Q+A with Mark Smith, Director and Librarian, Texas State Library and Archives Commission

By Micah May, November 10, 2020.
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The Texas State Library began purchasing books from the DPLA Exchange in 2019 and now has acquired more books than any other library from DPLA. The collection is available statewide as part of the Texas State Library- supported Texas SimplyE deployment. This month, we talked with Mark Smith, Director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, about his state’s goals, challenges, and progress so far.

If you’d like to find out more about how your library can use SimplyE and the DPLA Exchange to maximize access, or have questions, please get in touch

Micah May

Director, Ebook Services, DPLA

Can you tell us a bit about the ebooks landscape in Texas prior to the Texas State Library engaging with SimplyE and DPLA?

Prior to launching our project, E-Read Texas, there was no attempt at a statewide approach to procuring e-books other than those that came as part of bundled e-resource purchases from database aggregators. Purchase of e-books for local library circulation was purely a local decision. Most Texas libraries purchase e-books from vendors such as Overdrive, Baker and Taylor, or RB Digital either individually or via regional consortia within the state. So, in other words, a patchwork of local access and no unified platform for libraries.  

Why did you decide to deploy SimplyE and a TSL statewide collection?

We had struggled for several years for a way to provide e-book resources for Texas libraries and had sought funding from our state legislature for that purpose. Our efforts in this regard were frustrated by the lack of a common platform and the complications posed by selection, meeting common needs across library types and sizes, and other challenges. Also, that funding from the state was never forthcoming. We opted for SimplyE because it provided a solution that integrated with the local library ILS to offer an easy mobile access to both the library-purchased content and what we could provide from the state library. We took advantage of some funds available from a project that got curtailed to move ahead to launch E-Read Texas in August 2019.

How is the deployment of SimplyE worked out for Texas so far?

Very well. We have worked with Amigos Library Services to stand up SimplyE in 92 Texas public libraries so far and there are another 12 in the implementation queue. The pandemic really sharpened the interest of libraries in exploring any remote access projects that would get more materials out to their patrons during the time that libraries were closed and in-person service was limited. Consequently, not only did the roll-out of this program turn out to be much more timely than we could ever have predicted, but also, many libraries approached us to participate after March. SimplyE is a great solution to the need for a common platform that allows us to offer materials from our growing collection right alongside what the libraries are also purchasing. We were so successful with our first group of small community libraries that we are now considering strategies to extend participation to other libraries in the state. Ultimately, we would like to see every library in Texas using SimplyE.

Starting in the summer of 2019, Texas State Library has been working with DPLA to build a statewide collection. Can you tell us a little bit about why you decided to source this collection from DPLA and how this is working for TSL and Texans?

Again, our timing was great in that we rolled out thousands of new e-book titles to the state just before and during the pandemic so that we have been able to provide growing access to e-books at a time when people have most needed them. We selected the DPLA Exchange for these purchases because of DPLA’s [free] membership model and strong support for SimplyE. Our total collection now includes over 6,300 titles purchased from the DPLA Exchange or DPLA’s partner BiblioBoard. We have had wonderful support from a group of librarians across the state who have volunteered their time to participate in a selection committee, and the DPLA Exchange made this type of distributed selection simple. TSLAC staff and the selection committee agreed early in the process that we wanted to buy books with favorable terms such as unlimited and simultaneous use, which is typical of much of the content from DPLA and BiblioBoard. These materials are already being used by Texans all across the state and as we grow the number of libraries using SimplyE, that number will continue to grow.

In the next year or so, how do you see the ebooks landscape evolving? What types of things are you doing in Texas to prepare for that?

The demand for e-books will continue to be strong, especially as many libraries continue to operate with reduced access due to the pandemic. We will also likely see more of a shift from print to digital as libraries absorb the lessons of the COVID period. At the same time, local budgets are likely to be impacted and funding reduced for libraries and library collections. SimplyE and E-Read Texas are key elements of our strategy to ease stress on local budgets and provide more materials to the public via their libraries. In the larger e-book ecosystem, the discussion of the cost of e-books and publisher interests, while momentarily muted in the aftermath of the Macmillan reversal, will return. The more emphasis we can bring to collections with favorable publisher terms, the better for library patrons. We hope to continue to be part of that discussion and finding fair solutions that will provide the best possible service to library e-book readers.  

Email the DPLA Ebooks team to find out more about putting SimplyE and the DPLA Exchange to work for your library.

 DPLA’s ebook work is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.