June 25, 2018

Top Ebook Distributors, ILS Vendors to Have Sitdown With ReadersFirst Library Coalition


The top distributors of ebooks to public libraries along with some of their counterparts among ILS vendors are going to sit down with leading librarians from the U.S. and Canada at the end of this month to discuss how the technology and business model for electronic lending should develop.

The January 28 gathering at the Seattle Public Library will coincide with the Midwinter meeting of the American Library Association, although the roundtable discussion is not part of the conference.

OverDrive, 3M, EBSCO, Baker&Taylor, Library Ideas, Ingram, Scholastic, Recorded Books, SirsiDynix, and Polaris are among the distributors and vendors (complete list below) who have responded to a roundtable invitation from the leadership group of the ReadersFirst Initiative, a coalition of librarians that formed in June and now numbers more than 220 library systems around the world, according to its website.

Among the librarians who will take part are Christopher Platt (NYPL), Rivkah Sass (Sacramento), Michael Colford (Boston), Peggy Murphy (LAPL), Jim Loter (Seattle), Tom Galante (Queens), Jennifer Stirling (Ottawa), Julianne Hancock (Salt Lake City), and Jamie LaRue (Douglas County). The full working group is listed below.

“ReadersFirst members realized from the beginning that the initiative needs to include the myriad of vendors on whom we increasingly rely to support our strategic goals around a rich patron experience,” said Platt of NYPL. “This roundtable is a means to welcome vendors into the conversation.”

Although much of the discussion about e-lending revolves around publishers and access to content, an equally important issue for librarians is how to integrate that material into the OPAC so that libraries, not distributors, control the user experience and have access to all the data associated with any library transaction.

“As libraries look to build out rich online engagement with patrons, the desired state is to have the patron completely stay within the library’s controllable, virtual walls,” Platt said.

The participants will focus their discussion around a draft document (“content access requirements”) released last month by ReadersFirst which outlines the technical requirements the group believes distributors should meet in order to repair the fractured state of library e-lending.

The new document from ReadersFirst builds out on the overarching principles it announced in June and is similar to the Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC) request for information (RFI) issued this past summer to vendors for its public library ebook lending initiative.

At present, ebook library transactions most often occur among discrete distributor platforms that are not fully integrated with library ILSes and which oblige patrons to jump to a different interface that leaves them segregated from the rest of the library’s catalog and collection.

Librarians are not demanding, for example, that patrons not visit OverDrive’s catalog, but that content licensed from OverDrive be downloadable and manageable in the library’s catalog or discovery layer (such as Bibliocommons, which will have representatives at the meeting). Libraries do not want to  separate the patron from the library’s control or integration with other patron services, such as managing holds or signing up for programs. Without the integration ReadersFirst is seeking, the links in the catalog kick the reader out to the distributor’s platform.

Libraries also want to ensure, for example, that circulation numbers for econtent are readily available, which is often not the case now since they are not embedded in the ILS database but have to be extracted from the various ebook distributors. The draft document states in regard to circulation transactions that an ebook distributor “must provide methods that allow programmatic access for approved external services to securely perform circulation transactions on behalf of the patron and wholly within the environment of the external service.” [emphasis added]

The document also says:

ReadersFirst-compliant e-content distribution services will allow secure, stable, and robust programmatic methods for approved external services to export and query digital content metadata (bibliographic information) and patron account information (number of holds, items out), and perform common circulation transactions (request, checkout, download, cancel). In addition, these services shall allow customer customization and control of patron notifications and communications, and provide robust on-demand administrative data reports.

To date, the only integration that begins to approach what ReadersFirst is looking for is the one developed last year between Polaris and 3M, which was engineered in part by Steven Nielsen of Polaris, a former library director in Iowa, who will be at the meeting.

However, a new integration announced today between SirsiDynix and Baker & Taylor also appears to be moving in the direction of ReadersFirst principles.

SirsiDynix, which is the leading ILS vendor in terms of academic and public library installations and which will have a representative at the meeting, is planning to launch its eResource Central in 2013. It is a next-generation electronic resource management system which is being built with many of the concerns of ReadersFirst in mind, according to Eric Keith, the vice president for global marketing, communications & strategic alliances.

“We had a wonderful meeting with Christopher Platt over the summer where we introduced him to eResource Central and exchanged ideas about what the industry wants and how SirsiDynix can work to make them a reality,” Keith said.

Coincidentally, Baker & Taylor and SirsiDynix today announced that B&T’s Axis360 digital media platform is integrated with eResource Central, and in the announcement both organizations said they are strong supporters of the ReadersFirst initiative.

“Baker & Taylor’s vision for Axis 360 was always to bring e-content discovery and access into a library’s catalog in a seamless experience for patrons,” said George Coe, president of Baker & Taylor’s library and education division, who will attend the Seattle meeting. “With eResource Central, Baker & Taylor customers can make their library catalog the single place where their patrons find and enjoy everything the library has to offer its community, whether in print or digital format.”

Recorded Books is also planning changes in 2013 with the addition of ebooks to its OneClick Digital audiobook platform, so Jim Schmidt, the executive vice president of sales and marketing, said it was important for the company to be at the Seattle meeting and partner with libraries early on.

“We hope to take away from the Seattle forum a better understanding of how we can help libraries provide the best service for their patrons and ensure that those patrons have the same free and easy access to ebooks that they experience with a library’s physical book collection,” he said.

Brian Downing, the chief executive officer of Library Ideas, which offers the Freading ebook service and the Freegal download music service, said the issues being raised by ReadersFirst are as important to libraries’ future as the ongoing funding battles. He said that ReadersFirst is a way for libraries to “bang the drum” to get what they need.

“I intend to listen to what is said and do what we can to help the libraries become more successful,” Downing said. “I hope the libraries make some more noise and people listen to them.”

The document also addresses terms and conditions for APIs, which are of increasing importance and have been the subject of considerable debate. The draft document says that any distributor’s “API, web services, and other external access methods must be available with few restrictions and must be sub-licensable to other service providers under contract by the customer.”

When a library subscribes to either an ILS or a cloud-based platform, the data that is generated from the library patron usage of those systems is more important than ever since it is the key to big data analytics that more libraries are using. Open APIs help ensure libraries access to the data and can also be used to automate the data extraction, but there is some tension over whether distributors can add a clause into their contracts that limit libraries’ ability to share their circulation data with third-party companies.

List of confirmed vendor attendees

3M (Tom Mercer, Matt Tempelis)

Baker & Taylor (Livia Bitner, George Coe)

Bibliocommons (Patrick Kennedy, Beth Jefferson)

Bibliotheca (Meghan Davis, Andy Chadbourne)

DeMarque (Clement Laberge)

EBSCO (Ken Breen)

Ingram (Pamela Smith, Dan Sheehan)

Innovative Interfaces (John McCullough, Mary Chevreau)

Library Ideas (Brian Downing, Jim Peterson)

Midwest Tapes (Jeff Jankowski, Ed Altweis)

OCLC (Andrew Pace, Ted Fons)

OverDrive (Steve Potash)

Polaris (Scott McClausand, Steven Nielsen)

Recorded Books (Matt Walker, Jim Schmidt)

SirsiDynix (Talin Bingham)

TLC (Lorrie Butler, Simon Marcus)

Scholastic (Evan St. Lifer, Allison Henderson)

 ReadersFirst Leadership Group

Amy Calhoun, electronic resources librarian, Sacramento Public Library

Art Brodsky, past chairman of the board, Montgomery County Public Libraries

Christina de Castell, director, resources & technology, Vancouver Public Library

Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation operations, New York Public Library

Jamie LaRue, director, Douglas County Libraries

Jean Hofacket, county librarian, Alameda County Library

Jennifer Pearson, senior manager, advocacy programs, OCLC

Jennifer Stirling, division manager, systemwide, Ottawa Public Library

Jim Loter, information technology director, Seattle Public Library

Julianne Hancock, manager of communications, Salt Lake City Public Library

Kelvin Watson, director econtent services, Queens Public Library

Ken Roberts, former chief librarian, Hamilton Public Library, chair, Canadian Urban Libraries Council

Marylouise Daneri, collections manager, Montgomery County Public Libraries

Megan Wong, virtual library manager, Santa Clara County Library

Melissa DeWild, collection development manager, Kent District Library

Micah May, director, strategic planning, New York Public Library

Michael Colford, director of library services, Boston Public Library

Michael J. Ciccone, director of collections, Hamilton Public Library

Michael Santangelo, electronic resources specialist, Brooklyn Public Library

Parker Hamilton, director, Montgomery County Public Libraries

Paul Whitney, consultant, IFLA governing board, IFLA

Peggy Murphy, interim collection services manager, Los Angeles Public Library

Sari Feldman, executive director, Cuyahoga County Public Library

Stuart Hamilton, director, advocacy and policy, IFLA

Tom Galante, director and CEO, Queens Library

Michael Kelley About Michael Kelley

Michael Kelley is the former Editor-in-Chief, Library Journal.


  1. It’s too bad that Amazon.com is not among the vendors that will be represented at the meeting in Seattle. Requirement 3.c. of ReaderFirst’s draft “content access requirements” seems to call for the download of e-books to occur “wholly within the environment of the external service.” That seems to be contrary to the current practice by OverDrive (and perhaps others) of sending patrons to the Amazon.com site to download borrowed e-books for Kindle e-readers. True integration as envisioned by the authors of the ReadersFirst document would preclude such an arrangement, wouldn’t it? Is this issue likely to be discussed in the Seattle meeting?

  2. Inviting the ILS vendors is a mistake. OverDrive has its problems, but it looks and works like a dream compared to the products developed by SirsiDynix and its ilk. Unfortunately, the user experience within libraries’ “virtual walls” is not “controllable” at all – it’s produced by ILS vendors, it can’t be customized, and it’s dated, poorly architected, and user-unfriendly. Libraries should be worried about their dependence on OverDrive precisely because it mirrors their existing dysfunctional vendor relationships.

  3. Nigel Atkinson says:

    No ebrary/ProQuest? Were they not invited?

  4. Am I the only one bothered by the lack of academic librarians? They should be part of this discussion.