in large type on the dust jacket while the names of the true writers are in smaller type at the bottom.

Compare the Ludlum obfuscation with the publication of James Jones’ last novel “Whistle” (Delacorte Press, 1978). The book included an Introductory Note by the person who completed it, explaining how much Jones had written and the exact point in the narrative where he had left off before his death. All but the final few chapters had been completed, and Jones had left notes for the rest. Ludlum’s estate rejected this option and I would suggest the reason is obvious.

By refusing to supply Ludlum’s readers with similar details about who wrote what for the posthumous novels, St. Martin’s Press and the Estate of Robert Ludlum leave one with no choice but to conclude that not much at all had been written, and most, if not all of the verbiage must have been supplied by the as-yet unnamed ghostwriter(s). Perhaps all interested parties are too embarrassed to announce, “Ludlum left a one-paragraph sketch for The Bancroft Strategy. The entire thing was fleshed out by John Ghostwriter and the final product is 99.9% the creative work of someone other than Ludlum.” But then that would give the lie to the name on the cover of the book—trumpeted prominently for the sales it guarantees. But it doesn’t seem to bother the Andrews beneficiaries.

The ethics of publishing a book under the sole name of a deceased author when it was primarily written by someone else falls on both the publisher, in this case St. Martin’s Press, and the Estate. It’s not as if the Estate presented St. Martin’s with a manuscript and claimed it was penned entirely by Ludlum: both sides conspire to produce a ghostwritten book. That’s good for them in terms of sales but it’s bad news for fans and researchers because we know all isn’t what it seems. The Ludlum Betrayal works entirely in the favor of the seller, not the buyer, and is therefore unfair in my book. Apparently it’s legal, either because it just is or because no one has challenged this quirky arrangement. But isn’t a fraud being perpetrated here on the buying public? If the writer in question wore a heavy coating of literary gravitas—such as a Hemingway, Fitzgerald, or a Nabokov—the outcry would reverberate throughout the halls of academe, at the least.

One can quarrel with the editorial surgery performed on Hemingway’s True at First Light or the liberties Edmund Wilson granted himself with his version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Love of the Last Tycoon, but at least we know who wrote most of the words found in those books. We can’t say the same for the latest Ludlum novels, can we? There is a different standard for a non-literary best-selling author on the one hand, and a Nobel-quality literary lion on the other. Where does the one begin and where does the other end?

Franchises like Ludlum’s Covert-One books, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center & Net Force, and Clive Cussler’s NUMA Files play fair by comparison because the names of the famous writers as well as the names of the people who actually wrote the novels are on the cover. Several authors have written James Bond and Sherlock Holmes novels in recent years, and their names are credited, not Ian Fleming’s or Arthur Conan Doyle’s. You pretty much know what you’re getting there. James Patterson collaborates but gives credit. The Ludlum Betrayal evinces a lack of any conscience and tramples the unstated agreement between reader and publisher.

There has been a gradual progression of deception in the publishing world that has now reached its apotheosis with the Ludlum Betrayal: the pretense that a famous person wrote a book actually penned by someone else; the objective being to deceive buyers into purchasing a book they might not otherwise consider if a lesser author were advertised on the cover. Any chicanery is now fair game in the interest of higher sales; the ancient pact with the reader is immutably broken. Caveat emptor. The reader is no longer a respected partner in a triad of equals but has been relegated to the status of a mark to be targeted by the author-publisher dyad. The new arrangement alters the role of the book buyer to that of an adversary who must be kept incognizant of the back room sausage-making. The game is afoot, the war is on!

Like Nabokov, Ludlum never won the Nobel Prize for Literature. But surely the Russian exile must have been discussed at some point while the name Ludlum must never have crossed the lips of any member of the Swedish Academy. Ludlum wasn’t a great writer, but he outsold most everyone. So in the final analysis, it’s not about the words with Ludlum; it’s about the sales. With Nabokov and the Nobel-quality crowd, it’s the opposite. So it’s acceptable to stamp Ludlum’s name on books he didn’t write, while it would be unthinkable to do so for the likes of Joyce, Borges, or Fitzgerald.

With the real author’s name unworthy of the limelight, blotted out and replaced with a familiar brand slapped on the spine and emblazoned on the colorful dust jacket, St. Martin’s Press can be defined in no way except as an opportunistic publisher willing to peddle fiction so cheap it can’t even stand on its own but needs to limp along with the aid of a famous crutch. There aughta be a law. A conscience. Are things really so bad in the publishing industry these days? Is it for real this time?

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Unambomber's Papers

Theodore Kaczynski, the "Unabomber," is currently in jail for killing 3 people with his homemade bombs. A Reuters article says his papers will be sold to the highest bidders and the funds will be placed in a fund for the families of his victims.

Kaczynski doesn't like the idea. He wants his papers enshrined in a library where eager scholars can pore over his incendiary words. Private buyers might hide his ideas from the public, he said.

Restitution for the victims' families is a far more worthy enterprise than ensuring Kaczynski's pensées are never obscured. People trump paper. And it is in the best interests of the buyers to eventually make all his scribblings public by selling them or providing access to anyone who cares to see them. The economic factor reigns supreme in this case, not any concern for the radical's ideas which led him to numerous acts of murder and terrorism.

Bush Library Future Terror Target?

The George W. Bush Presidential Library is expected to be built in University Park, Texas, near Dallas. Will al Qaeda attempt to demolish it in a symbolic attack on Bush and his actions as president? That's the subject of an article in today's Dallas Morning News.

The very first paragraph is designed to scare local readers:
Terrorists will destroy the Bush library and take out most of the Park Cities at the same time. The question isn't if but when, says Sam Boyd, a Park Cities lawyer.
This lawyer doesn't seem to know anything about terrorists, despite his apparent background as a Green Beret! A much more likely scenario is given much further down in the story by a counterterrorism expert:

While anything can be a target, Andrew Teekell said terrorist organizations such as al-Qaeda probably wouldn't waste their time attacking a presidential library, even with Bush's name on it.

"Certainly there would be some symbolic value there," said Mr. Teekell, a counterterrorism and security analyst at Stratfor, a private security-consulting firm in Austin. "But you probably wouldn't generate a lot of casualties."

And that's the key for those oh-so-religious followers of bin Laden: if a lot of innocent people aren't killed in the process, it just isn't worth doing.

Any terror attacks would be on a small scale and would likely come from local Muslims by way of anti-Bush graffiti, rocks thrown at windows, small bombs in trash cans, and so on.

Libraries really aren't worth al Qaeda's time. They would consider it a public embarrassment that they couldn't do anything worse than attack a library. Quite a comedown from 9/11. A terror target? Yes, but not for the big boys, but just the impressionable local Allah akhbar kids incited by their favorite imams.

The bigger question is whether this country should be built according to what we want or what al Qaeda and anti-western civilization groups want. To say a library shouldn't be built because of possible terrorist attacks means we should check with our enemies before creating anything. Our nation eventually will reflect them, not us, and our culture will follow.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Librarian Obstructs Cops During Emergency

There is no question this unfortunate incident resulted from the American Library Association's policy of encouraging librarians to obstruct law enforcement.

A woman had fallen into a river in Lancaster, Ohio and needed help. A man held her above water until police arrived. She was taken to a medical center but had no identification with her except her library card.

The police called the library and reached the circulation supervisor, someone named Laura Gibson. Gibson refused to tell the cops who the lady was, even though they explained it was an emergency and she was required by law to help!

The woman was eventually identified when someone at the medical center recognized her, no thanks to Gibson.

According to the story:

Orman Hall, president of the library’s board of trustees, said it was unfortunate that the librarian did not cooperate and suggested that she mistakenly erred on the side of conservatism in preserving the confidentiality of a library patron.

He was confident that library Director Marilyn Steiner would educate the employees on how to work with police.

"We need to do some work," Hall said. "I am confident that Marilyn and her staff will clarify the issues around confidentiality to make sure this doesn’t happen again."

ALA's policy of obstructing law enforcement, which no doubt explains Gibson's outrageous behavior, is damaging our communities and the people who live in them. No doubt this kind of obstruction will results in a few deaths before long.

You would think a librarian would have the sense to cooperate when someone is in physical danger, but this is more proof that, sadly, you don't have to be smart to be a librarian, and this popular stereotype is only a myth. I strongly encourage the police to press charges against Gibson, as the story suggested they might. That's the only way this insanity will end.

I blame ALA for its policy of brainwashing librarians, many of whom are easily and willingly manipulated to enforce ALA's politics. ALA's "Confidentiality and Coping with Law Enforcement Inquiries" needs to be withdrawn and a new document created hand-in-hand with law enforcement. We don't need our national organization putting people's lives and well-being in jeopardy to further their extremist political agenda.

I can only hope the level-headed librarians out there will pressure ALA (and individual librarians!) to show a little much-needed intelligence.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Al Gore at SLA

Former Vice President Al Gore has been hired as the opening session keynote speaker at the SLA annual conference in Denver this June.

Since losing to George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential election, Gore has become a popular commodity on the speaker circuit. With a new book out this May and the attendant publicity campaign, we'll be seeing a lot of him during the runup to the primaries--will he or won't he run, etc.

Recently Gore spoke at the Learning Annex Real Estate & Wealth Expo. In case you're wondering, he spoke on "leadership." No doubt the gig paid well, but if I were looking for a speaker on leadership, a politician might well be dead last on my list. Gore ran into heavy criticism last year for giving a speech in Saudi Arabia claiming that Arabs in the USA suffered "terrible abuses" since 9/11. This year, in addition to SLA, Gore will speak at the Phi Theta Kappa Convention in April and at the American Institute of Architects National Convention in May, among many other engagements.

Gore's Speech

What will Gore discuss at SLA? One hopes for a few words directly pertaining to the role of librarianship--collecting and providing access to information, and the future of the internet.

With the release of his new book shortly before the conference, one can expect the bulk of his speech will address his standard laundry list. I feel comfortable in predicting he will say what he has always said: he will state the case for a politically liberal position on policy issues that are hotly disputed in the public arena. And he will attempt to persuade his audience to believe that the facts support his position and contradict his opponents.

Gore is an evangelist for the standard liberal viewpoint that man-made global warming is threatening the future viability of the planet. Conservatives generally disagree with that hypothesis. At this stage, it's a matter of personal belief. The science is not in, but the politics are. No scientist can say with any certainty that global warming is caused by man or is part of a natural process (the recent politicization of The Weather Channel notwithstanding). That is the debate, and it is ongoing, regardless of what Gore may or may not say in Denver.

The Assault on Reason, Indeed

"The Assault on Reason," Gore's new book, promises to explain how "the public arena has grown more hostile to reason," and how solving problems such as global warming is impeded by a political culture with a pervasive "unwillingness to let facts drive decisions." But this is the hoary pout of frustrated politicians, isn't it? The reason I can't get my way is because my opponents won't listen to the truth or the facts, which are all on my side. The title itself intimates a hit job on the political right, supported by carefully chosen statistics. Well, one can hope it isn't that bad.

As a librarian, I consider it a waste of my time to listen to politicians sermonize on science because they are out of their league. A politician qua politician is bad enough; but a politician qua scientist is just about unbearable. I would consider it insulting if he actually did that and veered off-topic with a speech highlighting his theories of global warming and the like, instead of focusing on some aspect of information. Like all politicians without the appropriate academic credentials, Gore has a superficial understanding of science and isn't qualified to voice any final pronouncements on its behalf, or, God help us, behave like an evangelist for the cause célèbre of the day. Gore draws paychecks from Apple and Google; with any luck, his comments will revolve within their circles.

ALA Lite

ALA, the American Library Association, infamously has tilted to a precipitous degree to far left politics--to the detriment of its role as a national library association. Any position that strays away from neutrality is not in the best interests of the librarians or the library profession itself. How different is SLA from ALA? Bill Clinton was invited to speak at SLA in 2005, but eventually backed out. Now Gore is coming. No Republican or conservative politician on a comparable level has been seen at the annual conference as a counterweight. If a steady parade of liberal lawmakers marches through the conference, the association can't pretend to be politically nonaligned, and it won't be viewed that way, either. SLA can only diminish its name and reputation if it continues on this course. An association defines itself to some extent by its choice of guests (for example, if the keynoter at every SLA annual conference were a communist, that would tell the world a lot about it).

The press release about Gore's appearance seems to go beyond mere marketing promotion and suggests SLA agreement with his positions. If SLA intends to be a lite version of ALA--meaning unmistakably liberal in its politics on a smaller scale with a smaller membership, it would then make sense to enfold SLA within ALA because the raison d'être for its existence (and its continued viability) becomes problematic the more it shadows ALA.

The invitation to Gore, and the absence of any conservative politicians, raises a few uneasy questions about SLA and how it views itself. Perhaps the list of speakers to be invited to the 2008 conference in Seattle will answer them.