Monday, December 31, 2012

Library eBook lending

This article over at NPR about eBooks and libraries echoes a lot of issues with the current eLibrary models being used: the limited scope of offered books, publishers' instance on bizarre "26 circulations" limitations, and the surprisingly low percentage of readers even using this digital option. This is a fairly good introduction to the problems surrounding eBook lending, but I think it missed part of its own point. The article opens with a sly reference to how few people check books out through these digital catalogs, yet the readers themselves are mostly absent from the article. So, to fill in the blanks, my own take.

I've been checking eBooks out from my local libraries since the day I bought my first eReader. Literally; the evening I bought Artemis, I tested out downloads from three sources: Gutenberg, Overdrive, and Scribd. The Overdrive book was the second eBook I ever read, and I have not stopped using their services since. But I know that I'm in the minority. Not only do digital databases hold an incredible advantage for me over physical ones (after all, I don't have much access to books in English here in the non-Anglo world...), but I also have a fierce resistance to paying for eBooks, and as such prefer any method of getting them for free. The ability to check eBooks out of the library was what drove me to buy a Sony Reader back in the day (over the Kindle, then the only serious competition); it's the same consideration that keeps me using my newer Seshat to this day.

But why is this so rare? I know of countless bloggers who have eReaders, as well as many other friends and family who read digital books in some form or other. These are voracious readers, many of whom hardly read physical books anymore... why aren't they taking advantage of this wonderful system?

Some of the answers are what I mentioned earlier. When you have so few options of books to check out, is it even worth it? Not to mention the fact that finding a book in these databases can be nearly impossible (not what I would call the best search engines). But I don't think all the blame should fall on Overdrive and the other eBook providers. I think some of it has to do with the fact that many readers maybe just prefer getting books in other ways - the convenience of buying a digital edition instantaneously, or even receiving a free eARC. Then there's probably the fact that these sites were at first closed to Kindle books, and have only recently started providing Kindle files for check-out.

I don't know why other readers haven't opted for checking out more library eBooks. I really don't. While it's far from a perfect system (again, NPR's article is quite good at explaining why), it's still something... and something quite incredible. Thoughts?


  1. Borrowing e-books from the library is relatively new in my part of the UK but as soon as it became possible I bought a Kobo to stand alongside my Kindle. However, to my disappointment, I rarely use it because the number of books available has hardly changed since the day the lending system was set up. Add to that the frequency with which the system goes down and the whole business of borrowing ebooks becomes so fraught with frustration that it takes the pleasure away. I haven't read the article you cite but I wonder does it discuss the reluctance of some publishers to make their ebooks available for this sort of system? It seems to me that until the publishers come on board whole-heartedly it isn't going to take off.

  2. I have done it...but using the system is awkward and not very easy. To tell you the truth, after a few times, I gave up on it .

  3. Overdrive does have a terrible search capacity. But I still use it constantly. It's my primary source for books these days, because I'm terrified of getting bedbugs from library books (it's a thing! a thing that happens to people sometimes!) and because my Nook is much lighter to carry around on the subway than regular books. I hope the low usage doesn't convince libraries to stop buying ebooks. We wants them precious!


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