The library eBook scene, indeed the eBook scene for consumers too, is ever-changing and unpredictable. Any library trying to plan more than one year out for eBooks is playing a losing game. Don’t sign contracts for more than a year and don’t invest huge amounts of time in what might be dying models.
For the most part, right now libraries feel like we have two choices for eBooks:
- paying beaucoup bucks for high-demand eBooks to third-party aggregator companies like Overdrive and 3M (for more on for-profit companies’ recent eBooks offerings, see David Lee King’s excellent post on what he saw at ALA Annual)
- pointing users to the many free, lower-demand eBooks out on the web on sites like Project Gutenberg or Librivox
But there is a third choice, and it’s one that I think can change the landscape of library eBooks forever…and for the better.
Open Library is a project from the Internet Archive, a non-profit that has given us amazing web content like the Wayback Machine (historical snapshots of websites), the Audio Archive, the Moving Image Archive, and the Software Archive. The Internet Archive is also technically a registered library, and they have long collaborated with local libraries for services and collections. IA is based in San Francisco and I was lucky enough a couple of months ago to visit the headquarters for a stunning tour that included the “hands-down-most-awesome server room ever” and the most efficient book scanning workflow I’ve ever seen.
And that book scanning project has yielded Open Library. Open Library is a digital library built partially from paper books from physical libraries. Anyone can access the 1,000,000+ free eBooks through their website. But wait, there’s more! A new project with 1,000+ currently participating libraries, including mine, is the Lending Library, a swiftly growing collection of 100,000+ eBooks from the 20th century, including many popular titles (though not those from the most recent 15 years or so). Did I mention that it’s currently 100% free for your library to participate in the Lending Library? All you have to do is send at least one paper book to the IA for digitization. That’s it.
Users can access the entire collection in-library or from home with remote access, as long as you set up authentication on your end through EZ Proxy, WAM, etc. Books are added two primary ways: they are scanned in from discarded copies sent to the IA from member libraries -or- IA has arranged a lending agreement directly with the publishers. Books do operate on a one-user/one-copy model, in keeping with copyright holder rights.
Here’s what it’s like on the user’s end: You click on the link from your library’s website, as you would for any other eBook collection, and log in with your library credentials. Now Open Library knows you can borrow from the Lending Library. If you access from inside the library, you will see this message alerting you that you have access to even more eBooks.
Browse or search for a book, then choose whether you want to borrow an “in-browser” version (which you view using the super smooth Internet Archive’s BookReader web app) or downloadable formats like PDF, ePub, Daisy, plain text, and Kindle. One thing I really like is how all the various editions of a work are aggregated into one record. Here’s what you see when you go to the “digital holdings” for the Scarlet Letter.
Each person can borrow up to 5 eBooks at a time for up to 2 weeks. You can read these eBooks on the device of your choice: Mac or PC, laptop or desktop, tablet or smart phone. Read and smile: NO COMPATIBILITY ISSUES!
One web page for every book ever published. It’s a lofty but achievable goal.
To build Open Library, we need hundreds of millions of book records, a wiki interface, and lots of people who are willing to contribute their time and effort to building the site.
To date, we have gathered over 20 million records from a variety of large catalogs as well as single contributions, with more on the way.
Open Library is an open project: the software is open, the data are open, the documentation is open, and we welcome your contribution. Whether you fix a typo, add a book, or write a widget–it’s all welcome. We have a small team of fantastic programmers who have accomplished a lot, but we can’t do it alone!
I <3 Open Library. And I don’t <3 a lot of things. So you know it must be amazing. Here are some of the reasons that I think Open Library is a successful future model for library eBooks:
- Open Library is an eBook library built by libraries, with library collections, for libraries.
- A printed book in the public domain that is currently accessible to only one library’s users in a physical format gets turned into a digital book accessible to all participating library’s users. This is the ultimate in resource sharing.
- The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization, so if they can arrange more contracts with publishers directly the cost to libraries will necessarily be less than it would be with the for-profit companies we’ve been dealing with so far.
- It’s open: the code, the collection, everything.
- Reading is a smooth, device-neutral user experience.
- This solves the “last copy” syndrome in many libraries where we might hold on to an outdated printed item if it’s the last one in our catalog. Send your last copies to the Internet Archive and share with other libraries while freeing up valuable shelf space at the same time.
Freaking awesome, period.
Libraries interested in partnering in this program should email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read more about the technology behind the project and the librarianship that built this collection as well. And to learn more as things develop, keep track of what’s new with the Open Library through their blog.
Mark my words. This is the future of eBooks for libraries.