November 24, 2017

Canadian-Controlled Ebook Infrastructure Project Progressing

The Canadian Urban Libraries Council (CULC) is in the process of clarifying technical aspects of nine responses it received this month, after issuing a Request for Information (RFI) invitation to vendors concerning its Canadian public library ebook lending initiative. The goal is the development of an ebook infrastructure in which Canada’s libraries would control “the storage and distribution of digital content, as well as…the management of lending agreements and transactions between public libraries, publishers and library patrons,” the organization has explained.

When their questions are answered in early August, CULC hopes to select one of these potential vendors and develop a “proof of concept” business model using their proposed platform. In a parallel effort led by eBOUND Canada, the Association of Canadian Publishers is putting together a selection of potential licensing models that publishers would be willing to work with.

“We aren’t looking to create a new OverDrive or anything like that at this point,” explained CULC/CBUC Executive Director Jefferson Gilbert. “We’re looking to create a proof-of-concept so that we can do a pilot with some materials that are currently not available, and agree on some licensing terms for that material. Hopefully, we’re going to demonstrate to [publishers] that this is a good model for them to be involved with, for a number of reasons.”

Several CULC member libraries are willing to include “buy now” buttons on their websites for ebooks, if that will entice publishers to work with the new platform, for example.

A total of six public library systems will participate in the pilot, including the Hamilton, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver public libraries. A key goal is to develop a platform that works within a library’s existing discovery layer and ILS, so this system will need to be compatible with both BiblioCommons—for Hamilton, Ottawa, and Vancouver—and Endeca for Toronto. In addition, Hamilton and Vancouver both use the Horizon ILS by SirsiDynix, while Ottawa and Vancouver use SirsiDynix’s Symphony ILS.

CULC began exploring the idea of a Canadian-controlled ebook infrastructure about two years ago, expressing a list of goals that foretold the Readers First Initiative announced by a coalition of libraries this summer. In addition to wanting an ebook platform that did not require users to navigate away from a library’s catalog, among other goals, Canadian libraries faced more specific problems that CULC felt vendors simply were not addressing.

As an example, Gilbert described a difficult ebook problem facing staff at the Toronto Public Library (TPL).

Part of TPL’s materials selection policy states that “special consideration is given to materials with Canadian content,” which is a forte of Canadian publishers. Unfortunately, Gilbert said, OverDrive and other ebook providers don’t offer a way to search or prioritize buying based on the nationality of a publisher. So, as a stopgap measure, TPL has its collection development staff checking updates to OverDrive every single day to ensure that they aren’t missing an opportunity to evaluate Canadian content.

“Basically, when 50 new books go on, they have to evaluate those 50 books that day,” he said. “The publishers are now having to go back to old-fashioned marketing to tell libraries about what books are on the OverDrive system, so that they can go on there and try to find them.”

Gilbert said that he is encouraged by the current dialogue between publishers and libraries, but added that CULC has continued to forge ahead with this project, despite upgrades and new application programming interfaces (API) that OverDrive and others have announced to make their services work more seamlessly with library catalogs.

“When we got the go-ahead in May or June 2010 to start working on this problem for our members, we frankly expected a third-party, for-profit company to pick it up and run with it,” Gilbert said. “We never [thought] that we would still be leading the charge two years later. We figured the vending community would build something … for the Canadian market that was very customer-centric, that libraries would be happy with…Here in Canada, we haven’t seen it. We’ve had lots of meetings with people who have said it’s on its way, but they’ve yet to deliver.”

Gilbert declined to provide specifics regarding the vendors that had submitted the RFIs, but did note that three of the companies were “traditional players that you would expect,” and that several of the other companies “have gone to quite significant lengths to put together proposals with [major] technical partners.”

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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