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Amazon Library Processing Prepares Books for Library Shelves
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Posted On August 7, 2006
By now, every book reader must have received at least one box from Amazon emblazoned with the Amazon swoosh and the slogan "And You're Done." Now libraries can order books and other media, such as CDs and DVDs, from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com) and receive the material ready to go from box to shelf, ensuring that libraries too—like Amazon-aholic individuals everywhere—are done. The Amazon Library Processing program provides Machine-Readable Cataloging (MARC) records from partnering organizations and also pretaped Mylar jackets for hardback books, spine labels, bar codes, and other services. Amazon expects this end-to-end processing service to reduce library overhead costs—at least when buying from Amazon. Partners in the program are The Library Corp. (TLC; http://www.tlcdelivers.com), Marcive, Inc. (http://www.marcive.com), and OCLC (http://www.oclc.org).

To receive the new services, libraries must set up corporate accounts. (Corporate accounts cover all kinds of institutional buying, not just private sector companies.) Librarians can tailor the services to match their needs by creating a Processing Profile (http://www.amazon.com/processing), or more than one, e.g., if libraries have arrangements with multiple vendors. Each profile can be customized at will, including applying it to specific orders. The processing page also describes—and connects to—a range of other services aimed at libraries and corporate accounts.

Once activated, services come from both Amazon and a cataloging partner. Amazon provides the Mylar jacketing for most hardcover books, though some books may not have binding that fits the standard jackets and some Amazon fulfillment centers may not be equipped to handle Library Processing. Cataloging partners supply the MARC records and send them directly to libraries. Label and bar code information is forwarded by the cataloging partner to Amazon, which then includes it in the shipment of materials. Amazon estimates that Library Processing will add approximately 3 days to the delivery time. Librarians can choose not to apply the feature for specific items.

At present, materials available for the Library Processing program include books, CDs, videos, and DVDs. Electronic books, electronic documents, and software are excluded from the program. Tony Small, senior manager of corporate accounts working with libraries in particular, recognized that this limit on the corporate account program is a problem for libraries and said that they "hope to address the problem in the near future." Used or out-of-print books may also present a challenge. For librarians seeking this kind of material, the Alibris for Libraries program (http://www.alibris.com/librarians/librarians-home.cfm) promises strong support, including flexible payment options, consolidated shipping, and custom tools for managing replacement and collection development projects.

Another interesting feature available for corporate accounts through Amazon is the Bulk Buying Tool. Though Amazon states that it now cannot offer discounts for buying in quantity, it does let corporate account users load a list of ASIN or ISBNs and get images or ratings for products. Users can then select items, add them to their shopping cart, and e-mail the lists to others in their organizations, e.g., branch librarians or patrons.

Partner Support Differs

The Library Processing service has three established partners: TLC with its BiblioFile OnDemand service, Marcive Constant Cataloger, and OCLC Collection Management Services' PromptCat. According to Small, Amazon has no immediate plans to expand the partnership to other vendors, but it may in coming years.

Library liaison for OCLC's PromptCat, Robin Buser, pointed out that OCLC has the largest array of MARC records. Phyllis Spies, vice president of OCLC Collection Management Services, said: "Now, libraries that buy books and other materials from Amazon.com will automatically receive the corresponding catalog record delivered from OCLC, have their holdings set in WorldCat, and receive labels from Amazon.com. This is an added benefit for libraries with an OCLC cataloging subscription; the service will be provided at no additional charge."

The OCLC PromptCat system (http://www.oclc.org/promptcat) has been delivering MARC cataloging information to OCLC cataloging subscribers at the same time as the delivery of the content items for around 10 years, Buser told me. It has 28 library vendor participating partners already in place, but Amazon represents the first general bookselling vendor added to the program. Buser indicted that OCLC has "excellent relations with all our partners" and doesn't expect that to change.

OCLC's new Open WorldCat site (http://www.worldcat.org) will carry a Buy It Now option that connects to Baker & Taylor and Amazon. The Buy It Now feature has been available for some time in the OCLC.org service with Amazon joining in November 2005. When users buy books through this link, part of the revenue goes to support the Open WorldCat program. Libraries purchasing material can get credits to reduce their OCLC bills. [Editor's Note: For more information on the new OCLC service, see Paula Hane's NewsBreak, "OCLC to Open WorldCat Searching to the World," http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16951.]

Amazon too offers a Buy the Book link to affiliates. When I asked Small how many library Web sites had joined this program, he could not provide exact numbers, but pointed out that "several major library procurement vendors, e.g., SIRSI and Innovative Interfaces, have associate enabling or will have. The scenario is that the patron comes to the library Web site to get a book and wants to get it quick. If they buy the book from Amazon, the library gets a percent[age] of the purchase price."

TLC's BiblioFile OnDemandservice supports preference profiles that specify MARC records only or MARC records and labels. It offers labels in spine or pocket modes (or both), customizable by font and classification scheme. TLC customers can change processing options at will, view information placed in the last 60 days, and re-download any MARC records that did not successfully transmit.

Marcive's MARC records come from the Library of Congress, the National Library of Canada, and other sources. If a MARC record does not exist, Marcive will create a mini-MARC record with author, title, publication date, and additional information where available. For audiovisual media items, Marcive can tap its marc4media database or, if necessary, create a record using Amazon's information. Whatever the route, Marcive guarantees a 100-percent fill rate for every title ordered from Amazon and will customize records to suit each library's requirements. It also supplies bar codes and spine label sets for Amazon delivery.

The Constant Cataloger, software available to Marcive subscribers at no additional charge, will supply an ordering route for all these services. And, interestingly, the service will work with an array of online bookstores besides Amazon, e.g., barnesandnoble.com, Powells.com, Borders, Inc., Half.com, Inc., Alibris, Abebooks, Inc., BiggerBooks, and even eBay. As librarians browse and order books, the Constant Cataloger continually checks Marcive's databases, signals a match, and maintains an ongoing list of records available for editing and delivery by Marcive the next business day. Librarians with a Marcive four- or eight-character ID code need only set up an online or paper profile.

Amazon Heading Your Way

Greg Greeley, Amazon's vice-president of books, stated: "Amazon.com is proud to offer libraries this seamless, end-to-end processing service which will make it even easier for libraries to shop with us." Small described the year-and-a-half project that led to the new initiative: Amazon set out to find and create projects and features that would appeal to librarians, such as the other services found on its Library Store page (http://www.amazon.com/libraries), by conducting an extensive series of interviews with librarians—"a total of 150 one-on-one interviews," according to Small—as well as focus groups, follow-up discussions, and interactions with library vendors. "In exploring the space to identify the most expedient way to serve the library market," said Small, "we determined this [the Library Processing service] was something we wanted to do and needed to do. Librarians were asking for it loudly."

Though Small could not divulge Amazon's share of the library market, he did say that it has "about 10,000 library customers purchasing from us regularly. It's an active customer base." Small could not comment on Amazon's future plans for servicing the library market, but he did reveal that "the initial interviews were not limited to Library Processing. We're interested in a wide range of things. We know that libraries everywhere use us daily as a reference tool. Patrons come in with a printout of an Amazon book page and librarians type in the URL as a jump-off point. We have the attention of librarians. Now we need to see what we can do to make buying from us more enjoyable." Other services to libraries already provided by Amazon include online invoicing, approval slips, and facilitating libraries selling weeded books to used booksellers.

In discussing the present initiative, Small described the double role of their library partners. The first, of course, was backing up the service, but the second—which Small described as "just as important"—was educating Amazon ("we are relatively green into this space") in the "huge detailed requirements of libraries." The company has found it "really nice to partner with companies with decades of experience to make sure we can deliver what our customers need."

With Amazon's record of responding to what customers need—particularly in reading, listening, and watching material—seeing what they can do for libraries should be interesting. Seeing what established library vendors start doing to keep Amazon from doing too well in this space could be interesting as well—and potentially profitable for libraries.


Barbara Quint was senior editor of Online Searcher, co-editor of The Information Advisor’s Guide to Internet Research, and a columnist for Information Today.


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