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Last Modified: December 6, 2022
Beyond the Stacks with Jessie Bach: a typewriter with NFT written on the paper.
Alberta Libraries Loan the World’s First NFT Novel

by Jessie Bach

Book cover of "The Daughters of Walsingham"This past spring, Alberta became home to two exciting literary firsts! Edmontonian author Todd Babiak created the world’s first Non-Fungible Token (or NFT) book, and the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) became the first library in the world to hold and loan an NFT. According to a LinkedIn post by Todd Babiak, his choice to publish The Daughters of Walsingham as an NFT means that “the buyer would own this tokenized novel entirely. The deal, baked into the contract, provides for me to be compensated as it moves from hand to hand.” The book was self-published and placed on an NFT marketplace called OpenC. Soon, it was purchased using a cryptocurrency called “ether” for the equivalent of about $8000 by Chris LaBossiere, an Edmonton entrepreneur, businessman, and friend of Babiak. Unsatisfied knowing that as the owner of the book, he was the only one who could read it, LaBossiere then approached EPL (with Babiak’s blessing), hoping to find a way to share it with a broader audience. I spoke with Tina Thomas, Executive Director of Customer Experience at EPL, to learn more about how they came to hold the NFT, the technology behind it, and what she thinks this could mean for the library model of sharing.

When LaBossiere approached EPL with his idea to share the book via the library they knew right away that they wanted to find a way to make it happen. According to Thomas, “it was an opportunity to take something that was an interesting book, written by a local author but done in a different way, and to use it as an educational opportunity as well.” To facilitate the donation of the NFT, an agreement was struck between LaBossiere and EPL and a contract was established to lay out the terms of use. “We do hold the original NFT, but the idea was that he would loan it to us for a very long time, as long as there are people that are interested in it,” Thomas told me, and that “in the future, if [LaBossiere] decided to sell it, the proceeds would go to EPL. So it is meant to be a gift.”

 A screen shot of the listing of "The Daughters of Walsingham" on OverDrive. The Daughters of Walsingham is being loaned through the popular e-book lending platform OverDrive. Because Babiak did not create the NFT with e-book lending software compatibility in mind, some work did have to be done on the back end in order to convert the book to the suitable formats for sharing through the OverDrive platform. Now that it’s been converted to ePub, PDF and OverDrive Read formats, the book is technically no different from any other e-book in the library’s collection. What makes it different is the loan restrictions, or lack thereof, that come along with it. EPL’s agreement with LaBossiere allows for simultaneous use of the e-book. This means that, unlike the conventionally published titles, there will be no lengthy waitlists, and the e-book will not “expire” after a certain number of loans. As Thomas puts it, “there’s no publisher involved, there’s no middleman. Todd wrote something, someone purchased it, and then gave it to us. We don’t have the same strings associated as with other content that we acquire.” In fact, the only remaining limits on its loan are due to a restriction on the OverDrive platform side of things, which allows for a maximum of 1000 simultaneous loans of an e-book.

Not long after their acquisition of The Daughters of Walsingham, EPL generously offered to share the e-book with other Alberta libraries and access was expanded across the province. EPL and LaBossiere amended the terms of their contract, and from there it was as simple as sharing the e-book file with other libraries and library systems so that they could load it into their OverDrive platforms. Babiak was in full support of this expanded access and today the title can be borrowed by most Albertans through their public library.

Becoming home to the world’s first NFT e-book has presented a further opportunity for EPL to start a bigger conversation about NFTs, and to include their library community too. They plan to continue to learn about digital creation, blockchains, and cryptocurrency alongside their patrons by hosting classes and events. If you’re a patron of EPL and are interested in learning more, keep an eye on their NFT Book webpage for upcoming events.

When I first heard the news about this NFT e-book, my reaction was to be somewhat concerned about what it could mean for access, the freedom to read, and the traditional library model of resource sharing. My understanding of NFTs is admittedly limited—even after the research I’ve done and conversations I’ve had to write this post—but the term brought to mind thoughts of restricted and protected access, rather than free and open sharing. Following my conversation with Thomas, however, I’m ready to consider the opportunities this new publishing model may provide for libraries in the future. As she puts it:

In public libraries, we are limited by what publishers are giving us access to, and how they are giving us access to content. What’s interesting about this, and really became apparent as we were working with the content and thinking, well, this is just like an e-book but way more efficient from the whole contract side. I do think there is huge potential for rethinking how authors connect with their audiences, and how authors connect with libraries and getting things into people’s hands more quickly with fewer limitations.

To borrow The Daughters of Walsingham, visit your local library’s e-book platform and search for the title!

Beyond the Stacks is a column about libraries in Alberta and the useful and necessary services they provide.

Photo of Jessie Bach, author of this articleJessie Bach grew up on a family farm in Southern Alberta, and is a life-long library user and book lover. She has a degree in history from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. Jessie has worked in archives, academic libraries, corporate records management, and now public libraries. Her current role is Bibliographic Services Manager at Marigold Library System where she manages the team that does acquisitions, cataloguing and processing of library material for Marigold’s thirty-six member libraries. She currently lives in Calgary with her partner and, in true librarian fashion, four cats. Jessie likes to read (of course), knit, consume way too many true crime podcasts, and lift weights in the gym. 

Feature image credit: NFT word on a paper in typewriter created by Markus Winkler.