September 3, 2014

Navy Makes Progress On Non-Web-Based Ebook Library

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Logistics Specialist Joshua Williams browses the stacks in the library aboard the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower

The U.S. Navy General Library Program (NGLP) is hoping to have a pilot test for an expandable, non-web-based ebook lending library platform ready within a year, ultimately developing a system that will allow on-ship libraries to loan ebooks in areas with limited Internet access, and for libraries on smaller surface ships and submarines to store and loan more content in general.

Libraries are described as a “mission essential component” of the Navy’s Morale Welfare and Recreation services, and Navy ships operate a wide variety of them. These range in size from three-room libraries open 18 to 20 hours per day on aircraft carriers, to libraries stored in gear lockers on submarines, explained Nilya Carrato, program assistant for the NGLP.

Popular materials include action novels, nonfiction, audio collections for foreign language learning, and coursework materials for sailors who are going to school part time. Most surface ships offer a selection of books, computer workstations, AV materials, DVDs, and other resources that Carrato described as “a small slice of what a library would be on shore.”

Submarines are a different story.

“When you get down to a submarine, the gear is stored wherever it fits,” she said. “We think about libraries in terms of linear feet, and the submarine guys always want to know how many cubic inches their library will be.”

Ebooks could help these on-ship libraries vastly increase their collections overnight. NGLP has been offering ebooks to Navy personnel since 2005 through Overdrive, Ebsco, Safari, and other providers, yet this content is, by far, easiest to access when personnel are ashore. When ships are deployed, often for six to 10 months, Internet access can be spotty, slow, or restricted depending on where the ship is, and on the bandwidth requirements of a mission, Carrato explained. And submarines offer no recreational access at all when they are not in port.

In June, NGLP sent out a Request For Information asking contractors to offer ideas for systems that could meet rights management requirements for publishers and security requirements for the ships. The system could be a server that is not connected to the rest of the ship’s network, offering downloads to personal e-readers, tablets, and computers, or a system that uses pre-loaded e-readers, for example.

Both models present unique challenges. Submarines, for example, generally don’t allow the use of personal ereaders that have recording devices, and as a general rule, ereaders aren’t allowed to connect to any ship’s regular computer network, according to a story about the program published this month in Navy Times.

Also, there have been restrictions in place against small rewritable media since the Defense Department banned USB drives in 2008, after the commander of the U.S. Strategic Command became alarmed by a malware worm that spread rapidly through military networks. After new network security requirements were put in place, the ban was temporarily lifted in 2010, only to be reinstated later that year, after WikiLeaks began posting thousands of classified diplomatic cables from U.S. embassies.

And circulating a set of preloaded commercial e-readers isn’t as straightforward as it might sound.

“Even if we able to provide a submarine with Sony [e-readers] or Nooks that were all preloaded, what can I do to ensure that when that device gets to the boat, that a sailor doesn’t start reading a book, finishes the book, and then deletes that copy? How do I ensure that the book is available to the rest of the crew” for the remainder of a deployment?

Similarly, the Navy wouldn’t want a system where sailors could use their credit cards to pay for ebooks to be downloaded to a community device.

“I want to be able to protect the ebook, as well as our sailors,” she said.

NGLP responded to contractors’ questions about format types, hardware and software design, and other issues last week, closing the RFI stage of the project. Carrato said that they are hoping to move into the Request For Proposal stage sometime during the first fiscal quarter of 2013, which begins in October, and have a test site ready by the end of the next fiscal year in September 2013.

“This is what public libraries are expecting to provide to their customers. I don’t feel like we shouldn’t be expected to provide it to our customers,” Carrato said.

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Matt Enis About Matt Enis

Matt Enis (menis@mediasourceinc.com; @matthewenis on Twitter) is Associate Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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