It's a basic observation that libraries today remain committed to providing access and services to collections spanning all possible formats. While libraries generally see increasing proportions of digital content, print has not vanished from the scene as many predicted a couple of decades ago. Libraries therefore must manage complex collections spanning physical and digital formats.
The reality of hybrid libraries brings important implications for the technology infrastructure required to support managing and providing access to collections. The requirements for library systems continues to become increasingly complex. Acquiring and lending a physical item involves considerably different technology than providing access to digital content. The procurement and business processes span so many options, ranging from one-time purchase of print materials to licensing of digital content, with almost endless combinations for terms, restrictions, and price models. The core automation systems used by libraries must be able to address all these possibilities.
Adding further complications, the basic patterns of collections and services between academic and public libraries have become strikingly different. Academic library collections are heavily dominated by licensed content of scholarly content with a shrinking proportion of print acquisitions. These electronic resources are acquired through a complex array of content packages, aggregated databases, and other offerings. The transition to open access in scholarly publishing adds yet another layer of complication as article payment charges and other arrangements become a growing part of the financial environment. Public libraries see quite a different set of patterns. Print collections continue as their foundation, with most public libraries seeing strong activity in their circulation transactions. Public libraries are also heavily involved in digital lending of e-books, audio books, streaming video, and other content. Currently digital lending represents a fairly small portion of overall transactions compared to print circulation, though increases are expected in the long term.
The divergence of the nature of their collections and services has driven public and academic libraries along increasingly separate paths for their technology infrastructure. In very broad terms, academic and research libraries are moving to library services platforms, such as Ex Libris Alma and OCLC WorldShare Management Services, while public libraries mostly remain with integrated library systems (ILSs).
The technical environment for the support of digital lending for public libraries differs substantially from the way that academic libraries manage their electronic resources. Rather than shifting to a comprehensive resource management environment, public libraries mostly rely on separate tools or platforms for the management and access to their collections of e-books and audiobooks. The most common arrangement includes engaging with commercial digital lending providers such as Overdrive and bibliotheca for the acquisition and delivery of digital content and a standard suite of integration technologies to provide discovery and lending of those resources through the library's online catalog or discovery interface.
As public library e-book lending continues to gain a higher profile, the technology options have steadily improved. Each of the commercial providers have made significant improvements to their patron-facing apps and interfaces.
Overdrive's new Libby app and bibliotheca's convergence of digital lending and self-service are representative of these positive developments. Despite these improvements, public libraries are also exploring new alternatives for managing digital lending. In addition to the commercial offerings, a new nonprofit initiative based on open source software components has completed its pilot phase and has been introduced as an option for public libraries in the United States. This issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter takes a closer look at this new collaborative launched by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), New York Public Library (NYPL), and LYRASIS.