Project Muse is a leading provider of digital scholarship in the humanities and social sciences serving millions of users through its subscription arrangements with some 2,500 libraries. Muse will add more than 12,000 ebooks to the 490 journals in its electronic collection. The launch of the new service will take place on Jan. 1, 2012. Until the end of 2011, Project Muse invites people to try out its new platform integrating searching for both content formats at a beta site. The beta site carries more than 300 ebooks from 27 publishers, plus all the Muse journals. For the journal content, visitors will be limited to what they may already access through Project Muse institutional subscriptions. The ebooks will have free full-text samples during the beta period.
The cross-content, faceted searching platform lets users browse books and journals in side-by-side result displays. The search box on every page has an option for users to choose between books and journals or both. From a result display, users can filter by research area, author, language, authorized accessibility, and—again—by content type. Icons identify the availability status of content to individual users, whether full text, a free sample or open access, or restricted. Dean Smith, director of Project Muse, indicated that they were also considering the addition of public domain items, particularly useful in the humanities and social sciences due to a different dependence on currency than sci-tech studies. However, they had decided not to deal with public domain in the first phase of their ebook integration.
A new hierarchical subject structure is used to assign research areas and sub-disciplines to book as well as journal content. Smith described the process: “Collection development librarians on staff have been assigning subject headings for years, right from the beginning. We put unique subject headings on articles already. Now we are adding them to the new content. We get the BISAC/CIP data for the books from the Library of Congress with their subject headings, but it needs further refinement to the chapter level.”
Users can also browse books and journals by title, publisher, and research area. Results can cover journal articles and books at the chapter level, but multiple results from a single book will appear as a single cumulative entry. Users can choose to drill down within a single book, viewing chapter-level, keyword-in-context (KWIC) snippets, and title details. A “Search Inside This Book” feature allows for discovery within the book content without leaving the title’s main page. The hierarchical research areas assigned from Muse’s new subject structure lead to related books and journals. However, there is no advanced search feature for searching inside a single book.
The new ebooks coming into Muse in 2012 come from the University Press Content Consortium (UPCC), a collaborative of more than 65 major university presses and related scholarly publishers. New Muse books will be released simultaneous with print publication. Initially they will appear only in PDF format, searchable and retrievable at the chapter level. However, according to Wendy Queen, associate director of Project Muse, they plan to add other formats, particularly the EPUB standard, which will give them more control, e.g., allow skimming through full text from one appearance of search terms to another rather than just landing at the beginning of the chapter.
Muse also plans to provide different specific collections, including frontlist, backlist, interdisciplinary, and subject-specific ones available for purchase, with perpetual access rights, unlimited simultaneous usage of book content, no DRM, and no restrictions on printing or downloading, COUNTER-compliant usage statistics, as well as free MARC records. Details on available collections, purchase and lease options, and prices will be announced no later than Oct. 1, 2011. As Smith explains it, “We have an ownership model and a lease model. The ownership is perpetual; the lease is not. No renewal, no ongoing access. We will also introduce a lease-to-own option running 3 years, but just for frontlist titles.”
Project Muse describes itself as a collaboration between libraries and publishers. Muse itself is a partnership between the Johns Hopkins University Press and the Milton Eisenhower Library. Smith pointed out some of the accommodations in the new platform reflecting publisher interests. “When we launch, users who reach the book landing page will see an option to purchase the book, maybe a link to print copies or to buying a single ebook. It depends on the publisher’s decision.” He admits there may be problems ahead, e.g., textbooks. “Publishers are worried about cannibalization of their multiple sales for textbooks, but ebooks are already being adopted for classes. It’s a huge issue. Many presses are keeping textbooks out [of ebook offeirngs]. Libraries may buy 2-3 ebooks but they’ve told us they can’t pay 50 times for ebooks. Publishers are looking for new revenue models.”
“Publishers want their brands to be prominent. This informed some of our platform design decisions. In many other outfits’ search result displays, users can’t even tell if something is a journal article or a book. Users may not track based on publishers, but publishers care a lot.” He also pointed out that offering to show results by publisher may help potential authors, e.g., faculty or post-graduate dissertation writers, identify potential publishers.
The platform is not finished. Project Muse has already scheduled the addition of many new features for its 2012 launch. These include enhanced Related Content links; improved saving, viewing, and exporting of citations, e.g., to citation manager software; content-integrated “More by this Author” links; and emailing, bookmarking, and sharing capabilities. Support for OpenURL functionality and Shibboleth authentication will also be in place by Jan. 1, 2012. Smith said that they were also working to extend links from footnotes and endnotes to full-text content sometime in 2012.
Feedback from beta testers is earnestly requested. Smith stated, “A feedback module appears on the upper right of every screen. In the first 7 days of the beta test, we had 5.1 million hits. Fifty to 100 suggested ‘fixes’ went onto our spreadsheet of future changes. And that doesn’t count the positive feedback.” Queen pointed out that they definitely plan to add publication dates to their book details.
I asked Nancy Herther, anthropology/sociology librarian at the University of Minnesota Libraries, author of a series of Searcher Magazine article on ebooks and ereaders, and an experienced Project Muse user, to kick some tires at the Muse beta site. She liked some things a lot, some just a little, and some not at all. Overall, however, she said, “I’m impressed with the idea behind integrating ebooks and ejournals at the home page level. The general layout is good.” As for improvements, she suggests less space for listing “Recently Downloaded” and “Latest Editions” content. (“Keep it simple and to the point - most users could care less about their crowing on new acquisitions.”) She wants expanded thinking when it comes to what equipment and software users might have. “It’s only optimized for Internet Explorer and Mozilla at this point. So a lot of assumptions are being made on the nature and equipment of users. What about mobile, ereader for the ebooks, etc.?” Some of Herther’s other concerns became part of my interviews with Smith and Queen.
Overall, it’s still early days, but adding “50 to 100 fixes” to that changes spreadsheet didn’t seem to bother Smith. In fact, he sounded very appreciative. Next New Year’s Day maybe Herther and other Muse users will pop the cork on a leftover bottle of champagne.