New York Public Library LEAPing into the Library eBook Future

By Greg Pronevitz, Executive Director, Massachusetts Library System and ASCLA Board Member

At the ALA Mid-Winter Meeting in snowy Chicago attendees at the ASCLA Consortial eBook Interest Group were treated to an intriguing discussion about an exciting future possibility for eBooks in libraries. Micah May, NYPL’s Director of Business Development, and James English, NYPL’s Senior Product Manager for Reader Experience, introduced the concept for an upcoming grant application responding to IMLS’s “National Digital Platform” priority. The project is called Library E-Content Access Project, or LEAP. The proposal includes developing partnerships with other libraries and consortia (including a key partner in the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA)) across the country. Rachel Frick, DPLA’s Business Development Director, joined the conversation too. My own organization, the Massachusetts Library System, recently submitted a letter of support to IMLS and offer to partner.

The proposal is designed to explore four major development avenues:

1. Enhance Library Simplified, a multi-platform open source technology to simplify eBook discovery, checkout, and reading on diverse content platforms.

2. Create a free library of public domain eBooks, i.e., provide cleaned up meta-data and new computer generated cover art to allow Libraries to better serve eBooks already in the public domain.

3. Facilitate a national conversation about the challenges and potential of library e-books, and build consensus around possible services and solutions addressing these needs and opportunities for a national eBook exchange.

4. Launch a pilot version of this exchange with a seed collection of both public domain works and in-copyright content.

The first avenue, exploring ways to unify and improve the e-book borrowing and reading experience for library patrons across the country will build on an ongoing grant-funded project at NYPL, Library Simplified, which has resulted in an eBook app that allows discovery, check-out, and reading from diverse platforms. The open source app is scheduled to be released in June.

The DPLA and NYPL are the perfect partners for such an ambitious effort. NYPL founded the Readers Firstinitiative to encourage eContent aggregators to enhance the patron experience followed by the Library Simplified project to develop an app to unify the content provided by multiple aggregators. Now a partnership with DPLA and, perhaps, involving the wide network of hubs and collaborators, will engage librarians from across the country from all spheres, e.g., public, academic, and K-12. DPLA just announced a track on eBooks atDPLAfest 2015 in Indianapolis, which is being jointly facilitated by NYPL’s Micah May. This track is the first step in the national conversation called for in the grant application. This project has the potential to be a game changer for libraries in the way that OCLC was a game changer for cataloging and interlibrary loan. I hope to see you at DPLAfest.

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