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Public Library Partnerships Support New Ebook Lending

Smart Libraries Newsletter [August 2021]


A longstanding partnership among the New York Public Library, the Digital Public Library of America, and LYRASIS has split into separate projects. The initial project, featured in the June 2019 issue of Smart Libraries Newsletter, involved the SimplyE ebook reading app and the Library Simplified Collection Manager, both developed primarily by NYPL as open source software, and the DPLA Exchange, a marketplace for libraries to purchase ebooks for lending. LYRASIS and other organizations provided hosting and support services to libraries and consortia.

In June 2021, NYPL and LYRASIS announced that their organizations would pursue independent strategies for digital lending services. NYPL will continue to develop and support SimplyE and Library Simplified for its own use and for library organizations with implementations. LYRASIS has launched the Palace Project to develop a new commercial turnkey library lending service in partnership with the Digital Public Library of America and with funding from the Knight Foundation and IMLS. The Palace Project will make use of open source components, including those initially developed by NYPL, to create a new library digital lending service with fully integrated technology components, consistent branding, and comprehensive support. It will include the DPLA Exchange, rebranded as the Palace Marketplace. LYRASIS will provide hosting and support services.

Almost all libraries offer some level of ebook lending, usually provided through commercial organizations such as OverDrive, bibliotheca, Baker & Taylor, and Hoopla. As commercial offerings have matured, broad concern for streamlining library lending has driven interest in a new app for library patrons that brings together all the digital content a library offers while providing a nonprofit business model for digital content procurement.

Library Simplified and SimplyE: A Library-Built Service

In parallel to the ReadersFirst initiative, the New York Public Library began the development of new technical infrastructure in support of ebook and audiobook lending. Driving factors included the general complexity of commercial ebook lending services at the time, the need to have separate ebook reading apps for each supplier, and the absence of adequate branding for the local library. NYPL and other libraries shared a concern that their patrons were associating the ebook collections in which they invested heavily with the vendors, rather than the library itself.

The New York Public Library led a collaborative effort in about 2012, including other ReadersFirst participants, to create new software and processes to improve digital lending. This effort resulted in the creation of the SimplyE ebook reading app, the Library Simplified Circulation Manager, as well as a marketplace service for libraries to purchase digital content apart from the incumbent commercial services. NYPL programmers performed much of the technical design and software development, often supplemented by developers from other organizations.

In addition to tapping internal development capacity and funding, these ebook initiatives have been supported through grants from the IMLS and private foundations. In 2013 NYPL received the initial $500,000 Leadership Grant from IMLS in support of the development of new technologies for library ebook lending aligned with the values of ReadersFirst (LG- 05-13-0356-13). This project aimed to develop open source software, which would support the digital lending services for NYPL and be broadly shared among the library community. The SimplyE mobile app, developed for IOS and Android devices, was designed so that library patrons could borrow ebooks and audiobooks across multiple content providers all fully integrated with the local ILS. It was designed to optimize ease of use, protect patron privacy, and incorporate current technologies and relevant standards. SimplyE was developed under an open source license, allowing its use by other libraries and for other organizations to extend its capabilities.

The development of the SimplyE incorporated other open source components. NYPL joined the Readium Foundation ( and made use of that project's open source components for audiobooks and for rendering ebooks in EPUB format. Other commercial and library-based ebook services have used this rendering engine.

Any digital lending environment must include digital rights management (DRM) features. Almost all publishers require implementation of cryptographic technologies to prevent leakage of ebook copies. The early library ebook lending services deployed Adobe Content Server to manage DRM. In addition to the SimplyE app used by patrons, digital lending also requires and additional application to manage the handling of content items and connections with the library's local ILS. This middleware, called the LibrarySimplified Circulation Manager, enables the SimplyE app to access content across the multiple providers of libraries' ebooks and audiobooks, including OverDrive, bibliotheca cloudLibrary, and Baker & Taylor Axis 360. The circulation manager is interoperatable with the content marketplace later developed by FeedBooks (since acquired by De Marque) and DPLA. The SimplyE and Library Simplified Circulation manager have been designed to maximize patron privacy, collecting minimal personal information and not exchanging it with other services. Because the DRM service is contained in the platform, patron credentials do not go to a third party service, as may be the case with ebook sending solutions that rely on technologies from Adobe.

The SimplyE environment reduced its total reliance on Adobe DRM through the inclusion of LCP (Licensed Content Protection), an open source alternative that simplifies the management of controlled ebooks and addresses concerns for patron privacy. LCP provides DRM technology based on current encryption algorithms. It is a vendor neutral and self-contained solution. Avoiding third-party services, such as Adobe Content Server, also saves on possible transaction fees. The presence of accounts on an external service can pose privacy concerns, depending on how thoroughly transactions are anonymized.

A self-contained implementation of LCP, where the license server is deployed within the digital lending platform itself, avoids the need to expose or share private information. NYPL initially launched SimplyE as its production ebook and audiobook lending app in July 2016. Today SimplyE serves as a single unifying app used by NYPL patrons to borrow ebooks and audiobook, regardless of the originating vendor. Although over 400 libraries have implemented SimplyE to date, NYPL is one of the few public libraries looking to channel all digital lending through the app. Most other libraries have implemented SimplyE as an additional option to the apps from OverDrive, cloudLibrary, Hoopla, and others.

DPLA Open Bookshelf

Libraries are also interested in providing access to titles that are not under copyright or subject to licensing terms. These items would include titles in the public domain, works published by libraries, or other organizations able to provide unlimited and free access.

Serving this interest, the DPLA's Open Bookshelf offers more than 10,000 ebooks, freely available to download and read ( The Open Bookshelf has been assembled by a group of librarians and library school graduate students, called the DPLA Curation Corps, who select and remove titles to create valuable collections across relevant categories.

A Library-Operated Content Marketplace

Another thread of activity focused on developing a new marketplace for libraries' purchase of ebooks and audiobooks from publishers. This marketplace would be operated as a noprofit and would advocate for pricing and terms more favorable to libraries.

This project, initially called the Library E-content Access Project, or LEAP, envisioned the development of a new platform for creating a catalog of ebooks and audiobooks that libraries can acquire for their lending collections, including the required technical components and business processes. Efforts to create this marketplace began in 2015 with support of a $1.4 million IMLS grant to NYPL as the principal investigator. This grant supported inquiry and exploration of Library E-content Access Project in association with the Digital Public Library of America (IMLA grant LG-00-15-0263-15), funding investigations into the technology components and work with library partners across the US to develop sustainable business models.

NYPL issued a Request for Proposals in December 2015: “Through LEAP, NYPL is seeking to establish a new Content Exchange (Marketplace) that is national in scope, collaboration, and impact. Partners envision the Content Exchange being open to all libraries to shop and buy/license content to serve to their users.”


FeedBooks received the highest marks of the respondents to the LEAP RFP, but ultimately NYPL decided not to go forward with the launch of a marketplace. In 2017 DPLA, with the support of the Sloan Foundation, worked with FeedBooks to create the DPLA Exchange, which launched in late 2017.

FeedBooks was a Paris-based company established in 2007 as a digital book distributor. After financial difficulties the company went into receivership in June 2018 and was subsequently acquired by De Marque, a much larger digital content distributor based in Quebec City, Canada. De Marque provides ebook lending services to libraries in French-speaking regions through its Cantook Station service and provides the Cantook Hub as a secure digital vault for digital content. The company continues to operate the FeedBooks platform to power its own online publication catalogs and for its clients such as DPLA. (See: /about-de-marque/).

The DPLA Exchange (now the Palace Marketplace) is based on a partnership with De Marque, which provides both technical infrastructure and business processes support. Funds for the licensed ebooks flow through De Marque to the publishers. The Palace Project retains a portion of each sale, which is reinvested to support the project.

As an advocate for libraries, DPLA has worked with selected publishers to offer additional license options that may be attractive to libraries. Publishers generally offer the same list prices to all operators of ebook services, for-profit and nonprofit alike. DPLA, however, has worked to differentiate its position to allow more attractive lending terms. In addition DPLA has worked with selected publishers on alternative lending models to the licenses limited by time or transaction counts. DPLA is forging new license arrangements with publishers seeking the models shown in Table 1 (https://library

Preferred ModelWhy we like it
Perpetual one-user-at-a-time accessThe one-user-at-a-time model creates queues and "friction" for popular books but perpetual access ensures that the item will remain in the library's holdings and available to be discovered for years to come.
Bundles of 40 lends available 10 at a timeThis new "bundle of lends" model is designed to help libraries promote books AND maintain availability, allowing the titles to have maximum discovery through the library but also ensuring that, if popular, the title is repurchased (in as little as 8 weeks). This option has been popular with libraries and many have acquired all the titles available on this model.
Bundles of 5 lends available simultaneouslyThis small bundle allows libraries to take a low-risk chance on a book they may not otherwise acquire. It also allows the publisher and author to collect a higher price on a per-lend basis.
Simultaneous multi-user access collectionsBundles of books available to an unlimited number of patrons allow libraries to promote titles without fear of long holds queues. This model also allows publishers to include and promote discovery of lesser-known authors and titles.
Community ReadsCommunity Reads licensing enables simultaneous access and empowers libraries to highlight a book without making patrons wait in holds queues for the recommended work. This is a great way to drive discovery of new authors and titles.

The DPLA Exchange will be the first to make ebooks from Amazon Publishing available for library lending. Amazon Publishing had previously withheld from libraries its directly owned titles. In May 2021, DPLA announced that it had concluded an agreement with Amazon Publishing enabling these titles to be acquired for library lending through the DPLA Exchange. This agreement was not characterized as exclusive. Similar arrangements may be forthcoming from other library ebook providers.

In addition to these ala carte licensing terms, DPLA can offer libraries the option to acquire bundles of content available for simultaneous multi-user access from more than 30 publishers in partnership with BiblioLabs, now owned by LYRASIS. This model allows libraries to make titles available to an unlimited number of patrons without holds accumulating.

Deployment and Development Partnerships

Few libraries have the financial and technical resources to deploy this set of components on their own. Several other organizations have established programs, often supported by grant funds, to provide services to help libraries implement SimplyE and the LibrarySimplified, Circulation Manager. The deployment of this environment involves the installation and hosting of the circulation manager, creating connections with the ILS of the library or consortium, and configuring each of components.

The following organizations offer fee-based services to host and support the LibrarySimplified environment.

  • Califa Library Group in April 2017 announced it would offer services to libraries in California for the deployment of the SimplyE environment in partnership with Datalogics, a company that specializes in ebook and PDF technologies. (
  • Amigos Library Services received multiple grants from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, the Arizona State Library, Archives & Public Records, and IMLS to build new web-based interfaces for SimplyE for access from desktop and laptop computers. Amigos also provides hosting and support services for SimplyE. (
  • MINITEX, received a $695,000 grant from IMLS in May 2016 to perform further development of SimplyE. “The Minitex-led phase of development will enable a patron to access ebooks from their public library, their college library, and other shared statewide collections.” (Press release, May 2016
  • LYRASIS, in April 2019, announced a partnership offering support for SimplyE, the Library Simplified Circulation Manager, and the DPLA Exchange. The organization would provide comprehensive support based on the open source software components that NYPL would continue to develop, the DPLA Exchange as an option for ebook acquisitions, and its own hosting services.

The model of providing commercial services surrounding open source software has become well established in the library community. Many different companies and nonprofit organizations provide commercial services for open source ILS products, such as Koha, Evergreen, and FOLIO. LYRASIS provides services surrounding open source projects including DSpace, Fedora, ArchvesSpace, and CollectionSpace. These commercial services depend on sustainable business arrangements that provide adequate resources toward the development of the open source software as well as meeting the business needs of each support provider.

A divergence of objectives between NYPL and those of LYRASIS and DPLA eventually led to a reassessment of the project. NYPL will continue to develop the SimplyE app and the Library Simplified Circulation Manager, focusing on the needs existing users. For NYPL SimplyE has become part of the service infrastructure and is increasingly positioned as its sole app for its digital lending services to its branch library patrons. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the strategic importance of SimplyE for NYPL. During branch closures, its reading services entirely depended on it. NYPL and LYRASIS's joint announcement of separate strategies came this June.

Going forward, NYPL will continue to maintain the codebase for SimplyE, the LibrarySimplified Circulation Manager, and related components, though primarily focusing its existing users than looking to grow or expand ( NYPL-Simplified). NYPL will also continue to work with other libraries and organizations already using these components.

LYRASIS and DPLA have strengthened their partnership in order to launch a new initiative based on the same open source technology components and the content marketplace operated by DPLA. Preparations for this new diverged strategy began in 2020, with LYRASIS receiving a $587,980 grant from the IMLS to develop a turnkey solution for eBooks and audiobooks based on the SimplyE software (LG-248567-OLS-20). A new github repository of Palace was created based on the library simplified code base. This fork of the open source software components ref lects the separate trajectories of the library-based initiatives. Going forward LYRASIS would perform its development based on this repository, setting the stage for the Palace Project (https://

View Citation
Publication Year:2021
Type of Material:Article
Language English
Published in: Smart Libraries Newsletter
Publication Info:Volume 41 Number 08
Issue:August 2021
Publisher:ALA TechSource
Place of Publication:Chicago, IL
Record Number:26574
Last Update:2023-01-25 10:41:03
Date Created:2021-08-11 16:15:58