While many libraries, both public and academic, have implemented digital resources for their patrons in bits and pieces, I would argue that now is the time for libraries to work on putting together a comprehensive digital branch approach, offering millions of books, millions of newspapers and magazines, and open acess 24/7.  

Given the facts of mass digitization of titles, free-to-use API’s,  and social sharing of resources, the digital library branch is a reality that can be implemented.  Here’s how….

Every library needs a place to start, so our digital branch will be created on a branch of the current library web site or freely created with resources such as Google Sites or Weebly.  Using graphics from the main library site or recreating them from open-source, public domain photos and artwork, it would take only a short time to get going.

Secondly, we’ll need resources.  Since our branch is geared towards eReaders such as you and I,  let’s incorporate the top three sites to get started on our book resources:

Rounding out the top three resources, we could also implement the ManyBooks catalogFeedbooks catalog and others.  Highlighting these selections, we bring in additional illustrations and book covers through the use of the Google Book Bar and embed options from the Internet Archive.  If our digital collections have a special focus, then inserting the actual titles in our site through Google Books could help bring to attention special collections such as science fair, genealogy and/or gov. document titles.

But our library is more than historical fiction and bestsellers, we should also implement newspaper and magazine resources.  First up for this would be the Google News Archive.  While the resources are small, there are lots of ways to incorporate this into our branch.  Supplementing this, we could make available singular titles such as the Sports Illustrated Archive (you knew about this right?), People Magazine and even Time.  I didn’t mention the magazines now available on Google Books, but they certainly should be there.

Going forward after launch, it would also be quite easy to add newspaper and magazine resources from sites such as the Library of Congress Newspaper & Current Periodical Reading Room, or the list located here:  University of Pennsylvania Libraries Historical Newspapers Online.

Now that we have established our resources, how will we find them?  This might be a bit tricky in implementation, but using the Open Library as our starting point might be the best place to start!  Of course we could use other resources such as Google Site Search and other custom programming, but given our shoestring budget, this is probably not the best solution….we’ll have to work on tying these together somehow. Let’s investigate further the use of the publicly available API’s to collate our resources together and present a comprehensive top-down view of our offerings.

We can’t forget people.  In our social-media driven lives, how will our users get in touch with staff?  Let’s complement our virtual branch with some Facebook pages, Meebo perhaps (is that still popular?), Twitter accounts and of course email for Gen-X’ers like myself.  We could also back up our branch with a Google Voice Account for actual phone calls and texting back and forth.

The end results?  We’ve got our digital branch up and running in a matter of a few weeks.  Is this a perfect solution?  Nope…but it’s a start!  Rather than being locked into a particular vendor’s ebook implementation or ILS solution, we have an open-idea, low cost, digital library branch that serves our existing patrons and new patrons worldwide.  Our digital library costs next to nothing, uses little staff and is open 24/7.  Thoughts?  Has this already been done for your local library?  Is this a redundant idea?  Let me know in the comments below……

More resources to consider:

(SlideShare): Managing The Digital Branch

(SlideShare): Considering The Digital Library Branch

American Libraries:  Building A Digital Branch

Image Source: Tagxedo


  1. But how is this different from simply referring people to Manybooks and Feedbooks directly to get books? Even if you just consider ONE of those sites, that’s more books than most people will ever read. What we need to do is have a scraper for Project Gutenberg that categorizes the books a little better so that a user looking for ‘mystery’ is not confronted with 500,000 titles by unknown authors that they need to wade through to see the available choices.

  2. A vast majority of books are under copyright, and copyright owners deserve to be paid so lots of the content will have to be bought in some fashion, probably following the model of Netlibrary.

    Since many libraries are struggling to stay open, I doubt a vast reboot of ebook resource methods in libraries is in the near future.

  3. Hi all,

    Good points all around, but here’s some additional points on finding stuff to read among the many digital books available:

    Using the publicly available API’s that sites such as Google Books and Hathi Trust offer would be a great way for libraries to integrate this digital content into their “digital” branches.

    Also, the Google Book Bar enables libraries to upload lists of ISBN’s or by subject, the results then being able to be displayed on the digital library site.

    Archive.org offers a similar setup for their digitized content.


    Netlibrary and Overdrive are valid vendors and their programs are good. Authors as well deserve to be paid for their writing.

    What is hard for libraries is that they so often get signed into extensive vendor “lock-ins” and as a result, get limited content.

    I would say use the publicly available API’s out there along with content that is considered public domain to offer resources for patrons that otherwise would not have access. Case in point: classic American and English lit. Many times, libraries cannnot keep up with demand and all the “on-the-shelf” copies are soon checked out. With a digital branch, the patrons could then be referred to the digital copy to download in a multiplicity of formats. End result? Patrons get what they need.

    In any event, good thoughts…thank you!

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