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Writing about Reading: NYPL and Library Simplified

This article I wrote first appeared in The Digital Reader several weeks ago, and I’m reblogging it here.

New York is a place known for risk taking, for innovation, for not being satisfied with the status quo. Nowhere is that as evident in the library world as with the New York Public Library, and their current projects to reshape the eBooks in libraries landscape.

If you’ve ever tried to borrow ebooks from your library, you have most likely experienced some level of frustration. It could be from the fact that there is often limited availability of bestsellers without long holds queues. And if your library is lucky enough to have the funding to have several ebook services available, then searching through multiple vendor services, each with their own logins, can be a major stumbling block.

NYPL is leading the quest to solve this problem with Library Simplified, an app that brings together all of the various ebook vendors available through a library, and lets patrons log in and read everything available in one location, with one login.

According to Micah May, Director of Strategy at NYPL, they are leading the project with participation from a dozen libraries throughout the country, and with funding through the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). After a patron logs in with a barcode and pin, the content available comes from whatever sources the library has (ie Overdrive, 3M, Baker & Taylor, enki).

Once a book is checked out, the patron may read their title in the app, through the Readium ebook app. If a library is one of the few in the country who have built their own ebook platforms (ie enki in California), that content can be brought into the Library Simplified app as well. So for a patron, it’s a seamless experience of finding all of the ebooks available in one place, checking out, and reading, within one environment, with one login.

While May has spoken with all of the Big Five publishers, and they have all voiced support for the project, the app doesn’t require separate contracts with any publishers, since they’re simply pulling in content that has been licensed or purchased through existing vendors, not building anything new.

New York will roll the app out for android and iOS later this summer, and the other partner libraries (see http://www.librarysimplified.org/about.html) who have been participating through testing, assisting in product design and requirements, will decide whether to roll it out later in the summer and fall. If your library is one of those partner libraries, check in with them to see when and if they plan to roll out the app.

NYPL has two other major pieces of eBook innovation happening now. The first is Open eBooks, an instance of Library Simplified with content donated by publishers to provide a collection of ebooks for free unlimited usage to low income youth. Open eBooks is a partnership between NYPL, the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) and First Book, with support from IMLS.

A collection of ebooks donated by publishers (both public domain as well as more recent popular and award winning titles) will be curated by librarians at DPLA, with a goal of creating a compelling collection that will contain something that every child will want to read. Low income youth who have an adult registered with First Book will be selected to use the app, and will have all of the content available. Publishers who want to donate their materials to the project are encouraged to contact Micah May for more information.

Finally, NYPL is beginning to explore the idea of taking the work done by libraries in building their own self hosted platforms, and scaling that into a nationwide repository for libraries to purchase books for their platforms, as well as discuss ways that the current platforms can be scaled nationwide. They have received IMLS funding for a project called LEAP (Library Econtent Access Project) which will allow them to facilitate a national discussion on the challenges and potential of self hosted options, and build some consensus around the possible solutions, as well as potentially build a national repository.

While many states are either in the process of building a self-hosted platform, or already have one in place, all of these projects are operating independently, with each state at a different place in development.  There is a role for NYPL to step in and work with the existing projects, collect the knowledge, and build some national infrastructure.  For those libraries who are interested in exploring participation in this project, again, contact Micah May.

In all of these projects, NYPL continues to lead the way in innovation and creativity, and through their leadership libraries across the country will benefit through more shared knowledge, and, if they roll out the Library Simplified app, a much smoother user experience.  They are one more way that libraries are becoming innovation hubs, and beginning to step up and take ownership of their ebook offerings rather than simply accepting the imperfect vendor offerings.

More information on Library Simplified: http://www.librarysimplified.org/
More information on Open eBooks: http://www.imls.gov/about/open_ebooks_faqs.aspx

Micah May can be reached at 212-621-0526 or micahmay@nypl.org