NYPL and Library Simplified

427487425_219c45a26a_bNew York is a place known for risk taking, for innovation, for not being satisfied with the status quo. Nowhere is that as evident in the library world as with the New York Public Library, and their current projects to reshape the eBooks in libraries landscape.

If you’ve ever tried to borrow ebooks from your library, you have most likely experienced some level of frustration. It could be from the fact that there is often limited availability of bestsellers without long holds queues. And if your library is lucky enough to have the funding to have several ebook services available, then searching through multiple vendor services, each with their own logins, can be a major stumbling block.

NYPL is leading the quest to solve this problem with Library Simplified, an app that brings together all of the various ebook vendors available through a library, and lets patrons log in and read everything available in one location, with one login.

According to Micah May, Director of Strategy at NYPL, they are leading the project with participation from a dozen libraries throughout the country, and with funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). After a patron logs in with a barcode and pin, the content available comes from whatever sources the library has (ie Overdrive, 3M, Baker & Taylor, enki).

Once a book is checked out, the patron may read their title in the app, through the Readium ebook app. If a library is one of the few in the country who have built their own ebook platforms (ie enki in California), that content can be brought into the Library Simplified app as well. So for a patron, it’s a seamless experience of finding all of the ebooks available in one place, checking out, and reading, within one environment, with one login.

While May has spoken with all of the Big Five publishers, and they have all voiced support for the project, the app doesn’t require separate contracts with any publishers, since they’re simply pulling in content that has been licensed or purchased through existing vendors, not building anything new.

IMG_1743BNew York will roll the app out for android and iOS later this summer, and the other partner libraries (see http://www.librarysimplified.org/about.html) who have been participating through testing, assisting in product design and requirements, will decide whether to roll it out later in the summer and fall. If your library is one of those partner libraries, check in with them to see when and if they plan to roll out the app.

NYPL has two other major pieces of eBook innovation happening now. The first is Open eBooks, an instance of Library Simplified with content donated by publishers to provide a collection of ebooks for free unlimited usage to low income youth. Open eBooks is a partnership between NYPL, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and First Book, with support from IMLS.

A collection of ebooks donated by publishers (both public domain as well as more recent popular and award winning titles) will be curated by librarians at DPLA, with a goal of creating a compelling collection that will contain something that every child will want to read. Low income youth who have an adult registered with First Book will be selected to use the app, and will have all of the content available. Publishers who want to donate their materials to the project are encouraged to contact Micah May for more information.

Finally, NYPL is beginning to explore the idea of taking the work done by libraries in building their own self hosted platforms, and scaling that into a nationwide repository for libraries to purchase books for their platforms, as well as discuss ways that the current platforms can be scaled nationwide. They have received IMLS funding for a project called LEAP (Library Econtent Access Project) which will allow them to facilitate a national discussion on the challenges and potential of self hosted options, and build some consensus around the possible solutions, as well as potentially build a national repository.

While many states are either in the process of building a self-hosted platform, or already have one in place, all of these projects are operating independently, with each state at a different place in development.  There is a role for NYPL to step in and work with the existing projects, collect the knowledge, and build some national infrastructure.  For those libraries who are interested in exploring participation in this project, again, contact Micah May.

In all of these projects, NYPL continues to lead the way in innovation and creativity, and through their leadership libraries across the country will benefit through more shared knowledge, and, if they roll out the Library Simplified app, a much smoother user experience.  They are one more way that libraries are becoming innovation hubs, and beginning to step up and take ownership of their ebook offerings rather than simply accepting the imperfect vendor offerings.

More information on Library Simplified: http://www.librarysimplified.org/
More information on Open eBooks: http://www.imls.gov/about/open_ebooks_faqs.aspx

Micah May can be reached at 212-621-0526 or [email protected]

images by Kathleen Tyler Conklin(vincent desjardins)

About Heather Teysko (3 Articles)
Heather Teysko is formerly the Assistant Director of the Califa Library Group where she led the team in creating the enki library, the world's first statewide shared collection of ebooks purchased directly from publishers on a platform built by libraries. She is now living in Spain where she writes about ebooks and libraries, consults with writers and publishers on selling to libraries, and produces a podcast on Renaissance English History, which is heard by over 120,000 people each month. She is at heatherteysko.com

2 Comments on NYPL and Library Simplified

  1. It is thrilling to hear about NYPL innovations such as providing “a compelling collection…curated by librarians” of e-books for low income youth including donations from leading publishers. And finding ways to scale up the self-hosted platforms that libraries have for publicly available content is clearly a win for all library patrons.

    And I’m all for anything that simplifies the user experience of libraries, but there are several things that are worrisome about what you say about Libraries Simplified’s e-book app, Readium. Absolutely users should not have to log into multiple systems at the same library. Absolutely there should be a place where all content is discoverable. Isn’t that called the library’s online catalog?–Why should searching for e-books be in a separate place than searching for any other content? And the library’s online catalog should make it easy to do a filtered search for particular types of content such as e-books.

    The problem with creating a single app where “the patron may read their title in the app, through the Readium ebook app” is that you could stifle exactly the kind of innovation that you say you want to promote.

    There are already more than dozens of different providers of e-content to libraries. Some are prominent in public libraries. Some are prominent in academic libraries. Many bridge the two. You’ve named just five but you’ve left out EBSCO, Gale, Sage, Wiley, Elsevier, eBrary and literally dozens of others. Some have important features for browsing and discovery with titles that are valuable for that particular publisher’s content. Some have a business model that needs the e-reader to measure what’s read rather than the typical charging based on downloads. [By full disclosure: I advise one such an e-book company, Total Boox.]
    Reader apps are ubiquitous and not that hard to use. Having multiple reader apps (as long as all their content is discoverable in the library’s catalog and there’s no separate login) is not a big deal. I have a prescription app on my iPhone for Walgreens, CVS, and Rexall. Would it be a win for me as a patron to have all of these combined into a Prescriptions Simplified App? That would be unnecessary standardization, especially if it came at the cost of not getting the best deals at each of those stores.

    My advice to libraries is get e-book providers to standardize around the library functions that you already have (like OPACs and authentication systems) but don’t invest in becoming an e-book reader aggregation platform of your own. You’ll be entering the product development, marketing, support, and maintenance world of being a library vendor. And it will likely mean that you will become a Procrustean bed that stifles innovation from e-book providers and cost you a lot of resources to keep up with innovations that e-book vendors will be coming up with.
    Instead focus on the innovative programs that enhance discovery and delivery of DPLA content and programs to entice disadvantaged groups into the library and the e-book world. Don’t enter the e-book reader vendor market with a reader whose functionality is a least common denominator of other e-readers already in the market.

    • Hi John,
      I agree with most of what you say. I for one have never been all that worried about multiple apps and logins. My phone also has Oyster, Kindle, and Nook apps, and it’s not a problem for me to use them all. Also, I’m a big fan of TotalBoox. I think their model is innovative, and while I do see some issues with it (same as hoopla has encountered – pay per use is tough to budget, even with tools to manage it) I hope it succeeds and I wish it well.

      The one thing I take issue with is your last paragraph that libraries should avoid the type of product development of a vendor. Are you familiar with the enki project in Califa, and the numerous other homegrown projects like it? Full disclosure that I’m no longer with Califa as of May, but the main motivation of that project, at least for me, was to take back control of the process from the vendors. Libraries are paying millions and millions of dollars to eBook vendors who are often putting out products that are frustrating to patrons. That’s changing in the public library world with more competition, and that’s good. More people should be trying things out. But libraries need to have a voice in all of this beyond the simple response of “vendors won’t succeed if they don’t put out a product libraries want to buy.” That’s not always the case.

      If you combine the collective brainpower of all the librarians in the country (which is what NYPL is trying to do), they could build a pretty amazing platform. They already have with enki, and that was a team of fewer than ten people. All of the concerns you mention – ie having to take on marketing, customer service, etc.- were things we thought about, and somehow it’s still working after almost three years. The fact that there are lots of successful ebook projects happening on statewide levels (eShelf from Amigos just launched as well) shows that libraries can innovate, and that it’s worth it for libraries to spend their time innovating and building a product that they feel proud putting out to their patrons.

      I’d be happy to talk with you in detail about the projects I mention if you’d like more information, off line – I’ve been keeping a blog of the different projects as well, mostly to keep them straight in my head because there’s a LOT going on. By the way, as a personal note, I believe we share some friends in common – I got into the library world through my best friend Sandor Hatvany. I’m guessing that name will ring a bell 🙂

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