Until now, OverDrive has delivered its service through its own hosted platform, taking advantage of the limited capabilities of established protocols such as SIP2, Remote Patron Authentication, to integrate its services into third-party applications. In response to the increasing demand for interoperability and integration, OverDrive has announced its plans to deliver a set of application programming interfaces (APIs) to allow the developers of other related products, typically integrated library systems, online catalogs, mobile app developers, or discovery interfaces, to incorporate OverDrive's e-book discovery, lending, and management functionality. These APIs will be available to libraries that partner with OverDrive and to approved third-party vendors.
Access will be controlled through license keys issued by OverDrive, a typical arrangement for business applications that offer APIs. Use of the OverDrive APIs will require the third party's development environment to offer where appropriate reciprocal APIs to allow users to also access selected services of the discovery layer through the OverDrive platform.
The OverDrive API development environment will be delivered over the course of 2012. The initial phase will involve the availability of a Developer Portal, including tools for applying for APIs, documentation, and sample code. The APIs themselves will be rolled out by functional categories:
- Metadata: to retrieve a metadata record of a single item of digital content, including basic fields such a title, author, and description
- Availability: retrieve the status of a single item of digital content regarding current number of copies acquired, availability for check-out, and pending holds
- Search: simple and advanced search and retrieval functions, including filtering and sort options
- Content: A cluster of functions to enable online catalog or discovery layer integration, including search and availability, as well as the ability to check out a title, download a title, place or remove holds, add or remove items from wish lists
- Single Sign-on: pass authentication between the library's ILS and OverDrive
- Acquisitions: a cluster of services that enable the ability for the library to place orders for new OverDrive content from external business systems such as the acquisitions module of their ILS
- Reports: two-way exchange of patron and content use data between OverDrive's Content Reserve and the library's business automation environment
Once completed, these APIs will expose all essential functionality of OverDrive's e-book, audiobook, music, and video lending platform to enable full integration with third party platforms such as a discovery service or the online catalog of an integrated library system. Taking advantage of this functionality will require investment of development resources by the creators of those third party applications. Such efforts, however, can result in a more unified environment for library patrons where the discovery and use of e-books can be executed within the same interface as other library materials. These APIs also allow the creators of integrated library systems to bring the acquisition and management of e-books from OverDrive into the business environment used for other library materials.
Demand for APIs has become a critical capability in today's library automation arena. Many other vendors in the industry have initiatives in place surrounding their API offerings, including Ex Libris CodeShare, OCLC with the App Gallery of the WorldShare Platform, the Polaris Developer Network, the SirsiDynix Developer Community, and Innovative Interfaces with the Sierra Platform's emphasis on APIs and Web Services. The availability of APIs for extensibility and interoperability of applications has become an increasing expectation by libraries as they advance their technology strategies.
Developers of library automation systems increasingly want to be able to offer their customer libraries more comprehensive capabilities. Whether or not an automation environment or a content service, such as an e-book lending platform, offers APIs will increasingly drive procurement decisions. Those with more open environments that can be fully integrated into other library services will hold advantages over closed and isolated systems. Seen in this way, OverDrive's launch of APIs is critical to maintaining its position as the leading supplier of digital content to libraries.
The interest in the OverDrive APIs is already pressing. BiblioCommons, as noted above, is working with its customer libraries such as New York Public Library, Boston Public Library, and Seattle Public Library to integrate OverDrive's e-book lending service into their discovery service. An initial version of this integration was accomplished based on a pragmatic technique of Web proxy, intercepting the stream of HTML to extract data, in the absence of an API. This effort has been suspended pending release of at least a subset of the OverDrive APIs. The libraries involved continue to be interested in enabling this capability expeditiously. We have also noted the full integration of the 3M Cloud Library with the Polaris ILS enabled through APIs, highlighting a competitive positioning relative to this newcomer in the e-book lending field.