Borrowing from the library – digitally

What excites me most about ereading is the ability to borrow ebooks from the public library. After a shaky start, a few recent developments have helped libraries to move forward with digital lending, though not without some roadblocks.

Libraries ramp up e-book lending –

After a tentative foray into digital lending on PCs and e-readers several years ago, public libraries are opening the next chapter for smartphones and tablet computers.

The movement kicked into high gear in September when Amazon finally turned on its Kindle for 11,000 local libraries, triggering a flood of new users. App developers are also working with libraries to enable book lovers to borrow on their smartphones.

“With more devices for consumers to try, they’re going to get better,” says Christopher Platt of the New York Public Library. “And the e-reading experience will get better.”

The evolution is playing out amid some challenges, including an ongoing squabble between eager-to-grow libraries and publishers that fear copyright infringement and losing money on digital distribution, their fastest-growing segment of business.

Some large publishers — such as Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hatchette — refuse to sell to libraries, thus limiting the availability of popular titles.

Still, customers’ appetite for e-book lending is growing unabated. According to Library Journal, public libraries increased their offerings by 185% this year. E-books will account for 8% of their materials budget in five years, it says.

I can’t afford to buy every ebook I’d like to read, nor do I really need to, just like printed books. I’m a frequent library borrower, but that often involves requesting copies from other branches, waiting for them to come in, scurrying to the library when it’s open and I’m not at work, an intersection of events that can sometimes be rare. To borrow an ebook, though, all I need to do is go online, browse, and download in minutes. Magic!

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