Catalyst Fund 2018: Austin Peay State University

Submitting Organization: Austin Peay State University, Felix G. Woodward Library

Idea Title: Library Multi-e-reader Application for Mobile Devices

Idea Statement of Purpose: The idea is to create a mobile application that will allow users to read items in various formats, from various publishers, and use any device.

Describe the problem, need, issue or challenge that will be addressed and how addressing it will benefit the LYRASIS community. Include, if relevant, references to any studies or reports that can further elucidate the issue, models from other fields, or existing work in related areas.

For the past two decades, libraries have been offering an ever increasing amount of content in the electronic medium. This content is provided through a large number of vendors and publishers. Unfortunately, there is no standard format in which this information is provided. Many of these companies have created their own file types for providing content and therefore have created their own platforms to provide this content. Some companies such as Amazon make their content available only using proprietary file types and platforms. This means that library users are required to find and download multiple e-readers and mobile applications. Other companies provide their content in file formats that are usable with various e-readers; however, these companies use a default setting for these files that engage their own viewing platforms.

Having to download and use so many programs in order to view library content is frustrating and time consuming for library users. Users of multiple e-reader platforms have to learn different programs, each of which has a different set of features, procedures, and instructions. There are a number of similar features across the available platforms; however, these features are often managed in different ways. Additionally, most publishers and vendors develop their platforms to provide capabilities that are unique. Although the capabilities of these programs can be useful, the varying capabilities and the variety for using these features is often problematic, especially for people who are not confident users of technology, or are resistant to changes in their library habits. The differences in the platforms are often more pronounced when users move from a public library to an academic library (Tao Zhang, Xi Niu, & Promann, 2017).

From the standpoint of the librarian, the variety of e-reader platforms creates a number of problems. Trying to ensure the library is providing its users with access to available content requires reviewing, adding, and maintaining a variety of programs. Maintaining this level of diligence is a time consuming task for library personnel. Additionally, many publications are only available in one format, which restricts where librarians can purchase access. For example, if a public library has an agreement with Overdrive, the only formats that this e-reader can use are EPUBS and Kindle (Tovstiadi & Wiersma, 2016). In addition to managing e-books, this is a similar complication for libraries when providing access to online journals, which often provide articles in PDF or Word file formats. Many journal content providers such as ProQuest and EBSCO include an online reader with their platform; however, downloaded items must use other programs to be viewed.

In addition to the practical concerns librarians have in regards to e-reader applications and programs, there are also ethical concerns that are not always addressed by the companies that provide these platforms. Most platforms request that location and user information be provided as a return for offering these platforms. The companies that provide this content track user information and habits for a number of reasons, but have no vested interest in protecting the privacy of library patrons. As a result, people who use e-reader apps may not be given the same level of privacy that is regularly offered when they are using print resources. Although a user may initially not allow this information to be provided to the company, frequent updates to these programs may change these settings without notifying the user (Zimmer, 2013).

To alleviate these complications, a program/application could be developed and made available to libraries that will allow electronic content in any format to be displayed from any format used by publishers and vendors. This will require the cooperation of publishers, vendors, and several software companies that create these file formats. Having a “library multi-e-reader app” that allows users to read journal articles, e-books, or web content from any publisher would eliminate the need for librarians to determine whether content is usable in their library. In addition, being able to rely on a multi-e-reader app would allow publishers to concentrate on the content they provide, instead of the platform. Although these companies may lose some profits due to the lack of being the sole platform for content, opportunities to provide content to libraries previously unable to purchase their information has the potential to increase profits. Having a library app would allow library users to read content without having to navigate a variety of programs and apps. This library multi-e-reader app should be coordinated and distributed by an impartial, non-profit entity that is not concerned with making a profit, will protect user privacy, and has no interest in tracking individual usage.

Tao Zhang, z. c., Xi Niu, x. e., & Promann, M., (2017). Assessing the user experience of E-books in academic libraries. College & Research Libraries, 78(5), 578-601. doi:10.5860/crl.78.3.283

Tovstiadi, E., & Wiersma, G. (2016). Comparing digital apples and oranges: A comparative analysis of e-books across multiple platforms. Serials Librarian, 70(1-4), 175-183. doi:10.1080/0361526X.2016.1148979

Zimmer, M., (2013). Assessing the treatment of patron privacy in library 2.0 literature. Information Technology & Libraries, 32(2), 29-41. Retrieved from

Are you interested in working with LYRASIS to further define the scope of work to test your idea?

Although this project would be well beyond the capabilities of this institution, we would be able to work with LYRASIS to define the scope of the work. We would also like to be involved in testing resources that come from this idea.

If relevant, list other organizations, besides LYRASIS, that you recommend as potential partners in implementing the idea.

To make this type of application a success, publishers and content providers such as Overdrive, ProQuest, EBSCO, Gale, BrowZine, and Amazon would need to be involved. Other potential partners include ALA, Google, Mozilla, Microsoft, and Adobe.

We encourage constructive comments that would help define solutions to the issues raised by the ideas and/or provide context for how these ideas impact your organization.


  1. Emily Reiher says:

    I was glad to see that this idea touches on both the practical, user centered approach to access, as well as addressing patron privacy. Educating the public on how and why their data is being used is incredibly important for LAMs.

  2. Jonathan Green says:

    I agree with Carissa and Celeste that there is lots of synergy here with the Simply-E project.

    An interesting angle here, that I believe the submission hints at, is that much of the reason for the proliferation of different viewers is the DRM being used to protect these documents. Many of the DRM formats are closed and locked to single proprietary vendors. Simply-E currently addresses this, by having NYPL register a Adobe DRM account, where they have negotiated a license that lets any use of the Simply-E app, use their DRM server.

    This isn’t a general solution and it would be very valuable to address vendors rights management concerns in an open way that allows generic readers to be able to render this content, this will require the cooperation mentioned in the submission, but would be a huge step forward for digital content.

  3. Carissa Egan says:

    Echoing Celeste’s comment, the New York Public Library’s SimplyE mobile application project has already made some progress on this concept in the public library space. Their project is built on the Library Simplified open source software that enables organizations to consolidate various sources of content, integrate with an ILS system and/or other authentication system in order to provide patrons with one centralized way to access much of the e-content of the organization: This work could serve as a nice building block to the idea proposed by Austin Peay State University.

  4. Celeste Feather says:

    This idea resonates with the work on the SimplyE app that is being led by DPLA for public libraries, and there is a group that is exploring possibilities of using SimplyE in the academic library environment too. Lots of potential synergy here.