The support of e-book lending stands as one of the crucial technology issues for public libraries. The initial phase of library e-book lending was mostly based on acquiring titles from one or more e-book providers and then delivering users to platforms provided by those vendors for selection, check-out, and downloading titles to e-reading devices. Libraries naturally want to provide a similar service for e-books as they offer for their print collections. General expectations would include the ability to develop a collection shaped according to the interests and research needs of its community and for library patrons to borrow e-books without cost, for reasonable loan periods, and with protected privacy. Yet, fulfilling ideal expectations for library e-book lending services continues to face a number of obstacles. From a technology perspective, challenges lie in simplifying the way that patrons can select, check-out, and download items. On the business and legal front, only portions of the collective e-book universe are available to libraries to purchase for their lending programs, and in many cases higher costs per title apply and possibly limitations on lending terms. The developments seen in recent months reflect ongoing progress in each of these areas.
Improving Technology, Expanding Content
Two threads of progress related to library e-book lending are emerging. One is integrating the user experience for the discovery and borrowing into the library's Web environment. Also, the availability of titles is expanding, both in terms of publisher participation and business issues such as cost to the library and policies concerning patron loans.
Libraries benefit from integrating their e-book loan service into their existing Web-based environment in addition to, or instead of, relying on e-book lending platforms provided by service providers such as OverDrive, 3M Library Services, or Baker & Taylor. Using the same interface offered for dealing with other materials, patrons potentially experience a simpler e-book check-out process. A single sign-on into their library account should give patrons access to all of the services that apply to both print and e-books, including the ability to view items currently charged, request holds for items of interest currently out to other users or on order, or to renew items needed longer. With e-books, the library should be able to complete the transaction completely online, enabling patrons to checkout an item and begin reading, either on the Web or by downloading it on their e-reading device, such as a tablet, dedicated e-reader, or smartphone.
We have previously covered some partnerships, such as that between Polaris and 3M Library Services or BiblioCommons and OverDrive, that improve the state of the art of e-book loan integration into library catalogs or discovery interfaces. A variety of additional announcements in this area have been made in recent weeks.
OverDrive Expands its API Toolkit
In the past two years, OverDrive has made significant progress in making the capabilities of its e-book lending services available to libraries or other organizations that want to use their own interfaces rather than its own platform. As a pioneer of the library e-book lending arena, Overdrive developed a content delivery platform, based on Adobe Content Server technologies, which offered a complete environment for discovery and fulfillment. Over time, expectations have evolved, with an increasing number of libraries preferring more control over their e-book lending services. OverDrive, accordingly has developed a suite of APIs that it makes available through its Developers portal (https://developer.overdrive.com). Other providers, notably 3M Library Services, entered this arena at a much later stage, offering APIs in their initial offerings.
OverDrive's initial set of APIs included the ability to search for titles and to determine availability for loan, but did not extend to the loan transaction itself. OverDrive is currently developing additional APIs that will extend functionality to enable loans directly through third party interfaces and to facilitate collection development. According to Steve Potash, CEO and President of Overdrive, “Once live, our Content API will enable libraries and any other approved third parties to have a variety of direct borrowing, place a hold, return services from their OPAC, search layer, or app for OverDrive-supplied media.” Potash added “We are also working on an Acquisition API to automate collection development routines and a Report API that will come out later this year. All of these will be available to all of our partners.”
Innovative to Incorporate E-Book Services
Innovative interfaces recently announced an ambitious strategy to integrate e-book lending into its strategic products. The company has entered into a partnership with Overdrive to integrate e-book discovery and lending into its Sierra library services platform and Encore discovery service. The project will be based on the APIs available on both Innovative's and Over- Drive's platforms. Innovative's development path includes taking advantage of the APIs currently available that support the basic level of integration of discovery and status information of e-book and other content types from OverDrive, but to also implement the next phase of APIs to allow patrons to perform check-outs and downloads through Encore. Innovative also describes its plans to exploit OverDrive's Acquisitions API, allowing library staff members involved in the selection and procurement of library materials to make selections from the OverDrive Content Reserve through Sierra. Taking advantage of the full suite of current and anticipated APIs from Over- Drive, Innovative plans to bring e-books and related content into both the interfaces oriented to patrons and into the acquisitions workflows performed by library personnel.
Polaris, the first ILS vendor to begin integrating e-book lending into its patron interfaces through a partnership with 3M Library Services, announced an additional partnership to bring in similar capabilities for libraries that subscribe to the Axis 360 e-book lending service from Baker & Taylor. The services addressed include browsing or search content from Axis 360, place holds for items of interest, and to directly check out items when available. Since these transactions take place within the Polaris system, libraries will be able to generate statistics and reports that describe the use of both its print and electronic collections. Polaris and Baker & Taylor plan to have this integrated service underway in time to demonstrate at the American Library Association Annual Conference in June 2013.
Recently, we've heard several announcements of expanded publisher participation in library e-book lending services. 3M Cloud Library now includes content from Macmillan. A new pilot program offers 1,200 titles from the Minotaur Books imprint. Titles will be priced at $25 for a two-year term of availability, or total of 52 loans, whichever comes first.
3M has also launched a pilot program with Simon and Schuster for the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library. Through this pilot, all digital titles from this publisher will be available to the library for purchase, which can then be made available to patrons for loan. The announcement did not reveal pricing details or any specific limitations regarding permissible number of loans.
3M Library Services has also made a partnership with Hachette Book Group to make that publisher's full catalog available to its customer libraries with no embargo on new titles. The general availability of these titles follows an earlier pilot program. With the execution of these deals with Macmillan and Hachette, the 3M Cloud Library offers at least some content from all of the “Big Six” publishers.
OverDrive has also completed a contract with Hachette Book Group to make its entire catalog of e-books available to its subscribers in school and public libraries in the United States and Canada, beginning May 8, 2013. OverDrive states that it now offers over 1 million titles including e-books, audio books, music, and video. The company provides its content services to over 22,000 libraries, schools, and retail companies.
Baker & Taylor also announced that the entire catalog of e-books from Hachette Book Group will be available through its Axis 360 digital media library.
This series of announcements illustrate a common dynamic in the e-book lending arena. One or more library organizations or e-book suppliers may initially work to open the door for a publisher to release titles for library lending. But once the publisher makes the commitment to a platform, it tends to not work in exclusive arrangements, but to offer similar arrangements to all the major channels.
3M Enhances Collection Development Tools
In April 2013, 3M Library Systems released its Catalog Acquisitions Tool (CAT) designed to simplify the process of selecting and purchasing e-book and related titles and adding them to library collections. Some of the features of CAT include more precise searching capabilities and easer workflows for selecting and purchasing titles.