NYU Libraries launched a pilot project last month to make more than 150,000 books available to faculty and students through SimplyE, a free e-reader app developed by the New York Public Library.
SimplyE is an open-source program, meaning NYU students can access book collections from local public libraries, including the New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library, as well as NYU Libraries. ProQuest Ebook Central is the book database that provides the titles. According to Nancy Lin, NYU Libraries’ E-Resource Metadata Technology Specialist, students had access to over 300 coursebooks for the Spring 2021 semester through SimplyE.
“The pilot with ProQuest and NYU will reduce the number of logins for NYU community members, creating an improved user experience,” Lin wrote in an email to WSN.
In previous years, NYU Libraries has received feedback expressing dissatisfaction with using e-books for research. Nina Servizzi, the Associate Dean of Knowledge Access and Resource Management Services, noted that much of this dissatisfaction arose from the interface and limited functionality of the reading programs in use at the time.
“The [new] program will provide the NYU community a greater ability to explore … the richness of our e-book collections, and allow each member of the community the flexibility to choose the manner of access that is best suited to their work preferences,” Servizzi wrote in an email to WSN.
Tisch junior Talia Barton has had trouble in the past accessing digital research materials through NYU Libraries, especially when she was taking remote classes out of state due to COVID-19.
“I had to request certain chapters from the library,” Barton said. “They can’t scan the whole book, and they will only give you a certain number of chapters. They won’t give you more than that. And the request system’s really weird so I had to kind of had to hope that those were the pages I needed based on the index, so I found it really hard to try to research materials when I’m not in the city.”
For the past three semesters, Gallatin junior Lau Guzmán has encountered similar issues while taking classes from her home in Colombia.
“It’s been an expensive struggle to get textbooks shipped to me on time (if at all),” Guzmán wrote in an email to WSN. “Instead, I’ve found that things like Project Gutenberg, NYPL’s OverDrive, and Bobst’s library’s online access and scanned material are a lot more useful and timely. Because of this, I think expanding the resources available to students is always a positive thing, especially if students continue to study remotely.”
Barton believes the new program could help students better engage in research. Both Guzmán and Barton postulate that this program could benefit students greatly, but are worried that it will become another NYU program students are unaware of.
“I think the only thing about it is that NYU will have to publicize it,” Barton said. “There are so many things that we have access to and we just don’t know about. It would suck if no one used it, because I’m sure people would, especially people who are remote. It would be super beneficial for them.”
Guzmán believes the SimplyE pilot project will not only improve NYU Libraries, but also be a more ethical alternative to services such as Amazon Kindle.
“I’ve wanted to divest from [Amazon],” Guzmán wrote. “However, I am relying on Kindle for access to many of my textbooks because of how ridiculously hard it is to get physical textbooks shipped to me and how many digital books are available for rent/purchase via Kindle. Because of this, I think having another alternative to Kindle is very useful.”
The pilot project beta test will run through August 2021, allowing beta users to submit feedback to improve the new service.
“Since the app runs on library-developed open-source software, feedback from academic users during the pilot program will also help develop and improve new functionality in the app, which will benefit all library users,” Lin wrote.
According to Servizzi, feedback during these first few months of the service is essential — not only for improving functionality, but also for enhancing the quality and increasing the number of resources available to students.
“I am happy that NYU Libraries is among the first academic libraries to adopt SimplyE,” Servizzi wrote. “I feel this project is an inspiring model for collaborative, open source, library-led initiatives that improve the services we provide to our communities.”
Users of SimplyE can submit feedback via the user survey or email [email protected]
Email Rachel Fadem at [email protected]