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Sometimes I get impatient for certainty.

March 25, 2013

Mostly, I want to offer it to you.

For example: I wish the ebook marketplace were settled, such that libraries could buy everything, and on straightforward terms.

As you may know, libraries can’t buy every book in ebook form, even if it exists that way. For a while, the big publishers wouldn’t sell ebooks to libraries. Then, different options began to appear.

An ebook you buy for fifteen bucks, might cost us eighty or a hundred. Or, the ebook is only good for one year. Or, we can only check it out 26 times. Or, 52 times.

As you may know, the ebook experience varies with device and user ability. It’s even more complicated with downloadable audiobooks—maybe not for you, if you have a setup that works, but for us, trying to figure out where in the combination of computer hardware, software, Internet service, digital audio player, and user understanding something went wrong.

Ah, there were a few golden years in the good old days when we were able to buy or borrow everything requested of us. If we didn’t already have something, then we decided either to buy it or borrow it. It seemed everything could be had.

Of course, in those golden years, we did less than half the check-outs we do now. Things were simpler. So there are trade-offs.

Now, with our connections to the Marmot Library Network (1.4 million items) and the Prospector network (30 million items), you can even place your own requests. Often it’s only a matter of days and your requests show up at the library.

We have direct access to the collections of many libraries, plus an efficient courier service to move the stuff around, and it feels like a marvelous supermarket.

It’s a world that is plentiful, responsive, and easy … until it’s not. A trade-off for connecting all these different library systems is that there are more ways for things go wrong. It’s amazing it works at all, much less as well as it does.

So we have a lot more stuff coming through, most of it faster than ever before, but the error rate is a little higher, perhaps. Not “perhaps,” it is. And for some reason, tolerance for the experience of error is going down.

It’s the same with digital devices and services—lots of stuff can be had instantly, until something goes wrong and it all comes to a stop. Expectations rise with instant gratification, but they rise unreasonably.

Our digital world is ever new, and new things are imperfect. There are good reasons they don’t come out with new models of airplanes every year.

So the digital world can stop, usually not for long, but long is relative. Ever get impatient waiting for your order in a McDonald’s? (I don’t mean now, because no doubt you cook all your food from local produce, but maybe sometime in the past.)

A lot of refined procedure goes into an operation that can hand you a fairly complicated meal in minutes. (McDonald’s is not the fastest, either. Wendy’s average drive-through service time is 130 seconds, nearly a minute faster than McDonald’s.)

As you may know, we have some fast food at the library—limited selection, but if we have what you want, it’s like butter. You can borrow ebooks, digital audiobooks, digital magazines (our new “Zinio” service). You can take classes, learn languages, find obscure academic journal references, immediately, and from the comfort of your couch.

Check them out.

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