The Bloomsbury Library Online went live last week. It had been announced at the London Book Fair a few weeks ago. This is a library proposition in two senses: it is a plan for selling subscriptions to groups of books through public libraries, and it is a set of themed shelves of books from the overall Bloomsbury list. A proposition for libraries and a plan for offering a customisable and curated library from Bloomsbury. They explain the concept as follows:

………. using existing technology in libraries across the country, Bloomsbury is rolling out a groundbreaking e-lending strategy which will allow readers to read collections of bestselling books at local library terminals or with the use of a library card on home computers and internet enabled devices.

The Bloomsbury Library Online will consist of a number of themed shelves: children’s books, sports titles, international fiction, Shakespeare plays, reference books and more. They will launch with a shelf of Book Group titles including Galaxy Book of the Year, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, by Kate Summerscale, Orange Prize longlisted Burnt Shadows, by Kamila Shamsie, word-of-mouth phenomenon The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer, and international bestseller The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri. Embracing the advantages of the online format, users will be able to read the book, search the text, access author interviews, reviews, press features, and links to specially commissioned reading group guide. Bloomsbury web site

Bloomsbury’s project required us to develop our platform in ways that we had not previously considered necessary. They wanted to be able to sell books as groups, and although this was not part of the formal requirement, we suspected that the next publisher to adopt this strategy would wish to be able to sell books in groups (ie ‘shelves’) but also to sell the same books as individual titles, both to individuals and to institutional subscribers. And the next publisher would want to include the same book in multiple shelves, and then remove them from some shelves…..There were also knock on effects on the way that the site would be navigated, the marketing pages within the site would unfold, and the way in which promotions to titles or groups of titles would work. Finally, we needed to understand what happens with renewals, when books are coming into and perhaps falling out of shelves in midstream? In short, what had looked like a fairly simple additional requirement led us to take another look at our ontology. Until this point about shelves came up, I dont think I had grasped that we already had an ontology. In January we did not have an ontology for shelves of books, but now we do. Since Bloomsbury appear to be capable of producing a lot more shelves, this is a good thing.

The Exact Editions platform can now manage sets of books aggregated by a publisher (Bloomsbury’s Teen Fiction Shelf, or their Book Group Shelf), as well as individual books and collections of books that might be selected by an account holder. We are not yet managing sets of sets of books, but I understand that it would be possible to do this, should the need arise. And it surely will arise: eg within a large fiction collection, where you might want to be able to group all the titles by a particular author as a sub-shelf, within the overall shelf of detective fiction. We will not however be working with shelves of books that are not members of shelves… this conundrum can be left for the digital remainder merchants.