Getting free e-books from the library is overrated, says e-book blogger—and tells why he feels that way

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How much will a well-stocked national digital library system cost? We cannot consider that question without understanding how library patrons currently use e-books, and what they like and dislike. Nathan Groezinger of The eBook Reader blog shares his thoughts below as a user.

imageOne of the biggest draws and selling points of Adobe DRM-supporting e-readers, especially the Sony Readers, is that you can check out e-books for free from your local library to read on them. This applies to most e-readers and tablets on the market, all except the Kindle and a few no name brands.

The service is provided by a company called OverDrive and is available in the United States and 13 other countries. Some time back I wrote an article on how to get free e-books from libraries. But now as e-readers are becoming more popular and more people are turning to the library as a source for e-books, the limitations of the service has become much more obvious. Here are five problems I’ve noticed with getting free e-books from libraries.

#1. Limited number of copies and waiting lists. Like paper books, libraries have a limited number of copies of each e-book that they can lend out. My local library has 2000+ e-books, not counting the 15000+ public domain titles. I searched through 30+ pages and every single e-book I could find was checked out. Some have a short waiting list, but not the popular titles. Those have waiting lists of several months.

#2. 21 Days. Most ebooks’ max rental period is 21 days or less. Unless no holds are pending, if you don’t get the book finished in that time you’ll have to get back in line and wait for it to become available again.

#3. No library e-books. #1 sounds pretty good if you don’t have any library e-books to choose from at all where you live. In that case you can sometimes get a library card from a few non-local libraries but that can bring up other problems, #1 and #4 for instance.

#4. Fees for library cards. A few libraries that have e-books offer library cards to out-of-state and non-local residents for an annual fee. (Some of these libraries are listed on the how-to page mentioned above if you want to try them.)

#5. Poor selection and random selection. A lot of publishers aren’t on board with library e-books. Couple that with the newness of e-books and the fact that many libraries don’t have the funding for expanding their collection or even adding a collection. Additionally, the randomness of e-books available leaves you scratching your head (at my library, at least). They’ll have the #3 or #6 book in a series but not #1, even if it’s from the same publisher.

Despite these drawbacks, getting e-books for free is a nice perk. But it makes you wonder moving forward if libraries will be able to keep up with the demand for e-books with the explosion of e-readers and tablets coming onto the market, especially with many publishers and authors feeling uncomfortable about library e-books to begin with.

Reproduced with permission from The eBookReader. Note: OverDrive’s latest version of its software allows library users to transfer e-books directly to their devices. Users can download versions for Windows, the Mac, Android, BlackBerry, iPhone and Windows Mobile.

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