BookShare Answers Your Questions


The Fine folks over at BookShare have provided answers to all the questions provided by the ever inquisitive LISNews audience.

Read on below to see how they do things, and why. This is an interesting project, one that could have some impact on some libraries in the future.

> How did you get this idea?

We got the idea for Bookshare one day when we were sitting in our room, staring
at the walls filled with books we didn’t use. If you think about it, textbooks
are used very inefficiently. You shell out $100 for a book that you use for
only 3 months, after which the book just collects dust on your bookshelf.
student enters into this cycle every quarter, and ends up with a bunch of
that they never touch again. Bookshare breaks this inefficient cycle. Now,
instead of collecting dust, your books are actually used for the next 3 months
by another student, and returned at the end of that time. Think of it as
distributed library system that gives out 3-month book loans instead of 4-week
ones. Sure, you could try to sell your books, but that is often tedious and
always successful. Bookshare is simple and easy to use, and facilitates
efficient and cost-effective use of textbooks. Movieshare extends this idea
movies. Although not nearly as cost-saving as textbook sharing, movie sharing
can still save students a bit more money.

> Do you feel there are commercial applications in what you are doing?

We don’t plan on charging our users for the service.  However, we see
business in licensing the service for use internally by companies.

> Could this be done by, supported by, run by a library? Is this within
> scope of what libraries do?

Given enough resources, probably. But the fact is that no university will
the money to purchase hundreds of identical textbooks to accommodate students.
In addition, housing all these books becomes a major issue. It may distract
from the more critical features of libraries, such as aiding research, and
reduce the diversity of a library collection. By keeping the library as a
distributed network, we avert this scaling problem but have to deal with
additional issues such as priorities and lender fidelity.
> The notion of resource-sharing within a community as something that
> invented rather than something that libraries have been doing for a
> long time. Comments?

Napster did not invent resource-sharing, but rather adapted the idea to digital
music and the larger quantities of sharing that it allows for. Libraries
been sharing for a very long time, but on lower quantities and a more local

> There does not *seem* to be any copyright troubles here, like Napster

> has(had?), but in theory, if you were running as a new

> startup business, do you see any legal troubles looming?

We don’t foresee doing this on the same scale as Napster, because we feel
Bookshare is very community-centric and will only succeed among small groups
trusted individuals, such as a small college campus.  Furthermore, because
users exchange physical material that they have purchased, they are protected
under the fair use clause of the Copyright Act.  Since there is no copying
done, we’re not facilitating anything illegal.

> Does your library lend any text books used in class? Should it be

They lend some, but they usually only have a few copies and at least a couple
must stay on reserve. Also, the loan period is much shorter than a quarter,
usually around 1 month.

> How do you as students view the library? Do you think everything
you need
> is on the internet?

The library, as a place of research, has become less relevant with the
expansion of the Internet.  However, there are still certain things
that you
can only get from a library, not to mention the help that a librarian can

> Libraries in 20 years will be.... (finish that sentence)

libraries, with less microfiche and more internet access.  With more
being done on the internet, libraries will also provide access to subscription
sites, such as Lexis-Nexis, for free.  

> Can you talk of the technical side of things, what does this run
> (programmin language, server, etc...), how long did it take you to set
> and get going?

Bookshare is running on a Pentium 166Mhz box with a Red Hat distribution
Linux.  The actual server software is written in Java, and runs on the
servlet server combined with Apache.  We use a MySQL database to manage
all the
sharing information.  The service was first conceived in November 2000,
production in January, and launched in April.  Several features and
improvements were added during the summer, and we launched Movieshare this

> Has there been any feedback on the \'Priority System\' you set up?
Does it
> seem fair?

The priority system was created to make our service more efficient. 
At the
start, we had a “lend one, borrow one” policy, so that you had to lend a
to have the right to request one for borrow. However, we found that of 160
books available for borrow, only 60 were successfully shared.  That
left us
with about 100 books that may have been shared but weren’t.  Also, with
the new
school year arriving in the fall, we were faced with the new problem of
freshman users who didn’t even own any books that they could lend. 
So we
invented the priority system to both decrease waste and increase accessibility.
 We haven’t had much feedback, but it seems to be working.

> Would this scale to other schools or even world wide, perhaps being
used in
> a town, or city rather than just on a campus?

Yes, this would easily scale to other schools and other small communities.

Working on a larger scale, be it town, city, or world, we would encounter
several problems.  First, there are issues of transport and distance
which a
small community overcomes.  Second, do you think people would trust
to sharing
their things with random people in a large town?  We don’t.

> How\'s it going? how will you measure success? How many users do you

It’s going pretty well.  We have 426 registered users and 370 books
and movies
available for borrow on our site.  In total, 172 books and movies have
been shared.  We’re measuring success based on these numbers. 
At this point,
we need to publicize and get the word out to everyone on campus. Right now
we’re shooting for 1000 users by February.

> Are you worried people will just run off with the books they get?
Is there
> any safeguards in place?

That is a worry of course, but so far no one has reported any problems. We
a couple safeguards in place.  First, only Stanford students are allowed
to use
the service, not just anyone with an email account.  Second, we’ve created
eBay-style rating system that allows lenders to provide feedback on their
experiences. Here they can complain if the borrower tore their book or never
returned it.  The next time the offending user wants to borrow a book
or movie,
the lender can see his bad rating and not lend to him.  Another safeguard
an actual user came up with was to force borrowers to leave their driver\'s
license or student ID with him in exchange for taking his movie.  This
was his
own invention, and works very well.

> Please feel free to add anything else you think librarians may be

> interested in.

Thanks a lot for the interview.  We have a FAQ on our site, at

Also, be sure to check the main site at

If you or your readers have any other questions, they can email me directly
[email protected].  The responses above were written with the co-founders
Tunlin Ou ([email protected]) and David Salinas ([email protected]).

Thanks again.

 - nikhil

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