Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The cost of promoting NYS' digital library

As part of New York State's New Century Libraries initiative, the State Library implemented a program called the New York Online Virtual Electronic Library or NOVEL. NOVEL consists of five components:
  1. Electronic resources purchased on a statewide basis to provide significant economies of scale;
  2. Shared electronic catalogs of the holdings of all types of libraries, including the high-quality, specialized resources held by New York's academic and special libraries;
  3. Opportunities for libraries to digitize their unique collections;
  4. Enhanced opportunities for high-speed network access that will enable libraries to deliver all the benefits and features of NOVEL; and
  5. A NOVEL user interface (or portal) that integrates the services and resources brought together under NOVEL.
New Yorkers have access to the NOVEL databases through their local public libraries, many academic libraries, and the NOVEL web site. Through the NOVEL web site, New Yorkers can access the databases using their NYS driver's license number or non-driver photo ID number. The State also created an easier to remember URL for NOVEL ( and what it must consider an end-user interface.

As of July 2004, 86% of NYS libraries were registered to use NOVEL after five years in operation (but are they really using it?). Usage in 2004 had doubled from the previous year. Yet there are many people in NYS -- probably the majority of NYS residents have no idea what NOVEL is. In fact, I bet there are still librarians in the State who are unsure of what NOVEL is and how to use it. To increase awareness, last year NYS funded efforts throughout the State to train library staff members and end-users on NOVEL. Each library system or library council that received funding used it differently, and I suspect that each truly did make NOVEL better known in its region. (I even did workshops on Long Island for LILRC and SCLS to help library staff members understand the Business & Company Resources Center and to think more creatively on how to market online resources.)

In order to get more New Yorkers aware of NOVEL, the New York State Library has issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the development and implementation of a statewide education and information program for the State Library's NOVEL (New York Online Virtual Electronic Library) project. Here is what I find most intriguing about the RFP... According to the factsheet about NOVEL, the State is investing $14 million annually to create NOVEL. The RFP states, "The total cost for the project cannot exceed $250,000 including travel and any incidental expenses, for the term of the [three-year] contract." Wow! Create a communication effort to educate and inform the general public about NOVEL and do other things for $83,333 per year for three years. And the promotion efforts are to use the media, print and press, and other creative venues. (I keep looking at the RFP thinking that there must be more money than this. If you see money here that I do not, please let me know.)

What are the goals of the RFP? The goals stated are that by September 2007:
  • 30 percent of a sampling of New York adult residents will indicate that they have heard of NOVEL. (BTW there are ~14 million adults in NYS.)
  • 15 percent will say they have used NOVEL.
  • 5 percent will say that they or members of their family have benefited from access to NOVEL's 24/7 core collection of reliable electronic resources.
Can you adequately build awareness among 14 million adults of a digital library that costs $14 million/year for only $83,333 per year? Can a connection be made between NOVEL and its audience for that cost? Librarians believe in not spending money on marketing and sometimes a good marketing campaign can be done inexpensively, but is the State trying to be too cheap? Is it setting itself (or whomever wins the contract) up to fail?

As you can tell, I'm skeptical. When the announcement first crossed by desk, I was pleased, but as I have written this, I'm concerned that they are grossly underfunding this effort. Perhaps I'm wrong. At any rate, it will be interesting talking to people about this over the next few weeks.

Below is the announcement of the RFP from NYS. Perhaps you know of someone who would like to take this on?


The New York State Library has issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the development and implementation of a statewide education and information program for the State Library's NOVEL (New York Online Virtual Electronic Library) project. Eligible applicants are libraries, library systems, institutions of higher education, not-for-profit and for-profit organizations and associations, including but not limited to advertising firms. The development of a NOVEL statewide education and information program project evolved from a recommendation of the NOVEL Steering Committee. The contract resulting from this RFP will be for three years.

RFP proposals are due by August 1, 2005.

NOVEL, the New York Online Virtual Electronic Library, is a powerful virtual library that gives New Yorkers full computer access to thousands of national and international newspapers and magazines, health and medical magazines and resources, valuable business and investment information, and fun and educational materials for adults and youngsters - all free via their local library. NOVEL opened a new era in library service, thanks to support from the LSTA (Library Services and Technology Act) program and the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). NOVEL is a "virtual library" that connects New Yorkers in every community to state-of-the-art information without regard to economic, geographic, or physical barriers. Over 5,000 libraries across the state have already become subscribers.

Complete RFP information, along with submission documents, can be found at the New York State Library's NOVEL website at:

Questions can be directed to Mary Linda Todd, Library Development Specialist/New York State Library by calling 518-474-7890 or by email at:


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