Digital Discovery – A New 21st Century Library Skill


In response to my recent Poll regarding topics readers would like to discuss, over 50% are interested in more business models for the 21st Century Library. I just happened to stumble across a new operating strategy that may have very high potential of becoming a new 21st Century library business model – digital discovery IN the library. At the very least, I think it is a new 21st Century library skill that will shape libraries in the future.

At last month’s ALA Conference, 3M Corp. unveiled its 3M Cloud Library E-Book Lending Service. By all accounts it was one of the best attended vendor’s booths with hourly presentations attended by up to 50 individuals at a time.

The concept is, according to the 3M Cloud website:

Browse anywhere, read anywhere.
With the 3M Cloud Library, patrons use personal accounts to access e-books on their devices. They can check out a book on an iPad®, take notes while reading on a PC, and finish the book on an Android™ phone. The bookmark feature works across all devices, so readers never lose their place. Patrons can read when, where, and how they want.

3M™ E-Readers
The 3M e-reader lets patrons try e-books without buying a device. It doesn’t require a credit card and synchronizes easily with the 3M Cloud Library.

3M™ Discovery Terminals
With an intuitive touch interface, 3M Discovery Terminals let readers find and check out digital content at the library.

Connect to your community.
By encouraging patrons to browse your collection, discover new titles, and download apps, the 3M Cloud Library drives traffic to your library and builds awareness of e-books. The software can be installed on any PC or Mac® in your library. 3M Discovery Terminals and e-readers give patrons even more ways to explore and read e-books.

That last section is the core of a potentially new business model for the 21st Century Library – digital discovery IN the library. Get customers into the physical library by offering digital services and products. Library patrons used to come in to the library to browse, read, or checkout something. Now, you can attract customers by offering a digital experience – browse the catalog, sample an eReader device, take home an eBook. All except sampling an eReader device are services that can be accessed from home via online library access.

However, many library customers are still new to eBooks and uncertain about the pros and cons of eReader devices, compatibility, DRM, and all those related technical issues. By offering a digital discovery service inside the physical library, customers can still have the face-to-face experience with a librarian and a digital experience.

In my June 21 & 22 Posts, I mentioned in passing the 3M Cloud Library project and the beta testers who were working to develop the product/service. One of those was the ultra insightful and innovative Director James LaRue, Douglas County (CO) Libraries, and author of LaRue’s Views Blog, as well as the 2007 book The New Inquisition: Understanding and Managing Intellectual Freedom Challenges. Turns out 3M was actually a partner with Jamie in developing his cloud library project.

“Instead of the market driving us into separate content silos, we wanted a single interface.” The [Douglas County] library actually has its own “cloud” but is getting its content from 3M. LaRue wrote to me [Paula Hane] about his convictions as to what’s at stake.

3M is to be commended for stepping into the market and helping libraries find ways to integrate econtent into the rest of their collections. From a commercial perspective, it’s good to have a competitor to Overdrive.

But there are more than commercial interests at stake. There is also the issue of long term accessibility of intellectual content to the public. For over a century and a half, public libraries have owned and managed their content. Libraries would be smart not to put all their content management dollars in just one or two baskets.

This is an exciting time for public libraries—one of the most exciting times in our history. It’s smart to partner with our vendors; it’s not so smart to give to our vendors too much power over us. The new world of content is more than six commercial publishers and four or five brokers. It’s time for libraries to be far more active players in the discovery and delivery of emerging content to our citizens.
[Quote from Paula J. Hane’s Blog Post July 7, 2011.]

Jamie LaRue, who I know from our membership on the former BCR Board, responded to my request for his thoughts on this digital project.

We have built our own local cloud. The 3M idea began with us, and at this point, about all we’re using them for is content. This is my proposed infrastructure for the 21st century library. We have it up and running.

Imagine two legs. These are the pipelines for digital content. One leg is for files that require DRM. The other leg is free content – public domain and Creative Commons. The DRM leg is linked to a hand – Adobe Content Server. It costs you $10,000 to buy this, $1,500 a year after that, and 8 cents per transaction (circ). This is where the DRM content actually resides. The free leg goes to the open source Monocle server (the other hand). Free to install, no transaction fees.

The heart is the MARC record, which links to the respective server.

The head is the open source Vufind, a discovery aid that allows for display of digital titles, and handles the checkout from our private cloud (two servers) to a browser or to an Adobe Digital Editions device. This fully integrates the content into our catalog.

The head has two eyes – take that interface and make it bigger, and you have a wall-sized iPad, a digital power wall. The other eye goes smaller – a mobile phone app.

The final piece [of our cloud system] is the incorporation of a recommendation engine. Vufind lets you keep a log of what you’ve read, to rank and review it. The recommendation engine will suggest titles to you on the basis of things like what you’ve read (genre or subject headings or author), availability, other customer ratings (up to 5 stars) and format.

Now – once we solve the content question, meaning finding publishers actually keen to sell us the file just like they sell us a book – we can actually drive patrons to the content that interests them. That’s what is behind our partnership with the Colorado Independent Publishers Association. [See my 21st Century Library Post – “DRM-free eBooks Now Available, July 11, 2011.]

The question is not can libraries manage econtent – of course we can! The question is who can do the best job of connecting readers to the content. That would be us, too. [Emphasis added.]

As I have pointed out numerous times, libraries have many competitors for our customers. We must understand what library customers want, as well as the 21st Century technology that connects with and engages them, both inside and outside the library. As LaRue wrote; “This emerging [library] “eco-system” doesn’t have to be dictated to us by vendors. I think it’s time we assembled our own solutions.”

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Digital Discovery – A New 21st Century Library Skill

  1. Anonymous

    Good to know about the Douglas County Libraries’ cloud and digital discovery. I was intrigued by the metaphor of a “cloud” having two legs (the “pipelines for digital content”), hands, a heart (the MARC record), a head and two eyes (one being larger, the other smaller). Libraries certainly do need to understand what their patrons want as well as the 21st century technology that “connects with and engages them.”

  2. Yes, our library is in the process of purchasing the devices needed to join the in-library “cloud” group! Good ideas, and hopefully more libraries will have the funding to do so. Thank you for your blog!

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