In partnership with Minnesota’s Metropolitan Library Service Agency (MELSA), 3M has developed CloudLink, a new feature for its ebook lending system for consortia. Many consortial arrangements involve member libraries contributing ebooks to a common pool that patrons from all libraries can use. In addition to this functionality, CloudLink also enables any patron from any MELSA library to check out ebooks from the private collections of any other MELSA library, provided there is no holds list for the title.
“The Twin Cities Metro Area has a long history of resource sharing,” said Susan Nemitz, director of the Ramsey County Library. At the suggestion of Nemitz, MELSA approached 3M with the CloudLink concept. “We share our collections and we serve each other’s patrons. Prior to 3M’s innovation, our ebook contract with vendors would not allow either type of resource sharing. The inability to offer all of our users a full spectrum of our services was really at odds with our customer service model.”
Currently, unless a publisher has a policy that prohibits consortial lending, the CloudLink system will allow ebooks to be checked out by patrons from any library. It automatically tracks which titles and publishers have consortial lending restrictions in place and prevents those titles from circulating outside of a library’s private ebook collection. And, using the holds list function, it ensures that the patrons of a particular library have the first opportunity to read new ebooks. Patrons of other member libraries cannot place holds on these titles. These functions are managed in the background; patrons simply see what is available when perusing their library’s 3M Cloud selection.
For example, “if [MELSA member] Washington County Library buys a Hachette ebook, only people from Washington County can check that out,” explained 3M Cloud Library Marketing Manager Tom Mercer. If they purchase a title from a publisher that permits consortial lending, “only people from Washington County can place a hold on that ebook, but once it’s sitting there underutilized, anybody across the consortium could check that book out…. Users are only presented with titles that they can check out or place holds on.”
Ramsey County had seen 105 percent growth in ebook circulation during the past year, but prior to the CloudLink beta test, patron choice was limited, and users faced long waits, Nemitz said.
“After years of significant cuts to our collections budget, we were intimidated by the financial resources it takes to create an ebook collection large enough to entice our patrons into long-term use of an ebook lending program,” she said. “To be honest, over the last year, the user experience has not been great. Our ebook collection is the only collection where we have more registered users than materials.”
CloudLink now enables Ramsey County’s patrons to access 60,000 other ebooks available via their MELSA partners, in addition to the 6,000 ebooks that the library had already purchased, Nemitz said. “We have seen our holds list diminish greatly.”
3M and MELSA recently concluded their test of the system, Mercer said, and 3M is now planning to offer the feature to other interested consortia for an additional fee.
“This idea that you can still service your community first, and then share across your consortium, is something that’s really resonating with a lot of people,” he said. “The feedback we’re getting from the MELSA people is that, from their users’ standpoint, it seems that there is more [content] available. And from the libraries’ standpoint, they really like the collaborative nature of it.”