The printed book is losing ground, fast. When librarians are hocking eBooks, proverbially that’s the last nail in the coffin. So why are municipalities finally joining the digital revolution fueled by Amazon and Barnes and Noble? That’s an easy answer: it’s cheaper.
Digital books offer library patrons amazing benefits. Multiple people can check out the same title; no more waiting lists. No more library fines for returning late books, the files automatically expire. Every check out can be done anywhere there is wifi; with a variety of devices available for viewing, the books can be taken anywhere.
Local libraries at the mercy of cash-strapped municipal government budgets benefit from a lower cost per unit. Physical libraries will never go away, as certain reference materials are unlikely to make the jump into digital editions. Also, the librarians offer services that far exceed just checking out books. The local library will still be a sanctioned location for community and government information.
To find out if your library is offering eBooks online, just check their local website. Be prepared to enter your library card number, and possibly a unique PIN you receive from the library. Some libraries are still using pilot programs, so registration may be restricted to patrons in good standing. For example, as described in the article “E-Reader Pilot Program at Fairleigh Dickinson University”, at the start of the program libraries in Madison and Teaneck each received twelve e-reader devices which were available to students and staff (Digital Book Readers).
Depending on the electronic book lending system the library uses, you have to install a program on your computer, e-reader, MP3 player, or cell phone. This helps protect the digital copyright on the titles. After that, browse the online catalogue, and select the titles that most interest you.
Check out limits will apply, and are far lower than the traditional fifty or so books brick and mortar libraries offer. Also, some programs disable printing, so don’t think you can make an easy copy of a favorite book. Finally, some patrons may be leery about a third-party company having access to their reading habits.
This move is a godsend for the eBook industry. eBook sellers have faced recurring opposition from some publishers and authors about offering their titles in a digital format. Adoption by public libraries lends more credibility to the system, and also expands the reading audience beyond just those willing to pay for digital copies.
Libraries offering eBook lending services is unlikely to diminish digital sales for private companies and publishers. Not every book available for purchase in a digital format will be freely available right away from a library. Also, this will entice people to try out digital book formats who have previously resisted due to cost. The convenience and availability of titles might draw new customers to sites with eBooks for sale, rather than driving out to the book store and hoping the title is there in print. Ultimately, this move will encourage more reading, especially among young people who don’t frequent the public library.