Massachusetts Launches Multi-Type Library eBook Pilot Project

by | Dec 23, 2013 | 0 comments

Paula-J-HaneBy Paula J. Hane 

The Massachusetts Library System (MLS), in cooperation with two vendor partners—Baker & Taylor and BiblioLabs—announced the launch of the MA eBook Project. As of Nov. 21, 2013, 51 pilot libraries began offering ebooks to their communities for a six-­­month pilot project to explore different models for ebook lending, different platforms, and user experiences. While the announcement came out on Nov. 25, 2013, and was somewhat eclipsed by the Thanksgiving holiday, some nasty weather across the U.S., and the distraction of an abbreviated holiday shopping season, the news is quite significant and worth a close look at the plans for the pilot project. I had a chance to talk to Deb Hoadley, MA eBook Project Leader, and to some of the vendors and participants to ferret out the details.MA-ebooks

A third partner was to have been included in this pilot, EBL, but according to Hoadley, negotiations were still ongoing when the announcement press release went out. However, an email update to me from Hoadley on Dec. 16, 2013 brought this additional good news:

We are finalizing our contract with ProQuest for the EBL Short-Term Loan program. We expect to move forward with a 6-month pilot with them, and will be evaluating and assessing user patterns throughout the project. Patrons will have access to up to 175,000 titles during the pilot. Patrons have a preview period before deciding to print, copy, or download at which time they will be asked to log in and create a short-term loan (1 -7 days). 

The addition of EBL provides the opportunity for the libraries to test three different ebook models: BiblioLabs’ BiblioBoard with simultaneous, multiple user access, Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 with single-user checkout, and EBL with demand-driven acquisition. The project is also notable for including multi-type libraries (academic, public, school, and special). According to Hoadley, “MLS serves multi-type libraries so when we started this project there was no question that it had to include multi-type libraries.” 

The following content is available in the pilot:

  • BiblioBoard Library has more than 30,000 ebooks and other historical, curated materials
  • Axis 360 has more than 3,000 in-demand titles available
  • EBL is offering about 175,000 titles 


MLS started the conversation about the project at a resource sharing conference in May 2012. In October 2012, the Statewide Resource Sharing Committee’s Implementation plan was approved by the MBLC. By April 2013, responses to the RFPs were received. By May 2013, 50 libraries had committed to the pilot, and one more has joined since. Important contract negotiations involved goal and mission alignment, ownership (perpetual license) when possible, leasing when appropriate, accessibility, and ease of use by end users.

Key Points and Benefits (from a webinar presented by Hoadley, May 13, 2013

  • Participate in building a statewide shared ebook collection that will be available to all MA residents
  • A statewide committee will drive collection development policies and procedures
  • Collectively own a collection of thousands of ebook
  • Leasing option is always available for appropriate collections
  • Contribute and provide an entrée to local content
  • Preserve the vital resource sharing environment that is at risk with the various platforms/content silos
  • Benefit from efficiencies of centralized technology management, administration, and contract negotiations (MLS role)

Hoadley says this is “a first step to navigating the ebook environment for a statewide shared collection, with multi-type libraries that make up the MLS membership. We will not meet all the needs of the state; through the evaluation of the pilot project we will learn more about what will work and what libraries and their patrons want and need to support their literacy goals.”

This site lists resources, pilot libraries, and has a webinar presentation.

Hoadley says, “After the pilot finishes, we will be looking forward to building ebook content, so we’ll be talking to vendors to supply content to the platform we have. And, we’ll consider whether we can have our own platform, as well as work on accessibility and discoverability of that content.”

MLS-banner (2)Funding

The MA eBook Project is made possible through funding from the Massachusetts Library System and through federal funds provided by the Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS) and administered by MBLC (The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners). MLS received $150,000 from the IMLS grant to administer the project. MLS is contributing $165,000 to the total funding available to cover costs for platform fees, content, and promotional materials. MBLC has made eBooks and the technology the focus of its FY2015 Legislative Agenda for Massachusetts.

There is no cost to pilot libraries who are participating in this project. There are time and staff requirements as part of the responsibilities of the pilot libraries.

Three critical task force groups are working on various aspects of the project. They are:  Statewide Collection Development & Policies; PR, Promotion & Training; and Funding & Sustainability. Task force members include pilot library representation from all types, Resource Sharing Planning Committee members, staff from MBLC, and staff from MLS.

The Funding & Sustainability group is working with the MLA Legislative Committee to look at ways to support a call to action around access issues, as well as looking at potential funding sources as the project moves statewide. The focus will be on building support with legislators around the Legislative theme to “End the Digital Lockout.”

LegAgenda (2)

Hoadley says, “We’re aligning our efforts with our Legislative Agenda. There are two line items—one is specifically state aid to libraries as well as our technology line. Our legislators understand ebooks—and we’ve helped them understand the price disparity, that some publishers charge libraries 6 times more than consumers for the same ebook. And, we still have libraries in Massachusetts that aren’t connected to the internet—we’re working to bring them broadband access. There are clearly some divides here—the public is embracing this as well.” The Agenda site also provides an interactive map for residents to complete a form to show support.

She continues, “We are working with the MLA Legislative Committee to find out what other states are doing legislatively. Others are pushing for support but with no dollars—but we really need the push to increase funds to our libraries. Our directors have also met with Dan Cohen of the DPLA to consider how we can collaborate together on the digital project but also on providing more technology that we can work together on.”


They are also looking at projects like the eRead Illinois project from RAILS (Reaching Across Illinois Library System). In Massachusetts, the networks have created some funding models with OverDrive. “So, we’ll be looking at a mixture—we can’t do it just by population or circulation, we may have to look at FTE, who will be the active users. We want it ultimately to be available statewide.”

About eRead Illinois
The Secretary of State and Illinois State Library awarded a $985,219 grant to RAILS and the Illinois Heartland Library System (IHLS) for the E-books for Illinois Program, named eRead Illinois. The two-year grant program will increase access to ebooks for Illinois residents and grow ebook expertise among library staff, library system staff, and Illinois residents. It includes an ebook collection and Axis 360 software platform from Baker & Taylor for RAILS members and IHLS non-Share members. IHLS Share members will use 3M Cloud. The grant also includes research into a self-hosted model, training, a list of free ebook resources, a website, and assistance to libraries in promoting the program. For more information, see the website.

BiblioLabs’ BiblioBoard Library

Mitchell Davis, founder and Chief Business Officer of BiblioLabs, is inspired by the spirit of library entrepreneurialism in this project. “We are working with Massachusetts as a true business partner. We are engaging with publishers who want to license content to libraries in a patron-friendly way. We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of publishers who are behind this movement, and who believe this is the future of libraries,” says Davis, an entrepreneur who was also the founder of Amazon’s CreateSpace (formerly BookSurge).

He says, “At the same time as they were working on their RFP, we were building our platform that was well suited for what they wanted to accomplish—to improve the patron user experience. So, it was good timing.” 

biblioboard (2)BiblioBoard launched in March 2013 with lots of historical collections and content from the British Library. Then, in late September 2013, the company launched an ePUB reader. Davis says, “We just started recruiting traditional publishers about 8 or 10 weeks ago. We have a long way to go before we have a comprehensive selection.” 

Asked about publisher resistance to dealing with libraries, he replied, “With BookSurge we were selling print on demand in the early 2000s and I remember the pain of trying to convince publishers [of the value]. Now, publishers are in a different space. They’ve already converted digital content to ebooks and they are looking for innovative ways to sell it. I think they buy into the concept that a library delivering a good user experience is a good thing. I’m strongly encouraged at this point.”

But, at this point, ebooks sold to libraries cost six times what it costs a consumer. Davis calls this “Madness. Publishers who believe in this model will probably not work with us. But we won’t wait for them. We’re going to change the paradigm. In the future they may figure this out and come onboard, but in the meantime, we’re charging ahead.”

Asked about BiblioBoard’s model for simultaneous multi-user access, he said that library users don’t understand the idea of a digital item not being available. BiblioBoard will only work with publishers who offer comprehensive selections with this model.

“We offer a world-class, consumer grade platform—it’s the kind of user experience that people expect because they get it from companies like Amazon and Apple. We’re unique in the library world—we’re a next generation tech company.” Looking at the other vendors in the library space, he doesn’t see a sense of urgency in being competitive with the consumer companies—“but we are bringing a sense of urgency and rapid development.” The company also believes that libraries should be able to license content perpetually and then move it to whatever platform they wish—and not be tied to a particular vendor’s platform. “We are focused on the user experience and removing friction [in the ebook access process].”

In addition to the Massachusetts deal, the company has just signed a deal with JISC in the U.K. and is talking with other libraries and consortia. Though BiblioLabs is a small company now, it expects to be in 2,000 to 2,500 libraries in the next year and hopes for 25,000 in the next several years. It will also announce new publisher agreements at ALA midwinter as well as several archive deals.

Hoadley noted that, “BiblioBoard was very attractive for us because the content is primary source and it has a very appealing visual presentation. One of the key points in our RFP was to take account of the end user. BiblioBoard has done this very nicely—it has a clean interface, it’s very user friendly, and it offers a visually stunning array of information. Our school libraries were very interested in the common core content it offers for schools. It also offers simultaneous multiple-user access.”

One of our biggest challenges is that we will have a huge consortium statewide and many publishers won’t sell to consortiums.

Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360

Baker & Taylor’s Axis 360 will have more than 3,000 in-demand titles available as single user checkout. In addition, axis360 (2)the Collection Development Task Force can select from more than

500,000 ebook titles via the Title Source 360 acquisition tool. When MLS licenses an ebook title, library users will be able to download in whatever format that is available for that title: EPUB, PDF or Blio. All content is discoverable and users can check out all formats via axisReader, which also serves as an EPUB and PDF reading app. Blio material would be used in the Blio app.  

Michael Bills, Director, Sales & Marketing, Digital Products, Baker & Taylor, says that the MLS pilot project has focused on licensing materials with broad appeal for the mix of Public, Academic, and K12 libraries participating in the program. Baker & Taylor currently partners widely with publishers. Included in current agreements are all of the important general trade fiction and nonfiction publishers and suppliers of children’s and curriculum support materials. “Publishers of STM material and University Presses are included as well, and we look forward to expanding our supplier relationships for Axis 360 to support MLS’s longer-term collection development  goals.”

Bills also says that Axis 360 will support multi-user licensing models beginning in 2014. In addition to the MA Pilot and the eRead Illinois program, Baker & Taylor currently supports the AZ State Library with a shared collection for the Rural and Tribal Libraries group. Several other consortium projects are in development. More than 600 public, academic, and school libraries are signed on for Axis 360.


EBL  - wpmu.library.oregonstate.eduDavid Swords, Director, Consortium Ebook Sales, ProQuest, noted that the pilot was trying ebooks in three different ways. “With us, it’s demand-driven acquisition. Of the 51 libraries about half are public and the next largest type is school libraries, neither of which have experience with DDA. We’re aiming to put about 175,000 records into the program. As people find and use the books we’ll charge a rental fee for each loan. In phase two, MLS would buy books that are used significantly by the libraries.”

He continued, “Our catalogue is built mainly for academic libraries, and our lending and buying models were constructed with them in mind. We have years of data showing how DDA works in small and large academic institutions and why the practice is good for libraries, for their patrons, and for publishers. We have some experience with school libraries and believe it is perfect for them, though so far not widely used. But we do not know whether DDA is extensible to public libraries. MLS’s pilot is an important step in learning whether it is.”

EBL is just about to begin a large DDA program with another Illinois consortium, CARLI. Swords says, “We work with many consortia, some statewide (for example, the Colorado Alliance and VIVA in Virginia), others regional (Orbis-Cascade in Oregon and Washington, COPPUL in western Canada), and quite a few consortia in the U.S. and Canada that have more specific missions (New York 3Rs, Connect New York, the Five Colleges in western Massachusetts, the Boston Library Consortium). In all we have DDA programs with more than 20 consortia.”

Note: ProQuest acquired EBL in May 2013. It plans to combine the best of ebrary and EBL, but at this point, there is no integration.

Some Early Input From Academic Library Participants

The Wilkens Library at Cape Cod Community College is one of the academic participants in the pilot. Tim Gerolami, Public Services Coordinator, says they depend a lot on state resources and they are interested in getting the best resources for their patrons. They were pleased that the pilot spanned across types of libraries. At this point the library has an ebrary subscription (where most students access parts of books in a database), and they have acquired some reference material, such as Credo. But, because of the existing models from library vendors—license ebooks, no ownership, lose access if the library moves to another platform—the library has not acquired ebooks outright.

Gerolami says the BiblioBoard platform offered a good looking product, it is easy to use, and can be used from the Web or with the ebook reader app. He feels the BiblioBoard model will be handy and offer a clearly better interface than finding open content on the Internet Archive, for example. He feels the titles available through Axis 360 to be limited at this time but expects that to grow. He says the EBL contract was the most attractive part of the 3-vendor deal. 

Nancy George, Senior Librarian, Electronic Resources and School of Nursing Subject  Specialist, Salem State University Library, says, “After hearing Jamie LaRue of the Douglas County, Colorado, speak about the Douglas County Model ebook project and hearing about other state projects, we were excited to be a part of a shared ebook project that would provide Massachusetts’ library patrons access to ebooks.” She says that, “The BiblioBoard platform might end up being rather exciting for libraries that want to feature local authors’ works and special collections to a larger audience of readers.” She added that, “We might be using BiblioBoard Creator in order to deliver additional access to our special collections and archival content currently found on our Digital Commons at Salem State University site. We are in the process of working with BiblioBoard on this and the Salem State University Archivist and I look forward to additional dialog with them regarding the possible integration of our resources into BiblioBoard.” 

Note: BiblioBoard Creator is the company’s archive and special collections publishing tool. It is available to participants in the pilot. 

It’s a Start

The MA eBook Project currently offers a relatively small universe of content but it’s a start. Hoadley says, “With our 51 libraries, we felt we could test where the demands are. The vendors will be giving us pretty significant statistics so we can see what is being used. Baker & Taylor is starting to add more significant academic content and their acquisitions staff will work with our selection committee on adding more targeted content. It is single use circulation but we’ll see what the demand is. We’ll also see how long our money lasts. Our partnership includes a joint effort of going to the publishers and trying to explore future pricing models.”

The pilot is intended to go until the end of April but it may extend a month or two, given the difficulty of launching during the holidays. “We would like a full 6-months of testing, before we start rolling in other libraries.”

Further Reading on Libraries and Ebooks


Paula J. Hane is a freelance writer and editor covering the library and information industries. She was formerly Information Today, Inc.’s news bureau chief and editor of NewsBreaks. Her email address is


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