Ottawa Public Library: pioneering the digital express collection
Published: April 2020
A new take on the lucky day collection creates happier patrons, greater eBook circulation and a better return on investment.
“Readers love access to titles they want to read,” says Amy Hoffmann, Collection Development Librarian at the Ottawa Public Library.
That’s easier said than done. Until now.
Hoffmann and the collection development team from the Ottawa Public Library (Bibliothèque Publique d’Ottawa) wanted to solve the age-old problem of long hold times for popular titles. In Ottawa Public Library’s (OPL) requestable eBook collection, it’s not uncommon for there to be 100-200 customers ahead of you to check out hot titles, such as The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Once a patient customer gets ahold of the book, they get to keep it for three weeks.
In OPL’s Express Collection there are 16 copies of The Handmaid’s Tale, which increases the possibility of getting the book quickly. The loan period is only one week and there are no holds allowed. It operates on a first-come, first-served basis – creating a lucky day collection for eBooks.
Readers who want the newest, most popular titles have good reason to gravitate to OPL’s new Express Collection. It’s concise and well-curated, making it easy for readers to find desirable titles.
Choosing a solution + team that understands your vision
“We have been discussing the possibility of an additional eBook collection for years,” Hoffmann says. She worked with Matt Abbott, Collection Development Librarian, who led the project, to develop the requirements for the Express Collection.
“We have had a print express collection since 2005, and it is quite popular, so we were hoping to emulate it,” Hoffmann says. “Additionally, eBooks are more expensive, so we were looking for a better return on investment and to provide better access to popular, in-demand titles.”
OPL initially approached several vendors regarding the idea of an Express Collection. “We met with several vendors to see who would be the best fit for us,” Hoffmann says. “After our evaluation, we decided to move forward with cloudLibrary. We were looking for a mature, easy to use product that would accommodate our atypical loan parameters.” Other vendors were interested in the express collection concept, but the cloudLibrary team helped make Canada’s first eBook lucky-day collection a reality.
“We had a unique vision and knew what we were looking for,” Hoffmann says. “The cloudLibrary team was responsive to our requests and ultimately understood what we were trying to accomplish.”
One feature that sets cloudLibrary apart is that the app will tell you if all copies of a title are checked out and when the next copy is due back, which reduces the need for customers to keep checking for the title. Hoffmann says the wait for a title is typically one or two days.
Promoting the cloudLibrary Express Collection
The OPL Express Collection is easy to browse. A recent cruise through the shelves showed Canadian award winners of the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Giller Prize displayed alongside Booker Prize-winning titles on shelves designed to pique the interest of readers during the autumn book awards season. For instance, Hoffmann says that most of the titles on the Giller Prize shelf were checked out at any given time.
The collection development team promoted prime titles in the Express Collection during the annual Canada Read book contest. CBC Radio sponsors a contest during Canada Read week where five books by Canadian authors are chosen, and a reader must represent and defend their book choice. Titles are eliminated through voting, and the last book standing is the winner. About six weeks before the contest, Hoffmann put 10 copies of each Canada Read contender in the Express Library. Then OPL staff let customers know that Canada Read week titles were available in the Express Collection by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and on the OPL website.
“They flew off the shelves like crazy!” Hoffmann recalls of the Canada Read titles. The Express Collection got people reading these high-interest, of-the-moment titles, more quickly. It’s the perfect solution for readers who want to read what’s popular now. (Another example is Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff. As its publication date was moved up, OPL purchased multiple copies for the Express Collection to try and meet the immediate demand for this title.)
cloudLibrary express collection concept leads to a better return on investment
Hoffmann says that eBooks can be expensive. For example, a MacMillan title license is two years or 52 circulations. Many of the titles in the regular digital collection weren’t getting the 52 circs in two years. However, if this same title is part of the Express Collection, more people can check out the title within the two-year license. Hoffman says this could double the circulation on some of the MacMillan titles.
“From our perspective, we are spending the same amount of money, but customers have increased access to titles. Whereas customers would be waiting for weeks for a title in the regular collection, they can get it within days in the Express Collection,” Hoffmann says.
Another way to extend OPL’s collection is through cloudLink. cloudLinking allows libraries within a cloudLink group to purchase their own titles and share them with other library’s patrons when they are available, so long as they have the same parameters for borrowing. For example, other libraries that adopt the Express Collection model pioneered at OPL could use cloudLink to share Express Collection titles in addition to the regular collection titles.
Creating a digital collection that is more accessible for patrons
“The response to the Express Collection has been great,” Hoffmann says. More than 14,500 people have tried the service, with another 1,300 customers downloading books monthly. “Customers enjoy the ease of use and increased access to popular titles,” she adds.
It’s been such a successful pilot that the OPL collection development team will be presenting a session about their Express Collection at the Ontario Library Association Conference.
The team at OPL is still trying to perfect the express collection experience. Hoffmann suggests that after launching an express collection that libraries ask questions, experiment, and evaluate. She adds: “You won’t know what will be successful until you try!”
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