Sometimes words really do matter

Here's another little post about the Library Leadership Network (LLN)--naturally suggesting that you might want to go look, but also thinking about how it develops and some of the recent content.

Some weeks, most new content goes into existing articles. Some weeks--this past one, for exmaple--most goes into new articles. And some weeks (also including this past one), a new article emerges from pieces of old ones.

For the record, the new articles for the week ("week" being last Monday-Friday, June 22-26, 2009):

  • Advocacy and marketing begins with thoughtful commentaries on advocacy from Leigh Ann Vrabel and char booth.
  • In the interests of coherence and article length, commentaries on problems with ebook readers now appear in Ebook reader problems and issues--including a major new section on DRM and how it's biting some Kindle fans.
  • Charging for services offers a new take on a long-standing issue, along with a fair number of comments on "Freemium" services.
  • What makes an innovative idea actionable? Nina Simon offers a thoughtful new perspective on that issue in a new addition to Innovation and control.

That's three new articles and one updated article. What does this have to do with words and their meaning?

Advocacy, marketing and ebooks

In the case of the Charging... article, not much. Discussions of whether and how public libraries can or should charge for "premium" services date back many years. I've always had the same response: "Premium" is a slippery slope for a public institution, with "standard" likely to become worse and worse as tax dollars get scarce--and that worsening baseline hurts the people most that public libraries specifically need to serve. Hmm. Maybe that does have something to do with words: what does "premium" (or, Gaia forfend, "freemium") really mean in a public library setting? Is it possible to charge for some services (or faster access to existing services) without directly or indirectly damaging those who can't afford the premium?

But two other articles are the focus of this post.

Advocacy and marketing discusses advocacy for libraries by librarians--and, oddly, is the first article in LLN with advocacy in the title, although I'd guess at least half a dozen of the 39 articles in the Marketing category are primarily about advocacy, not marketing.

Is there a difference? I think so. I don't see how you could call arguing for the use of one particular brand of deodorant over another "advocacy," but you can certainly advocate for the worth of libraries and need for their support. I don't think advocacy requires branding, much less the tendency to regard everything (including ourselves) as brands. The first of the two commentaries in thenew article doesn't find huge differences between "marketing" and "advocacy," but I believe the difference is significant--not only in the lack of pure commercial intent where advocacy is involved, but also in the nature of support. And that's enough for here--go read the article.

The other case is a little different. Ebook reader problems and issues combines some commentaries that were previously in other articles with a new commentary on Kindle-specific DRM issues. The key here, though, is "Ebook reader"--an explicit recognition that a fair amount of confusion is caused by the use of one word for two concepts. Ebooks--let's call them "book-length texts delivered digitally" (although in past years many so-called ebooks have been article-length texts delivered digitally) don't require dedicated reading devices. Ebook readers--dedicated reading devices such as Kindles and Sony Readers--can be used to read things other than, well, ebooks.

But most of the time, in most media (mainstream or otherwise), "ebooks" (or e-books or eBooks or E-books or...) is used to describe both. That's not helpful and can get in the way of understanding.

I'm trying to disambiguate the term, at least at LLN.

I think that's more feasible than any foolish attempt to get people to stop using "leadership" when they mean "management." One of the recent Leader's Digest items summarizes an article about leadership failure--and, as far as I can see, it's really an article about why some managers fail to be leaders. But the magazine in which the article appears has consistently used "leaders" and "leadership" when it means "managers" and "management," and I don't think that's likely to change any time soon...

Anyway, that's this week's musings about how LLN works and changes. (I did mention that it's free and not restricted to librarians, didn't I?)

More like this

A bit of background for those new to Walt at Random The Library Leadership Network (LLN) is "a platform designed to help library leaders (and those who will become leaders) communicate, coordinate, find resources and share information." It's a service of Lyrasis, a large library network formed from…
It would be nice to say that the Library Leadership Network grows through advance planning and scheduled changes. It would also be nonsense. Sure, there's an overall plan (of sorts), but weekly changes tend to be opportunistic--articles grow and change depending on what I encounter and what's…
That's right, you can now get the full text of every Cognitive Daily post via RSS. There's just one catch: You must buy a $399 Amazon Kindle and pay 99 cents (per month, I assume) to subscribe to Cognitive Daily. I don't know if this subscription will allow you to view images, and I'm pretty…
More of you attended this year's ALA Annual Conference than ever before. If the programs I attended (and I attended more programs than usual) and the crowds I saw in exhibits are any indication, you were active at the conference, not just there for the sunshine. (Yes, "active" includes schmoozing;…

the e-books thing is confusing. I went to a conference session on them and it was all about Kindle and other specialty devices. Nearly 100% of the ebooks we have (and we keep buying them since we went e-only) don't even work on these specialty devices. They're meant to be read on computers with Acrobat. There's a real difference between the STEM market and the direct-to-reader leisure market but people seem to get confused.

Christina: The ambiguity has generally been a problem ever since the Rocket eBook reader--before that, "ebooks" usually meant electronic texts without regard to device used. It's not just STM; lots of libraries (public and academic) have ebook collections...that, by and large, won't work on ebook devices. I'm trying to be consistent at LLN with "Ebook readers" when referring to Kindle and friends.

(But then, "ebook readers" can also mean "those who read ebooks," as in claims for huge numbers of ebook readers in China and Japan.)