This spring, BiblioLabs, the Charleston, SC–based developer of the free multimedia anthology production platform BiblioBoard Creator, began offering a subscription service that will allow users to download and view anthologies created by libraries and other third parties.
Meanwhile, several institutions have already used the Creator tool to produce anthologies on topics ranging from the history of Jazz in New Orleans to a biography of Daniel Samper Ortega, Director of the National Library of Colombia from 1931 to 1938. Most notably, last fall, BiblioLabs developed a 19th Century Historical Books iPad App for the British Library, and the library then used BiblioBoard Creator to sustain the app by generating smaller thematic anthologies on complementary topics.
Individuals have created interesting collections as well: David Ensminger, instructor of English, Humanities, and Folklore for Lee College Texas, has been an active chronicler of U.S. punk rock since the 1980s, conducting interviews with bands, collecting show flyers and ephemera, and publishing the 1980s fanzine No Deposit, No Return, and later the magazine Left of the Dial, which was distributed through record stores from 1999 through 2005.
Some of his personal collections can be viewed on his blog Visual Vitriol or in his books. But his new anthology “The Punk and Indie Rock Compendium: Left of the Dial” presents the material in a more interactive way than print or the web, he said.
“To me, it’s a really immersive environment,” he said. “You can click on photos, you can click on interviews, you can click on letters [to the editor], you can click on the old covers to the magazine. On your mobile device, you can open up and read these magazines that… have literally disappeared.”
Meanwhile, at the University of Denver, Lecturer in Music Theory Kristin Taavola, PhD, used the Creator tool to produce Musical Form: A Curated Collection for Tonal Analysis, an anthology that is now used as a digital textbook for her students.
“The benefit to students is huge—I was able to focus the repertoire for a single course on Form and Analysis, and embed not only scores but videos into the app,” she told LJ. “Most music theory textbooks include recordings by university students rather than famous musicians whom the students know and respect. In addition, with Bibliolabs, students can use scores online or print them out, so if they want to do several analyses of one piece, there is always a clean score available.”
The anthology also saved her students money, Taavola added.
“Because any of the musical anthologies available in text form cost $100 or possibly $200+, the app is a great savings for the students. It’s also easier for me; when I use a published anthology, I often supplement with other pieces I want to teach.”
Anthologies are produced in a three step process using the creator interface. During the “discovery” stage, users can select from public domain content provided by BiblioLabs—such as out-of-copyright books—or upload their own content. Basic metadata is then entered for each new item, via fields including license type, title, subtitle, creator, publication date, publisher, volume, edition, description, and source URL.
During the second stage, “enhancement,” users must check to ensure that each item has been uploaded properly, check for quality, and select a thumbnail image to display for each item. Then during the “marketing” stage, users upload icons and logos for the collection, and input keywords, a search engine optimization (SEO) description, an anthology description, and an audience description to make the anthology discoverable online.
Ensminger was an early adopter of the creator platform, and said “at first, I did have trouble with it. I didn’t think it was very intuitive.” But the company upgraded the platform twice during the three months that he spent compiling his Left of the Dial anthology. In terms of ease-of-use, he said that the latest version was much improved, and compared it to a content management system (CMS) used to generate posts on websites.
“It’s kind of like using a WordPress blog,” he said. “There’s ready-made templates, you click and upload, create captions. They had kind of a rough start, but it’s become much more streamlined.”
While the tool may be useful, the quality of the resulting anthologies is dependent on the effort that the curator expends compiling them.
The app blog iPad Insight gave BiblioBoard a negative review after downloading the free BiblioBoard app and then exploring two anthologies—the works of Jack London and Dogs: A Historical Collection—each priced at $15.99. The reviewer complained that “the vast majority or perhaps all the content in BiblioBoard is freely available, public domain material,” and argued that for anthologies priced at a premium, one would expect a more optimized experience, rather than a collection of scans. In addition, neither of the anthologies purchased by the reviewer included audio or video, which led him to question the app’s promise of a multimedia experience.
Inconsistent experiences may prove an issue for customers who are paying for anthologies created by third parties, especially those looking to generate a profit. But BiblioLabs is working on its own set of modules on subjects including Military History, African American History, Women’s Studies, and Spanish Language History and Literature that will be released this summer. Along with the British Library’s 19th Century app, these new modules will help showcase the platform’s potential and set a bar for quality.
But the app itself is free, and libraries can set their own pricing for the anthologies they create or make them free to patrons of individual library systems or consortia.
Mitchell Davis, Chief Business Officer of BiblioLabs, said that the anthology format could be especially useful for showcasing archived content that would otherwise remain undiscovered by most patrons.
“I think that’s what we’ve been very good at, taking these materials that are ‘lonely’ out in the research world, putting them in creative packaging and making them easy to use,” he said.
For subscription access, pricing begins at $1000 annually for small libraries, and increases based on patron count or student population.
“The library gets the entire tablet distribution ecosystem as part of their subscription,” Davis said. “When a patron downloads the app from their library the first time they identify themselves on the tablet, everything that the library subscribes to is immediately on their tablet and works… There’s no multi-user limits.”