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#OnTheRoadULC: Featuring Ottawa Public Library // Two Librarians & A Microphone Podcast

Live from the Urban Libraries Council Annual Forum, we’re interviewing Danielle McDonald from the Ottawa Public Library about their innovation Express eBooks program. 

When Ottawa Public Library identified a need in their eBook offerings, they negotiated a secondary Express eBook platform to improve their patrons' loan options. Express eBooks now contribute to about six percent of their eBook checkouts and it continues to grow with a higher turnover. Lesson learned: sometimes two really is better than one!


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Learn more about their innovation here


Jim Heuer [00:00:16] Hi everybody, this is Jim Heuer, host of the Ingram Library Services podcast, Two Librarians and a Microphone. I'm here with librarian number two, Donna George. We're in Baltimore, Maryland, and we're excited to be recording live at the Urban Library Council Annual Forum. Ingram Library Services is a proud sponsor of the Innovation Awards that the ULC bestows upon its members. Today we have with us one of the Top Innovators, we have Danielle McDonald who is the Executive Director from the Ottawa Public Library in Ontario, Canada. Welcome, Danielle.

Danielle McDonald [00:00:51] Thank you, Jim. Thank you, Donna.

Jim Heuer [00:00:52] First of all, you were given a Top Innovator award in the Collections Category for your offering of Express eBooks. Could you tell us what that offering is and how it came to be?

Danielle McDonald [00:01:03] For sure, but first I want to say, just thank you to ULC because we are just so proud and excited at the Ottawa Public Library to win this prestigious award. This is great recognition for our staff, and I'm very happy to have accepted the award on their behalf. Let me tell you a little bit about the award. It's about our Express eBook collection. We certainly have a platform where we offer you books that you can take out on the eBook site for 21 days, but we didn't really have the ability to mirror what's offered in our branches. You go to the branches and you get a seven day express read. You couldn't do that on the eBook site, and staff persevered and found a way to make that happen. That's really what's so wonderful about this award is that it gives customers really a duplicate experience virtually, as well as in-branch, you can do the same.

Donna George [00:01:53] What's been the community reaction to this? I imagine eBooks were already pretty popular, which necessitated this.

Danielle McDonald [00:01:59] Well, it's been really wonderful. I personally have used it and loved it. My holidays, I got the chance to get a seven-day book out, and I was loving it, but I think Ottawa's a very wired city, so to offer this kind of additional platform to pull out an eBook, seven-day express has been so well received. Staff have told me that we have on average, 650 new customers coming onboard a month, and 60% of the copies now are checked out at all times. This has really, also, leveraged our existing eBook collection, and taken it to that more efficient level of use, so it's a really great idea.

Jim Heuer [00:02:36] Reading the write-up, we saw that you actually, you offer two eBook platforms for your patrons, so that would allow one to be kind of a regular legacy eBook, and then the second one was this express book. Is that how you guys did it?

Danielle McDonald [00:02:50] What we have is, if you go to Overdrive, we have our platform there, and that's where I would, if I'm browsing, I'm taking out books. I've got a bunch on hold right now, and I can use them and they have a 21-day limit. Of course, as eBooks do, they expire. Now you can go to another platform, it's a separate platform however, but you can go and you can pull out your books and browse them like you would in the other platform, but they're a seven-day express, and they're available…you just, if the book isn't there, it's not available, obviously it's seven days, and it expires very much like your other one would, but you just have a much shorter timeframe. That's really helpful if you are wanting to read that bestseller, and you're waiting on the list for the 21-day, but on the seven-day you can get much quicker access to that book.

Donna George [00:03:38] It's intriguing to me how you just described this very similarly to the physical experience of a Lucky Day Collection with physical books, where you can either put something on hold and wait in the hold list, or you can just walk into the library and stumble onto a book. You've kind of mimicked that experience, that kind of delightful experience with your eBook program.

Danielle McDonald [00:04:02] I have to give staff credit for that, because we've been focusing on our library about really making the customer experience a rich one and a meaningful one, and they really picked up on the idea that this needed to occur to make it even better. You have to give them credit for really knowing our customer and responding to their needs.

Jim Heuer [00:04:22] Were there any challenges in having to train your patrons to understand the difference between the two platforms and how to navigate back and forth? Or was that somewhat easy for your staff to train?

Danielle McDonald [00:04:32] I'm sure our staff are really good at that, I can tell you I had to do it myself and it took me a little bit, I'll be honest, two platforms, right? But once I got it, I was fine. There's some similarities between the platforms. You can have your little page finder when you're on a book, you can bookmark it, you have…so not identical, because they're different technical platforms, but you'll see similar functionality there. Once you get loaded on and everything, you're good and there was a little instruction what to do, so I found that helpful, as well. I get a bit of technology but I'm not your most technical person, so I think if I can do it, most people can do it.

Jim Heuer [00:05:10] Did you have to shift more of your budget to "E" as a result, or did your budget kind of stay the same, just the two platforms split up your eBooks?

Danielle McDonald [00:05:18] I'm not exactly sure in that, but if I remember correctly, there is some budget shift on it, but it actually helps us move the books around, too. Everyone knows with eBooks, they are not an inexpensive venture. In a digital world, it's a necessity. People have told us, certainly in our community, we've actually asked them through an imagine campaign that we had, you know, "Do you want eBooks or print books?" They made it very clear to us, "We want them both."

Jim Heuer [00:05:43] Both? Interesting.

Danielle McDonald [00:05:44] You're going to do this. Unless the costs go right out the window kind of thing, we definitely feel that it's an important investment to offer our community, because the virtual branch is very important, as well.

Jim Heuer [00:05:57] I've heard the expression as we talked to publishers at Ingram, it's an "either and" world, right? They want both formats, and I think your patrons are right there with that.

Danielle McDonald [00:06:06] They've been very clear. I don't see that as being negotiable at the moment.

Jim Heuer [00:06:10] Does this translate for all age ranges? Is it going into childrens, as well? Or how does your children's "E" do?

Danielle McDonald [00:06:16] If anything, kids are becoming more and more electronic in what they do, but there's still something about sitting with a child at night and reading a print book. We just can't get away from offering and fulfilling that need for an electronic book and a physical book. So, having the two platforms, if that's what it takes at this time, that's what we have to do.

Jim Heuer [00:06:35] I would imagine that would be probably a question some of library colleagues listening would be, was that challenging? What would be other advice if somebody was thinking boy, "I'd like to maybe take that plunge, what would you tell them to caution or to…?"

Danielle McDonald [00:06:49] I asked staff that question. I said you, "Know what? First of all like, this is such a great idea, and what happened?" And they told me the story. They said they actually had this idea several years ago, and I said, "So, what happened?" "Well, we couldn't do it then; it just wasn't possible technically." Or they were challenged technically, shall I say. They just didn't give up on the idea. It's a bit of one of those great stories where you have to say you have a vision for something, something's important to you, don't give up on it. You might not find the technical solution right away, but keep working at it, don't abandon the idea. And sometimes timing is everything. It came together, they found a vendor that they could work with to make this happen, and I like to call it a little bit the "Cinderella Story". Don't give up, keep going, have your vision, hold true, and eventually you will get there.

Jim Heuer [00:07:36] Alright, what's the next thing that they want to do?

Danielle McDonald [00:07:44] They didn't really get into that because, of course, I don't know that everyone knows exactly what the next idea is, but I think we all agreed over time the goal, maybe not the next idea, but the goal is to become and to make whatever platforms we're on more seamless for the user all the time, and that's the goal with technology in general. People aren't going to go away from it, but we need to make it easier and easier for people to just go onto it and utilize it.

Jim Heuer [00:08:11] That's great stuff. This is fascinating, clearly really innovative stuff to offer your folks, whether it's a Lucky Day type of experience, virtually or whatever, but as Donna mentioned, we see this often in the physical space of the library, but no one has ever really done this in the virtual or digital space. That's really truly innovative. Congratulations to you and your staff, right? That's a new way to handle an old problem.

Danielle McDonald [00:08:40] Well, I can't really take any of the credit. I have to tell you I'm just the…I'm the person that had the pleasure of accepting the award on their behalf. This really, this one goes to staff, it was their idea, and as I said, I'm just so proud that they stayed with it.

Jim Heuer [00:08:53] Congratulations to you and congratulations to your whole team.

Danielle McDonald [00:08:57] Thank you.

Jim Heuer [00:08:58] Thank you. Two Librarians and A Microphone is brought to you by Ingram Library Services, it is a division of Ingram Content Group. Our producer/director is Rachel Cope, sound engineering by Craig Simpson, special assistance by Essence Brisco, and Elizabeth Wilcox. The research done by our librarians, Trisha Bengel and Donna George. I'm Jim Heuer, thanks most of all to you for listening. Please follow us on Instagram at @thelibrarylife, tag us in your #thelibrarylife moments, because we've got some cool stuff going on, on that social media platform. We're going to be giving away some exclusive books, ARCs, perhaps a signed copy. In order to make sure you're staying tuned to this podcast, we'd love for you to go to our landing page, but most importantly, the best way you can show your support for us, is we'd love some reviews on Apple iTunes. If you can go on there and leave us a positive review, that would really help. We'll see you in your libraries. Thanks everybody.