Thursday, June 30, 2011

3M's eBook Cloud Library Didn't Come Out of Nowhere!

When the Douglas County Libraries in Colorado installed self check-in stations a while ago, they realized that hey had an opportunity to restructure their space. The circulation desk that dominated the main entrance was no longer needed. It seemed obvious to Library Director Jamie LaRue what to put in its place. Libraries need to greet their visitors with displays of books available for immediate checkout. 80% of Douglas County's adult circulation is generated by visual displays of books, so the best way to entice visitors to read is to show them great books to read.

When Douglas County began investigating how to put ebooks into county resident's computers, they wanted to do something similar. A user looking for ebooks should be greeted with a virtual bookshelf of books waiting to be checked out. LaRue was not satisfied with the offering of industry leader Overdrive because he couldn't do such a simple thing.

Public libraries that offer ebooks are frequently faced with problems posed by the strong demand for ebooks. Their users are frequently disappointed that the ebooks they want are always checked out. Overdrive has not yet implemented an programming interface that would allow library catalogs to check on an ebook's availability before showing it to a user, so the process of finding an available ebook can involve a lot of tedious clicks.

To address these needs, Overdrive has announced the "Overdrive WIN" service, which will address better integration with library automation software along with a host of other improvements and service innovations.

I spoke with a number of library automation vendors at this past weekend's American Library Association meeting in New Orleans. eBook integration is high on the list of their customers' wish lists, but I couldn't find any that could tell me when they would be implementing better Overdrive integration, though many of them were in "discussions".

A new vendor worth mentioning was Toronto-based BiblioCommons, whose EC2-cloud-based OPAC service has been implemented by Seattle Public Library and is in beta with New York Public Library. I'd been hearing about BiblioCommons for long enough that I'd had my doubts as their reality. At ALA, they demoed a clean, modern web interface with plenty of social features- go take a look at Seattle Public. Given NYPL's status as a prominent Overdrive customer and Bibliocommons' actively developing codebase, I had hoped to see some preview glimpses of Overdrive WIN in BiblioCommons, but had no such luck.

Back in Douglas County, Jamie LaRue wasn't satisfied with the available options, so around the end of 2010, he had his team approach their auto-check-in vendor, 3M, to see if they could do something about ebooks. As luck would have it, they could. And they did.

Although 3M's entrance into the library ebook platform business came as a complete surprise to many in libraries and publishing, it seems obvious in retrospect. 3M's RFID tag, self-checkout/checkin, and detection businesses were already integrated with library automation systems, so much of the code needed to integrate to library systems was already written. 3M licensed ebook reader and DRM systems from Adobe, and in the space of six months, with the advice and help of customers such as Douglas County, was able to assemble a strong set of services it is branding as the "3M Cloud Library". These include reader software for iOS and Android, as well as spiffy "3M Discovery Terminals", electronic kiosks "with an intuitive touch-based interface". (pictured) 3M is even going to sell "white-label" eReader devices with software tweaked to meet the needs of libraries that want to lend devices.

While 3M is arguably breaking new ground in integration of ebooks with library systems, 3M is far behind Overdrive in the area of publisher relations, which can't just be switched on in a mere 6 months. Overdrive has announced expansions of its offerings in the school and academic markets. Meanwhile, 3M is going in publishers' back doors as it helps the State of Kansas withdraw from an awkwardly drafted Overdrive contract, which Kansas says allows them to move purchased content from Overdrive to other platforms. It's in publishers' interests to have a library ebook channel that competes with Overdrive, but they do SO like to be asked permission first.

For his part, LaRue just wants to be able to tailor his library service to the needs of his community. "I want to provide a quality, integrated experience with a local focus" is what he told me. That doesn't seem to be asking so much.

Update 6/30/11: At The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder reported in May that a lot of 3M's reading platform was sourced from txtr, a German start-up they'd invested in. I wasn't able to confirm this at ALA, but have since done so. The Adobe DRM implementation, reading software, apps, presentation interfaces all originated in txtr. I'm also told by multiple sources that 3M has been talking to publishers since at least December 2010.
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1 comment:

  1. Bibliocommons is available at a number of Canadian and American library systems, including mine (their first consortium).

    We've mostly found them a pleasure to work with and very responsive. We would like them to continue to be that way, so please don't use them, so they can stay small and responsive.