Four principles should guide vendors of ebooks, according to a coalition of library professionals and libraries. Those guiding virtues are called Readers First.
The goal should be a seamless user experience and one that doesn’t privilege wealthier patrons. Toward that end, the group, with Brooklyn ties, has released its first publication: ReadersFirst Guide to Library E-Book Vendors: Giving librarians the knowledge to be more effective e-book providers. The group released the report on Jan. 8. The group presented on its issues at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia.
Michael Santangelo, a Brooklynite and staffer at BookOps, does press work and organizing for the coalition, which released the guide last month. The committee that made the guide included six library professionals, and credits eight more for help along the way.
Underlying all the work that went into the guide are the following four guidelines:
1. Search one comprehensive catalog to access all of a library’s offerings
2. Place holds, check out and renew items, view availability, manage fines, and receive communications within the single source the library has determined will serve their users best (website, catalog, or other)
3. Seamlessly enjoy a variety of e-content
4. Download e-books that are compatible with all reading devices
Out of a possible score of 100, it scored seven different ebook vendors. The best score (by one point) went to Overdrive (85). The worst went to ProQuest ebrary (30). That said, the report gives context for each score and the team even did last minute updates to the scores in response to updates vendors made after talking with ReadersFirst coalition members about its goals.
A few takeaways:
- Only Overdrive can check out Amazon Kindle formatted books. The Kindle is the most popular electronic ink device. This is a limitation put on by Amazon, not the vendors. This is such a large inequity that the committee decided not to include it in its scoring, according to Santangelo.
- Checking out books for Amazon Kindles requires patrons to leave the Overdrive system to put a checked out book on their device. So first the user leaves the library’s site to go to Overdrive, and then they leave Overdrive to go to Amazon.
- Libraries would like patrons to visit one site to see all the materials it has available, so that patrons don’t have to look at two different pages to see which versions of a title are available. “Many of us no longer want to send our patrons off to another site to check out and manage electronic materials. This produces disjointed and unnecessarily complicated experiences. We want to achieve as seamless an experience for e-book (and other e-content) borrowing as possible,” Santangelo wrote.
The whole process of making the guide, working with vendors, answering questions and scoring took about six months, all together.
Readers First is a coalition of 292 library systems working to advocate for library patrons and librarians as the information economy evolves in to one that’s much more digital. It includes libraries across the US and Canada, plus a few in Europe.
For those of us who live online, it is easy to forget that one of the best sources for information, books, remain a medium that continues to live primarily in analog formats. That’s changing slowly and in lurches. Those growing pains are felt acutely in the public institutions historically most closely associated with books: libraries.
Santangelo manages the popular ebook system and databases for two of New York’s library systems. As he explained in an email: “BookOps is the shared technical services department for both the Brooklyn Public Library and the New York Public Library.” It started in May 2013.
Last year, after ReadersFirst appeared at the Seattle Midwinter Meeting of the ALA, Publishers Weekly took a deep dive into the issue of competition between ebook vendors to libraries, addressing the question of one place to view all patron checkout information:
There are both simple and complex ways of doing this, but the marketplace biases the outcome towards complexity. Some of the RF goals could be achieved simply by adopting the Open Publication Distribution System, which is an RSS-like XML (or JSON) specification that provides a list of digital content in a catalog format, with pointers to retrieve the content from the preferred source. OPDS explicitly supports DRM’ed content and is media neutral. The Internet Archive utilizes OPDS catalog feeds to drive updates to Nook and Kobo for public domain books; these retailers extract and load the metadata into their own native discovery services; when a Nook or Kobo users selects a public domain book, they are actually retrieving it from the Internet Archive. This redirection is simple and ensures that the patron has access to the most recent version available, and there is no need to push user account or identifying information between providers.