[[@http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/copyright/article/50712-libraries-tech-smart-authors-and-the-coming-digital-apocalypse.html|Libraries, Tech-Smart Authors, and the Coming Digital Apocalypse ]]

TOC 2012

Whatever else can be said about Tools of Change, O’Reilly Media’s traveling road show on publishing and technological change, it seems to come along just when a concentrated dose of discussion—or perhaps muted confrontation—is needed. Over the course of the three-day conference in New York City, February 13–15, there were timely presentations on libraries and e-books, the bewildering evolution of copyright in the digital era and the related role of digital piracy—not to mention a parade of authors, whose books and entertaining presentations served to illuminate some of the most contentious issues in media and business culture.

That was certainly the case for issues around libraries as both Library Journal’s Barbara Genco and a panel of library experts, in separate presentations, tried to make the case for library e-book lending and respond to the recent controversy around Penguin’s severing its ties with library vendor OverDrive. Genco came loaded with data on libraries ($983 million spent on books and $72 million on e-books) and the voracious media consumption of library patrons, making libraries, she said, “proven marketing engines for content.” “The Library Alternative” panel featured both PW senior editor Andrew Albanese and PW library blogger Peter Brantley and tried to frame the library e-book situation in terms of both a carrot—Albanese said publishers are reluctant to sell e-books to libraries until they get a better handle on fast moving digital developments—as well as a big stick—Brantley mentioned “class action lawsuits” and noted a public that’s “unsympathetic to foreign-owned media conglomerates.”

Copyright scholar William Patry, author of How to Fix Copyright, returned to TOC to continue a discussion on copyright in the digital era he began at TOC 2010. (See next week’s PW for more.) Long dubious of businesses investing in copyright lawyers rather than products, Patry emphasized again that “the law is never a solution to business problems,” in a panel called “Can We Have a Rational Discussion About Copyright?” Patry’s remarks offered some insights into a presentation made by Joe Karaganis of the American Assembly at Columbia University, a public policy forum, that we’re entering an altogether different era of digital copying. Karaganis outlined what seems to be an approaching copying apocalypse, an era of pervasive and systematic unauthorized digital copying that will require far more coordination to address than “the polarized positions of anti-SOPA or pro-enforcement.”

In his presentation called “Copy Cultures,”

Karaganis described an IP landscape threatened by a combination of high-priced content, low local incomes, and the proliferation of cheap digital devices that make copying ever easier. This “new digital copying” is creating massive digital “shadow libraries” that are being aggregated by an unusual combination of students, faculty, institutions, and others—anyone needing cheap access to necessary digital content. He described this parallel aggregation as an unsanctioned but relentless “democratization of access” to knowledge and content that will only grow and inevitably compete with—and ultimately disrupt—both conventional digital pirates, and legitimate academic institutions and commercial content marketplaces. And he’s not talking about the conventional Third World, but the low-income economies of Eastern Europe, societies that are fully integrated into the Western economic infrastructure.

Yet, Karaganis said, there’s been little or no expansion of “affordability and legal access” to digital content—only more calls for enforcement at a time when the public shows virtually no support for draconian penalties for infringers and despite the “rampant futility” of copyright enforcement. He pointed to an effort called the Washington Declaration on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, which he described as a “collective and consensual” effort to create sensible public policy on IP/copyright that is “fair to creators and to the public.” Check it out at InfoJustice.org/Washington-Declaration.

But it was also the parade of tech-smart authors across the TOC stage that really highlighted the conference’s ability to roll technological change, social insight and fresh business thinking into an entertaining package that can keep you attentive after a long day. Eric Ries, former software developer and author of The Lean Startup, praised his traditional publisher, Crown, while lampooning traditional publishing practices—all the while checking his Amazon ranking on stage. Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet, called for the launch of a “Whole News Movement,” offering a theory that linked American media consumption to food. Americans gorge themselves on empty calories because “pizza tastes better than broccoli,” at the same time we bloat ourselves on super-partisan media outlets because “opinions taste better than news.” And Baratunde Thurston, comedian, director of digital at the Onion, and author of How to Be Black, a very funny book that’s also a memoir of growing up in Washington, D.C., summed up his own efforts at marketing the book. “The marketing was very simple,” he said, switching to a wacky slide with his “marketing” slogan, “If you don’t buy this book, you’re a racist.” He added, “Eric talked about science, numbers, testing? I just accused people of being racist—and it worked! We’re a New York Times bestseller.”

E-Book Library Lending Rises, Publishing Industry Grapples With Change

Categories: DBW Insights, DBW UpdatesFebruary 13, 2012 | DBW |

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external image elending-300x159.jpgBy Barbara Galletly, Contributor, Digital Book World,@theregoesbabs

As e-books have become a core part of U.S. publishers’ business, libraries, booksellers and startups have built e-book lending programs aimed at providing remote customers armed with e-readers a modern version of what they once could get only by visiting their local library.

Amazon says that its Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, acontroversial e-book lending program that the company launched for its Amazon Prime subscribers, has increased book sales for lending-library titles, and the e-tail giant has jumped wholly into e-book lending. Meanwhile, major New York-based publisher Penguin Group US recently announced that it would discontinue offering new e-book titles to library patrons through OverDrive, a Cleveland-based e-book distributor that plays a central role in much U.S. library e-book lending.

While book industry players including Amazon, Penguin, OverDrive and others struggle with rapidly changing e-reader and bookselling technologies, libraries are continuing to do what they have done for generations: Provide patrons with free access to information using the best technologies available to them. In the digital book age, that means buying e-books from publishers and lending them out to patrons, just like print books.

The tech sector, not to be left out, has been fertile ground for sprouting start-ups like LendInk and Gluejar that aim to profit from the e-lending game by facilitating e-book-sharing.

Publishers, for their part, continue to sell large amounts of print- and e-books to libraries and continue to use the public institutions as marketing platforms for new books as book retail shelf space becomes more scarce.

E-Lending in 2012

There are over 120,000 libraries in the United States, including public, academic, school, armed forces, government and special libraries, according to the American Library Association (ALA), a Chicago-based library trade association. Nearly 100% of academic, public and school libraries are connected to the Internet for staff use and public access.

Figures identifying readers and quantifying their use of e-books are hard to come by given the dedication of libraries to protecting reader anonymity. According to a quarterly publication by Library Journal called Patron Profiles, however, two-thirds of libraries report that they make e-books available to their patrons. A 2011 survey among 1,029 librarians by online digital library ebrary suggests that librarians in general want to provide more, easier access to e-books for their patrons.

In fact, e-book lending has become so popular at the New York Public Library that librarians there launched an e-book information resource called eBook Central in December, just in time for the Christmas holidays, in anticipation of an onslaught of inexperienced potential e-book readers.

Private companies are also lending books. In November, Amazon launched a lending library for owners of its Kindle devices who also subscribe to Amazon Prime, a content-streaming and delivery-discount program. The company has 50,000 titles available for borrowing – up to one per-month per-user.

Publishers and Lending

Senior leadership from the ALA recently met with representatives from some of the largest U.S. publishers, including Penguin, Macmillan, Random House, Simon & Schuster and the Perseus Group. At the time of the meeting, two of the five – Random House and Perseus – were allowing libraries to purchase and lend out any of their e-books. Penguin offered only their backlist to libraries, and Macmillan and Simon & Schuster did not sell any e-books to libraries.

As a result of the meeting, Random House will reportedly raise e-book prices it charges to e-book distributors OverDrive, 3M, and Ingram, starting March 1. Those wholesalers will determine the price charged to libraries.

Several major publishers were contacted for this story, but none, including several big-six publishers, would publicly discuss their relationships with libraries, OverDrive or lending. Some provided information and insight for this article on background. Amazon did not respond to request for comment.

Smaller independent publishers may be more willing to deal digitally with libraries. Ann Arbor, Mich.-based Dzanc Books treats e-books like print books when it comes to lending, according to executive director and publisher Dan Wickett. The publisher works with e-book distributor Constellation to sell e-books to online booksellers and to libraries. Dzanc also sells e-books directly to libraries, uploading them to library servers and allowing libraries to package the e-book (in Kindle or EPUB format) and lend it to library users one at a time, for two to three weeks, without copy-lending limits.

For many publishers, security of e-book content is a major concern. Penguin’s February 10 decision to discontinue selling OverDrive new titles may have been about security issues, according to media reports.
“Multiple publishers have told us that Overdrive’s implementation of their Kindle library lending – in which library patrons are sent to a commercial, third-party retailer, in this case Amazon – is in their view a direct violation of Overdrive’s contracts,” wrote Michael Cader in Publisher’s Lunch.
Social Lending, Start-ups and Distributors
While libraries and publishers sort out how many users will check out e-books, there is an entire ecosystem of companies growing up around e-book lending.

OverDrive is currently the largest distributor of e-books to libraries, serving both trade and academic markets. The company has over 650,000 titles and distributes these to more than a million end-users. E-book distributors 3M and Ingram work with libraries as well, as do academic and scholarly text-oriented services, including Ebook Library and ebrary.

Traditional distributors are being joined by others that facilitate different methods of e-book lending to users, including through social networks. Copia, a start-up launched in 2010 by supply-chain management company DMC Worldwide, provides a platform that aims to link publisher-generated content in the form of e-books with “social networking, collaboration, and e-commerce with an array of wireless e-readers to deliver an experience around shared discovery,” according to the company.

In December, New York-based start-up Our Bookshelf announced itself as “the DRM-free e-book lending social network,” aimed at simultaneously making it more “convenient” to suggest and share e-books, while protecting copyright holders by strictly limiting access and check outs. Digital rights management, known as DRM, is digital copyright protection.

The start-up LendInk, based in Garden Grove, Calif., allows users of the Kindle Nook, Kobo, and Sony Reader stores to share e-books with one other reader, one time, for a two-week period. Such sharing is subject to policies of publishers.

Based in Montclair, N.J., Gluejar Inc., also a start-up, enables a copyright holder to offer to “unglue” his or her title for a price tag determined by the author, so that it will be available under a creative commons license, free of DRM protection, and therefore share-able by an unlimited number of readers and accessible on any kind of device.

OverDrive itself has integrated social networking into its system as a way to share book picks with friends and to encourage book discoverability on a library’s homepage, Twitter, and Facebook. The distributor has also launched a program that allows users to buy books directly from Amazon if they are not available to be borrowed. The Want It Now program, as it is called, facilitates book sales for which the referring library receives a commission, according to OverDrive director of marketing David Burleigh.

The Future of E-Lending

While distributors continue to experiment with models for e-book distribution through libraries, libraries themselves are also experimenting, finding new ways to make information accessible while also trying to figure out how to incentivize publishers to entrust them with their e-books.

The U.S. Library of Congress, for example, works with the online content repositories Internet Archive and the HathiTrust to digitize and distribute free e-books when rights are in the public domain. The Library of Congress is also experimenting with publishers to find ways of obtaining permanent copies of published e-books which, unlikethe Library’s storied collection of Tweets, have not yet been integrated into the Library of Congress’s coffers, according to Mike Handy, deputy associate librarian for library services and programs.

The Harvard Library Innovation Lab at the Harvard Law School is also attempting to answer questions about what digital lending might look like in the libraries of the future. The lab is even working to design high-tech tools that will facilitate sharing between publishers, libraries and patrons. Issues of concern for the lab are how libraries harness their vast user data to power discovery engines of the future and how to build technology that helps patrons browse and discover new books, according to Jeff Goldenson, a Web designer and multimedia communications specialist at the lab.

Goldenson is also working on a new form of licensing that would allow libraries to provide access to e-books while protecting copyright holders and the business interests of publishers – now a hot-button topic in the e-lending world. Such a system should promote wider reading and sales, he told Digital Book World.

At the same time, libraries are also growing in other directions and, in some cases, away from books and e-books. The New York Public Library’s historical Stephen A. Schwarzman branch is reportedly considering divesting itself of permanent collections in favor of more computer and community space. And The Library as Incubator Project, an experimental library founded by library science students in Madison, Wisc., is investigating engaging visual and performance artists and writers with alternative and easily accessible library collections, with an aim of encouraging creative output – rather than information consumption, the traditional, historical mission of U.S. libraries.

We’re witnessing a sea change in e-book library lending. As more players become involved in the market, the traditional roles of publisher, distributor, bookseller, and library are beginning to blur. One thing is clear, though: As publishers struggle to sell and market their wares in a world of declining retail space, libraries become more valuable. If digital shelf space at libraries proves to have similar effect as its physical counterpart, to serve libraries and their patrons digitally is to cultivate customers of the future.

Barbara Galletly is a master’s student in information science at the University of Texas, Austin, School of Information. She is a former employee of Georges Borchardt Inc., a New York-based literary agency. Follow her at her website or email her here.

New Digital Offerings For Libraries As E-Book Lending Takes Off

A new American Library Association study funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation shows that over two-thirds of U.S. public libraries now offer access to e-books—a 30 percent increase since 2007. Announcements coming out of the ALA’s Annual Conference, which started yesterday in New Orleans, revealed some of the expanded digital offerings you can expect to see at a library near you.

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Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS) has announced a partnership with distributor Baker & Taylor to “build awareness among Nook customers that digital books are available for loan from local libraries” through Baker & Taylor’s new library lending platform, Axis 360. Starting this fall, patrons of libraries that use Axis 360 will be able to borrow books on their Nooks (and any other e-readers that support EPUB). Axis 360 will link to Barnes & Noble’s website so that users can buy the books they check out from the library. The platform also provides access to digital audiobooks and includes a reviews module that will share patrons’ reviews and star ratings across libraries using Axis 360.

Amazon’s Kindle will start supporting library lending this fall.

Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) is working with OverDrive, which is currently the leading digital distributor for libraries (and a competitor for Baker & Taylor’s new Axis 360).
Although Axis 360 is the newer program, it could have an advantage in that Baker & Taylor has been distributing physical books to libraries for years. Axis 360 will allow librarians to order titles as physical/digital bundles. And libraries using Axis 360 will receive a year’s worth of Library Journal and School Library Journal reviews for free.

Meanwhile, digital magazine platform Zinio announced a partnership with audiobooks producer Recorded Books to distribute its magazine titles into libraries in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the U.K. “Zinio for Libraries” will let public library patrons read Zinio magazines from their home computers using their library cards. But they will not be able to read the magazines using the Zinio app on iPads or smartphones. Zinio provides access to over 4,500 magazines, but participating libraries will be able to choose which titles to make available to patrons.

Despite new technologies hitting the market, it’s worth noting here that the ALA study also revealed flat or decreased budgets at 60 percent of libraries, particularly those in urban areas. And 16 percent of libraries reported decreased operating hours, which could lead patrons to seek more digital library offerings from home even as there is less funding to pay for those services.

Related Stories

Libraries have a bright future in our brave new world

June 13, 2011 - 8:36AM
We forget sometimes, as we fret about the future of the book, that the future is about more than books. It's about more than authors, or bookshops. It's about more than Amazon, or Google, or the new Nook versus the slightly older Kindle. The future is also about the past. About memories and how they can shape what is still to come.

A book, of course, can be a memory made real. A point of transference for something of the past, say, the battle of Salamis, down through thousands of years into our present. But think bigger than that. Because there are bigger things than books. There are vast galaxies of meaning stored in the collections of books we have gathered together in libraries. When we obsess about the future of the book, we sometimes forget about the fate of the library as the older, physical artefact of the book appears to fade away before us.

I've had to spend some time thinking about this the last couple of years, having been a Board member of the State Library of Queensland. We are lucky in Australia to have in our National Library, and its state counterparts, some of the finest institutions of this type in the world. They inherited from the British Library a sense of mission to store and catalog the memories of national life, allowing future generations to ponder the meaning of that life. They are also redefining what it means to be a library in the digital age.

Increasingly libraries will not be about shelf space. They will still hold the past in physical form, bound between leather and cardboard. But libraries will also become places, both physical and virtual, where the public accesses information and creates meaning, in the purely digital realm.
What might this look like?
Vast auditoriums full of widescreen monitors?
A bit. But it will also look like the amazing app that the British Library has just put out, for free, formatted for iPad. 1000 books, fully and perfectly scanned from its 19th century collection. A treasure house of published knowledge, and occasionally of profound but enlightening ignorance, so valuable that until now it would have been beyond the means of an average person, or even a reasonably wealthy one, to have put together such a collection for themselves.

This is what libraries do. They give to us all, what only a few could otherwise have. Opening the app and grabbing a random sampler this morning, I chanced upon, Lights and Shades of Hill Life in the Afghan and Hindu Highlands of the Punjab by Frederick St. John Gore. A dry and dusty tome, by the sound of it. And in fact, somewhere within the stacks of the British Library it exists in just that form. But it is now sitting at my right hand, on the Blessed Tablet of My Master, beaming up at me, reminding me in no uncertain way just how different was the world and the mindset of our forebears. Take this, from Gore’s preface:

“The increasing interest that is continually being taken in that great dependency of hours which we call India, leads me to hope that the following pages may bring a little fresh light to those who are, unfortunately, unable to visit it for themselves; for even in these days of so-called enlightenment one still at times hears in England the cry of “India for the Indians”–that there is so plausible to the Western, but so meaningless to the Eastern mind. … What we call India has absolutely no meaning to any of the native dwellers within the area. It is a vast conglomeration of distinct peoples and nationalities, conquered by British blood freely shed, and welded together solely by the physical and moral strength of a superior race…”

In just those few opening paragraphs we get a glimpse of what a different country the past really was. And some understanding of the psychology of modern India when dealing with its post-colonial trauma. Having been bruted about by the likes of Frederick St. John Gore for a couple of centuries, you can imagine why they don’t take kindly to being treated as second raters by, say Victorian state politicians, during episodes such as last year's student murders.

Libraries have always been there to help us understand the world in these ways. It’s a pity that as the technology to do that improves in quantum leaps, some people will use it as an excuse to do away with libraries altogether, arguing that Google and Wikipedia have effectively replaced them.
But they haven’t. And being driven by profit seeking, the likes of Google and Apple and Microsoft never will.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/technology/blogs/the-geek/libraries-have-a-bright-future-in-our-brave-new-world-20110613-1fznc.html#ixzz1P9fmmPnA

Gutenberg 2.0

Harvard’s libraries deal with disruptive change.
by Jonathan Shaw May-June 2010

Nearly half of Harvard’s collection is housed at the Harvard Depository, a marvel of efficient off-campus storage. Library assistant Carl Wood reshelves books in the 30-foot-high, 200-foot-long stacks.

Photograph by Jim Harrison

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“THROW IT IN THE CHARLES,” one scientist recently suggested as a fitting end for Widener Library’s collection. The remark was outrageous—especially at an institution whose very name honors a gift of books—but it was pointed.
external image 0510_83_01.jpg
Increasingly, in the scientific disciplines, information ranging from online journals to databases must be recent to be relevant, so Widener’s collection of books, its miles of stacks, can appear museum-like. Likewise, Google’s massive project to digitize all the books in the world will, by some accounts, cause research libraries to fade to irrelevance as mere warehouses for printed material. The skills that librarians have traditionally possessed seem devalued by the power of online search, and less sexy than a Google query launched from a mobile platform. “People want information ‘anytime, anyplace, anywhere,’” says Helen Shenton, the former head of collection care for the British Library who is now deputy director of the Harvard University Library. Users are changing—but so, too, are libraries. The future is clearly digital.

external image 0510_37_01.jpg
Photograph by Jim Harrison
Isaac Kohane, director of the Countway Medical Library, sees librarians returning to a central role in medicine as curators of databases and as teachers of complex bioinformatics search techniques.

Yet if the format of the future is digital, thecontent remains data. And at its simplest, scholarship in any discipline is about gaining access to information and knowledge, says Peter Bol, Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations. In fields such as botany or comparative zoology, researchers need historical examples of plant and animal life, so they build collections and cooperate with others who also have collections. “We can call that a museum of comparative zoology,” he says, “but it is a form of data collection.” If you study Chinese history, as Bol does, you need access to primary sources and to the record of scholarship on human history over time. You need books. But in physics or chemistry, where the research horizon is constantly advancing, much of the knowledge created in the past has very little relevance to current understanding. In that case, he says, “you want to be riding the crest of the tidal wave of information that is coming in right now. We all want access to information, and in some cases that will involve building collections; in others, it will mean renting access to information resources that will keep us current. In some cases, these services may be provided by a library, in others by a museum or even a website.”

Meanwhile, “Who has the most scientific knowledge of large-scale organization, collection, and access to information? Librarians,” says Bol. A librarian can take a book, put it somewhere, and then guarantee to find it again. “If you’ve got 16 million items,” he points out, “that’s a very big guarantee. We ought to be leveraging that expertise to deal with this new digital environment. That’s a vision of librarians as specialists in organizing and accessing and preserving information in multiple media forms, rather than as curators of collections of books, maps, or posters.”

Librarians as Information Brokers

BOL IS PARTICULARLY INTERESTED in the media form known as Google Book Search (GBS). The search-engine giant is systematically scanning books from libraries throughout the world in order to assemble an enormous, Internet-accessible digital library: at 12 million books, its collection is already three-quarters the size of Harvard’s. Soon it will be the largest library the world has ever known. Harvard has provided nearly a million public domain (pre-1923) books for the project; by participating, the University helped with the creation of a new tool (GBS) for locating books that is useful to people both at Harvard and around the world. And participation made the full text content of these books searchable and available to everyone in the United States for free.

GBS appeals to Bol and other scholars because it gives them quick and easy access to books that Harvard does not own (litigation over the non-public-domain works in GBS notwithstanding). For Bol, such a tool might be especially useful: Harvard acquires only 15,000 books from China each year, but he estimates that it ought to be collecting closer to 50,000. So GBS could be a boon to scholarship.
But GBS also raises all kinds of questions. If everything eventually is available at your fingertips, what will be the role of libraries and librarians?
“Internet search engines like Google Books fundamentally challenge our understanding of where we add value to this process,” says Dan Hazen, associate librarian of collection development for Harvard College. Librarians have worked hard to assemble materials of all kinds so that it is “not a random bunch of stuff, but can actually support and sustain some kind of meaningful inquiry,” he explains. “The result was a collection that was a consciously created, carefully crafted, deliberately maintained, constrained body of material.”

Internet search explodes the notion of a curated collection in which the quality of the sources has been assured. “What we’re seeing now with Google Scholar and these mass digitization projects, and the Internet generally,” says Hazen, “is, ‘Everything’s out there.’ And everything has equal weight. If I do a search on Google, I can get a scholarly journal. I can get somebody’s blog posting….The notion of collection that’s implicit in ‘the universe is at my fingertips’ is diametrically opposed, really, to the notion of collection as ‘consciously curated and controlled artifact.’” Even the act of reading for research is changed, he points out. Scholars poring through actual newspapers “could see how [an item] was presented on the page, and the prominence it had, and the flow of content throughout a series of articles that might have to do with the same thing—and then differentiate those from the books or other kinds of materials that talked about the same phenomenon. When you get into the Internet world, you tend to get a gazillion facts, mentions, snippets, and references that don’t organize themselves in that same framework of prominence, and typology, and how stuff came to be, and why it was created, and what the intrinsic logic of that category of materials is. How and whether that kind of structuring logic can apply to this wonderful chaos of information is something that we’re all trying to grapple with.”

How does searching digitally in a book relate to the act of reading? “There may be a single fact that’s important,” Hazen explains. “Is the book’s overall argument something that’s equally important as the single fact or is it just irrelevant? When people worry about reading books online, part of the worry is that the nuances of a well-developed argument that goes on linearly for 300 pages [are missing]. That’s not the way you interact with a text online.” How the flood of information from digitized books will be integrated into libraries, which have a separate and different, though not necessarily contradictory, logic remains to be seen. “For librarians, and the library, trying to straddle these two visions of what we’re about is something that we’re still trying to figure out.”

external image 0510_38_01.jpg
Photograph by Jim Harrison
The printed book took hundreds of years to replace handwritten manuscripts, which persisted as an economical way to produce small numbers of copies into the nineteenth century, nearly 400 years after Gutenberg invented movable type. Robert Darnton, director of the University Library, shown with Diderot’s Encyclopédie, predicts great longevity for the book.

Moreover, the prospect that, increasingly, libraries will be stewards of vast quantities of data, a great deal from books, and some unique, raises very serious concerns about the long-term preservation of digital materials. “What worries us all,” says Nancy M. Cline, Larsen librarian of Harvard College, “is that we really haven’t tested the longevity for a lot of these digital resources.” This is a universal problem and the subject of much international attention and research. “If you walk into the book stacks,” she points out, “you can simply smell in some areas the deterioration of the paper and leather. But with something that hums away on a server, we don’t have the same potential to observe” (see “Digital Preservation: An Unsolved Problem,” page 82).

Despite these caveats, Bol’s vision of future librarians as digital-information brokers rather than stewards of physical collections is already taking shape in the scientific disciplines, where the concerns raised by Hazen are less important. In fields faced with information overload—such as biology, coping with a barrage of genomic data, and astronomy, in which an all-sky survey telescope can generate a terabyte of data in a single night—the torrents of raw information are impossible to absorb and understand without computational aids.

Medicine has had to cope with this problem ever since nineteenth-century general practitioners found they could no longer keep up with the sheer quantity of published medical literature. Specialization eventually allowed doctors to focus only on the journals in their particular area of expertise. Throughout such transitions, libraries played an important role. Doctors, upon completing their rounds, would comb the stacks for records of similar cases that might help with diagnosis and treatment. Today, the amount of new information being generated in the biological sciences is prescribing another momentous shift that may provide a glimpse of the future in other disciplines. For a doctor, learning about a genetic test and then interrogating a database to understand the results could save a life. For libraries and librarians, the new premium on skills they have long cultivated as curators, preservers, and retrievers of collective knowledge puts them squarely on top of an information geyser in the sciences that could reshape medicine.

Mining the Bibliome

ISAAC KOHANE, director of the Countway Library at Harvard Medical School (HMS), recently asked a pointed question on his blog: Who is the better doctor—the one who can remember more diagnostic tests or the one “who is the quickest and most savvy at online searching for the relevant tests?” He predicts that “we are going to be uncomfortable with some of the answers to these questions for many years to come” because success based not on bedside manner, but on competence interacting with a database, implies a potential devaluing of skills that society has honored. And who is pondering these issues most acutely? A blogging librarian and pediatric endocrinologist with a Ph.D. in computer science.

One hundred years ago, says Kohane, a report on medical education in the United States concluded that doctors were inadequately prepared to care for patients. Half the medical schools in the country closed. “I think we are at a similar inflection point,” he says. “If you look at bioinformatics and genetics, you see vivid examples—which can be generalized to other parts of medicine—where the system has inadequately educated and empowered its workers in the use of search, electronic resources, and automated knowledge management.” Genetic testing, he adds, offers a “prismatic example”: studies in the Netherlands and the United States have shown that “physicians are ordering genetic tests because patients are asking them to, [even though] they don’t know how to interpret the tests and are uncomfortable doing so.”
Kohane sees similar problems when making the rounds with medical students, fellows, and residents: “When we run into a problematic complex patient with a clearly genetic problem from birth, and I ask what the problem might be and what tests are to be ordered, their reflex is either to search their memories for what they learned in medical school or to look at a textbook that might be relevant. They don’t have what I would characterize as the ‘Google reflex,’ which is to go to the right databases to look things up.” The students doubtless use Google elsewhere in their lives, but in medicine, he explains, “the whole idea of just-in-time learning and using these websites is not reflexive. That is highly troublesome because the time when you could keep up even with a subspecialty like pediatric neurosurgery by reading a couple of journals is long, long gone.”

The journals themselves have grown in number and quantity of articles, but “the amount of data being produced and analyzed in large, curated databases,” Kohane says, “exceeds by several orders of magnitude what appears in printed publications.” The fact that students and doctors don’t think to use this digital material is an international problem. “Even at Harvard,” where “we spend millions of dollars” annually for access to the databases, “many of the medical staff, graduate students, and residents don’t know how to use…,” he pauses. “Well, it’s worse than that. They don’t know that they exist.”
But in this lamentable situation Kohane sees an opportunity for medical libraries, whose role, he believes, had faded for a while. “It is becoming so clear that medicine and medical research are an information-processing enterprise, that there’s an opportunity for a library that would embrace that as a mission…to be again a center of the medical enterprise.”

Kohane has sought to do just that by creating an information institute—an HMS-wide center for biomedical informatics—embedded within Countway Library. The institute offers voluntary mini-courses, invariably oversubscribed, explaining what the relevant databases are, how to plumb them, and how to analyze the data they produce. A parallel effort under his supervision seeks to “mine the bibliome”—the totality of the electronically published medical literature—by allowing researchers to track down relationships between genes and diseases in the published literature that would not be apparent when searching one reference at a time. Librarians in the institute also comb databases for contradictions, and find references to sites in the genome that can’t possibly exist because the coordinates are wrong. In making sure that information is good, the library is “returning to its original mission of curation,” says Kohane, “but in a genomic era and around bioinformatics.” This defines a new role for librarians as database experts and teachers, while the library becomes a place for learning about sophisticated search for specialized information.

Such skills-based teaching, learning, and data curation depend on finding individuals who are trained in medicine and also have the public-minded qualities of a librarian—rare indeed, as Kohane readily acknowledges. And even though the cost of such bioinformatics education is small relative to the millions of dollars spent on subscription fees for electronic periodicals (the price of which doubled between 2000 and 2010, says Kohane; see “Open Access,” May-June 2008, page 61 for more on the crisis in scholarly communication), the resources to provide more educational support for complex types of database search training are insufficient across the University. “That’s because we are trying to bolt on a solution to a problem that probably should be addressed foursquare within the core educational process,” he says.

There is growing awareness of the need to have an “information-processing approach to medicine baked into the core education of doctoral and medical students.” Otherwise, Kohane says, “we’re condemning them to perpetual partial ignorance.” Already, a few lectures on the topic are being introduced into the medical-school curriculum, making HMS a pioneer in this area. Discussions about bringing more of the biological/biomedical informatics agenda to the undergraduate campus are also under way.

Even in the relatively tradition-bound profession of law, digitization cuts so deeply that when Ess librarian and professor of law John G. Palfrey VII restructured the Law School library last year, he says he thought about the mission less as “How do we build the greatest collection of books in law?” and more as “How do we make information as useful as possible to our community now and over a long period of time?”
This focus on information services within a community guided both personnel decisions and collections strategies. “We scrapped the entire organizational structure,” reports Palfrey (whose digital genes can be traced back to his former position as executive director of the law school’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society). Last June 30, all the librarians handed in resignations for the jobs they had held and received new assignments. There is now a librarian who works with faculty members, teaching empirical research methods, and another who helps students and faculty conduct empirical research. The collection development group includes “a lab for hacking a library”: a member of that team is working on an idea called “Stack View” that would allow the re-creation of serendipitous browsing in a digital format. Technology “allows you to reorganize information and present it in a totally different way,” Palfrey points out.

The law library’s new collection-development policy is organized along a continuum of materials for which the library takes increasing responsibility. These range from resources in the public domain that aren’t collected, but to which the library provides access; to materials accessed under license; and all the way up to unique holdings of an historic or special nature that the library archives, preserves, and may one day digitize in order to provide online access. The fact that the library no longer buys everything published in the law has been made explicit. “It is no longer possible financially, nor is it desirable—not all of it is useful,” Palfrey says bluntly. Only a third of newly purchased books are initially bound. “We’ll put a barcode on it, put it on the shelf, and see if people use it,” he explains. “If they do, and the book starts to wear, then we’ll send it to the bindery.”

Even though these changes may seem like cutbacks (they were in fact planned and in process before the University’s financial crisis became apparent), he believes skilled librarians are in no danger of becoming obsolete: “The role of the librarian is much greater in this digital era than it has ever been before.” Good lawyers need to be good at information processing, and Palfrey found in research for his book Born Digital that students today are not very good at using complex legal databases. “They try to use the same natural-language search techniques” they learned from using Google, he says, rather than thinking about research as “a series of structured queries. It’s not that we don’t need libraries or librarians,” he continues, “it’s that what we need them for is slightly different. We need them to be guides in this increasingly complex world of information and we need them to convey skills that most kids actually aren’t getting at early ages in their education. I think librarians need to get in front of this mob and call it a parade, to actually help shape it.”

Mary Lee Kennedy, executive director of knowledge and library services at Harvard Business School, whose very title suggests a new kind of approach, agrees with Palfrey. “The digital world of content is going to be overwhelming for librarians for a long time, just because there is so much,” she acknowledges. Therefore, librarians need to teach students not only how to search, but “how to think critically about what they have found…what they are missing… and how to judge their sources.”

Her staff offers a complete suite of information services to students and faculty members, spread across four teams. One provides content or access to it in all its manifestations; another manages and curates information relevant to the school’s activities; the third creates Web products that support teaching, research, and publication; and the fourth group is dedicated to student and faculty research and course support. Kennedy sees libraries as belonging to a partnership of shared services that support professors and students. “Faculty don’t come just to libraries [for knowledge services],” she points out. “They consult with experts in academic computing, and they participate in teaching teams to improve pedagogy. We’re all part of the same partnership and we have to figure out how to work better together.”
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Photograph by Jim Harrison
“A man will turn over half a library to make one book,” said Samuel Johnson. Nancy Cline, Larsen librarian of Harvard College, displays a manuscript letter from the Hyde Collection of Dr. Samuel Johnson; all its Johnson letters are available online as part of the University Library’s open-collections program.

“Just in Time” Libraries

ALL THIS IS NOT TO SUGGEST that the traditional role of libraries as collections where objects are stored, preserved, and retrieved on request is going away. But it is certainly changing. Two facilities—one digital, the other analog—suggest a bifurcated future. The two could not be more different, though their mandates are identical.

In Cambridge, the Digital Repository Service (DRS) is a rapidly growing, 109-terabyte online library of 14 million files representing books, daguerreotypes, maps, music, images, and manuscripts, among other things, all owned by Harvard. In a facility that also serves other parts of the University, a two-person command center monitors more than a hundred servers. Green lights indicate all is well; red flashes when environmental conditions such as temperature or humidity exceed designated parameters. In a nearby room, warm and alive with the whirr of hundreds of cooling fans, their cumulative sound resembling the roar of a giant waterfall, a handful of servers hold the library’s entire digital collection. Other servers are dedicated to “discovery,” the technical term for the searchable online catalog, or “delivery,” the act of providing a file to an end user.

There are at least three copies of the entire repository—one in, and two outside of, Cambridge. One of them, secured by thumbprint access, is constantly being read by machines at the disk level to ensure the integrity of the data, a process that takes a full month to complete. “Several times a year,” says Tracey Robinson, who heads the library’s office for information systems, “we detect data that have become corrupted. We engage in a constant process of refreshing and making sure that everything is readable.” Any damaged material is quickly replaced with another copy from the backup.

The analog counterpart to the DRS is the Harvard Depository (HD), located in the countryside about 45 minutes from Boston. A low, modular building with loading dock bays, it resembles a warehouse more than anything else. In many ways, that is precisely what it is. Just two librarians oversee 7.5 million books held in an energy-efficient, climate-controlled environment—more than twice as many as are held at Widener, which is three times as large. “The libraries based in the city are among the most expensive in terms of linear capacity,” says Nancy Cline. “The Depository as a concept is absolutely essential for us.” A number of other libraries in the Boston area, including MIT, use the HD. The facility absorbs half a million new books each year, circulates 220,000, and boasts a 100 percent retrieval rate. (In 24 years, just two books could not be found for delivery; in a typical library, one study showed, patrons find what they are looking for only 50 percent of the time.)

The secret to the HD’s extraordinary density and retrieval rate is simple: here, a book is not a book. Titles, subjects, authors—none of this so-called “metadata,” the information people typically use to find things, matters. “We know how many books we get in,” says assistant director of the University Library for the Harvard Depository Tom Schneiter, who directs the facility, “but we don’t know what they are. To us, they are just barcodes. It makes our work much more efficient.” A staff of dedicated workers, who rotate through different tasks in order to break up the routine, can check in as many as 800 barcodes an hour. All the items are sorted and shelved according to size in bins that are themselves barcoded. This allows the height of the shelves to be perfectly calibrated to the height of the books; no wasted airspace. Place a request for one of the books in the HD and it will be delivered the next business day to the campus library of your choosing.
Originally, the HD was intended to store only low-circulation items. But because the libraries of the Cambridge campus are “full to bursting,” says Pforzheimer University Professor Robert Darnton, the director of the Harvard University library, “doing triage” on thousands of little-used books from the shelves each year to make room for new ones proved impractical. Now, most new books are simply sent to the HD. Although some professors lament the death of shelf-browsing, others are grateful when a book they love is sent off, because they know that when next they want it, not only will it be found, it will be well-preserved: time essentially stands still for the books at the HD, where an environment set at 50 degrees and 35 percent relative humidity is expected to maintain a book in the condition in which it arrived for 244 years.

The price of such longevity and retrievability is about 30 cents per stored volume per year, which compares favorably to the cost of digital storage; expense estimates from the HathiTrust (a national group of research libraries that have created a joint repository for digital collections) for storing a digital book scanned by Google range from 15 cents for black and white to 40 cents for color annually. Actually delivering a physical book from the HD, on the other hand, costs $2.15—much more than the delivery of a digital book to a computer screen.

But making comparisons between digital and analog libraries on issues of cost or use or preservation is not straightforward. If students want to read a book cover to cover, the printed copy may be deemed superior with respect to “bed, bath and beach,” John Palfrey points out. If they just want to read a few pages for class, or mine the book for scattered references to a single subject, the digital version’s searchability could be more appealing; alternatively, students can request scans of the pages or chapter they want to read as part of a program called “scan and deliver” (in use at the HD and other Harvard libraries) and receive a link to images of the pages via e-mail within four days.

One can imagine a not too radically different future in which patronless libraries such as the DRS and the HD would hold almost everything, supplying materials on request to their on-campus counterparts. Print on demand technology (POD) would allow libraries to change their collection strategies: they could buy and print a physical copy of a book only if a user requested it. When the user was done with the book, it would be shelved. It’s a vision of “doing libraries ‘just in time’ rather than ‘just in case,’” says Palfrey. (At the Harvard Book Store on Massachusetts Avenue, a POD machine dubbed Paige M. Gutenborg is already in use. Find something you like in Google’s database of public-domain books—perhaps one provided by Harvard—and for $8 you can own a copy, printed and bound before your wondering eyes in minutes. Clear Plexiglas allows patrons to watch the process—hot glue, guillotine-like trimming blades, and all—until the book is ejected, like a gumball, from a chute at the bottom.)
Indeed, the HD might one day play a role as the fulcrum for “radical collaboration” with the five other law libraries in the Boston area, says Palfrey. “We’re asking, ‘Could we imagine deciding, as a group of six, that we’re actually going to buy something and put it in the Harvard Depository,’” a central location from which the physical book could be delivered to any institution? “It would cost us a sixth as much.” Other Harvard libraries could explore the same strategy.

That doesn’t mean Harvard’s campus libraries would become less important. Because they are embedded in the residential academic community, they remain integral to University life. Students (and faculty members) are big users of the physical spaces in libraries, though they are using them differently than in the past.
“Libraries are not conservative places anymore,” says Cline. “From the user perspective, it is an interesting time. Some people still want the quiet, elegant reading room. Others would be frustrated if they had to be quiet in every part of the buildings, in part because their work requires that they talk, that they work in collaborative teams, that they share some of their research strategies. We’re rethinking the physical spaces to accommodate more of the type of learning that is expected now, the types of assignments that faculty are making, that have two or three students huddled around a computer working together, talking.”

Libraries are also being used as social spaces, adds Helen Shenton, where people can “get a cup of coffee, connect to WiFi, and meet their friends” outside their living space. In terms of research, students are asking each other for information more now than in the past, when they might have asked a librarian. “The flip side,” Shenton continues, “is that some places are embedding their library and information specialists within disciplines and within faculties. So I think the whole model is like one of those snow globes. You pick it up and shake it around and all the pieces will settle in a different way, which is incredibly exciting.”

A Future for Books

“A BIG MISCONCEPTION is that digital information and analog information are incompatible,” says Darnton, himself an historian of the book. “On the contrary, the whole history of books and communication shows that one medium does not displace another.” Manuscript publishing survived Gutenberg, continuing into the nineteenth century. “It was often cheaper to publish a book of under a hundred copies by hiring scribes,” he says, than it was to set the type and hire people to run the press. Likewise, horsepower increased in the age of railroads. “There were more horses hauling passengers in the second half of the nineteenth century than there were in the first half. And there is good evidence that now, if a book appears electronically on your computer screen, and it’s available for free, it will stimulate sales of the printed version.”

Jeffrey Hamburger—a scholar of an even earlier medium, the medieval manuscript—who was recently named chair of a library advisory group, says that “the notion that we are going to abandon the codex as we have known it—the traditional book—and go digital overnight is very misguided. It is going to be a much longer transition than anyone suspects, just as the transition in the past between the oral tradition of literature in antiquity and silent reading as we’ve known it for almost two millennia was a long transition, taking the better part of a millennium itself.”

Hamburger, the Francke professor of German art and culture, has worked extensively here and in Germany on projects involving the application of new media to the study of medieval manuscripts, but he says there are “still many, many things that new media cannot do as effectively as a good old-fashioned book”: for example, combining text and an associated image on opposing pages. “It’s instructive how many of the words we use to describe computer interfaces—tabs, bookmarks, scrolling—are derived from our experience with the book, and that’s not just because of experience or familiarity,” he adds. “It’s because they have a certain practicality, and all of those, it so happens, are inventions of the Middle Ages.” Computers, in reverting to scrolling, have “gone back to a much older technology, which had its merits but was deficient in its own ways, which is why it was replaced.”

In advocating for the continued importance of books, and raising his concern that this could become the “lost decade” for acquisitions to Harvard’s library collections, Hamburger emphasizes that he is not framing the University’s current crisis in terms of books versus new media. “We need both, and we’ll continue to need both. I think we have to take as a premise that the library is a vast, far-flung, varied institution, as varied and diverse as the intellectual community of the University itself, working for a range of constituents almost impossible to conceive of, and it’s not just a service organization. I would even go so far as to call it the nervous system of our corporate body.”

It would be a terrible mistake, Hamburger continues, “if different factions within the faculty, be it scientists and humanists, be it Western- or non-Western-focused scholars, started squabbling over resources. As a university, we have by definition a catholic, all-embracing mission, and the question is how to coordinate resources, not compete for them. The greatness of this university in the past and in the future rests on the greatness of our library. Without the library—old, new, digital, printed—this institution wouldn’t be what it is.”

Jonathan Shaw ’89 is managing editor of this magazine.

The Future Of Libraries In The E-Book Age


Pedestrians walk past the main building of the New York Public Library. But will they be going in to check out books in the future?
Pedestrians walk past the main building of the New York Public Library. But will they be going in to check out books in the future?

Michel Porro/Getty ImagesPedestrians walk past the main building of the New York Public Library. But will they be going in to check out books in the future?

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April 4, 2011

A lot of attention has been focused on the way bookstores and publishing companies are managing the e-book revolution. The role of libraries has often been overlooked. But when HarperCollins Publishing Co. recently announced a new policy that would limit the number of times its e-books can be borrowed, it sparked a larger conversation about the future of libraries in the digital age.

These days, you don't have to go anywhere near a library to check out an e-book. You can download one to your digital device in a matter of seconds. And there's no more pesky overdue notices — the e-book simply disappears from your device when your time is up.

"The fact is that with a digital item, if you give it to somebody you still have it. It doesn't have to come back," says Eli Neiburger, the director for IT and production at the Ann Arbor District library in Michigan.

E-books, says Neiburger, are really digital files,

but libraries and publishers are still trying to deal with them as if they are just like print books. In other words, they're trying to do business the way they have always done business

"Part of the models we've seen so far are still trying to force 20th century business models onto digital content," Neiburger says. "And any digital native says, 'You mean I have to wait to download an e-book? What sense does that make?' And they're off to the Kindle store to spend $3.99 or $4.99 or $9.99 to get that same book."

In the current climate, libraries worry they'll become obsolete. Publishers are afraid they won't be able to make any money. That's why HarperCollins came up with a new e-book policy that says an e-book can be checked out 26 times, after which it has to be repurchased. Leslie Hulse, a senior vice president at HarperCollins, says publishers have to place some limitations on the way libraries lend e-books.
Chicago Public Library patron  Anna Sykes talks with a librarian about the book Alice's Adventures in  Wonderland, a title available on one of nine new Rocket e-books. Providing e-books is just one of many services that libraries are trying out in an attempt to stay relevant in the Kindle age.
Chicago Public Library patron Anna Sykes talks with a librarian about the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a title available on one of nine new Rocket e-books. Providing e-books is just one of many services that libraries are trying out in an attempt to stay relevant in the Kindle age.

EnlargeTim Boyle/Getty ImagesChicago Public Library patron Anna Sykes talks with a librarian about the book Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, a title available on one of nine new Rocket e-books. Providing e-books is just one of many services that libraries are trying out in an attempt to stay relevant in the Kindle age.

"I think the tension is, at the extreme, we could be making a book available to one national library on a simultaneous access model in perpetuity," says Hulse. "And what that would mean is everyone in the country could check out that book for free at any time, and that's not a commercially viable solution."

HarperCollins may have raised the ire of librarians

around the country with their new e-book policy, but Christopher Platt, director of collections and circulation at the New York Public Library, says the move has also stimulated a more public discussion about the future of libraries and e-books.

"The HarperCollins limit isn't going to stick," he argues."It's going to develop into something new. And Harper, to its credit, is engaged with libraries to see what would work."

Platt has his own ideas about what might work for the future. He says libraries use intermediaries to manage both their physical and digital book collections. He thinks libraries could work with these intermediaries to develop subscription packages of e-books. Libraries would pay the publishers for these subscriptions and use them as they see fit.

"So I'd buy a title with 1,000 uses, and then it's up to us and our readers whether those 1,000 uses get used simultaneously in the first few days or whether they get drawn out over time," Platt says. "And then if they do get used quickly, we'll buy more."

Neiburger has more radical idea.

He thinks libraries could deal directly with content providers: "The goal of the library is to obtain the ability to distribute content to its public. And if we can do that easier and more cheaply with the rights holder or the artist themselves and they make more money on it, then it may be heretical — but the future usually is."

That idea has potential, says Platt, but it may not be practical in the long run.

"In some scenario that will happen and that will grow," he says. "You will see more original content coming into library collections going forward and I think that's a wonderful thing, especially if libraries play a role in creation of that content. But on a regular matter of just ordering at scale the number of e-books that we add to our collection, that's a very difficult things to manage."

From the traditional to the visionary,

the conversation about libraries in the digital age has begun in earnest. Roberta Stevens, president of the American Library Association, wants more publishing companies to get involved in the conversation, because at the moment some publishers aren't even willing to sell e-books to libraries. Libraries may be able to survive without those books now, says Stevens, but in the future a lot of books will only be available electronically.

"When we look at the future then we have to really think very seriously about what is our role — and how can we actually serve the millions and millions of people who use our public libraries everyday if we can't even get access to titles," says Stevens.

Libraries have always been thought of as a kind of "temple of books" ... a place you can go to for peace and quiet, a place to read and think. They are intricate part of the fabric that pulls a community together. But if they are to be relevant in the future they will have to make space for themselves in the digital community as well.

Publisher Limits Shelf Life for Library E-Books

Published: March 14, 2011

Imagine the perfect library book.
Its pages don’t tear. Its spine is unbreakable.
It can be checked out from home. And it can never get lost.

The value of this magically convenient library book

— otherwise known as an e-book — is the subject of a fresh and furious debate in the publishing world. For years, public libraries building

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their e-book collections have typically done so with the agreement from publishers that once a library buys an e-book, it can lend it out, one reader at a time, an unlimited number of times.
Last week, that agreement was upended by HarperCollins Publishers when it began enforcing new restrictions on its e-books, requiring that books be checked out only 26 times before they expire. Assuming a two-week checkout period, that is long enough for a book to last at least one year.

What could have been a simple, barely noticed change in policy has galvanized librarians across the country, many of whom called the new rule unfair and vowed to boycott e-books from HarperCollins, the publisher of Doris Lessing, Sarah Palin and Joyce Carol Oates.
“People just felt gobsmacked,” said Anne Silvers Lee, the chief of the materials management division of the Free Library of Philadelphia, which has temporarily stopped buying HarperCollins e-books. “We want e-books in our collections, our customers are telling us they want e-books, so I want to be able to get e-books from all the publishers. I also need to do it in a way that is not going to be exorbitantly expensive.”

But some librarians said the change, however unwelcome, had ignited a public conversation about e-books in libraries that was long overdue. While librarians are pushing for more e-books to satisfy demand from patrons, publishers, with an eye to their bottom lines, are reconsidering how much the access to their e-books should be worth.

“People are agitated for very good reasons,”

said Roberta Stevens, the president of the American Library Association. “Library budgets are, at best, stagnant. E-book usage has been surging. And the other part of it is that there is grave concern that this model would be used by other publishers.”

Even in the retail marketplace, the question of how much an e-book can cost is far from settled. Publishers resisted the standard $9.99 price that Amazon once set on many e-books, and last spring, several major publishers moved to a model that allows them set their own prices.
This month, Random House, the lone holdout among the six biggest trade publishers, finally joined in switching to the agency model. Now many newly released books are priced from $12.99 to $14.99, while discounted titles are regularly as low as $2.99.

HarperCollins, in its defense, pointed out that its policy for libraries was a decade old, made long before e-books were as popular as they are today. The new policy applies to newly acquired books. “We have serious concerns that our previous e-book policy, selling e-books to libraries in perpetuity, if left unchanged, would undermine the emerging e-book ecosystem, hurt the growing e-book channel, place additional pressure on physical bookstores, and in the end lead to a decrease in book sales and royalties paid to authors,” the company said in a statement.

It is still a surprise to many consumers

that e-books are available in libraries at all. Particularly in the last several years, libraries have been expanding their e-book collections, often through OverDrive, a large provider of e-books to public libraries and schools. Nationwide, some 66 percent of public libraries offer free e-books to their patrons, according to the American Library Association.

For many libraries, interest from patrons who want to check out e-books has been skyrocketing. At the New York Public Library, e-book use is 36 percent higher than it was only one year ago. Demand has been especially strong since December, several librarians said, because e-readers were popular holiday gifts.

“As our readership goes online, our materials dollars are going online,” said Christopher Platt, the director of collections and circulating operations for the New York Public Library.

In borrowing terms, e-books have been treated much like print books.

They are typically available to one user at a time, often for a seven- or 14-day period. But unlike print books, library users don’t have to show up at the library to pick them up — e-books can be downloaded from home, onto mobile devices, personal computers and e-readers, including Nooks, Sony Readers, laptops and smartphones. (Library e-books cannot be read on Amazon’s Kindle e-reader.) After the designated checkout period, the e-book automatically expires from the borrower’s account.

The ease with which e-books can be borrowed from libraries

— potentially turning e-book buyers into e-book borrowers — makes some publishers uncomfortable. Simon & Schuster and Macmillan, two of the largest trade publishers in the United States, do not make their e-books available to libraries at all.

“We are working diligently to try to find terms that satisfy the needs of the libraries and protect the value of our intellectual property,” John Sargent, the chief executive of Macmillan, said in an e-mail. “When we determine those terms, we will sell e-books to libraries. At present we do not.”

And those publishers that do make their e-books available in libraries said that the current pricing agreements might need to be updated.
Random House, for example, has no immediate plans to change the terms of its agreements with libraries, said Stuart Applebaum, a spokesman for the publisher, but has not ruled it out in the future.

“Anything we institute ahead we’d really want to talk through with the community and together understand what makes sense for us both,” Mr. Applebaum said. “We’re open to changes in the future which are in reasonable step with the expectations and realities of the overall library communities.”

Publishers are nervous that e-book borrowing in libraries will cannibalize e-book retail sales. They also lose out on revenue realized as libraries replace tattered print books or supplement hardcover editions with paperbacks, a common practice. Sales to libraries can account for 7 to 9 percent of a publisher’s overall revenue, two major publishers said.

But e-books have downsides for libraries, too.

Many libraries dispose of their unread books through used-book sales, a source of revenue that unread e-books can’t provide.

The American Library Association has assembled two task forces to study the issue.

Even among the librarians who have stopped buying HarperCollins e-books, many said that there might have to be a compromise.
“I can see their side of it,” said Lisa Sampley, the collection services manager in the Springfield-Greene County Library District in Springfield, Mo. “I’m hoping that if other publishers try to change the model, they think about the libraries and how it will affect us. But I’m sure there is some kind of model that could work for us both.”

A version of this article appeared in print on March 15, 2011, on page A1 of the New York edition.

The rise of the e-book lending library (and the death of e-book pirating)


The last thing Catherine MacDonald did before going to bed the night of Dec. 30 was to ask her husband to remind her to start a

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Facebook page the next morning about something she just seen on her Kindle e-reader: Amazon.com’s decision to allow e-book buyers to lend out and borrow certain titles among themselves. Hooked on her newly acquired Kindle, the Malta-based Canadian business consultant and mother of three thought e-book lending was a terrific idea. She set up the page “just to see if this is something a lot of other people want.”


Was it ever: A few weeks later, MacDonald was the harried proprietor of the online Kindle Lending Club, which already has 12,000 registered users making as many as 600 swaps every day. What began as a simple desire to share books with other Kindle users quickly became what MacDonald calls “a crowd-sourced virtual library,” one that functions much like the real thing and is quickly being replicated by similar clubs and startups, all of them inspired by the “lending feature” offered first to users of the Barnes & Noble Nook e-reader and then the Kindle.
“It’s always great to launch something people enjoy,” said MacDonald, who recently rebranded her burgeoning club as BookLending.com. “But to have a service that I personally want to use and that I understand the demand for is really very rewarding.”
A few weeks after MacDonald formed the Kindle Lending Club, U.S. distributor BookSwim launched eBook Fling, a sharing site that allows users to swap books from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The lending feature offered an irresistible low-cost entrance into a booming market, according to company president George Burke. “We don’t have to touch the inventory even,” he said in an interview. “All we have to do is find a lender and a borrower, match them up and ensure that the book gets transferred.”
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Although the retailer-linked sharing sites are still largely restricted to U.S. users – and Toronto-based Kobo e-reader has yet to offer its own lending feature – they are collectively creating a booming and completely unanticipated market in previously loved electronic literature. In the meantime, established public libraries are quickly bulking up their own e-book collections, a task made easy by wholesalers that not only provide the files but also the systems that control their lending and recovery.
“The increased demand is tremendous, it’s really remarkable,” said Vickery Bowles, director of collections at the Toronto Public Library. E-book lending at the TPL increased 88 per cent in 2009 and 70 per cent in 2010 before going exponential after a Christmas that put millions of new e-readers in the hands of consumers. “E-book lending is still a very small percentage of the whole,” she said, “but that kind of increase in use is obviously very unusual, and a real signal of how things are changing.”
One thing not happening as e-book lending booms is the kind of piracy that accompanied the digitization of other media. Where music and film buffs rip and hack, book lovers so far remain content to borrow temporarily on strict terms dictated by publishers, retailers and librarians, allowing the invisible hand of digital rights management (DRM) to ensure they don’t cheat – and that the borrowed materials “return” to their sources automatically.

Publishers determine which of the titles that they sell through both Amazon and Barnes & Noble can subsequently be lent out, while DRM makes sure the files disappear from lenders’ e-readers at the end of 14 days. Public libraries follow similar protocols, as developed by such wholesalers as Cleveland-based OverDrive, which dominates the market with a “one-book, one-user” policy that ensures libraries never lend out more copies of a title than they actually buy in digital form. Typically, library users can borrow the books for three weeks, after which they disappear from their reading devices and become available to other borrowers.
“Book readers are very honest people,” eBook Fling’s Burke said. “They’re not like the hackers who are trying to steal files from each another.” Lending clubs like his rely on revenue from advertising as well as commissions received when members decide to buy one of the books they have borrowed – an option retailers invariably present before their DRM erases a borrowed title at the end of two weeks.
“This type of service doesn’t facilitate the transfer of a file,” Burke said. “And because we don’t touch a file we have no worries about piracy. It’s just not possible.”
Not all publishers are assured, including Macmillan U.S., whose president Brian Napack recently defended his company’s go-slow policy at a conference in New York. “The fear is I get one library card and never have to buy a book again,” he said. “So we are hard at work. We continue to wrestle with it."
In response, OverDrive president Steve Potash defended his company’s highly controlled library service as a proved response to the threat of piracy. “The fact that one or two trade publishers haven't figured it out yet does not mean that the other 98 per cent are having any problems with it," he said.
Partly in order to mollify publishers – and partly in order to develop its own revenue stream – the New York Public Library recently included a “buy-it-now” button on its OverDrive-supplied e-books.
But so far, none of the lending club operators interviewed by The Globe and Mail have experienced any push-back from angry publishers or authors. And for their part, public librarians are determined to forge ahead in a field they pioneered long before retailer-driven sharing sites.
“We have a long history of loaning electronic materials and it hasn’t been compromised,” the TPL’s Bowles said. Publishers may be nervous due to the experience of the music industry, she added, but the public benefit of e-book lending is clear.
“It is extending access to these wonderful materials,” she said. “That’s what’s really exciting about it

Lending and Borrowing Ebooks on the Amazon Kindle & B&N Nook is Easy with New Website ‘Ebook Lending Library’

January 18, 2011 by Clayton Tarwater

Lending and borrowing ebooks is only a recent phenomenon. Amazon just recently allowed their Kindle ebook owners to lend their books out to friends. Barnes & Noble has allowed it for quite some time.
However, when it comes to finding partners to lend books to and from, things can become complicated.
This is where a new Ebook Lending Library comes into play. The website, which launched on Monday, allows users to post ebooks that they have available to lend out, as well as ebooks that they are looking to borrow. Other users can search the database and lend out or borrow books from each other.
The way the site works is that it rewards points to members for lending books, and members can charge others points (ebookdollars) to borrow their books.
“This keeps things fair, so that one user won’t abuse the site and continuously borrow books, while not contributing to the community,” explained Evan Murdock, one of the site’s partners.
Points, referred to as “eBookDollars” can be earned by posting book reviews, referring new members, and making new posts in the forums.
“We aren’t just trying to make it easier to lend and borrow Kindle and Nook books. Our goal is to create a useful community for those looking to lend and borrow,” said Murdock.
eBookLendingLibrary.com has plans to allow its members to redeem their points (eBookDollars) for prizes and merchandise in the near future.
You can sign up for free and start lending and borrowing now at eBookLendingLibrary.com


Books are books — even if they eSmell differently

Mark Bennett
The Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Just a few years ago, if somebody asked what the term “eReader” meant, I probably would’ve guessed, “One who reads books that start with the letter E.”

Actually, an eReader is a portable, handheld electronic device that allows its user to digitally download an entire book (called an “eBook”), such as “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck or even “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain (the titles don’t have to begin with E).

Today, eReaders and eBooks are spreading rapidly, everywhere. In the first 10 months of 2010, eBook sales increased 171.3 percent compared with the same period of 2009, according to Association of American Publishers statistics quoted by the Philadelphia Inquirer. A Harris poll in September showed that 8 percent of Americans owned an eReader, and that was before Christmas shopping sent sales surging.

I’m an ink-and-paper guy. I used to wear the smell of the newspaper’s press room at the end of a workday. Some of my best friends are printers (meaning actual people employed in a print shop, not those machines connected to your computer). So, it’s not easy to admit this, but … I have used an eReader (my wife’s). And I like it.

True, swiping your finger across the screen of a Kindle or Nook doesn’t feel the same as turning a physical page, but such a change isn’t a cultural atrocity. Words are words. Books are books, even if they smell different.

The Vigo County Public Library shelves contain more than 200,000 hard-copy books. Patrons can choose from 15,000 downloadable eBooks available through the library’s online “virtual branch.” And later this year, cardholders will be able to check out one of three new eReaders recently purchased by the library.

Electronic readers sitting alongside ink-and-paper books inside the bastion of reading, the public library — what’s the world coming to? The library, more often, perhaps. “It’s just a different form of visiting us,” said Jeff Trinkle, the VCPL’s public information and services director.

Though the library hasn’t yet started loaning out its new eReaders (a trio of Kindles, sold by Amazon), the Vigo County facility is already a popular source of downloadable materials. Patrons can access an inventory of 15,000 virtual eBooks, audiobooks, music and videos through the library’s membership in the Indiana Digital Media consortium. That group of 11 libraries from around the state is connected to a nationwide eMaterials service called OverDrive.

That means, anyone with a valid Vigo County library card can download the latest New York Times bestseller — using an eReader such as a Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, Literati or iPad, iPhones and iPods, or a home computer — for free. (As of now, the Kindle is compatible with only a limited number of Vigo County’s online selections, Trinkle said.)

Tech-savvy people are taking advantage. Last year, 42,810 of the Vigo Library’s downloadable materials — eBooks, audiobooks, music and videos — were circulated, marking an increase of 223 percent over 2009.

Some literary purists may lament the shift, but it doesn’t scare the library. When the Internet emerged, doomsayers predicted the death of libraries. Instead, free access to the information super highway keeps the library’s computer stations busy morning, noon and night. Likewise, the arrival of eBooks and eReaders is “exciting,” Trinkle said. “It gives us a great chance to grow.

“With every new form of media that’s come out, we’ve embraced it, rather than fought it,” he added. In fact, the local library started offering eBooks in 2006, two years before the VCPL joined the statewide consortium.

Embracing the change allows for new possibilities. My wife enjoys the flexibility of her Nook Color, an eReader from Barnes & Noble. All of the eReaders have pros and cons, from price (around $140 to more than $500) to size, to capabilities. Her Nook connects to the Internet through WiFi or 3G and can download a classic, such as “A Tale of Two Cities,” often for as little as 99 cents, or a bestseller for $10. At 8 inches tall, 5 inches wide and a half-inch thick, it fits in her purse. The 7-inch touchscreen displays an eBook’s pages at whatever type size the user chooses, and is backlit, so it can be read in dim light.

It appeals to readers of any age. For Mallory Bell, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, her Nook Color was the first present she opened Christmas morning. Since then, she’s downloaded nearly 20 books. “I like that you can go onto the Internet and research the book, and then go into the [virtual] shop and buy it,” Bell said.

For folks unfamiliar with eAnything, digitally downloading an eBook is like pulling an ink-and-paper book off the shelf. Instead of using your hand to grab John Grisham’s latest, you use an eReader to pull the electronic version of that book out of cyberspace. As with the Vigo County library’s hardbacks and paperbacks, its eBooks are borrowed; the download has a time limit. (The ePublishers have to make a living, too, and libraries must purchase virtual copies of eBooks.)

This isn’t the end of Western civilization, the quest for knowledge or paper books. Actually, the Harris poll showed that people with Nooks, Kindles and other eReaders are reading more and buying more books. One in five Americans hadn’t purchased any books in a year, but 92 percent of eReading Americans had bought some form of a book, according to the survey.

Trinkle has personally dabbled in eReading, recently downloading the eBook “How to Learn Spanish.” Still, Trinkle — 50 and in his 12th year on the library staff — also remains fond of traditional books. “For my entertainment, I like to have a book,” he said, “old-school, I guess.”

Ninety-one percent of the library’s materials are ink-and-paper, he said, while 9 percent are digital. Old-school-style books won’t disappear in the near future, Trinkle predicted, though, eBooks will become the norm, instead of the exception.

The end of the paperback era is anybody’s guess. “I’ll leave that to the fiction writers,” Trinkle said. That story, no doubt, will be available only through a digital download.

Mark Bennett can be reached at (812) 231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

Libraries work to meet digital demand

external image d6464ab8a44e73bc54b46406afd1ead9-bpthumb.jpgBy Kara Silva Community ProducerTuesday at 11:36 a.m.
From left to right, Librarian Lauren Rosenthal and Library Technical Assistant Alice Hayes, both of Crystal Lake Public Library, showcase an eReader. The Crystal Lake Public Library doesn't offer eReaders for circulation. (Photo submitted by Crystal Lake Public Library)
From left to right, Librarian Lauren Rosenthal and Library Technical Assistant Alice Hayes, both of Crystal Lake Public Library, showcase an eReader. The Crystal Lake Public Library doesn't offer eReaders for circulation. (Photo submitted by Crystal Lake Public Library)
From left to right, Librarian Lauren Rosenthal and Library Technical Assistant Alice Hayes, both of Crystal Lake Public Library, showcase an eReader. The Crystal Lake Public Library doesn't offer eReaders for circulation. (Photo submitted by Crystal Lake Public Library)

external image digitalfuture.jpgTribLocal is taking a look at the challenges facing today’s local libraries in the digital age. This is the first in a four part series.
Libraries throughout McHenry County have been deluged with calls from the lucky recipients of this year’s hottest holiday gift—eReaders like the Amazon Kindle, Apple iPad, Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader.
The upsurge in interest in eBooks has library officials re-examining their policies regarding downloadable books, and working to keep up with the demand for information about the newest publishing phenomenon.
The Crystal Lake Public Library provides eBooks through the OverDrive powered North Suburban Digital Consortium, consisting of eight libraries including Algonquin Area Public Library and McHenry Public Library.
The Woodstock Public Library offers downloadable books through two services, MyMediaMall, also powered by OverDrive, and NetLibrary, a division of EBSCO Publishing. For MyMediaMall, Woodstock Public Library is part of a consortium of 60 libraries.
“The cost in itself would be too much for us to undertake without sharing the service with other libraries,” said Woodstock Public Library reference librarian Martha Hansen.
Penny Ramirez, the assistant head of adult services at Crystal Lake Public Library said the library typically will get three to four calls every day about downloadable books and eReaders.
“We’ve held training sessions on and off for the past five years, but we haven’t focused on the eReaders because that’s a fairly new phenomenon,” Ramirez said.
Both library web sites, www.crystallakelibrary.org andwww.woodstockpubliclibrary.org, offer step-by-step instructions on how to download books. An eReader boot camp designed to teach patrons how to use the devices and download books this month is already full, but to handle the influx of patrons interested in eReader tutorials, Crystal Lake Public Library is hosting three half-hour digital download demonstrations Jan. 20, Jan. 25 and Jan. 29, Ramirez said.
Typically, library patrons want to know which eReaders are compatible with the library’s service, and before Christmas, the Woodstock Public Library had flyers at different service desks to aid holiday shoppers in their search for eReaders, Hansen said.
Kindle, the most popular eReader, is not compatible with either library’s eBook service because of restrictions imposed by Amazon.
Due to the increase in users downloading books, Hansen said that a lot of eBooks are checked out, meaning patrons have to put their name on a waitlist because publishers only allow so many electronic copies to be downloaded at a time.
“It does take a little bit of patience,” Hansen said.
Since Christmas, both libraries have experienced an increased interest in eReaders and downloadable books, and it hasn’t let up.
“Our service actually crashed right after Christmas because everybody had gotten eReaders and were all downloading materials,” Hansen said, adding that the use increased 200 percent in the two days following the Christmas.
Library card use has increased across the board, and isn’t limited to the surge in electronic and online book options; print book checkouts have also increased, Ramirez said.

“Overall our usage has increased,” Hansen said.“Traditionally, when hard economic times hit, library use increases, and we’re seeing that trend. We’re busier than we’ve ever been.”
Carrie Russell, of the American Library Association, said eReaders are changing the whole notion of what it means to read a book.
“EBooks and eReaders will change the future of libraries, especially public libraries,” said Russell, the association’s director of the program on public access to information. “It will become more interactive, including comments and reviews.”
—TribLocal reporter Heather MacDonald contributed to this report

Why I didn't buy a Kindle
by David KatzmaierJanuary 18, 2011 11:52 AM PST

The Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook let you borrow eBooks from participating libraries. The Amazon Kindle does not.

(Credit: David Katzmaier)

I normally write about TVs and related gear for CNET, but I figured some Crave readers might want to hear about my recent experiences as I considered getting an e-reader for myself. In particular, my good experience "borrowing" e-books from my local library--something I can do on a Barnes & Noble Nook or Sony Reader, for example, but not on an Amazon Kindle.

First, some background. I read a lot, and in the last few years I've been taking advantage of the local library to get my fiction fix (for free!), rather than buying books. The idea of an e-reader never really appealed to me, mainly because I'd always thought of them as money pits designed to feed impulse purchases, and I didn't trust myself not to go on a buying spree if I got one. I was also skeptical that the reading experience could be preserved.

When my co-worker and fellow bibliophile John Falcone offered to lend me his Kindle 3 for an overseas business trip, however, my perception of e-readers changed. The little device not only preserved the experience of reading an actual book--in my opinion it improved upon it. I found it more convenient to turn pages, easier to stand upright (with this awesome cover) and read hands-free, just as easy on the eyes, and lighter and more comfortable to hold over time than many books. Reading books on the Kindle was, to my surprise, better than reading a paper book in just about every way.
I had to have one.

Around the same time I received a mailer from my library in East Northport, New York, touting a new service: downloadable e-books. The blurb mentioned support for "compatible devices, like the Barnes & Noble Nook and Sony Reader." I noticed that it didn't mention the Kindle, which didn't surprise me because I knew enough about e-readers to know that Amazon has declined to support the e-book format of choice for libraries, known as EPUB.

Once I found out that my library offered "free" books for e-readers, I had to try it.

I returned that Kindle to Falcone and borrowed a Sony Reader PRS-650BC from CNET's resident e-reader expert (and author) David Carnoy. When I told him why I wanted it, he mentioned that the Nook could also handle EPUB and I was welcome to try that one, too. I chose the Sony not because of the slick, red case, but because I liked its screen-first form factor better.

The Sony lacks any kind of wireless connectivity, but for borrowing EPUB books that wasn't an issue. Doing so was a bit more difficult than the "one click" method for buying books on a Kindle, but not that bad at all once I got everything installed.

My library Web site, administered by a service called Live-brary, explained the process clearly enough. It uses Adobe Digital Editions software for e-books, so my first step was to download that software, install it on my PC and register for a user account to activate the software. Activation authorizes Adobe's DRM (digital rights management) system, allowing me to read downloaded/"borrowed" library e-books on both the PC and the Sony Reader itself. I also had to install Sony's own Reader Library software to get my PC to recognize the reader.
external image ScreenShot089_610x602.jpg
Notice the "add to cart" link that allows you to "check out" the book from the library download site.

(Credit: live-brary.com)

After that I had to find books I actually wanted to read.

That step proved more difficult than I anticipated; evidently, in my preferred genre of Sci-fi/Fantasy, at least, EPUB books were pretty dang popular among Long Island's e-reader cognoscenti. Most of the titles I was interested in showed up with zero "available copies," so I put myself on a couple of waiting lists for them. In the meantime I found two available books I did want to read: Jim Butcher's second-newest Dresden installment, "Changes," and the first "Foundation" novel (I'd been meaning to reread that series for years) by Isaac Asimov.

I added both to my cart on the Web site and hit the "download" buttons. They appeared in the Sony software, at which point I simply dragged them over onto the Reader itself. I disconnected the USB port and looked in the Sony Reader's menu to find both books. Each even had a convenient display under the titles that told me in how many days they were "due" back (i.e., when the DRM kicked in to erase my access to the files).

When I check out physical books I get a month or so before I have to return or renew them, but the case of the two e-books I tried, I had two weeks to finish. That seems to me to be the main issue with the arrangement at my library--finishing any book in two weeks can be tight for me. There's no way to "renew" an e-book I've checked out, although I could check it out again provided another virtual "copy" is available. With EPUB at my library you can "return" a book early, however.

Of course the selection of physical books at my library pales in comparison to Amazon's, and the same goes for e-books. I did find a few newer titles on Live-brary (for example "Damage" by John Lescroart, released on January 4, 2011), but the majority in the new releases section were from 2009 or earlier. I'm a fan of series as well, but not audiobooks, and for some reason Live-brary seemed to stock earlier books in a few series I checked in audiobook format only, not e-books.

Of course many of these issues will vary by library, and other library systems may have more copies available in e-book format or allow longer lending periods. I don't know about that. I just know that getting "free" e-books that I wanted to read anyway has convinced me that EPUB support is something I want in whatever reader I end up buying.

I asked Carnoy whether he thought compatibility with libraries was something that Amazon may add in the near future, and he said he highly doubted it. He also mentioned that Overdrive powers a lot of libraries' e-book collections, and that its new Media Console software had added iPhone and Android apps.

Although Kindle has massive market share in the nascent e-book category, and it's a slick piece of hardware, there's no way I'd buy one myself. Borrowing virtual books from the local library, without having to go there, is just too cool of a feature in my book.

Read more: http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20028767-1.html#ixzz1BZXM5Aik

Review: Library E-Books Easier, But Still Hassle


Associated PressThis screen shot shows a library Ebook on an iPad running Bluefire Reader software.

Associated PressThis screen shot shows a library Ebook on a Samsung Galaxy S phone running the Overdrive Media Console app on Google's Android operating system.

Associated PressThis screen shot shows the Overdrive Media Console app on a Samsung Galaxy S phone running on Google's Android operating system.

Associated PressThis screen shot shows the Overdrive Media Console app on a Samsung Galaxy S phone running on Google's Android operating system.

text size A A ANEW YORK January 19, 2011, 07:47 pm ET
Libraries have been lending e-books for longer than there's been a Kindle, but until recently only a few devices worked with them. That's changed in the past few months with the arrival of software for reading library e-books on some popular devices: iPhones, iPads and Android-powered smart phones.

Table of Contents

However, I'm sad to report that reading library e-books is still more hassle than buying them. The whole process could be smoother, and there are questions about how libraries are going about the transition to the e-book world.
But let's focus first on the good news: You can now download library books straight to yourApple or Android device. Once you've figured out the system and are lucky enough to find a book you want, it takes only a few minutes to start reading.

— First, you need a library card.

Visit a local branch if you don't have one.

— Second, download a free application called OverDrive Media Console

to your Apple or Android device. OverDrive Inc. runs the lending system for the 5,400 U.S. public libraries that offer e-books — a bit more than half of all public libraries.

— Third, follow the app's instructions to get an "Adobe ID"

and tie your device to it. It's an e-mail address and password registered with Adobe Systems Inc. to prevent you from sharing borrowed books with the whole world. The books you borrow won't be readable on devices that aren't "authorized" with this ID.
— If you're still with me after dealing with three different parties just to get started, you can now tap "Get Books" in the app. That fires up the Web browser, where you can find your local library's website. Once there, you can search for e-books. You'll need to enter your library card number and usually a passcode that comes with it.

There's a particular lingo to learn.

Your "shopping cart" of books that you want to check out is called "My eList." The books you have checked out already are "My eCheck Outs." Most libraries have entirely separate systems for physical books, and if you blunder into that part of the site, getting back to e-books can be challenging.
Each library has a limited number of copies of each e-book to lend out. If it has five electronic copies of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," then five patrons can have the book at once. Others have to place an "eHold" on it and wait till one of the five "return" the e-book, which happens automatically at the end of the borrowing period, usually three weeks, if the borrower didn't voluntarily return it earlier.
That's right: there's no more hunting around the house for overdue books, no more late fees. That alone should make up for some of the hassle of e-book borrowing.

But the selection of e-books is small,

and the limited number of copies is frustrating. Right now, I'm No. 62 out of 98 people waiting to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan" at the New York Public Library. It has 12 electronic copies, so I can expect one to free up in about four months.
The OverDrive Media Console has some limitations compared with other e-book software. You can't change page margins or the color of the page, and there's no iPad version.

Another e-book application deals with those shortcomings,

but it can't load e-books straight from the Web. You need a Windows or Mac computer and Bluefire Reader, free software that works with the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad, but not Android.
As with Overdrive, you need a library card and an Adobe ID. You also need Adobe Digital Editions, another free application. Instead of browsing for e-books on your Apple device, you do so on the computer. You download books to the computer and open them with Digital Editions.
Then, connect the Apple device to the computer with the usual cable. In iTunes click the name of the device and navigate to the Apps tab. Under "File Sharing," you'll find an icon for Bluefire. Click the "Add" button and find the e-book file on your hard drive. Click "Open" to transfer it to the iPad.
This is clunky, but Bluefire has the advantage of being able to load books from the many online bookstores that use Adobe ID, including Google Books. So one app can hold both your library books and commercial ones.
Using a similar process, you can load library books on to Barnes & Noble Inc.'s Nook e-book readers and Sony Readers. Instead of iTunes, you'll use computer's file system or Adobe Digital Editions. Sorry, you're out of luck if you have an Amazon Kindle, which doesn't accept books protected by Adobe ID.
For those willing to figure out the system, library e-books can be rewarding. But many steps in the process are poorly thought out and unfriendly to the user. For instance, to download a book to an Android phone using OverDrive, you have to tap three different "Download" buttons on three different screens.
Another source of frustration is the way the nation's e-books are divided among thousands of libraries. Some branch out there might have a spare copy of "The Black Swan," yet I'm stuck in the long line of the local library. One national e-book library would be better.
But the current system, though unfriendly to users, probably serves the interests of local libraries, which can point to e-book lending as one way they're staying current and relevant. And it's hard to see that publishers would have a big interest in streamlining e-book lending — they want people to buy e-books or even printed copies instead.
So we're probably stuck with what we have: a system where you can trade the time it takes to learn the system for free e-books. It's not great, but it's free.
Need help with a technology question? Ask us at gadgetgurus(at)ap.org.