October 16, 2017

NYPL Launches SimplyE App, Integrating Access to Multiple Ebook Vendors

SimplyE Android screenshotsThe New York Public Library (NYPL) on July 12 announced the launch of SimplyE, a new app for tablets and smartphones that employs a single interface for browsing, borrowing, and reading ebooks from multiple different vendors, as well as public domain ebooks. Enabling patrons to discover and start reading library ebooks with as few as three clicks, this initial version of the app is the fulfillment of a goal set two and a half years ago by the NYPL-led Library Simplified project.

SimplyE makes it possible “to download any one of our thousands of titles onto any device with no hassle,” NYPL CEO Tony Marx told LJ. “We just think anything we can do to make it easier for people to read, however they want to read…is a great thing for us to do.”

The app is currently available for Android and iOS devices, and development of Kindle Fire and browser-based versions are already underway. OverDrive and Bibliotheca’s 3M Cloud Library are currently NYPL’s primary vendors of popular ebook content, but the app is designed to work with other vendors as well.

“It should work with any platform,” Marx said.

According to NYPL’s announcement, the software will be released as open source, “giving public libraries around the country the ability to use the code to develop their own e-reader apps….. [And] NYPL is actively working with library systems around the country to potentially implement customized versions of the app.”

Once users download the app and log in with their library card number and PIN, the straightforward interface presents a collection of book covers in side-scrollable categories such as bestsellers, staff picks, fiction, nonfiction, YA fiction, Español, etc. Navigation features include search; sort by author, title, or recently added; and filters that enable users to view all titles or limit their view to currently available titles. The e-reader interface features adjustable fonts, background and type color selections, and a slider for brightness.

In addition, features including text-to-speech are currently in development, and NYPL is collaborating with the National Federation of the Blind, Benetech, the National Center for Accessible Media, Digital Public Library of America, and First Book to ensure that SimplyE and the related Open eBooks app meet or exceed industry standards for accessibility.

Although vendors, including OverDrive and 3M/Bibliotheca, have made many user-friendly enhancements to their own ebook interfaces during the past three years, Marx said he expects the ease of the SimplyE checkout process to ensure the app a place in the library e-reader ecosystem.

“What we’re interested in is ease of access…and we want to increase the availability of titles wherever they come from, from whatever source,” said Marx. “Our users don’t really care about what the path [from vendor to their device] is. They care about ‘do we have the book that they want, and can they get it easily and fast?’”

NYPL currently offers its patrons access to more than 300,000 ebooks, and the library has seen a 241 percent increase in e-material circulation during the past five years, with 2.9 million ebooks and other e-materials circulating in fiscal year 2015.

In the cloud

At NYPL, SimplyE and Open eBooks are hosted by Amazon Web Services (AWS), the on-demand enterprise cloud computing platform used by many high-traffic web services including Netflix, Airbnb, Expedia, Yelp, Pinterest, and Adobe. The library recently won the Best Practices Award in AWS’s 2016 City on a Cloud Challenge for digitalcollections.nypl.org, where the public can access a collection of 690,000 digitized prints, photographs, maps, manuscripts, streaming video, and other materials.

Jay Haque, NYPL’s director of development operations and enterprise computing, said that NYPL has been using AWS for several public-facing sites. About four years ago, “we had started to build more sophisticated sites, and had these very specific requirements [for] availability and redundancy,” Haque said. “Ten years ago, if one of our sites went down, it wasn’t so much of a big deal. These days we strive to have really great uptime and having our services available to the public all the time.”

NYPL determined that building in-house the redundant network infrastructure it wanted would cost well over $1 million. “It was cost prohibitive,” Haque said. So the team ultimately decided to work with AWS, using Puppet for configuration management, and AWS tools including CloudFormation for resource templates, EC2 (Elastic Compute Cloud) for capacity scaling, Amazon Relational Database Service, CloudFront content delivery network, and most recently, the AWS Elastic Transcoder, which enables library staff to upload high res photos, for example, and automatically create lower resolution derivatives for display on the web.

Currently, NYPL spends about $200,000 per year with AWS hosting the main NYPL site, the digital collections site, and the two ebook apps. But Haque points out that one of the benefits of AWS has been the ability to scale and “right-size” the infrastructure on the fly. For example, in January NYPL announced that more than 180,000 public domain images were available as free high-resolution downloads on the digital collections site. Major media outlets including The New York Times, NPR, and The Atlantic covered the story.

“In the past, when that happened, you could guarantee our website was going to be down,” due to a huge spike in traffic, Haque said. But in this case, the staff anticipated the volume of visitors and temporarily rescaled the environment from four AWS servers to 12. “We let that ride out for about a week, and when we were done, we just resized back to what we needed” for more typical site traffic.

Matt Enis About Matt Enis

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

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Comments

  1. I have found that SimplyE keeps chopping off the last sentence of each chapter which has become a little maddening. Is there anything I can do to avoid this other than guess?

  2. Sorry my earlier message was sent in error.
    The last line of each chapter always is eliminated. Please advise.