Even as anxious publishers are hoping to increase friction in the ebook lending experience, librarians have been clamoring for vendors of integrated library systems (ILS) to make e-lending a unified, sleek experience. Rather than navigating their patrons away from the library’s web presence to Balkanized, often commercial, third-party platforms, each with a different discovery and delivery experience, librarians have been demanding a single, easy-to-use, easy-to-search platform — an integration of the ILS with ebook vendor platforms.
Developments are coming rapidly, and the topic, including the upcoming release of OverDrive’s APIs and a tussle between the company and Bibliocommons, was bruited through the exhibition hall last week at the Public Library Association (PLA) conference held in Philadelphia.
Polaris and 3M showcase prototype
Polaris Library Systems and 3M were the first out of the gate with such an experience, demonstrating at PLA a prototype of the integration they have worked out and which is scheduled to go live in June. But this is just the first in what will likely be a bonanza of partnerships in the coming months between ILS vendors and ebook providers, all focused on making the ebook discovery and loan, first and foremost, a simple library transaction.
“We’ve been directing patrons away from us and to some other agency. We need to get them back into the library,” said Steven Nielsen, vice president of product management for Polaris. Nielsen stepped down as director of the Bettendorf Public Library in Iowa in September in order to help lead the 3M integration project for Polaris.
“I felt the pain on the frontlines every day,” Nielsen said.
The prototype Nielsen helped develop never navigates away from the OPAC. The patron finds the title in a single silo of content (digital and print), clicks a download button, authenticates their library card number (one time), and the book is checked out to the 3M cloud (the 3M system does not require Adobe Digital Editions). Holds also come from the local library system, and are in the same form as other hold notices (e.g., text, email). Perhaps just as important, the circulation numbers for econtent are embedded within the ILS database, avoiding the nettlesome problem of extracting them from various content providers.
“That’s going to save so many of my old peers so much heartache it’s going to be incredible,” Nielsen said. “We need those metrics to justify what we are doing,” he said, adding that he had discussions with other ebook vendors during PLA about the prototype.
William Schickling, the CEO of Polaris, said that around 18 months ago, when complaints began to intensify about the clunkiness of the ebook lending experience, the company had hoped to work with OverDrive “because that was the problem our librarians came to us with — fix OverDrive.”
“Our real passion for doing this was solving a problem for our libraries,” he said. Polaris rejected the notion of becoming an ebook provider themselves, and instead began to focus on simple access to ebooks from the library’s web presence.
“We went to OverDrive and started to talk about it, and they said ‘yes we’re going to work on this API,’ but it wasn’t at the top of their list to do,” Schickling said.
In the meantime, 3M had announced its platform last June (it is now in beta and will go live to about 40 libraries in April) and had been having meetings with several ILS companies about integration. Polaris and 3M realized they shared similar goals, and a meeting last October at 3M’s headquarters in St. Paul, MN, kickstarted the project. 3M provided Polaris an API based on RESTful web services.
“From the reaction of the librarians we have talked to this is their dream, to have this kind of access,” Schickling said. “So we hope we’ve hit it on the head and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback that says we came pretty darn close,” he said.
Matt Tempelis, the 3M Cloud Library global business manager, said it was a merging of timelines and visions.
“We don’t believe we are a digital branch. We believe that we should be an integrated part of the library,” Tempelis said. “Other people are talking about integration, 3M’s doing it,” he said, adding that 3M was not interested in assuming the role of an ILS.
OverDrive says it will release APIs in April
Multiple ILS vendors at PLA told LJ that they had held meetings with OverDrive and other vendors to discuss integration, but obviously OverDrive, with its market domination, remains the bull’s-eye.
“We are committed to providing access to our APIs and working with our library partners and our ILS partners,” said David Burleigh, a spokesperson for OverDrive. “It’s a big deal and we really want to make it happen,” he said.
Burleigh said OverDrive plans to release a series of APIs in late April for ILS integration that will “result in both catalog discovery and single sign-on for the patron.” The company also has plans to release at a later time APIs that will streamline the ordering of physical and digital content.
At the same time, Burleigh said that OverDrive’s platform has features that make it worthwhile to jump from one interface to another. For example, he noted that in the company’s new “WIN” catalog, a pilot program launched in February that was being showcased at PLA, a library’s patron is exposed to all of OverDrive’s offerings, not just the titles visible in the local OPAC.
Patrons can recommend buying a title not in the local collection, and librarians can manage when to trigger an acquisition; there are “buy links” to about 300 national and local independent booksellers which generate credits back to the local library’s OverDrive account (3 to 8 percent); and there are recommendation services.
Burleigh said those features, and others, should not be discounted, and while he said the integration being discussed made sense “there are certain ideas we want to iron out.”
Nielsen, the Polaris VP, met with OverDrive during PLA.
“OverDrive has told us for over two years that they were going to make APIs available. Yesterday [March 15] we had a meeting with them and they actually have plans,” he said. “I’m hoping it exposes enough but from what I saw yesterday we’re still going to navigate away from the library’s website, we’re not going to embed our statistics, so I think it’s going to take several iterations,” he said.
Nielsen said there were other reasons to jump interfaces.
“If I have more eyeballs coming to me at my website instead of the local library’s website I make a lot more money,” he said.
OverDrive has also struck a deal recently with The Library Corporation in attempt to speed up delivery of MARC records, which has been a complaint among some librarians who feel integration into an OPAC will not matter much if the MARC records aren’t available and as a result newer content is not viewable.
Other ebook providers, such as Ingram, which is preparing for a major push over the next few months into the public library market with its MyiLibrary platform, and Baker&Taylor, which has been making inroads with its Axis 360 platform, said they are also discussing various degrees of integration.
“We have heard what the libraries are saying loud and clear and it makes perfect sense,” said Brian Downing, the founder of Library Ideas, which offers the Freegal and Freading services. “I think the future of libraries websites is that vendors are less visible to patrons. There is no Baker & Taylor or Midwest Tape section of the physical library, why should there be on the website?” he said.
OverDrive takes issue with approach of Bibliocommons
OverDrive also seems intent on insuring that it releases its data on its own terms as its negotiations with Bibliocommons show. Bibliocommons provides a discovery layer that sits on top of a given ILS’s OPAC module in order to avoid varied account experiences and have the single silo of content that librarians are demanding. Some major libraries —- NYPL, Boston, Seattle — are using Bibliocommons to integrate their OverDrive service into their OPACs, but the implementation has stalled.
Bibliocommons screen scraped OverDrive’s site rather than wait for the company to put out its APIs, which OverDrive found less than ideal.
“It was live for a few weeks but OverDrive has asked us that we do this through an API rather than through web proxy which is the way we approached it,” said Beth Jefferson, founder of Bibliocommons. “They have developed an API and our libraries are just working with OverDrive to negotiate terms for access to the API,” Jefferson said in the PLA exhibits hall.
“The issue we have is the way they went about it resulted in inaccurate information so we are working with them to find a way to make it more integrated,” Burleigh of OverDrive said. “I don’t know they did it so much with us as trying to just see if they could make it work without the true integration, and they realize and we realize that integration is necessary to provide the full and complete solution,” he said.
However, the delay is irksome for the libraries concerned.
“I understand OverDrive’s hesitation, but libraries are their customers, and this integration is our top priority, so it’s frustrating that we can’t get this accomplished,” said Michael Colford, the director of library services for Boston PL. “It’s heartening to see the Polaris/3M integration that was announced at PLA.”
“We are not trying to set up a situation where patrons cannot visit the Overdrive catalog directly, but we do want to have all library content available through the catalog if users choose to access it that way,” Colford said, adding that “Bibliocommons has the best catalog out there.”
NYPL, which has invested in Bibliocommons, declined to comment.
Polaris is the last major ILS system that Bibliocommons has not partnered with, Jefferson said, although at times the integration sometimes comes whether the ILS vendor is aware or not.
“In the case of our ILS they actually screen scraped the HTML which is a very fragile and unsupported way of doing it, but they kind of did it without our knowledge, and it’s working for our libraries so we don’t object,” said John McCullough, the vice president for product management at Innovative Interfaces.
Jefferson said that Bibliocommons acts as an agent of the library and has the library’s permission to act on its behalf.
Innovative, SirsiDynix poised to increase integration
Like others in his position, McCullough said he has been in active discussion with all the concerned parties since last year, including meeting at PLA with OverDrive, 3M, Baker & Taylor, and other ebook providers who all “get it,” and he said the negotiations were non-contentious.
“It’s important to us because it’s vitally important to our libraries,” McCullough said, adding that the company’s ebook integration will extend across its ILS and Encore discovery products. He credited OverDrive for reaching out to ILS vendors, and he said he expected OverDrive to release a robust set of APIs.
“As APIs have come online we’ve jumped on them. I’d say we are as far along as any vendor, including Polaris, at implementing the technology, they’re just quicker than us at getting press releases out,” he said. “In terms of what we are doing and who we tested with and the readiness of the product I think we’re not missing a beat.”
III has already done successful testing of its NCIP authentication and pulling down ebook transactions into its ILS from certain vendors, and McCullough said it was “just a matter of us getting the work done at a software level as vendor APIs become available.” The company plans to announce ebook vendor partners this quarter.
“Everyone’s going to end up in the same place,” he said. “This is going to be standard functionality for everybody and everyone’s going to get there around the same time,” he said.
For SirsiDynix the time may be quite soon as it is preparing to launch the first version of its “eresource central” product at its user conference in Orlando, FL, in May. The product, which has been in development for about a year, will achieve the complete integration that was being discussed at PLA, and Brad Whittle, the vice president for global sales, said the issue was “a big blip on our radar screen” and ebook vendor partnerships “are extremely close.” SirsiDynix Chief Technology Officer Talin Bingham met with several vendors during PLA to discuss integration.
“Ebooks will be treated like any other material that is part of the current catalog,” Whittle said. “From our perspective, we feel like we have the biggest picture of it. It’s not just an API to 3M, it is a different way to experience those ebooks from any vendor,” Whittle said, including making the content available via the BookMyne mobile app.
ALA’s Digital Content and Libraries Working Group also met separately with the senior leaders of OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and 3M during the conference, and some of the discussions were directed toward “removing any remnants of friction” in ebook borrowing.