What’s the worst part of reading nonfiction? Is it having to sit through an entire, exhausting book? Is it having to look at words with your eyes? Maybe both of those obstacles leave you daunted. Blinkist is here to help.
The German startup first brought its app to the American market last year, offering bite-sized distillations of nonfiction books for time-crunched readers. Broken down into short sections called “blinks,” each book’s summary only takes around 15 minutes to read.
Now, Blinkist is going multimedia -- the company is launching an audio version for readers who want a hands-free, eyes-free source of factoids from popular publications. The Blinkist audio editions will also clock in at 15 minutes per book. You can “read”Freakonomics, Outliers and A Brief History of Time in the space of a 45-minute commute -- imagine what you could do on the commute home. What’s not to like?
The startup touts their audio blinks as another solution for an age in which reading is on the decline, citing the average amount of time per day Americans spend reading (19 minutes) versus watching TV (2.8 hours). “Now, with the introduction of audio to the Blinkist app, it’s even less effort for users to fit more reading and learning into their days,” the press release argues.
Of course, the further the activity gets from reading a book, the harder it is to comfortably describe using Blinkist as “reading.” Does listening to nuggets of curated info drawn from popular nonfiction books qualify as reading? Is it really any different from listening to a podcast or radio show? Similarly, is scrolling through “blinks” of data from the book any more substantial reading than 15 minutes of standard web article browsing?
Blinkist cofounder Holger Seim says yes. Well, sort of. Other forms of media, such as radio and podcasts, he argued in an email, don’t allow users to “continuously consume key ideas of a particular book they might have heard about and want to know more about.” The central takeaways of the book, not the act of reading or the digestion of the complex ideas throughout the text, are the key.
Proponents of in-depth reading may question whether this sort of highly pared-down insight from a book can offer real learning or intellectual benefit, given that it strips the “takeaways” of the work from context and eliminates the patient work of synthesis needed to read and comprehend a full book. Moreover, though data on reading methods is inconclusive overall, studies have suggested that both listening to audiobooks and screen reading can lead to poorer comprehension and memory retention, especially in the long-term. Without the ability to mentally map facts onto the page where they appeared, or to easily scan ahead or circle back in the text, it appears to be more difficult for readers to process the knowledge being imparted and commit it solidly to memory. Reading on a small screen and removing helpful context seem likely to have similar effects, as experts in the field have suggested.
But Seim suggested Blinkist doesn’t need to carry all the benefits of reading a full book to be an asset to book-lovers. By giving a brief teaser of full-length books, the app could help users determine which ones they might want to sit down with and read the old-fashioned way. Seim pointed to an internal survey of users which showed 50 percent claimed to use Blinkist to find new books to read in full. "Forty-two percent state that Blinkist helps them to read more books again," he noted. Only 9 percent claimed to use the app to read fewer full books.
Even if readers just use the summaries as quick shots of knowledge rather than as book discovery avenues, this could just mean they’re enriching otherwise lost time -- while driving, exercising, or doing chores -- rather than replacing real reading with the app. As for the learning efficacy of the app, Seim says Blinkist plans to target this area for study in the coming year. For an app geared toward efficient continuing education, solid data on whether education actually occurs will be vital. In the meantime, however, while it's hard to swallow that we're living in a time when books can be repackaged as 15-minute soundbite packages to listen to on the treadmill, let's remember the positive: Any service that encourages us to discover and consider reading more books is a plus for publishing.
Take a look at our libraries, and you can read us like a book. Mention public services, and the mind leaps to healthcare or police, or maybe garbage collection, transit or road repairs. Mention a library, and many people will think of a dusty building filled with endless shelves of battered tomes. They’d be wrong, at least nowadays.
But library services need to be at the forefront of modern public services, sweeping away that dusty old image, and here’s why. Libraries are far more important than many people think. They unlock our potential to learn, and modern times have seen them branch out to far more than just books.
In Toronto, for example, public library staff report that 72 per cent of citizens visited a library within the past year, with individual “uses” — and that’s in every imaginable way — hitting almost 97 million in 2013. Interestingly, the city’s engagement with paper books has been dropping steadily. In the decade to 2013, use of collections in-person at libraries dropped by 27.3 per cent. But the use of electronic collections, including e-books, doubled in 2011, then 2012 and again in 2013. They now represent 10 per cent of the circulation of books in Toronto’s libraries.
The trend is not limited to big cities. In neighbourhoods across Canada, libraries are feeding the appetite for information in the information age.
A library is still a way to find information, but you can also make connections, attend events, hear music, access the Internet and more. There are educational programs, art exhibits, reading clubs, talks and social gatherings. You can find 3-D printers, toys and havens for newcomers, new mothers and the elderly. Canada spends more than $1 billion a year on libraries from public funds, at different levels of government, and has done so every year since 2008-09, according to Statistics Canada, and that shows the degree to which we value these institutions.
Calgary’s building a beautiful new central library, at a cost of $245 million, with a four-storey central atrium and a huge skylight to shed light on the more than half a million books the place will hold when it’s completed in 2018.
Halifax’s new central library, costing more than $50 million, opens next week, and the excitement level is high.
Investment in library services is a measure of a society, and Canada’s investment is in the future. With newcomers pouring in every year — in 2013, this country welcomed more than 270,000 new permanent residents alone — the need to learn is greater than ever before.
When the people of Canada improve themselves, Canada improves. So, as municipalities get ready to set their budgets for the coming year, they need to be kind to their libraries.
The biggest challenges for libraries online may not be in the policy questions, nor with web design, but with library management.
by: Peter Brantley
To work in a library in the early 21st century is to live amid a swirl of contradictions, as technological advances frequently outpace our organizational efforts to deliver the very services such advances enable. Delivering on the promise of technology requires us to grasp the future quickly, and to build organizations that can make the broadest and most positive impacts, while curbing technology’s ill effects. And there is perhaps no better example of these challenges than the library website.
Most library websites today are a loosely joined array of silos: catalogue discovery, event listings, kids’ programs, and interfaces for media, music, and e-books. But with the rise of mobile access, web design has seen a fundamental shift, from presenting static information to allowing interaction and helping people define what is most important to them, wherever they are. This is fundamentally changing the ways libraries approach their websites. And it is presenting a challenge to library administrators, as the functionality and interactivity possible today can often clash with long-held library values and ideas about information control.
It’s a common problem in the digital age: as librarians design new web services, we often quickly outstrip the library’s ability to maintain a cohesive web presence. The results so far have been the creation of digital collections portals, which are usually splintered off from the main library site. But as we leave behind the old website model of layout, hierarchy, and site navigation, we must now consider what information our users actually want, and how to deliver it to them efficiently.
For example, the New York Public Library (NYPL), with 92 branches, has built a new standalone geographically responsive web app called Locations, designed specifically to support mobile patrons. It can alert users to events and offerings at the branch closest to them in real time, wherever they stand in the city. And as we work to provide as many services as possible to users now holding smartphones with vast computing power, it is possible that the Locations app could “eat” all the other features that the library offers.
But the design and development of new, feature-rich web services such as Locations runs headlong into a number of challenges. One prominent example is our struggle to define privacy for patrons of a 21st-century library (a topic that I will be return to repeatedly in this column).
Privacy in the digital age is something quite different than it used to be. Rather than refusing to collect information about what patrons are doing (libraries are always collecting data), the struggle is to give users more control over the data that websites and services collect about them in the first place.
That means preserving anonymity by design wherever possible (for example, in the circulation records of print books) and fostering user awareness and transparent configuration everywhere else. When it comes to online privacy, we must protect the user, but we also want to deliver services, like NYPL does with Locations.
This is why current web design focuses on “cards” instead of pages. Cards are visual design elements that present users with opportunities to interact with specific information, thereby prioritizing the topics of greatest interest.
A card on a future library mobile site, for example, might recognize me when I log in, know that my home branch is in the West Village of Manhattan, and alert me to a reading there this evening by an author whose e-books I have often checked out. Within that card, I could decide to register for that event, or dismiss it. If I choose to attend, the app could handle my registration (since the library holds my profile information) and ask for verification of my payment information if there is a fee or suggested donation.
Once I arrive at the library, the app will know that I have arrived, and it can show me an alert card with a map leading me to the event space, with another card showing an essay in an online journal that the author will be discussing, and yet another card noting that my friends Erin and Allen are also present. I can even send them a text message using the same card, to let them know I’m there. And when I leave, the app can ask if I want to borrow the author’s latest work.
Sounds powerful, right? While such an application would surely generate a few serious policy issues for libraries, make no mistake: it is well within our reach.
The biggest challenge to such a powerful online future for libraries may not be in the policy questions, nor in the design, but with library management. That’s because for many library managers, “there’s no there, there.”
Managers might wonder: where is the site layout? Where is the navigation? In this sense, a library’s website design is a mirror of its organizational soul. And this basic miscommunication between modern web design and traditional library management is the tip-off that the struggle to define new library services is not just about setting policy, and certainly not about technology, but about organization.
The older framework for managing a library website (like the library organization itself) was centered on information control: that is, controlling which information is presented to the user, and how that information is structured. Today, however, the focus is on enabling users to do new things.
Certainly there can be compromise. But a fundamental question looms: how do you build a library where librarians and staff can think and act collaboratively, working toward services and interactions across silos, focusing on what people want rather than what the library thinks it should do?
Business schools have long maintained that organizations have not done enough to challenge our traditional structures, or the ways we evaluate performance. This is surely among the greatest challenges facing libraries. How do we make our libraries nimble? How do we empower our staff as they strive to empower our users?
The retail colossus is aiming to recruit fan fiction writers with their own
ambitions to sell, but Wattpad is winning users who want to share
by: Victoria James
It’s a cheerful orange giant stuffed with fan fiction and smileys which can
garner a billion reads for an erotic One Direction story – scoring 25-year-old
Texan Anna Todd a six-figure
publishing deal in the process. But Wattpad also has a serious side as a
thriving culture of original writing, with a small but steady flow of authors
finding mainstream success with Big Six publishers such as Random House and
Harper Collins. Half a dozen of these authors are getting together in the real
world mid-December, at Wattpad’s first UK
convention. The site has attracted more than 40 million users around the
globe. No surprise, then, that Amazon has decided it wants a piece of the
The internet shopping site has just launched its own social reading and
writing platform, Kindle WriteOn, a move characterised by Reddit co-founder
Alexis Ohanian as “trying to eat
[Wattpad’s] lunch”. WriteOn is currently in invite-only beta mode, but all
you need for access is the online equivalent of a Masonic handshake – a code
passed to you from someone on the inside.
On first impressions, it looks remarkably like Wattpad, just less orange. But
WriteOn is making a clear play for writers of original fiction with publishing
ambitions. It bills itself as “a story lab” where “you can get support and
provide feedback at every stage of the creative process.” And while Wattpad’s
reader comments tend to be short and sweet, WriteOn is designed for in-depth
critique. Feedback submissions have a whopping 10,000-character limit. Imagine
how many :D and <3 can="" for="" get="" p="" that.="" you="">
So far the fan fiction category appears unloved – “0 reads 0 likes 0 follows
0 comments” is the pitiless tally of a bowtie-themed “crossover” between Dr Who
and the Thor movieverse. Perhaps the invitations haven’t yet reached fan fiction
fans, or maybe the problem is the space Amazon built for fanfic writers last
Kindle Worlds peddles that joyless oxymoron “licensed fan fiction”, whereby
fans adhere to rules set by the copyright holder and sell their story through
Kindle. All three get a cut of the sale. Yet 18 months after Kindle Worlds
launched, only 679 stories are available for purchase. Amazon assumed that
fanfic writers wanted a marketplace, when what they love most is a no-rules
With 150m Amazon accounts already in existence, the retailer will be hoping
WriteOn builds on the success of its Kindle Direct Publishing platform for indie
authors, adding a social element to a publishing phenomenon.
Wattpad faces the opposite challenge: to deliver a return on investment for
backers who earlier this year put in $46m (£29m) of fresh
funding. For now, it’s focused on doing that the way it knows best:
socially. “Our near-term priority should be building a great social product and
growing the global community of Wattpadders,” CEO and cofounder Allen Lau tells
me. His goal is to take the site to a billion users.
Though ambitious, that might just be achievable. As an enthusiastic Wattpad
user myself, I can testify to the speed with which the site draws you in. As
investor Tripp Jones of August Capital says by email, it exerts “a powerful
network effect … which makes the company extremely difficult to compete with,
even for competitors with next-to-infinite resources”. Who could he possibly
mean? Or as Wattpaddicts might say: “(¬_¬) LOL.”3>
by: Marc Benjamin The image of the shy librarian who points you to the latest novel or reference materials is getting a makeover by the Fresno County library system. The new-styled librarian is bolting out from behind the counter to meet Fresno County business owners and organizations and showcase library services.
Seven Fresno County librarians are fanning out in brand new Toyota Priuses to meet one-on-one with business owners or nonprofits, attend community events and inform the public about free services the library system offers.
The Library Without Walls (WoW!) program has been under way for about nine months but reached full staffing in September. It grew out of an analysis of library services and users through which county library officials learned that only 35% of county residents use the system. Overall, the system has had a 46% drop in reference questions from 2005 to 2012.
But 100% of taxpayers pay for the library, said Fresno County librarian Laurel Prysiazny, so “if our putting people out in the field moves that needle, then we are doing a good job.”
Library Without Walls is designed to offer a one-on-one approach to show library services to residents so they can see the research and online tools the library has available for free.
The work could be as basic as giving customers a phone number for getting information from the library, or going door-to-door to Fresno County businesses, or speaking with nonprofit organizations. The assignments also could be more complex, such as setting up computers outside a grocery store and making library cards, helping someone with an online business or setting up a makeshift library in socioeconomically challenged areas.
The program costs about $800,000 annually, paid for with revenue from voter-approved Measure B and the library system’s annual taxpayer funding.
It’s a project that’s gaining attention statewide.
Diane Satchwell, executive director of the Southern California Library Cooperative, said Library Without Walls is “treading new ground.”
She said there may be small geographic pockets where similar programs are being tried, but not to the extent of the Fresno County project.
“She (Prysiazny) has taken it up a notch,” Satchwell said, “especially in the rural areas because it gets to people who wouldn’t traditionally know all about library services … and outreach is critical to show the relevance of the library and the tremendous amount of resources at your fingertips.”
Greg Lucas, the California State Librarian, describes Fresno County’s Library Without Walls as among the more innovative programs in California.
“It touches on all the things libraries are and should be in the 21st century,” he said. “Every day I hear we live in an information economy, and this program shows that the most important place for getting hooked up with reliable information is the library.”
On the road
But being outside the library presents its challenges. The librarians make cold calls from the office and canvass door-to-door seeking customers.
“Making cold calls is so much different,” said Terrance McArthur, a librarian for 11 years. “We were really library-centric ... it was a completely different interface with the public compared with what we’re doing now.”
Rejection, at first, was a little hard to take. “One guy told me just keep on walking,” said Mark Berner, a 13-year librarian, who along with McArthur has been walking the Library Without Walls beat for most of the year.
“Sometimes they’re really friendly,” he said. “Sometimes they look at you kind of strange.”
Berner initially wasn’t sure he was cut out for the job, but as time went on he adjusted, learning that certain business owners assume that the person entering their business is usually trying to sell them something.
At first, the Library Without Walls librarians took a team approach to meeting new people. It wasn’t always successful.
“We used to go out in groups,” Berner said. “Four or five of us walking into a business and the guy would say ‘what church are you from?’ and we’d say ‘no, we’re from the library.’ It was really a matter of learning before we started going out individually.”
Another librarian even aroused suspicion in one Fresno County town.
Librarian Jennifer Bethel said she was walking around Caruthers introducing the program and representing the library. It wasn’t long before she learned someone had reported her to the local library branch.
And not everyone made the cut, said Susan Mann, the program’s field services manager.
“We started with a group of librarians drafted out of the branches and, for various reasons, some people moved on to other positions,” she said.
Part of the problem, she said, is that librarian school teaches cataloging, research skills and program organizing, but not lessons in communications and social outreach.
“We never learn how to proactively interact with community members who don’t know what we do,” Mann said. “Library school focuses you on techniques and skills specific to the job, not how you go out in the community.”
Art of the sale
The normal mindset of a librarian is a major reason why Without Walls librarians are participating in community engagement classes — a process similar to sales training — even though librarians aren’t selling anything.
They regularly meet at Sandler Training in downtown Fresno, where they are taught to “develop skills that have not been part of a librarian’s role,” said facilitator Dale Bierce.
In a recent training session, he told librarians to “see yourselves differently, see the role of a librarian differently.”
He said the librarians were required to add new skills that have not been part of their usual jobs. The Library Without Walls program is still trying to find its identity, he said, and it will be the librarians who will guide it through that evolution.
“We started with baby steps, ‘go out and call five people and we’ll talk about it,’ ” Bierce said. “It was pretty slow going until July or August before they got good at it and started getting positive responses. It bolstered self-esteem and they became more active.”
But, it’s also an adjustment for the customer learning the librarian is coming to them, Bierce said, and it may take repeat trips before the customer understands.
“I have to believe people have no idea this approach is out there and they don’t think about it until you’re there for the third or fourth time,” he said.
Much of Bierce’s training advises the librarians not to fear failure and to listen to the customer.
He said the first group of librarians didn’t get fully acclimated until they started getting positive feedback.
“All of them now will tell you they enjoy it, they feel valued and they get a kick out of going out and calling on people,” Bierce said. “They’ve come out of their shells and become more outgoing and they now see themselves as ambassadors/evangelists for the library and all the resources that they offer.”
Business people also could soon be Library Without Walls ambassadors if the experiences of Wholesale Equipment vice president Darren Eskew are any indication. His company sells and rents forklifts and trucks.
He said the reference tools McArthur showed him — which would be costly for him to buy — is helping his company find customers.
“You are able to go to your county library and as long as you have a library card you can access Reference USA,” he said. “The benefits of having the library card is that it gives you access to a very powerful tool. The list of how you can use it is endless.”
Using specific search criteria, his sales staff is learning locations of potential customers and training in Reference USA’s applications.
“We’ve been able to pinpoint companies for selling to that you don’t always find driving down the road,” he said. “You’d be surprised how many of our guys drove by a place and didn’t even know a business was there. You pretty much think you’ve covered everybody and then make a list in your territory and find a couple thousand customers potentially. If you combined all of our dealerships, it could in the thousands.”
For librarians, it’s been a bit of a learning curve, but the customer service theme is starting to rub off, said Emily Campbell, one of the newer librarians in the program.
“When you’re working in a branch, people know what they’re looking for and you know what you have to offer,” said Campbell, one of three newer librarians in the program. “But with what we do, everything is a possibility and we don’t really know what we’re offering when we start the conversation because we have to hear from the customer — what they do and what they need.”
Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2014/11/27/4257990_fresno-county-librarians-leave.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy
While some people are slowly walking home through the neon-lit streets, or getting ready to hit the club scene, others are on their way to a more unusual nocturnal hangout - a bookstore.
The Eslite store in central Taipei opens 24 hours and has more night owl visits than most Western bookstores could dream of during their daytime hours.
Here, young and old sit side-by-side on small steps or around reading tables, deeply engrossed in literary worlds.
Others stand and some sit on the floor, all reading in hushed silence as soft classical music seeps out from the speakers.
"People in Taipei do many things by night," says Wan Hsuan Chang, a teacher who sits on a step in the middle of the store, skimming through the children's classic "When Marnie Was There" by Joan G Robinson.
"You can go to the night market, shopping or nightclubbing. I read," she adds, before telling me to keep my voice down.
"There are people trying to concentrate on their books here."
The Eslite Group, that runs the five-story store, opened its first branch in Taipei in 1989. Today, 25 years on, the company runs 42 stores in Taiwan, one in Hong Kong and has ambitious plans to expand in China.
The chain's rise comes at a time when bookstores in the United States and Europe are struggling to survive, with some forced to shut down due to growing pressure from online competitors like Amazon.
Eslite has hit upon a concept to dodge this trend - making the store as much a place for books as it is for design, fashion and home styling, small cafes and restaurants. Itreported revenue of around $425 million in 2013, with books accounting for some 40 percent of sales, according to company spokesman Timothy Wang. Sales are expected to increase by almost eight percent this year. Hipsters and bookworms The mix of literature and design has made the store and hangout for hipsters as well as bookworms, allowing the company to shrug off the challenges of the digital age. "It is our belief that the more digital the society (becomes), the more we treasure the warmth of the interconnection," Wang says. "This core idea makes Eslite barely impacted by the changes of the industry." In some stores, books and products are displayed next to each other at the same table. The 24-hour store at Dunhua Road has five floors, each dedicated to different categories, like fashion, music, food or events. The top floor is all books. Chia Hsiang and Huang Yu Han, two friends from Taipei, are typical customers. They sit in the bookstore cafe sipping hot chocolates and coffee and plan to spend the night gossiping. But why here and not just a bar or restaurant? "It's a cool place, a bit like Soho in New York," Huang says. "Many cool people hang out here. Some come here to read, others just to kill time and meet friends. It's like a place for modern culture and it's close to some of the best nightclubs and bars." Online, many reviewers say the bookstore is a great place to pick up girls or guys, although none of the people I spoke to confessed to that. Censorship? It has also become a magnet for tourists visiting the island, some from the mainland China in search for literature banned under the Communist Party's strict censorship. One of every four visitors to Taiwan visits an Eslite Bookstore, according to the firm. However, Eslite has come under fire over allegations of self-censorshipas it gears up to tap the Chinese market. Earlier this year, the company reportedly stopped selling sensitive books about Tibet and human rights issues, possibly in an attempt to appease Chinese authorities becoming uncomfortable ahead of the planned new stores in Shanghai and Suzhou. The company denied the allegations and I found books by both Wang Lixiong and Tsering Woeser, the supposedly banned dissident writers. It's also no clear whether the company will be able to replicate its 24-hour model outside Taiwan where the bookstores have become a cultural phenomenon. The chain's Hong Kong store revised its round-the-clock schedule after a month-long trial, although it stills opens until 11pm on weekdays and midnight on Friday and Saturday. Counter-intuitive? Eslite's success may seem counter-intuitive especially when it seems most late-night visitors treat it like a library, leaving empty handed after hours of free reading. Eslite's Timothy Wang claims that the business is successful because it creates "a friendly environment" and treats "books as well as visitors with great hospitality." That's good news for Tom Chen, a 30-year-old police officer reading about global manufacturing trends on a recent Friday night. Going out to drink alcohol is too expensive, while reading books at the store is free, he explains. "I love this place. I come here every weekend."
For some people a vacation is about taking time to give your brain a break and have some mindless fun...those aren't the kind of people who visitHay-on-Wye. Also known as "the town of books", this little village in Wales is quite possibly the most charming and simultaneously intellectually stimulating community in the world. Renowned for their many bookstores and annual literature festival (which Bill Clinton once called "the Woodstock of the Mind"), Hay is a bookworm's dream come true.
The town didn't just become a literary mecca overnight-- it all started with one man and one bookshop. In 1961, Richard Booth opened his first used bookshop in an old firehouse. Shortly after, he heard that a lot of libraries in America were closing, and Booth decided to jump on the opportunity. He set out for the US and stocked up on hundreds of books, shipping them back to town to stock his store's shelves. Soon, other businesses in town decided to get in on the action and began selling books themselves.
There are bookshops that specialize in certain topics, like rare, out of print children's books or tomes on beekeeping. The most whimsical shops, however, are the so-called "honesty bookstores". They're basically shelves and shelves of books lining the streets and sidewalks, out in the open, that operate on the honor system, so to speak. Anyone who so chooses can select a book and drop some money in the little moneybox. They're all over town-- there's even an honesty bookstore on the grounds of one of Hay's two castles. Hay-on-Wye is also home to Hay Literature Festival each May, which attracts thousands of bookworms and authors to the tiny village.
In addition to having 40+ bookstores, the town is also just plain adorable. Did I mention that they have castles? Because they do, and they're both gorgeous. After you're done getting lost amongst the bookstores and book shelves of Hay, you can cozy up just about anywhere and get lost in the pages of an unfamiliar volume.