April 16, 2012
Managing a Library's Electronic Collection: The Long March to an Integrated Discovery and Access Platform
The Douglas County (Colorado) public library system has developed a solution for discovering and lending eBooks. Monique Sendze, Associate Director of Information Technology at Douglas County Libraries, describes the project in detail in her article The E-Book Experiment, Public Libraries (January/February 2012). Buy-in from major trade publishers, some who do provide lending rights for eBooks and most who don't, has not be forthcoming. One issue appears to be that the publishing community does not want to sell to individual libraries, preferring instead to sell to wholesalers like OverDrive because of the administrative overhead of engaging in direct sales. The Douglas County Libraries, however, estimates that self-hosting eBooks is saving about a third of the cost of licensing the same titles from wholesalers.
Cost savings, however, are not the only issue. Discovering eBooks in a collection present a serious problem for patrons.
Libraries want to provide e-books through a single, easy-to-use, easy-to-search platform. Unfortunately, that may never happen. Vendors continue to create their own distinct platforms: OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, Simon & Schuster, 3M, ProQuest, EBSCO, etc. Libraries are expected to present all of these platforms to patrons in a way that makes sense, which is near impossible.
Let's add the article observes that the trend in self-published eBooks have been growing exponentially and those eBooks are not captured by traditional distribution channels which now only account for 12 percent of new content. Then there are the problems that arise from the current eBook licensing business model for library collection development planning.
[Douglas County Libraries] immediate goals to improve the library e-book user experience include:
to enhance the discovery of e-books with VuFind library catalog software;
to simplify the delivery and circulation of e-books with Adobe Content Server (ACS); and
to challenge a business model based on content license, with one based on content purchase.
Library staff have developed software to optimize the e-book user experience; implemented Adobe Content Server to store and deliver e-books that require DRM; and begun working with publishers to develop an e-book purchase model that will fairly compensate writers and publishers, while meeting the expectations of library users.
On ALA TechSource, Patrick Hogan reports:
the Colorado State Library will soon be launching a website so that the library community can access information such as technical documentation, presentations to the board, and usage data as it becomes available. A number of state libraries and consortia have expressed interest and are watching Douglas County as a model.
For much more, see Sendze's The E-Book Experiment. Highly recommended. One day, law libraries will be dealing with the same issues public libraries are addressing now.
Obviously, law libraries haven't reached the critical mass of issues about law eBooks yet. Hell, we only have one vendor that is even offering a circulation solution so far. But eBooks titles offered by ABA, CCH, Lexis, TR Legal, university presses, etc., are raising the issue of how institutional buyers are going to manage their eBook content by way of a unified discovery and access platform that is library-centric.
The Douglas County Libraries is be a model for self-hosting eBooks obtained from multiple publishers. The most serious drawback is in-house development, implementation and maintainance costs. The economy of scale makes sense for the Douglas County library system. It's seven libraries serve a population of close to 300,000 and is considered one of the busiest libraries in the United States with more than eight million items checked out annually.
Perhaps if the Long Count Calendar marks the start of a new cycle on Dec. 21, 2012, some enterprising garage techie will craft an attractive cloud based commercially available in-house discovery and access interface solution for all electronic content from licensed legal search database service that access content at the database specific level to eNewsletters, eJournals and eBooks which are not isolated by the multiple platform silos of individual vendors and their bundles. This, of course, is not part of the strategic objective of any legal publishing vendor.
Sometimes we discard the old because it no longer is relevant. Other times it is worth the fight to preserve the old by embracing new technological solutions. In the database era, we gave up on the notion of "library stacks" holding some of our major resources, relying instead on vendor-specific interfaces of menu options for database selections. The menu has been replaced with today's legal search model of internal federated searching with filter option. Now come law eBooks. If law librarian do not want to hand over discovery and access of them to multiple vendor-specific platforms, they will have a fight on their hands because the vendor community's objective is to preserve its own silos by a user account dashboard model that offers only its content and solutions (including research) and ultimately eBooks. At issue for librarians is whether or not we can succeed in creating an interface similar in purpose to print era stacks for users to discover and access all of our eHoldings. [JH]