What if our patrons could get to the ebooks of their choice in just three clicks? Click once to discover, click twice to download, and the third click to read. Does this sound like science fiction? Well, we may know soon.
The New York Public Library is leading a project called Library Simplified to reach that three-click goal.
NYPL and 10 partner libraries are hard at work to streamline the patron experience of getting to ebook content. NYPL received a $500,000 Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) grant a year ago. According to a project update, “The goal of the project is to make access to digital content more simple for library patrons by creating a commercial-grade, open ebook reader platform that brings together and makes available content from all of the major ebook distributors (OverDrive, 3M [Cloud Library], Axis 360 from Baker & Taylor).”
At the top of the list of challenges our users face in accessing ebooks is the series of contortions they need to execute in order to set up their ereader devices for library borrowing, and next is finding their way through the array of siloed resources the library offers. Speaking at the Books in Browsers conference in October 2014, NYPL’s Library Simplified project manager James English described the experience of his team when they first attempted to access NYPL’s ebook collection: “It’s about 19 steps at worst case at New York Public Library. Generally that 19 steps is pretty consistent. We took the Labs Team at NYPL and the Web Development Team and then we tried to eat our own dog food with our own apps and download it. After two hours we finally figured out how to do it in 19 steps. That probably explains why libraries fail at ebooks by many metrics.” That testifies to the necessity of library staff actually using the systems we deploy and thinking critically about them.
Though the Library Simplified website states that the initial goal of the project is to integrate and simplify access to OverDrive, 3M, and Baker & Taylor, the developers actually expect to integrate all of the library’s e-content resources and physical resources along the principles of Readers First. The coalition believes that users should be able to search and browse a single comprehensive catalog with all of a library’s offerings at once, including all ebooks, physical collections, programs, blogs, and donor opportunities.
The Library Simplified development team works with vendor APIs (Application Program Interface) and is using OPDS (Open Publication Distribution System, an open source catalog system) to create a simple user interface to library content. Library Simplified will push DRM (Digital Rights Management software) to the background so that the user can enjoy the three-click experience that is the desired outcome of the project.
The initial rollout of the three-click solution at New York Public and its partner libraries is expected by September when the IMLS grant concludes. And the intention is to make the Library Simplified app available to the library community as a whole shortly thereafter.
This isn’t science fiction. It is the work of a talented team of nonlibrarian technologists working with librarians to solve a basic user interface problem. As they say, “Stay tuned for further developments.”
Library Simplified partner libraries:
- Alameda County (Calif.) Library
- Boston Public Library
- Brooklyn Public Library
- Chattanooga (Tenn.) Public Library
- Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County
- Cuyahoga County (Ohio) Public Library
- Kent (Mich.) District Library
- New York Public Library
- Santa Clara County (Calif.) Library District
- Sacramento (Calif.) Public Library