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A friend recently asked me, “Why libraries don’t provide eBooks for me to download”. My response was simply that Libraries have been providing downloadable eBooks since the early 90s and that they really didn’t get used as much as expected other than with Teens. The most popular downloads in my experience were Cliff Notes and books on computers. Then he asked, “yeah but I want to download to my Kindle”. In my response I found myself getting into way too much detail and I think he regretted that he asked, but there is no simple answer to this question.
First off Kindle is developed and locked in step with Amazon. They want to sell you only their books. The purchase agreement of a Kindle disallows lending of the unit, but many libraries are testing this and loaning them to customers preloaded with titles of interest or titles requested. Academic libraries lend them to faculty. It hasn't been tested in the courts, but libraries argue that they don't charge.
The Sony Book Reader is more interested in just providing the reader and doesn't care too much where you get your books. Sony also provides free access to the Google public domain collection where they scanned thousands of books from research libraries that are past copyright. This means they are mostly pre 1920 titles since Disney pushed the copyright expiration through congress from 50 years to 80 years when Mickey turned 50...(interesting cocktail factoid). In a quick search, the only title I could find of interest was Stephen Crane's Maggie.
The format of digital books is still falling out. The two DRM (Digital Rights Management) formats that protect the author/publisher are EPUB and Adobe PDF. These formats are usable on the Sony. Then there is PRC (pocket reader something) eBook format with DRM that is designed for Windows computers and widows based PDAs and smart phones. My I phone won't do PRC but will do PDF and EPUB.
Libraries are able to buy Kindle books from Amazon and load them on a Kindle. At some point this may be tested in the courts. Then there are companies that Libraries can buy PDF and EPUB eBooks from. Libraries buy the books which are popular best seller kind of stuff, but the book resides on the company server and the library has a link to the book for customers to download.
The book is purchased on a circulation model where it is checked out to one customer at a time for a specific circulation period. Once the circulation period expires, the book self destructs on the users’ device and it becomes available again to other customers. This through a small web based application that the customer must download to their computer which really adds a level of complexity to the process. Security is enabled by the customer entering their library card and PIN. It literally checks the book out to you,
There are two big players in providing this service. One is Overdrive and the other is Net books. The individual library has do decide to subscribe and then decide what titles to purchase.
If you have a Sony reader or other advanced phone stop by your local library and ask if eBooks are available. The Kindle is more expensive, but has a nicer user interface and viewer (they are about to release a color version that will do color graphics). The problem is you are pretty much locking yourself into Amazon.
The New City Library provides downloadable eBooks for your computer and downloadable audio books for your iPod or MP3 player through our website. If our budget allows, the Library will be adding eBooks for personal book readers. The lesson learned by my friend though is to beware of asking librarians techie questions.