Digital Odyssey 2011

Last Friday I attended Digital Odyssey 2011, the annual one-day conference organized by OLITA (Ontario Library and Information Technology Association). The theme of the conference was E-book [R]evolution, and the program was packed.

The opening keynote was delivered by Eric Hellman, who talked about “Why libraries exist: transitioning from print to e-books”. He began with some background information on the e-books industry, then went on to talk about the economics of lending libraries, and why he felt that e-book lending programs will not be able to exist forever. (His argument: publishers have used DRM to create artificial scarcity, as well imposing what he calls the “inconvenience barrier” by making it far easier for individual consumers to buy an e-book than it is to borrow an e-book from a library collection). He expressed the opinion that libraries must look to space, people, and community, rather than obsessing over e-book collections.

After the keynote, I attended a panel discussion on the popularity of e-book readers. Crystal Rose, a librarian from the Memorial University Library, shared her library’s experience with its e-books pilot project. It was a nice follow-up to Hellman’s keynote. Rose observed that there is a real disconnect between the commercial success of e-books versus the dissatisfaction of academic e-book users, probably because many publishers and vendors of academic e-books simply aren’t, or won’t, make their products available or easy to use in a mobile platform.  Yet, the convenience of getting popular reading material for mobile devices from an individual consumer’s perspective has spillover effects into academia, as library users expect e-book access from library collections to be just as simple as e-books on mobile apps or dedicated readers.

Then there were the thunder talks presented by a number of different librarians and teacher librarians across Ontario. I learned that OLITA actually ran a technology lending library program, which makes devices like dedicated e-book readers available to libraries. I heard about the Oakville Public Library’s eReader lending program, which makes 5 e-book readers, with unique sets of e-book titles preloaded to the devices, available for signing out. I also learned about one of the schools in the Niagara District School Board implementing an e-books and e-book reader program in a bid to encourage reluctant readers to pick up a book through the draw of technology.

In the afternoon, I attended the workshop “Creating ePub documents”, led by Diane Bédard and Walter Lewis of Knowledge Ontario. We worked with Dreamweaver and Calibre to modify text files into HTML files, then converted the HTML files into ePub books, complete with metadata and basic features like book covers, illustrations, and hyperlinked table of contents. Although I was already familiar with basic HTML, Dreamweaver and Calibre prior to the workshop, I learned that there were elements of Calibre that I had never exploited before, and that HTML and ePub shared more similarities than I had thought. Now I can’t wait for an opportunity to put my new-found ePub creation skills to work.

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