Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Update and the need for a single repository

So guess what world, I'm back.  Well, sort of.  Remember ALA Midwinter?  Chicago?  The blizzard?  Yeah, well, I'm a (sort of) casualty of that fun experience, having slipped on ice at my hotel, and broken my shoulder.  Spent the night in Northwestern University, flew home the next day, had surgery a few days later, and then spent months in rehab.  I'm still not sure that I won't need yet another surgery because things aren't healing the way they should be, but I won't know that for sure until the end of August.  So in the meantime, I'm trying to pick this blog back up.  I also actually started a fresh wordpress site for my posts, and will be moving things over there in the next little while, so stay tuned.

So let's get back to it.  Things have been happening, even though I've been convalescing (I'm not the center of the universe!  Imagine that!).  I actually left my job at Califa at the end of May, so I have lots of freedom now to speak my mind on things (as if my opinion on OverDrive wasn't already pretty obvious - ahem) since I don't officially represent any vendors or projects in a professional way anymore.  Nope, my job with this blog will be to report on what libraries are doing in an honest way; what the challenges are, what projects are working, which ones are having a tough time, in the hopes that the knowledge will benefit all the libraries who are trying to start their own projects, or are thinking about things from a different angle.

DPLAFest this past April had a track on ebooks, which was, according to those who attended, pretty much standing room only.  Lots of different projects were represented, including NYPL and the Library Simplified project and Califa with enki.

The consensus of all the meetings was that there needs to be a marketplace for the libraries who have built a platform to purchase content.  For those of you who don't know, the self hosted platforms right now all use spreadsheets to buy content.  ebooksareforever is stepping in with a great acquisitions module, but they don't have a platform per se, and plus, they're still a vendor (even though I love them - really, I do).  The library owned projects are still sending emails back and forth, uploading spreadsheets into gdocs (if they have a group working on collection development) and emailing PO's back to publishers with spreadsheet requests for metadata.  Well, at least that's how it was at Califa.  Honestly, you guys, this is a royal Pain In The Ass.  Plus there is a ton of room for human error to enter into the equation.

An additional part of this is that you have lots of libraries all working out deals with publishers on their own.  Talk about reinventing the wheel.  We know that Smashwords wants to work with libraries, right?  Why do they have to sign agreements with Califa and with Harris County and with Douglas County and everyone else and their mother to do so?  Wouldn't it make it easier for everyone involved (including the libraries) if there was some kind of central repository where all the publishers who want to work with libraries could sign up?

Yeah, that's what vendors do.  I get it.  But vendors do not have any inherent self interest in making sure that the libraries have the best deal possible.  Vendors want to sign up publishers, period.  They won't say to a large publisher, "I'm sorry, this looks more like a lease than an ownership agreement" the way Califa did two years ago.

Maybe there would be some libraries who would be ok for leasing content.  I still maintain that leased content has a really important role to play, especially with bestsellers.  So what if there was some kind of national repository where libraries could sign up.  Say I was, I don't know, Lancaster Public Library (because I'm currently in Lancaster Pennsylvania) and they want to build a platform.  They sign up with the Digital Repository and put in their wishlist of publishers, the terms they'd take (ie leasing if it's a Big 5, leasing for bestsellers, etc., with ways of defining what a "bestseller" is), and other information like that.  Then a publisher, say Smashwords, can sign up.  There would be a person who worked for the Repository (probably more than one person) who would negotiate on behalf with the libraries, knowing what all their members want (because they've seen the signup forms).  So the Digital Repository employee can say to Smashwords, "look,  your content is desirable, but we need to own it, and not pay retail" (these are, incidentally, the terms they already offer, thanks to their authors who are very supportive of libraries).   They go back and forth a few times, finally a contract is signed and uploaded for all the members to see, the pertinent information is highlighted and easily accessible and searchable, and an email is sent out to every member saying that Smashwords content is going to be available.  Smashwords uploads their title lists and metadata into one place, and boom, the libraries who want to buy Smashwords can easily buy it.

This sounds a bit utopian, I know (things are never as easy in real life as they are in my head) but it's doable, and it's exactly what one of the main conversations at DPLAFest was about, and one aspect of the Library Simplified project aims to do.  DPLA has set up a working group for those who are interested in moving this goal forward, and I think it's important that every library who is interested in doing a project like this be part of it.  You don't have to do things on your own; you don't have to keep reinventing the wheel.  If you all put your heads together and focus on the end goal of getting a project like this done, it is eminently doable.