The new Public Library Complete (PLC) subscription service from ebrary includes more than 20,000 ebooks from leading publishers with more ebooks coming into the package every day-at no additional cost to subscribing libraries. In March, ebrary launched a School Collection of more than 6,600 ebooks plus more than 4,200 Spanish language ebooks from ebrary partner, e-Libro, available separately (e-Libro Secundaria) or as a subset. That School Collection is now itself a subset of the new PLC and public libraries subscribing to PLC can share access to local public high schools at no additional charge. The DASH! (DAta SHaring, Fast) do-it-yourself, e-publishing tool lets libraries create and incorporate their own digital content in PDF formats into PLC and share this content with specific websites or the open web. This is the first time that ebrary has offered a collection geared for public library patrons.
The ebrary program allows unlimited, simultaneous, multi-user access. Such access could eliminate the inevitable limits imposed by a finite number of print copies. The application of recommendation engines could let librarians anticipate patron interest and aggressively promote wider use of library-licensed ebooks-a development that might help public libraries prove their worth in these troubled times.
The primary subject categories included in PLC are Schools and Studying (9 subcategories); Career Development (6); Arts and Leisure (11); and Practical Life Skills (5). (For links to all the titles, go to http://site.ebrary.com/lib/publiclibrarytitles.) The content includes guides and manuals on topics such as careering issues, study guides, test advice, plus reference works such as Facts on File and Britannica. Libraries receive MARC records for titles at no extra charge as well as COUNTER-compliant usage statistics. The collection is expected to grow at around 10% throughout the subscription term. Libraries can also purchase additional individual titles from the more than 171,000 in ebrary's collection.
Overall, the digital content available from ebrary now encompasses not only books, but reports, handbooks, maps, and journals from more than 425 publishers. Christopher Warnock, CEO and chief technology officer at ebrary, explained that the company had three basic business models for accommodating both libraries and publishers. "Some content is available by subscription only, while other content is perpetual access only, and some has elements of both. We are very tied to what publishers are willing to do. When we package content to an audience, then it's usually subscription-based with no perpetual access content. The system works so that libraries can purchase perpetual content and seamlessly integrate it with their subscription content." He added, "Almost every publisher participates in perpetual access. For them, it's business as usual and that can open up their frontlists. The larger percent of our publishers offer digital simultaneous with print and that adds value to the subscription collections."
In total, ebrary offers some 80 collections for library subscriptions. The collections are broken down by audience target and/or subject or fields of interest. An ebrary representative described the array, "Some are very large and some small; some topic specific and some broad range; there are corporate, government, academic, public, K-12 school, and community college collections, as well as language-centric ones." A little more than a third are "Starter Pack" collections, developed with help from the library community. (For a full listing, go to www.ebrary.com/corp/librariesPerp.jsp#starter.)
As a centrally hosted digital repository platform, each ebrary collection is reachable by any web-enabled device, including iPad, smartphones, and tablets or netbooks. The system has remote authentication features that will let patrons and school faculty and students access the system from home or office. It has a wide array of features: content management, contextual linking to online resources (InfoTools) customizable by librarians, automatic citations, highlighting, annotation, text-to-speech options, and personal or collaborative bookshelves, plus web-based training, free MARC records, other research tools, and support for integrating third-party content.
In the context of PLC, ebrary expects librarians to use its DASH! e-publishing to create patron services such as databases of government forms, special collection digitized materials, local job postings, community college programs, local government material, etc. The searchable archives can be shared with other institutions or made publicly available. Warnock explained, "DASH! lets libraries create their own digital repositor[ies]. If they have journals on CD-ROMs or DVDs or any electronic file in PDF that they want in their collection, they can. It enables users to log into a channel with a simple interface, select content, upload it to servers, and get processed immediately. Then the library gets permanent links to content that resides on ebrary's servers at no extra cost." (For an overview of ebrary's DASH! service, read Paula Hane's Jan. 14, 2010 NewsBreak, http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/NewsBreaks/Fast-Data-Sharing-With-ebrarys-DASH-60629.asp.)
One of the descriptions of DASH! stated "no metadata required." Knowing the fondness of most librarians for metadata, I asked Warnock what this meant. He agreed that librarians like metadata as a rule, but they want to create a flexible process. "So in order to put a file in the system, you don't have to have metadata. Usually that can become a huge barrier in terms of timing and pricing and other complications. Users can always add or edit it in later. We can take journals and magazines and CDs and put them in ebrary and make them discoverable through full-text searching."
The inevitable question? How much? Warnock said ebrary is using a tiered pricing measured by population served rather than cardholders. "Most libraries will pay less than a dime per population served." The minimum for a small community library would be under $5,000. Information on a maximum was unavailable for the larger libraries. There are also negotiated discounts for systems and consortia. An ebrary representative estimated the total retail value of the PLC content at more than $600,000.
The press release announcing PLC described it as a pilot project, but Warnock affirmed that it was a launch. An ebrary representative indicated that they were "calling it a pilot because we may change the pieces and parts that don't work. For example, we are assuming that public libraries want Spanish content, but if they do not then we will replace that content with something they do want. We assume that public libraries want our marketing assistance to get the word out, but again they may not want the marketing help. So this is a trial period where we will evaluate what does and does not work within the ‘pilot' and evolve as necessary."
The first step in the tweaking will be a meeting at the ALA annual conference in Washington, DC on Sunday, June 27, from 8am to 10am. The company expects to discuss the pilot program in detail and solicit input on trends, future business models for electronic content, challenges, and other matters pertaining to the public library community. To sign up for the session, complete the web form at http://www.ebrary.com/corp/inforequest/ALAPublicLibraryBrkfst.jsp.
Ebooks seem to have finally passed the tipping point with explosions of titles from publishers and the success of Apple's iPad, among other things a great ebook reader, in selling 2 million units within less than a month of launch. Commenting on the good news, Warnock said, "For us it's been great. We've seen continual growth since we started the company. I believe econtent has to be the wave of the future. It's incredibly more efficient than print. Among its numerous advantages, it saves trees. The library plays a crucial role in this. The library is the one universal place users can access computers and the internet and reach more content than they could ever have before."
One of ebrary's future plans ("We're working on it even as we speak.") is a recommendation engines that could enable libraries to promote use of digital books at an individual patron level. In some cases, one could envision libraries as using a print copy for the shelf but letting an ebrary collection, with no limits on users or usage, serve as substitutes for duplicate copies.
(For background on the impact of ebooks on libraries and vice versa, read David Stern's article in the May/June 2010 issue of Online, "Ebooks: From Institutional to Consortial Considerations," available in full text at http://www.infotoday.com/Online/may10/Stern.shtml.)