The display of cover art has become a standard feature of online catalogs and discovery services. These images, along with other information that is not part of standard bibliographic records, are provided through a variety of services available to libraries to enrich their catalog. Libraries expect their catalogs to present attractive displays of collection items, replete with cover art, extensive descriptive information, reviews, ratings, and other evaluative content, as well as recommendations for related materials. Much of this information goes beyond the information in a standard bibliographic record, but is available through enrichment services to which a library can subscribe.
Syndetic Solutions, now part of ProQuest, is established as one of the major providers of catalog enrichment services to libraries. In October 2016, ProQuest launched Syndetics Unbound as a major revamped service, combining aspects of its original Syndetic Solutions offering with content and features from LibraryThing and delivered through a new technology platform.
The original service from Syndetic Solutions provided a variety of visual and textual elements that a library could display in their catalog or discovery environment. This service provided content that was inserted into the display of a catalog record via a snippet of HTML with a static representation of the cover art images and other enriched content elements.
LibraryThing, a service designed to manage personal collections of books and related materials, also offers a catalog enrichment service called LibraryThing for Libraries. Tapping into the data surrounding the 110 million books cataloged in LibraryThing by its members, LibraryThing for Libraries is able to provide a service offering tags, reviews, and other elements to enhance online catalog displays. Libraries subscribing to the service would modify the templates of the online catalog of their integrated library system or discovery interface to insert the code snippets needed to display the enriched content.
Syndetics Unbound is a completely redesigned service, drawing from the content elements previously offered through these two incumbent products. Rather than static code snippets, Syndetics Unbound is delivered as a web service with more options for dynamic user interactions. This more modern and sophisticated approach allows the content to be presented through a professionally designed user interface, which is responsive to mobile as well as larger display devices. Syndetics Unbound taps into enrichment elements from both LibraryThing and Syndetics behind the scenes, which are transparently combined in the service. The initial implementation of Syndetics Unbound requires that a library upload its holdings so that the service is able to make recommendations and links based on materials available in the library. Syndetics Unbound is offered as a comprehensive package inclusive of all enrichment elements offered by Syndetic Solutions and LibraryThing for Libraries. These elements include:
- Cover art for books, DVDs, and other materials with over 25 million images available, including automatic generation of images for items where no cover art is available
- Author biographies, which often include a photo
- Look Inside—selected content such as table of contents, first chapters of books, or excerpts
- Series—sequentially ordered listings of other titles within the same series
- Professionally written reviews from selected publications
- Reader reviews and ratings from LibraryThing
Tags from LibraryThing
- References to other formats in which the title is available
- Book Profiles created by Bowker staff members
- Reading level assignments, such as grade level, age, or Lexile Framework scores from MetaMetrics
- Widget to browse shelf by call number
- Selected enrichment content for video, music, and video games
ProQuest offers Syndetics Unbound as a forward migration path for its legacy Syndetics enrichment service. Pricing for Syndetics Unbound differs from the legacy product since it includes additional content and services beyond the legacy product. The original service will continue to be offered as long as demand persists. LibraryThing positions Syndetics Unbound as a more immediate solution for those subscribing to LibraryThing for Libraries. The LibraryThing for Libraries website currently describes the ProQuest Syndetics Unbound service.
Syndetic Solutions Background
Syndetic Solutions was founded in 2000 by Allan Graham and was headquartered in Portland, Oregon. The original offering was a MARC record enhancement service, providing additional content to bibliographic records, such as tables of contents, additional subject and genre headings, series, and plot characters. Syndetic Solutions worked with publishers and booksellers to acquire, consolidate, and disseminate data elements for books.
Syndetic Solutions was acquired by R.R. Bowker in September 2004. Bowker had been part of Cambridge Information Group since 2001; Cambridge acquired ProQuest in 2007.
LibraryThing was founded by Tim Spalding in 2005 as a service for individuals to manage their personal book collections. The company is majority owned by its founder. In January 2009, Cambridge Information Group, parent company to Pro- Quest, made an investment in LibraryThing and acquired a minority ownership stake. LibraryThing continues to operate independently with ProQuest as an important business and development partner.
Syndetics Unbound from ProQuest competes with other catalog enhancement services. Other established providers include Baker & Taylor, now part of Follett Corporation with its Content Café 2 service (btol.com/pdfs/content_cafe.pdf), and NoveList Select from EBSCO Information Services (ebscohost.com/novelist/our-products/novelist-select). Libraries also obtain specific enrichment elements from other sources. Some, for example, link to cover art images from Amazon, a practice that seems inconsistent with Amazon's terms of service. LibraryThing also offers a free book cover image service providing access to about 1 million images, but this service is used only by a small number of libraries. As with other product genres, the number of options for content enrichment is limited. It is notable that three of the largest companies in the library services industry—EBSCO, Pro- Quest, and Follett—have a content enrichment service within their product portfolios.