March 13, 2000 — NetLibrary, Inc. (http://www.netlibrary.com) has attracted a lot of attention lately through its major business effort to produce and distribute electronic books. In its short corporate history that began in 1998, this Boulder, Colorado company has attracted investments totaling over $125 million, employs a workforce of about 350, and is aggressively working toward its goal of becoming the world's largest manager of electronic content. Early this month, netLibrary gained the support of at least one library automation vendor to work toward incorporating its e-books into a library collections. Innovative Interfaces, Inc. (http://www.iii.com) and netLibrary, Inc. announced an agreement to facilitate the delivery of e-books into library collections. Under this agreement, Innovative will develop enhancements to its Innopac and Millennium library automation systems to help manage the acquisition of netLibrary's e-books into library collections.
NetLibrary in a Nutshell
NetLibrary's e-books emulate many characteristics of printed books. NetLibrary acquires distribution rights to books from publishers, and its staff renders the books into electronic form—working at a pace of about 500 titles per week. NetLibrary has worked out relationships with about 180 publishers and created about 14,000 e-books so far.
NetLibrary has established relationships with affiliate libraries where the library purchases sets of books on behalf of its users. Once a library signed on with netLibrary, its registered users can connect to the netLibrary site where they will find a collection of free public domain e-books as well as collections of e-books of copyrighted material purchased by their library.
The netLibrary online system makes users treat e-books much the same way that they use traditional materials. Each e-book may be viewed by only one person at a time from that library and cannot be printed in its entirety or otherwise re-distributed. If another user wants to look at a book that is in use, that user must wait until the first user is finished with it. Books can be “checked out” to a user, who then has exclusive access to that copy of the e-book for a defined period. To gain multiple access, libraries must purchase additional copies of a title. While entire e-books cannot be printed, selected pages can. Should a user attempt to print out an entire book, the system displays a copyright infringement notice. After about three of these warnings, the user is cut off.
Bringing E-Books to Innovative Libraries
I talked to Steve Silberstein, executive vice president and co-founder of Innovative Interfaces, and Woody Palasek, executive vice president of netLibrary, Inc. about the new partnership between their organizations. In its arrangement with netLibrary, Innovative Interfaces has agreed to create some specific enhancements in its library automation systems to support netLibrary's e-book program. Innovative will write software that will notify a library about new netLibrary e-books as they become available and that will enable processing of payment for books the library selects. This system will include record-keeping and statistics features to assist the library in tracking these purchases. For one aspect of this joint project, Innovative will develop a specialized acquisitions interface to accommodate netLibrary's e-books and business processes.
Integration of E-Books with the OPAC
Another aspect of this alliance will result in a tighter integration of e-books into the online catalogs of Innopac and Millennium. New functionality will be developed to create enhanced record displays, to implement direct hooks to e-book content on netLibrary's site, and to show the availability of e-books.
Through this partnership, Innovative will add new features in its automation systems that will help library users find and view e-books. Records for the e-books can be loaded into the local system, allowing them to be searched as part of the library's overall collection. When a user comes across one of these records, links will be displayed that provide easy access to the e-book on netLibrary's site. Innopac has long offered the ability to display MARC records with enhanced table of contents (TOC) information. When libraries use MARC records with enhanced TOC, users can see attractive listings of chapter titles and other information as they view the record for a book. Through these enhancements, the user will be able to click on these chapter titles to view the actual text of that chapter for e-books that the library has purchased. Libraries might also load records for the e-books beyond the ones purchased by the library to allow users to preview information about these books and then purchase them on the netLibrary site.
Another aspect of the integration between Innovative's library automation systems and netLibrary involves the management access to netLibrary e-books. Currently, netLibrary controls all aspects of security and access at its own site. In a more ideal arrangement, some aspects of this control might be managed by the library's local system. The circulation functions of Innopac or Millennium might be used to check out e-books to users. Wouldn't it be nice if the availability of e-books could be shown in the online catalog in much the same way as other materials? Library users should also be able to use their existing library account to check out e-books without having to create a separate account in netLibrary's system. Although not all the details of functionality have been finalized, the alliance between Innovative and netLibrary makes this vision of integration between the library's online catalog and electronic books possible.
Silberstein indicated that Innovative will be developing and testing these enhancements through June 2000, with expected release of the software to customers by fall 2000.
This development is an important step toward the integration of e-books into the library automation environment. The newly forged alliance between Innovative Interfaces, Inc. and netLibrary represents what I think is just the beginning of the kind of cooperation that must take place among library automation vendors and content providers to help libraries face the phenomenon of an increasing array of electronic media. Libraries are still adjusting to the rapid growth of electronic journals. Now the same challenges face us as books also undergo the transformation to electronic form.
Marshall Breeding is the technology analyst at the Heard Library at Vanderbilt University, a columnist for Information Today, and a frequent writer and speaker on library technology issues. His e-mail address is email@example.com.