eBook Reality Check

Photo of Kindle Touch

You may have noticed that eBooks and eReaders are catching on with people.  With reports of ridiculously large sales numbers around the holidays, such as the one million Kindles sold each week of the 2011 holiday season, one gets the feeling that these gadgets might just have some staying power. 

At the Central Rappahannock Regional Library we have been delighted to offer the public free eBooks to check out through services like EBSCOhost and OverDrive. 

Overall, the public seems to be equally delighted with the service as our circulation statistics for eBooks continues to climb.

EBooks from the library have a number of advantages:eReaders - Kindle, iPad, smartphone

  • No late fees, period!
    Now, we have heard from numerous patrons that eBooks they check out will, through one technical hiccup or another, remain on their devices past the check-out period and concerns have been raised that overdue fees will be assessed because of this.  Have no fear: if you’ve experienced this difficulty, it does not change the fact that your eBook is indeed available for other patrons to check out, and you will not be fined one cent.
  • 24-hour service: our digital offerings are available for you to check out any time, any day, regardless of whether the library is open.  You want to read a Sookie Stackhouse book at 2 AM on a Sunday morning?  You can do that on OverDrive! Or, maybe you’re working at the last minute on a big paper for school and you need some serious non-fiction to help your research, but the library is closed.  Well, head over to EBSCOhost; with book titles as diverse as “Higher Education and Democracy: Essays on Service-learning and Civic Engagement” and “Entangled Geographies: Empire and Technopolitics in the Global Cold War,” I’m pretty sure EBSCOhost has your back when it comes to research.

    (Photo of eReaders by The Daring Librarian)
  • There are practically no limits on your checkouts. 
    Now, I do say practically.  Technically, OverDrive limits you to seven checkouts at a time, but you can return your books quite easily to free up space in your checkout queue for another title. This can be done through the Amazon.com if you checked the book out on a Kindle, through Adobe Digital Editions if you’re reading it on a Nook or Sony, or through the OverDrive Media Console app if you’re using a tablet computer.  And while EBSCOhost does not yet allow books to be returned early, you can have up to fifty titles checked out at once; we hope that will be enough.

Of course, we realize things aren’t all puppies and sunshine in the domain of eBooks.  Though the concept of ebooks has been around for quite a while, it has really only taken off since 2007 when Amazon released their first Kindle.  EBooks are going through a lot of growing pains right now as consumers get used to their new hardware and publishers and authors figure out how best to handle issues like pricing and protecting against piracy.  It’s a book business tug o’ war, and it is unfortunately harming consumers in more ways than they realize and doing even more damage to libraries.  Here are a few problems we are facing:

  • Despite the fact that high-end Kindles come with a built-in 3G connection allowing their customers to purchase and download eBooks anywhere, anytime, Amazon restricts library borrowers from using this connection, forcing them to either download over wifi or via a computer and USB connection.
  • The ubiquitous software for use with eReaders like the Nook, Kobo, and Sony brand, Adobe Digital Editions, is poorly designed, and its licensing restrictions can frequently lead to puzzlement on the part of both patrons and librarians.
  • Some publishers are outright refusing to license their eBooks for public library lending.  These include Simon & Schuster and Macmillan.
  • Penguin books can no longer be downloaded directly to Amazon Kindles via wifi; instead, Penguin now requires Kindle users to download the book file to a computer first and then transfer it via USB.
  • Penguin has now also ended their formal relationship with OverDrive, meaning that no libraries anywhere that contract with OverDrive will be getting any new Penguin eBooks.

It is an aggravating situation to be sure.  The library certainly wants to be able to supply our community with as many eBooks as it wants, but the current lending climate makes this difficult.  It all comes down to fear, mostly on the part of the publishers, that eBook lending will lead to monetary losses.

This fear is nothing new.  When music went digital last decade, it was at first saddled with unreasonable copy protection; later those copy restrictions were removed altogether.  Movies and TV shows still face these restrictions, but systems have been worked out that make them much easier for consumers to access.  I believe that the same will happen with eBooks.  There are lots of people and groups working to change the eBook lending world for the better, but it will take time.  But while this is all being hammered out, both you and I are waiting, eagerly, hoping that we will no longer be punished for embracing the future of reading.