April 15, 2014

With SirsiDynix Announcements, ILS Vendors Move Closer to Ebook Integration

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SirsiDynix LogoWith a flurry of partnership announcements pending before ALA Midwinter in Seattle, SirsiDynix is within weeks of the official launch of eResource Central (eRC).The electronic resource management system promises to make ebooks and other digital content from multiple vendors seamlessly available through its Symphony and Horizon ILS systems via the SirsiDynix Enterprise and Portfolio discovery tools.

The partnerships with content providers began coming together last June when SirsiDynix struck a deal with EBSCO Publishing, and the most recent partnerships include Baker & Taylor (announced on January 3), OverDrive, 3M, and Recorded Books.

“Our users will finally be able to see in an ebook title in Enterprise and actually know if it’s available for download without going out to an OverDrive or OneClick Digital site, and they can see more detail about the title while searching in Enterprise,” explained Gary Werchan, systems coordinator for Frisco Public Library (FPL) in Texas.

FPL has been a SirsiDynix customer since 2004, and has been the company’s Central Pilot Program partner for eRC since fall 2012, testing early versions of the interface and offering feedback.

The proliferation of digital content has also led to a proliferation of vendor interfaces, which can confuse patrons and make it difficult for them to find and access that content.

“The challenge for public libraries now in the digital world is that they still have to buy from multiple different vendors,” said Matt Walker, vice president of sales and marketing for Recorded Books. “As a result of that, it makes the patron experience a bit problematic…If it becomes more seamless for the patron, it’s better for everyone involved.”

Librarians have long argued that the best solution to this problem would be one that allowed patrons to find and access all of a library’s print and digital content through a single interface—specifically their OPAC. And, with the launch of eRC, many of SirsiDynix’s 3,600 customers will see the beginning of a tangible response.

To view a library’s print and electronic holdings, and in many cases, access electronic content, patrons “will not need to login again to a different interface,” said Eric Keith, vice president of global marketing, communications and strategic alliances for SirsiDynix. “Right now, there’s such a patchwork of multiple log ins, multiple interfaces that the user has to be familiar with. That’s really what we were trying to avoid. The reason why this has been such a wonderful partnership with these [content providers] like OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, 3M, and Recorded Books, is because they’re after the same thing we are—a user experience that brings all of the information into one place.”

In a demonstration for LJ Nathan Guinn, director of product management for eResource Central, conducted several searches on FPL’s OPAC. Even with general keywords such as “dog,” live availability information was quickly pulled from several vendor repositories. Patrons can then filter results in a variety of ways, such as using checkboxes to narrow results by the brand of ereader that they own.

3M, Baker & Taylor, and Recorded Books have said that patrons will be able to place holds and check out their ebooks and audiobooks from the eRC-enhanced OPAC without requiring patrons to navigate anywhere else.

For OverDrive, “this first release of eRC/Enterprise 4.3, placing holds and checking out from OverDrive will still mean following a link to the OverDrive site,” Werchan said. “The true one-click checkout and one-stop account view showing all activity, both print and digital, is something we are very anxious to offer our members. Sirsi assures us it is coming and that OverDrive is working on the next API release that will let Sirsi integrate that into eRC.”

OverDrive has separately said that they will have announcements regarding improvements to their API suite at ALA Midwinter.

“Collaborating with SirsiDynix on this project enables OverDrive to deliver more powerful, integrated solutions for our mutual customers,” said Claudia Weissman, OverDrive vice president of library and educational sales. “We look forward to seeing the significant benefits that eResource Central will bring.”

Working Together

The size of SirsiDynix alone makes this launch significant, but the application programming interfaces (APIs) developed by the content providers are designed to be compatible with systems developed not only by SirsiDynix, but also by other ILS vendors as well. For many content providers, the code has been written and now only needs to be tested and tweaked for compatibility with those other systems. As a result, 2013 is poised to be a year full of integration announcements.

eRC’s integration with the 3M Cloud Library is a great example. Taking a step back, SirsiDynix is not the first ILS vendor to go live with a solution that allows patrons to browse and check out ebooks from within the OPAC. In December 2012, Polaris Library Systems announced that after months of working closely with 3M to develop and test an API suite that would integrate the 3M Cloud Library into its ILS, the system was now serving patrons at the Baltimore County Public Library. 3M began offering other interested ILS vendors and libraries access to that API suite beginning in the second half of 2012, and SirsiDynix used those APIs to offer similar functionality with eRC.

“What we’ve architected is the ability to browse, check out, put on hold, and receive notifications [regarding ebooks] from the OPAC,” said Matt Tempelis, global business manager for the 3M Cloud Library. SirsiDynix “will be taking advantage of that suite of APIs that will allow that in-OPAC checkout, hold, and notification experience. That’s what we would like to see, and they’ve intimated that it’s where they’re going.”

Similarly, Baker & Taylor has been working closely with SirsiDynix to develop its own suite of APIs that will integrate the Axis 360 ebook platform with eRC. B&T recently announced that the integration is now complete, and Livia Bitner, vice president of technical services and product development for B&T, told LJ that other ILS vendors are now working on their own integration efforts using those APIs.

With eRC “on a search results page, a patron will be able to see that the library has [John Grisham’s] The Racketeer, and they have it in a paperback format, and they have it in a hardback format, and oh, by the way, they also have it in an ebook format,” she said. “And without leaving that search results page, they will know how many copies the library owns, and will be able to either check it out, or if none are available, place a hold, all without leaving the OPAC.”

She continued: “That’s what they’ve been asking for, and that’s why we’ve been developing these standard APIs and have been reaching out to all ILS vendors to work together to implement [them].”

Back-end Benefits

These integration efforts will also simplify content acquisition and the collection and analysis of usage statistics, Werchan said.

“Another big plus is the ability to pull the metadata for new ebook and e-audiobook purchases into Enterprise close to real-time,” Werchan said. “Today getting that information into the catalog requires too much hands-on work by our staff. We can also put together customized ebook collections using eRC and point users at them—for example a holiday ebook and e-audiobook collection across vendors—and feature it on our Enterprise home page.”

During his demo, Guinn also pointed to several back-end features, including a usage statistics dashboard that compiles real-time information from multiple vendors, allowing librarians to view ranked checkout lists, total checkouts across vendors, checkouts by format, charts comparing vendors, and other data.

Describing FPL as “a very data-driven library,” Werchan said that the dashboard offers basic information, but he would like to see more.

“We want to have the same level of transaction statistics on e-materials as we can get on print items today … And the ability to do ebook ordering directly through eRC is an enhancement that we know Sirsi is working on, and hopefully the vendors will support as soon as possible. The more an ebook vendor is willing to integrate into eRC the more attractive they are to us as a supplier.”

Librarians have been demanding this type of integrated approach for digital content for years. And while the shift toward a more seamless user experience now seems imminent, many librarians might wonder why these changes have taken so long.

Walker from Recorded Books noted that the API developers have had to focus not only on functionality for the end-user, but also on back-end concerns of their own, such as how to ensure that a publisher’s rights are being protected when a file is transferred from one system to another, and then to a patron.

“As with all IT projects, it takes a while to make sure you get all of those things lined up to make it work,” he 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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