It's no secret that Thomson Gale (http://www.gale.com) is pro-libraries, but the company has decided to "kick it up a notch." Thomson Gale is currently focusing considerable effort on fostering industry collaboration—publishers and libraries coming together to bring users back to the library. Thomson Gale introduced its AccessMyLibrary program (http://www.accessmylibrary.com) in June 2005 in an effort to help surface Gale content to the search engines now so commonly used by information seekers. Authenticated library users who select a Thomson Gale article from a search engine's result list have the option to connect to a local library that licenses the article and to access it freely. The company is now pushing to sign up additional publishers and libraries and is using this week's London Online Information event for networking.
John Barnes, executive vice president of strategic business development at Thomson Gale, recently gave me an update on the program's progress. At launch in June, AccessMyLibrary offered 3.6 million articles (a subset of content from InfoTrac) and had the participation of some 5,000 libraries, library systems, and consortia. Now, the initiative has grown to more than 9.2 million articles with about 6,000 participating libraries. It continues to talk to publishers and aggregators about participating in the library advocacy effort.
AccessMyLibrary is still in beta, but it is slated to launch officially before the end of December with a new interface, simplified authentication, and additional content and libraries. The company hopes to have 10,000 libraries involved by the end of the year. Barnes said the company plans to showcase the new product at the ALA Midwinter Meeting.
When Thomson Gale introduced its AccessMyLibrary program last summer, it happened to coincide with the launch of Yahoo! Search Subscriptions (http://search.yahoo.com/subscriptions). Barnes said the announcement of AccessMyLibrary was somewhat overshadowed by the Yahoo! news. While Thomson Gale plans to be included in the Yahoo! program, it still isn't listed among the sources (which include Factiva, LexisNexis, FT.com, IEEE, and more). Barnes said it will be "coming shortly."
Many traditional services and libraries are struggling with the prevailing use of search engines and are trying to figure out ways to work with the search companies rather than fight them. In his e-book, "The Google Legacy," Stephen Arnold wrote: "Thomson's Gale unit has introduced AccessMyLibrary.com in an effort to ride the tiger while figuring out how to get a bit and harness on the creature." He continued, "Other aggregators with library-oriented products are likely to watch AccessMyLibrary.com closely and jump on the bandwagon if Thomson Gale's program is successful."
Barnes said that Thomson Gale did a project earlier this year called "Library of the Future." Using an outside firm, the market research involved discussions with more than 500 librarians and with information and technology companies, users of all types, and futurists. The overwhelming consensus that the library isn't the first place users go has now been informing Thomson Gales' product development decisions.
Barnes said that publishers have been very enthusiastic about AccessMyLibrary—it creates awareness and higher use with higher royalties. Industry analyst John Blossom, president of Shore Communications, commented: "Making this content available via leading search engines will mark the beginning of a new era for content aggregation, allowing premium services to maximize their reach to intended audiences via popular Web search interfaces."
Librarians too have been overwhelmingly positive. Sheryl Mase, director of library development and data services at the Library of Michigan, said: "AccessMyLibrary is a great way to build awareness of these ‘deep Web' resources because it will provide Web surfers with a road map to places they're either not aware of or not normally finding on their own."
"Thomson Gale understands libraries and information seekers, and their newest initiative, AccessMyLibrary.com, underscores their commitment to both of these groups," said Christie Brandau, State Librarian of Kansas. "The information is complete and reliable with a major plus: It leads you back to the local library."
The program could also help libraries gain additional users. If a searcher doesn't have a library card for authentication, the library's address and phone number are provided so that a user can contact it to obtain a card and learn more about its resources.
Of course, this isn't pure altruism from Thomson Gale. The company obviously hopes that it will attract more libraries to buy its content.
Barnes said that additional content from InfoTrac's approximately 50 million articles would be included. In the future, the company expects to add other e-products, including reference material from its Virtual Reference Library and possibly primary source material. When I pointed out the big differences in using InfoTrac's search capabilities versus typing keywords into a search engine, Barnes commented: "As much as we'd like students to use the richness of our search products, if we expose them to our content, maybe next time they will go directly to the library. We have to go to where the users are. And, maybe we ought to take some of what we've learned [from the use of search engines] and work it back into our products."