Express eBooks Program Proves Popular for Ottawa

Ottawa Public Library, ON, Canada, last month was selected as a Top 10 Innovator by the Urban Libraries Council for its new Express eBooks program

Ottawa Public Library (OPL), ON, Canada, last month was selected as a Top 10 Innovator by the Urban Libraries Council (ULC) for its new Express eBooks program. Aimed at making current bestsellers and other high-demand titles available to more patrons via smartphones, tablets, and e-readers, Express eBooks mirrors the library’s Express Collection for print books and other physical media, originally launched in 2005.

Similar to the “lucky day” collections at many libraries, the print Express Collections feature frontlist titles that can’t be placed on hold, and have checkout periods limited to seven days to increase circulation. The name “Express Collection” was chosen at OPL partly because it reads the same in French and English, simplifying compliance with language requirements in Canada’s capital.

The library had wanted to extend the concept to ebooks for many years, according to OPL Content Services Manager Ann Archer, who recalls internal discussions beginning as long ago as 2010. But creating a separate, rotating collection of titles with specialized lending terms within the library’s larger OverDrive collection turned out not to be feasible.

In 2015, OPL began an evaluation of competing ebook vendors, and “We decided to pose the question—because we still wanted it—could someone else do an Express ebook platform?” Archer said. Library officials eventually selected bibliotheca’s cloudLibrary, based on its ease of use.

“I think, in the spirit of competition, they stepped up to the plate,” Archer said. biblotheca customized its platform for OPL with no holds or renewals allowed on ebooks, checkout limits of two ebooks at a time per patron, and loan periods limited to seven days. “It took us a year to work with them” to get the customization just right, Archer said. “No holds, no holds button [in the user interface], short loan period, and make [these features] as clear to the public as possible.”

Launched in 2017, the cloudLibrary Express eBooks platform operates alongside OPL’s OverDrive collection, which continues to offer ebooks, audiobooks, and other e-content with OPL’s standard loan terms—generally three weeks. Although patrons who wish to borrow content from both collections must download and access separate apps, Archer said that this hasn’t resulted in any confusion.

Prior to launch, “we gave staff enough time to practice, themselves [with the cloudLibrary app], so that they could help people…. But, we have had just about zero tech complaints,” Archer said. Downloads have grown steadily since launch, with many patrons learning about the platform from word of mouth or librarian referrals.

Curation involves a mix of anticipated demand, holds lists, and other factors, primarily resulting in a collection of new bestsellers and backlist titles that have adaptations premiering in movies or TV shows.

“Some books you know, out of the gate, that they’re going to be really high demand,” Archer said. “So, you can easily gamble on a James Patterson, for instance, and get a copy or two in Express [eBooks] immediately. You’d be getting that in all formats—ebooks, print, audio, etc. Other titles we wait to see how it’s doing on our other platform that has holds. If it meets that 50 request [threshold], or we’re really seeing momentum building, we’ll get a copy, or two or three, judging the need and demand. It’s books that have real immediacy to them.”

For example, she cited Michael Wolff’s political bestseller Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, published in January. “When it came out, it was sudden,” Archer said. “It was suddenly published, it was made available faster than expected, it was in the news, and people wanted to get their hands on it,” making the title an ideal candidate for Express eBooks.

Although Express eBooks has now been available to OPL’s patrons for more than a year, Archer said the project is still in the pilot phase. Given the variety of different licensing terms that publishers offer libraries for ebooks, OPL is still considering how titles from different publishers will be managed when checkouts slow. Metered licenses such as HarperCollins’s 26-loan model present a relatively straightforward scenario, enabling checkouts to be maximized in as little as half a year. Titles with two-year or perpetual licenses may need to be weeded or possibly migrated prior to expiration when demand begins to wane.

“At this point, it’s still early days for us,” Archer said. “There are still some perpetual licenses that remain and we will do what we can to promote, and at some point develop weeding guidelines. But right now, it has not become imperative to do that.”

While OPL is still working on these details, Archer said that it’s clear that “the return on investment is much improved” on the library’s ebooks, offering a new way to meet high, temporary demand rather than simply buy extra copies for three-week circulation. “We’re not stuck dealing with the holds manager…. If we see that pressure point growing on a particular book, rather than continuing to [add] more copies there, we’ll pick it up and promote it through Express eBooks. It takes our budget so much further.”

Other programs recognized with ULC’s 2018 Top Innovator awards included the Los Angeles Public Library’s New Americans Initiative; the San Francisco Public Library’s Free Orton-Gillingham (FOG) Readers program; The Austin, TX, Public Library’s Social Media Ambassadors program; The San Mateo County, CA, Libraries’ Building Engagement to Accelerate Employee Performance initiative; the Spokane, WA, Public Library’s Lilac City Live local variety talk show; Pima County, AZ, Public Library’s Library Restorative Practices for Youth social and racial equality initiative; Broward County, FL, Library’s BCLFit Wellness Centers; Brooklyn, NY, Public Library’s Teacher Lab: Library Literacy and Classroom Teacher program; and Hartford, CT, Public Library’s Immigrant Career Pathways Initiative.

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Matt Enis


Matt Enis ( is Senior Editor, Technology for Library Journal.

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I'm glad to see the cloudLibrary team at bibliotheca was able to partner with Ottawa Public Library to create a solution that met their needs! Congrats on the ULC Innovation Award OPL! :)

Posted : Oct 17, 2018 06:56



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