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Ebook Developments Were HOT at ALA
Posted On July 7, 2011
Looking over the program of presentations and panels and at the vendors exhibiting at the recent American Library Association Annual conference, it’s clear that librarians are focused on embracing the expanding digital world and specifically on providing ebooks as part of library services. Along with that, of course, come all the issues and considerations involved: copyright/DRM, rising costs of digital collections, format issues, and the rapidly evolving publishing market. For librarians, it’s about how to provide enhanced services through the emerging technologies. They had a lot to look at and think about while in New Orleans.

3M Cloud Library eBook Lending Service

3M Library Systems debuted its new 3M Cloud Library eBook Lending Service and from what I’ve heard about crowds at the booth, there was considerable interest from librarians at the show. Tom Mercer, digital business development leader, 3M Library Systems, says there were demos offered every hour with 30-50 people at each one.

The new system consists of both digital content, software installed on a library PC or Mac, and optional in-library hardware, along with apps for borrowing and reading, providing libraries with a simple, turnkey system for advancing their digital offerings. This flexible solution allows patrons to check out and read on the device of their choice—at home or on the go. ALA attendees were able to get a sneak peak at the optional 3M eReaders (in prototype) and the 3M Discovery Terminal.

“The 3M Cloud Library eBook lending service is designed for maximum flexibility, letting patrons access and browse the system on the tool they prefer most, and take their books with them wherever they go,” said Matt Tempelis, global business manager, 3M Library Systems. “With the ability to connect to the library on site, from a home PC or from a digital device, patrons have more options for browsing and reading than ever before.”

At this point, four publishers have been announced—HarperCollins Publishers, IPG, Random House, and Sourcebooks—and Mercer says they are working on contracts with others. There are some 30,000 titles now and Mercer expects this to grow to 100,000 by the end of the year. The checkout period is set for a 3-week default and ebooks can be returned early. The model is one-copy/one-user at this time, as currently required by the publishers.

Mercer says the optional 6-inch E Ink display eReaders should be available in mid to late August; the cost will be $149. The optional Discovery Terminals will cost $2,499. Pricing for the 3M Cloud Library eBook Lending service will be handled with each library on a subscription basis.

The system is planned for installation beginning this summer at 7 beta sites, including the Saint Paul Public Library, Minn.; Bergen County Cooperative Library System, N.J.; Maricopa County Library District, Ariz.; Douglas County Libraries, Colo.; Darien Library, Conn.; Richland County Public Library, S.C.; and the State Library of Kansas on behalf of the Kansas Digital Library Consortium. 3M will seek feedback from both patrons and staff at these locations on the service’s ease of use and functionality, using their input to continue to refine the system.

Mercer says the company carefully selected libraries of varying sizes and technological advancement from around the country to be a part of the beta program—and, not coincidently, all of the sites are or have been customers of OverDrive’s service. Mercer says it’s a good chance for the libraries to try the services side-by-side and then see “which vendor do I want to be with for the long term.”

[Note: The state librarian of Kansas is reportedly planning to terminate its contract with OverDrive and is asserting that the consortium has purchased, not licensed its content from OverDrive, and can therefore transfer the content to a new provider.]

I asked Kit Hadley, director, Saint Paul Public Library, why they wanted to test the 3M service. She wrote:

We’re particularly interested in two features which—in our view—promote digital discovery and digital inclusion.

The discovery station will bring digital exploration into our physical libraries. People will have a more satisfying browsing experience at the library by browsing the ebook collection at the discovery station. This is an experience we’re hoping to add in a robust way [to] other areas of the library—special collections, children’s, e.g.

The ereaders that will be available for people who cannot afford their own is an important feature for us as part of our work to promote digital inclusion. We are concerned that the digital divide is actually getting wider not narrower, and we’re concerned that people without means are getting more socially isolated, in addition to being disconnected to e-commerce, e-government, and e-learning. While we circulate a few Kindles and Nooks now, we think the 3M eReader will better enable people to browse, choose their own material, and have the experience of downloading it.

James LaRue, director, Douglas County Libraries, says they are not just beta testers but partners. The library approached 3M to help them solve the problem of how to integrate ebooks with other library content. “Instead of the market driving us into separate content silos, we wanted a single interface.” The library actually has its own “cloud” but is getting its content from 3M. LaRue wrote to me about his convictions as to what’s at stake.

3M is to be commended for stepping into the market and helping libraries find ways to integrate econtent into the rest of their collections. From a commercial perspective, it’s good to have a competitor to Overdrive.

But there are more than commercial interests at stake. There is also the issue of long term accessibility of intellectual content to the public. For over a century and a half, public libraries have owned and managed their content. Libraries would be smart not to put all their content management dollars in just one or two baskets.

This is an exciting time for public libraries—one of the most exciting times in our history. It’s smart to partner with our vendors; it’s not so smart to give to our vendors too much power over us. The new world of content is more than six commercial publishers and four or five brokers. It’s time for libraries to be far more active players in the discovery and delivery of emerging content to our citizens.

Kick it Into OverDrive

Meanwhile, busy with its own developments and enhancements, OverDrive announced the first group of what it says is a growing list of suppliers that will provide simultaneous access ebooks to libraries and schools in OverDrive's global network. Collections from Thomas Nelson, Encyclopaedia Britannica, Crabtree Publishing, and Lonely Planet will enable libraries to provide “always available” ebooks without waiting lists or holds, in addition to offering the publishers’ titles under the one-copy/one-user model.

For the past few months, OverDrive has been beta testing DRM-free ebook distribution in libraries. On July 6, it announced that all OverDrive-powered libraries can now add DRM-free ebooks to their digital collections. They are available under the one-copy/one-user model. The company’s forthcoming OverDrive WIN platform update will provide a number of enhancements designed to simplify ebook lending and expand collections.

More Options

Book distributor Baker & Taylor and Barnes & Noble, Inc. announced at ALA that the companies will partner to build awareness among NOOK customers that digital books are available for loan from local libraries, and to provide library patrons with a seamless method for borrowing ebooks and other digital content. The line of NOOK ereaders will be featured devices on Axis 360, Baker & Taylor’s new digital media circulation and management platform. Starting this fall, patrons at Axis 360-powered libraries will be able to check out ebooks to read on their personal NOOK devices. From Axis 360, patrons will also have a link to the Barnes & Noble online store for purchasing digital content and physical products. They will also have access to EPUB and spoken word audio titles, as well as a patron reviews module that will allow users to contribute book reviews and assign star ratings. Baker & Taylor is also a partner in Blio, the interactive and immersive ereading software linked through cloud-based services with Axis 360.

New Pay-Per-Use Model—Freading

Library Ideas, LLC, a media company delivering digital solutions to libraries, announced the launch of its new ebook service. While I hadn’t heard of the company until this announcement, Library Ideas says it has a network of more than 500 library systems worldwide that subscribe to its digital products—Freegal Music, Rocket Languages (Library Edition), and Games for Libraries.

The new service, called Freading (free reading) is designed to increase the size and diversity of library ebook collections by allowing them access to a collection of over 20,000 titles without any upfront cost to the library. The business model allows libraries to pay a per-use fee instead of a purchasing an item of unknown desirability—libraries are charged for each download with the cost related to the age of the book (up to 6 months after print publication, $2 per loan, $.50 per renewal; 7-24 months after print publication $1 per loan, no renewal charge; more than 25 months after print publication $.50 per loan, no renewal charge). Freading charges no platform or access fees, and says it has tools to allow libraries to control their spending over the course of a budget year. Participating publishers and authors will get more of their titles onto library websites and get paid for each transaction.

This kind of “rental” arrangement may not appeal to everyone. What about popular titles that might circulate hundreds of times? To some librarians this looks like a good deal for the publishers but not so great for library budgets. For an interesting—and heated—discussion of this model and librarians reactions to the similar Freegal Music service, see the blog post by Sarah Houghton-Jan, and the many comments, including responses from Brian Downing, the CEO of Library Ideas. As Houghton-Jan wrote, “The problem is that other library services are not pay per use. What makes a library work, what makes it affordable for a community, is that we buy something once then lend it to multiple people. If we’re buying it once, then giving it away to one person, that creates a nearly limitless demand that we can never hope to meet. It takes what’s best about a library, our ability to maximize resources, and throws it away.”

According to the Library Ideas press release, ten libraries have agreed to a launch this summer, including Orange County Public Library System (Fla.), The Free Library of Philadelphia, Maricopa County Library District, Los Gatos Public Library (Calif.), and the Westport Public Library (Conn.).

Sixteen publishers have agreed to supply content to the service, including Sterling Publishing, Sourcebooks, Andrews McMeel, and Regnery Publishing. Library Ideas says it is in discussions with many publishers, and intends to expand the content on a continual basis. It also plans to launch a new Library Ideas website in the next few weeks—at this point, the site consists of a single page.

Open Dialogue is Helpful

The American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) E-books Taskforce Chair Bonnie Tijerina released a statement, thanking HarperCollins for attending the taskforce’s business meeting during the ALA Conference in New Orleans. The discussion followed HarperCollins’ February announcement of its current policy under which new titles licensed from library ebook vendors are restricted to 26 circulations. The license then expires. (3M is also required to enforce the HarperCollins restriction.)

“HarperCollins has had previous discussions with libraries about e-books, and this type of open dialogue is valued by our members and contributes to the overall understanding of the e-book environment. We hope our discussion will serve as a model for conversations with other stakeholders,” Tijerina said.

One important outcome of our discussion is that HarperCollins will contribute to the E-books Taskforce’s series of answers to frequently asked questions sent to the taskforce from ALA members that cover issues from basic questions about e-book readers to specific questions about licensing. Our taskforce released its first FAQ addressing questions from public libraries and will release more to address questions from school and academic libraries. HarperCollins’ contribution will give the publisher’s perspective.

HarperCollins understands that public libraries value sharing information and has expressed to us a commitment to providing models that ensure this information-sharing can continue. Libraries know publishers are seeking viable economic models so that they can continue to provide the kind of resources that the public expects at their libraries. We look forward to continuing this open dialogue so that libraries can offer the public the enhanced services available through the emerging technologies in today’s e-book environment.

For a different perspective on that task force meeting, see the commentary by Heather McCormack in Library Journal, “ALA Annual 2011: Louisiana Deep-Fried Angst.” She offers some suggested action items for ALA leadership to move the conversation forward.

ebrary Ebooks Link Up With ProQuest

Finally, last but not least, ProQuest announced that ebrary’s ebook content is now discoverable through ProQuest’s search platform. Work to connect the ebrary and ProQuest platforms began in January when ProQuest acquired ebrary. A pre-release of the linking technology will be available shortly for libraries with Academic Complete and one or more of ProQuest Central, ProQuest Research Library, and ProQuest 5000 on the new ProQuest platform. Discovery of ebrary content with full-text searching will be available broadly in the fall. We’ll have more information on this as it is made available.

Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks.

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