Ebooks and the Public Library

Electronic books have become more and more common. There are a variety of devices, Nooks, Kindles, and even Smart Phones which allow a user to buy a book from Amazon or another provider and download the book directly to their device. Some people love electronic books and some people hate them, but it is a fast, easy way to get a book quickly and has the benefit of being able to shop online.

Public libraries have expanded their collections into the electronic book arena, and have slowly been building their collection of ebooks. When I first heard that my public library could lend me ebooks I was intrigued and then fascinated. The system would supposedly let me go through my library’s webpage select an ebook from the catalog and download it onto my computer. Moreover, at the end of the designated lending period, the book would vanish from my computer eliminating concerns over late fees.

When I began to use the system of borrowing ebooks, I found the system to be a little, although not much, more complicated. While libraries list their electronic books in their catalog, to actually download them you often have to go through several different pages to log onto a different database to get to the ebooks. While the process is usually simple, entering the barcode from your library card, once you are in the database you need to do your search again to find the item you wanted to borrow. Once you find the item you can finally download it, almost. If it is your first time borrowing an ebook you have to download a special program called Overdrive.

The ebooks get downloaded onto Overdrive which keeps patrons from simply having the ebook on the hard drive where they could copy and keep the book. Overdrive is fairly simplistic and only needs to be downloaded once. With it installed you can browse and download as many ebooks as your library will allow, I believe my current library only allows a max of five ebooks checked out at once.

For a first time user, especially one not completely comfortable with technology, the entire process to borrowing an ebook can be fairly daunting. Adding this to library’s limited collections of ebooks, fewer choices and those choices often checked out, I can see why people find it easier to simply not bother with this option. However, it is a fantastic option.

Getting to a public library can be difficult because of transportation or shortened library hours due to shrinking budgets. Ebooks provide an excellent venue to enjoy the library’s traditional product, books, when simply getting to the library is a challenge. It also provides additional access to people who may not be able to leave their homes due to disability or other factors. The system can be and needs to be improved in several directions, more selection, more copies of books, easier access but the core is a wonderful example of how libraries remain current and relevant to the needs of their community.