Just a year ago, I wrote about the forward momentum and great success in 2003 of ebrary, an information services provider ("ebrary Is on a Roll," ITI NewsLink Monthly Spotlight, Jan. 2004; http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleId=19250). Based on company reports, it looks like 2004 was also a banner year for the 6-year-old Palo Alto (Calif.)-based company. And, ebrary has just announced new server-based technology, code-named Isaac. This technology lets libraries create and share remote collections of PDF content and create virtual portals that seamlessly integrate PDF documents from any remote collection, their institutional repository or content management system, as well as existing subscription databases. Several academic institutions are currently beta testing Isaac, which is scheduled for availablility in 3Q 2005. ebrary also announced that libraries may now pick and choose individual titles to create custom collections; beginning in June 2005, some titles will be available to libraries under a new perpetual-access model.
ebrary also announced that it has inked several strategic partnerships with companies including BookSurge, which will bring print-on-demand capabilities to libraries worldwide (probably available in 3Q 2005), and Blackwell's Book Services, which will resell ebrary products in the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Blackwell's will also leverage ebrary's technology for its Collection Manager system.
ebrary uses its technology to create online databases of content from leading publishers, which it then licenses to libraries and other institutions. It offers the content in the form of searchable, simultaneous-use databases rather than as separate e-book titles for individual use. Now, with Isaac, ebrary is taking the next step in allowing any library or other institution to license its technology, not just its content. The new server-based technology lets an institution integrate all the PDF content it owns, with the PDF documents it produces, and with the PDF content it licenses, while protecting copyrights through a variety of access controls.
"Isaac leverages the success of ebrary's Dynamic Content Platform (DCP), our hosted service that delivers full-text books, reports, and other authoritative content from leading publishers to libraries," said Christopher Warnock, CEO and co-founder of ebrary. "With Isaac, libraries can apply the same sophisticated research technology and functionality to any PDF content, through a server that they own. Essentially, Isaac customers can use our technology to cost-effectively develop their own optimized databases of content that they control. We are very excited to assist with the dissemination of valuable information by introducing Isaac to the marketplace."
Like the DCP, Isaac includes the ebrary Reader and InfoTools. The ebrary Reader optimizes online viewing of PDF documents by serving one page at a time instead of the entire file in ebrary's Exchange Data Format (EDF). ebrary's customizable InfoTools then provide advanced research capabilities and word-level interaction with the document. By selecting words in a current document, users can access information from other EDF or PDF documents, digital databases, and resources on the Web.
With Isaac, a library can install the server software, point it at a collection of PDF files, and build a database in less than a day, according to Warnock. He said Isaac can handle about 10,000 documents per day, and do it very cost effectively. With the virtual portal capability, libraries can provide seamless access to disparate data sources stored locally and remotely under a single Web-based interface. A library can agree to share content with another library that is also using Isaac. For example, Warnock said a library could build a virtual portal on robotics that provided access to all the PDF content to which it had rights (including books, journals, documents, etc.) and then agree to share the portal with another institution that also chose to make robotics-PDF content available.
Warnock calls PDF the "lingua franca of the Internet." He also noted that PDF is a NARA-approved digital archive standard. In the future, ebrary plans to add support for other document formats. Isaac is actually a core component of the company's larger plan for an integrated scalable information platform that will offer a more complete end-to-end solution. ebrary's vision statement reads: "To become the global standard for secure distribution, acquisition, and management of valuable authoritative documents over computer networks."
The Stanford University Library, located "down the street" from ebrary's corporate office, has worked with the company for some time. The university licenses some ebrary databases and has been testing Isaac for about a month, according to spokesperson Andrew Herkovic, director of Foundation Relations and Strategic Projects. He said that Isaac shows a great deal of promise as a holder of disparate digital collections, and its use neatly complements Stanford's various digital repository initiatives. Stanford is currently using a robotic book-scanning device to produce PDF content for Isaac. Herkovic said that Stanford's initiatives with companies like ebrary, Groxis (see the recent NewsBreak about Grokker E.D.U. at http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16306), and Google (Stanford is one of the libraries in Google's expanded book digitization project; see http://newsbreaks.infotoday.com/nbreader.asp?ArticleID=16307) are all explorations of how to better serve users.
ebrary said it experienced a 63-percent increase in its customer base in 2004 and now has more than 500 library clients in more than 60 different countries, representing more than 3.2 million patrons. Overall usage of ebrary products grew by more than 200 percent in 2004 over the previous year. It also increased its collection of content by more than 60 percent in 2004 and now offers more than 60,000 full-text books, reports, maps, and other authoritative content.
ebrary is one of 10 companies selected to present at the 2005 ALA Midwinter Meeting's Technology Showcase in Boston. Warnock will demonstrate Isaac. The presentation will take place on Monday, Jan. 17, 2005 from 10:40 to 11:20 a.m. at the Hynes Convention Center (Technology Showcase room 207). Libraries interested in the Isaac pilot program should contact the company (http://www.ebrary.com).