Statewide eBook Pilot

Late August of last year I received a rather exciting email:
Congratulations!  You have been identified by your librarian peers as having what it takes to be one of our five “Alphas,”  for our upcoming statewide e-book project trial. The MBLC sponsored, Resource Sharing Committee is excited about this undertaking.  The scope of the project is listed below:

SCOPE:

The goal of the Massachusetts e-books. proof of concept is to identify, implement, and test a solution for providing e-book borrowing to users throughout the Commonwealth via a single user-friendly discovery platform offering a broad selection of titles.  This solution will also have the goal of connecting users directly with authors, booksellers, and publishers.  The results of the proof of concept will be evaluated to determine its feasibility as a long-term statewide solution.

The first phase of the proof of concept will include fifty libraries of various types and sizes – twenty-five public, ten academic, ten school, and five special.  The start-up collection will consist of approximately 10,000 titles which will be selected to accommodate the needs library types represented by pilot participants.  The collection will serve users of all ages and will support a variety of learning needs.

The first phase will launch in May 2013 and run for two months. If, at the conclusion of the first phase, evaluation results show that the concept appears to be viable for the long term, and all high-impact problems identified by development partners have been successfully addressed, other libraries who wish to participate will be added on an ongoing basis.


So, what will the Alphas do?

Criteria:

Alphas will  agree to be lead participants in the Massachusetts E-Book Pilot Program. The first phase of the project will include a two month trial of this model.  Alphas will be responsible for recruiting 9 other libraries, within close geographic proximity to participate. You will choose:

    5 Public Libraries
    2 Academic Libraries
    2 School Libraries (must be automated )
    1 special Library

(The Project total will include:)

25 public
10 Academic
10 School
5 Special

Alphas will be contributing to the preparation of group Training Materials, both for participant libraries and also ultimately patrons of those participating libraries.

Alphas will be responsible for outreach to communities participating in the trial.

Pilot participants  will work together be responsible for facilitating assessment of project and reporting back to the Resource Sharing Committee.

Although the Alphas most likely won’t be asked for financial commitment  from their library to participate  in the pilot, there is the expectation that their library will contribute if the pilot is successful when the new fiscal year begins in July.  The dollar amounts for various library type participation  is still T.B.D.
This really excited me for a few reasons.  First, it indicated that in a rather short period of time (just under 2 years as paid library staff, and in a professional position for less than six months) I managed to develop a strong enough reputation to be considered for one of the 5 Alpha testers for the state.  Second, I would get to take part in a project that has potential to explore new and lightly trod areas of library access to digital materials.

The downside to being an regional Alpha tester, as it soon became apparent, is that I simply couldn't accept all the libraries interested.  Some of this was out of my hands, participation reserved by those with higher authority in the project, the limited size of the pilot project, the distribution of libraries that actually expressed interest, and because I wanted to have a balanced sample of participants.  I wanted a well distributed selection of libraries based on size and location, not a collection of similarly sized libraries from neighboring towns.  Looking at a map of the libraries shows I definitely did not completely succeed on geographic distribution.

I was swarmed with interested public libraries on several occasions (the project was officially announced the regional contacts after I already had a potentially full dance card of interested participants).  Not only did I have working relationships with the interested libraries and librarians, I have friendships with a number of them.  Whittling down enthusiastic and interested parties I don't think is something I will ever enjoy.

Huge spoiler alert: the project did NOT launch in May 2013.  Also, it will run for longer than 2 months.

Fast forward to today.  15 months and employment at a new library later.  I have a solid group of test libraries and have been working with librarians across the state from the different regions.  Vendors were vetted and selected, with different content and ownership models.  We have explored the different platforms.  A vendor has dropped out after a merger.  Contracts with vendors are finally being signed.  Different committees are actively working on different areas of the project including Statewide Collection Development & Policies; PR, Promotion & Training; and Funding & Sustainability.  A launch party is scheduled for next week.  We are actually about to release this to the wild.

It doesn't matter how adaptable I am with programs or how comfortable I am with the different platforms (regardless of what I consider unnecessary steps or unfortunate features).  This in many ways is a new game for me and my excitement is definitely tempered by anxiety.

One area I still have trouble with is that the pilot has multiple platforms.  I understand why this is the case, but circuitous access is one of the bigger issues I have with library ebooks.  The access is barely user friendly in the best of cases, and dividing our materials across entirely different platforms is unpleasant.  That being said, this is a pilot to get a feel for a statewide platform, and under the initial timeline and constraints developing a unified platform was not possible.  So instead of one access portal through which all the materials can be borrowed and downloaded we have a union catalog that links out to two (supposed to be three, but vendor #3 was eaten by a grue), platforms, and each platform has its own mobile app (or for one vendor, TWO mobile apps).

So why is the pilot starting six months later than expected?  Possibly because the complexity of this project was underestimated, but also definitely in part due to contract negotiations.  I have so much respect for what Douglas County did with negotiating contracts with publishers based on how long negotiating contracts with vendors took.  Or maybe it would have just been easier to go direct to the publishers.  While I keep seeing these fantastic announcements that another large publisher will sell ebooks to libraries for the most part none of that would be applicable to us.  Those announcements are that the publishers are willing to let individual libraries purchase/lease through select vendors, and explicitly will not sell to consortia or other collections of libraries.  All those Macmillian and Penguin titles?  Can't buy those.  We also wanted to ensure ownership of titles acquired for this platform, but now are experimenting with various acquisition/ownership models as we try to address content for Public, School, and Academic Libraries.  When it comes down to it we are investing a sizable amount of money for a short term project, we need the flexibility to move materials into a final platform after the pilot.

So, fingers are crossed and we'll see how this goes.

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