Your dream reading-app for the DPLA and a national digital library system? Especially with the summer reading slump in mind?

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imageWhat’s a stellar reading app for the Digital Public Library of America, which wants to pave the way for a national digital library system?

Ideally this free app will make it Kindle-easy to read e-books and also tip you off about the paper goodies at your  local library. And offer social features—like shared annotations—and let people form “real” and virtual reading clubs.

Nate Hill of the San Jose library system and the PLA Blog (photo below) invited members of the DPLA’s Audience and Participation Workstream to describe their dream library app. He wanted book recommendation features and other tools to fight the summer slump that has helped to drive down K-12 reading scores here in the States.

I’ve written up my own wrinkles for the wiki page which Nate very smartly created with the encouragement of the DPLA leadership (my 9:30  a.m. EST version is here, complete with a read-down-your-fine option for libraries wonderful enough to offer it). You, too, can sign up for the wiki and the related email list and zap or edit in other ways. Some, Nate included, prefer that the details go on the email list right now. I think they should be in both places to facilitate discussion. Friendly disagreement. And now back to the substance:

Quite significantly, you can’t always separate kids’ reading from that of their role models, their parents and grandparents. Different generations may have different tastes, but the big thing is for young people to “catch” mothers and fathers reading. So as I see it, a public library app should encourage the whole family to read. With the multi-generational approach in mind, I’d like the DPLA software to offer a child-simple interface out of the can but let you toggle in advanced features. The old Mobipocket software was actually better planned in this respect than the still-dumbed-down Kindle applications for the iPad and the rest (and even the actual Kindle and Fire devices). Mobi lets you tweak it to start up with your fave features in place.

Once again—you, too, can participate via Nate’s wiki (the signup info should be near the top of the page, and let me know if somehow you don’t see it there). Just remember the main audience, not librarians or techies but Google-lovin’ patrons of public libraries. No need to deprive sophisticated users of their “musts.” Just please don’t make the most challenging features part of the default starter interface.

And finally, just to reassure you: I think that a national digital library system should be standards-driven and not limited to users of one particular e-reader.

The OverDrive angle: I remain in favor of libraries going after foundation money to buy OverDrive, as a first step toward a well-stocked national digital library system. But it would be silly, silly, silly for the DPLA and others to stand still and wait for this to happen. In fact, libraries’ own technical initiatives would give them more bargaining power. The e-book-related feature set of the software I have in mind would be vastly superior to that of OverDrive’s closest equivalent.

Updated at 10:59 a.m. EST: I wanted people to know of the differences of opinion on the handling of the Wiki and have changed the text earlier in this post. Below, for the record, is my version as of now (not 9:30 version). Luckily it appears that the DPLA will allow details on the wiki as well as the email list.

These are starter thoughts, not necessarily a final plan.

With the encouragement of reading in mind, particularly the summer variety, the DPLA will provide cross-platform software solutions–not just for libraries but also for young people, their parents, teachers, and others. The software should address all of the four requirements in the preceding section and, in fact, go beyond them.

Especially we should foster family literacy and encourage mothers and fathers to read, too, as good role models. If possible, parents should join librarians and teachers in providing guidance on reading techniques for daughters and sons–if desired, in line with the scaffolding theories and others of Associate Prof. James Kim of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Self-initiated recreational reading should also be fostered. We believe there is a place for different approaches, with local people able to choose one or the other or mix them after acquainting themselves with the facts.

Beyond offering customized reading recommendations, the software should include a built-in reader with social features useful not just online but also for directing people to onsite activities at libraries and helping like-minded patrons connect with each other virtually and in person.

The actual reader should work even when a patron is out of WiFi range, and it should be aesthetically pleasing and be Kindle-simple unless users call up advanced features. It should offer reflowable text (with the ePub, HTML and ASCII formats included at the very least, as well as both reflowable and nonreflowable PDF and DjVu and nonDRMed Kindle formats if possible); different sizes and styles of fonts; all-text bolding; adjustable margins and line spacing and color combinations; easily shared annotations; other social features; bookmarking; within-book and device-library and external-library searching and browsing; a Kindle-style dictionary; capabilities for reading down your fines on paper books, if individual libraries allowed this; and other wrinkles for end users. Some of these features might be toggled in rather than visible immediately, so as to reduce clutter for novices. KISS unless users want otherwise.

Content will consist mostly of books, but also of other texts and maybe even multimedia and/or pointers to it for readers with appropriate devices. Public domain and CC and maybe even content originated via a DPLA First Novel Contest (strong in YA- and other K-12-related categories) would be among the possibilities, as would local content of literary or historical importance.

Perhaps the app would have HathiTrust hooks to start out with. Simply as matter of practicality and patron service, the app might also allow access to legacy-DRMed books (and it could also work with books with expiration enforced by HTML5-based caching–one way to wean the library world off proprietary “protection”). A “must” is that the application also point to public and school libraries’ paper holdings, indicate their availability or nonavailability, and allow them to be reserved conveniently. In addition, the app could include ways to create user content beyond annotations–such as book reports.

At the library end, a related app could let librarians keep up with patron-originated activities, including the spontaneous formation of online and in-person book clubs by readers with similar interests. The app could also help librarians coordinate, interface, and share with other institutions such as schools and other government organizations (one way to facilitate multiple uses of e-book-friendly tablets and cost-justify them). Organizations of all kinds should be able to use the software to indicate their needs, e.g., content meeting curriculum requirements at local or state levels. The app should also include data collection features to document usage for budgetary and legal purposes and otherwise reduce the administrative burdens of librarians and other professionals. At the same time, it should respect patron privacy in line with guidelines from the American Library Association.

Further preliminary thoughts on users and features and the need for the app, as well as on essential access questions in the areas of hardware and connectivity, are here. It is hoped that the development process can be accelerated through formal or informal cooperation with the International Digital Publishing Forum and its Readium project, which has created a developer-oriented reference reader for ePub 3. The IDPF is the home of ePub, a nonproprietary format based on open Web standards.

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