In a move that places it in direct competition with established competitors, 3M Library Systems will launch a new service called the 3M Cloud Library. 3M aims to provide libraries with an e-book lending service that's easy for library patrons to use and for libraries to manage, with a competitive collection of titles. 3M is no newcomer to the library market. The company has been involved with libraries for 40 years, initially through theft-detection products like its Tattle-Tape Strips and exit control gates and eventually through modern innovations like selfcheck stations, automated return and sorting equipment, and many products based on RFID technology. With the launch of this new set of e-book-related offerings, 3M expands its presence in libraries beyond products geared toward a library's physical collection into the realm of electronic materials.
3M will leverage many of its existing technologies, core areas of expertise, and its existing relationships with over 10,000 libraries to deliver products in this new territory.
With the rapid rise in the e-reader market, increased consumer interest in e-books, and the current desire of librarians to find appropriate models of involvement with e-books all major factors, 3M decided to enter this market. According to Tom Mercer, 3M Library Systems Digital Business Development Leader, “We see this is a tremendous opportunity to provide services for libraries in a new way.” The 3M Cloud Library consists of a suite of components, including an aggregated library of e-book titles, technology for searching, browsing and checking out items from the collection, e-book readers that can be loaned to patrons, and tools for integrating the service into the library's existing automation environment.
A collection of e-book titles licensed from major publishers
3M has already inked a number of deals with publishers including Random House and Independent Publishers Group. Titles from these houses will be available when the service launches, even as 3M pursues additional licensing agreements. The company has engaged consultants in New York to provide assistance in publisher relations that will allow them to expand the content available through the service, initially focusing on the popular trade titles with the highest interest to public libraries. 3M anticipates working with a variety of publishers to deliver a collection of e-books competitive with offerings from other vendors.
When a library subscribes to the service, it will purchase the titles to add to its local collection. When library patrons search the 3M Cloud Library or the library's own online catalog or discovery service, they will see only the items the library has purchased. The 3M discovery station will have an option to search or browse from the entire universe of available titles, which can be added to the patron's “wish list,” a feature that identifies titles that the library may want to consider purchasing. The wish list is an optional feature that can be activated at the discretion of the library.
The service will provide reports and analytics to assist the library in building its collection of e-books. In addition to basic circulation activity, reports would include information like an analysis of the most popular titles and other data that will assist the library in evaluating the popularity of the service and support collection development personnel in making acquisition decisions.
Technology for easily browsing or searching the collection
Library patrons will be able to search for titles available in the 3M Cloud Library Collection in a variety of ways.
- 3M will offer in-library touch screen kiosks for library patrons to search or browse for available e-books and check them out to their library accounts. The kiosks will provide a conspicuous presence that allows libraries to market their e-books to patrons. The large-panel displays also make it easy for librarians to show patrons how to use the machines, whether individually or in groups.
- A software only version of the Cloud Library can also be installed on other library workstations, using the mouse and keyboard for navigation rather than the touch-screen. Patrons would be able to use their library cards, with the pin or password, to check out items from these stations. The 3M kiosks would have barcode readers to facilitate these check-outs.
- Patrons will be able to search the 3M Cloud Library from their home, office, or other remote locations through the library's Web site.
- Patrons searching the library's online catalog or discovery system will search the 3M Cloud Library e-books alongside other library materials. Links will be provided on the catalog records that provide availability status and checkout capabilities.
Technology to allow library users to easily borrow titles from libraries that subscribe to the service
The service aims to provide a simplified process that enables library patrons to borrow e-books from the library with fewer steps than some of the approaches seen in competing products.
The process of checking out e-books will operate solely through the patron's library card number and pin, without the need to explicitly establish an account on 3M service or on the platform of a Digital Rights Management intermediary, such as Adobe. While the 3M product relies on the DRM technology provided through the Adobe Content Server 4 platform, it manages the registration and account management for the patron entirely behind the scenes. The 3M Cloud Library System uses the SIP protocol to authenticate patrons through the library's integrated library system, and automatically uses the patron's library account to create the supporting accounts needed on its own platform and in the DRM environment. This saves many steps in terms of what a patron needs to do the first time that they check out an e-book. The system also checks to be sure that the patron is in good standing and will not allow a check-out if fines or other issues have blocked their account.
Once checked out, the 3M Cloud Library System allows the patron to load reading copies onto any of their devices. The patron's account (hosted by 3M) allows the user to move reading copies among all eligible devices, synchronizing book marks and other end-user features. Consistent with borrowing rules, only one reading copy can be activated at a time.
Supported devices currently include the Nook, iPad, mobile devices running the Android operating system, as well as personal computers running Mac or Windows. The Amazon Kindle is not currently supported.
A 3M-branded e-book reader designed specifically to be lent by a library to patrons.
Many librarians are concerned that when offering e-books, their patrons may not own their own e-readers. Thus, more and more libraries see the need to include loaning these devices as part of their service. Many libraries have experimented with lending e-readers designed for consumers to their patrons. These consumer devices are not conducive to library lending. Many need to be registered to personal e-mail accounts and credit card numbers, or are tied to commercial e-book stores. Many do not allow multiple devices to be associated with a single profile, and create other complications for facilities that wish to circulate them. Their terms of service, designed for individual consumers, may restrict library lending or prevent it entirely.
3M addresses these problems by offering its own branded e-book reader specifically designed for library use. Its internal configuration, terms of service, and other features have been tailored to integrate with the 3M Cloud Library. Titles can only be loaded into the reader through a USB port that connects to a library workstation, synchronizing the e-reader with the titles checked out by the patron. The device will not support wireless connectivity. While that may seem like a drawback, from a library perspective, it has a major advantage—the absence of wireless options and other simplifications result in a very long battery life for these devices.
The 3M e-reader, designed specifically as a component of the 3M Cloud Library, aims to solve the problems that libraries have experienced in lending consumer devices with one purpose: built for the requirements of library lending. 3M has not yet announced the hardware platform that will be used for its reader, which will be manufactured by a third party.
The e-book reader will be an optional component of the 3M Cloud Library service. The service has been designed to work with patron-owned devices or with the 3M-supplied e-readers.
Integration into the library's existing automation and discovery environment.
3M provides a set of tools and technologies designed to fully integrate its Cloud Library System into the automation or discovery systems used by the library. The library will receive MARC records for each title that it purchases from the service, which will make them searchable along with other library materials in the library's online catalog or discovery system. Each MARC record will include an 856 tag that provides a link which activates a pop-up window where a patron can view its availability and check it out.
The 3M Cloud Library will rely on DRM technology to enforce the restrictions and policies that apply to the use of the e-books. The service will make use of the Adobe Content Server 4 platform, which is also used by competing services like Overdrive. The DRM technology, in conjunction with the 3M delivery environment, will enforce policies such as allowing a licensed title to be checked out by only one library patron at a time, and also allowing a reading copy to be active on only one device at a time, and disabling access at the end of the loan period.
The 3M Cloud Library will also enforce restrictions stipulated by publishers, including the infamous expiration of a title following 26 checkouts required by Harper Collins. 3M will provide tools to assist libraries in dealing with publisher restrictions, such as reports and scripts that provide lists of titles nearing expiration and automated ways to delete expired titles from the online catalog.
While 3M incorporates the use of DRM into its product, it aims to make the technology less cumbersome and as transparent to the library patron as possible. One of the most confusing parts of some of the existing e-book services involve the steps required for the patron to create an account within the Adobe DRM environment. The 3M Cloud Library keeps the patron registration process in the background, creating processes that push the account information into the DRM platform and making it happen in a seamless manner without any involvement from the borrower. 3M, though its extensive experience in library self-checkout, is able to leverage SIP and other technologies to optimize the authentication and authorization from the ILS for its e-book service.
Despite the fact that the current e-book market is already saturated, 3M bases its case for launching a new e-book service on its capacity to develop products well suited for libraries, leveraging some of its existing technologies, products and well-established relationships with its customers. The company asserts that the approach embodied within the 3M Cloud Library will be much easier for both patrons and library personnel. A lower threshold of complexity inherent in the service should allow librarians to focus more on interactions involving the content of the collection and less on helping patrons deal with the logistics of the delivery mechanisms. According to Mercer “In designing the 3M Cloud Library System, the key goal was to increase patron satisfaction with the service with less support time needed by librarians.”
The 3M Cloud Library will also include a message center, which provides a tool to send messages or notes to its community of users. This capability can be used for publicizing information about the e-book collection, but can also be used for anything the library chooses. This component of the system can be used to help the library communicate with its patrons and increase awareness of all of its services and programs.
Pricing for the 3M Cloud Library has not yet been made public. 3M anticipates a set-up fee to install or initiate the service and an annual subscription fee scaled to the size of the library, in addition to the expenditures the library makes to purchase e-books to add to their collection. The 3M Cloud Library will initially be offered to libraries in North America, with other international sectors to follow at a later time. Formal announcement of the service will take place on Friday June 24, 2011 at the American Library Association Annual Conference in New Orleans, LA.