The inability to check out books from my library using my Kindle irked me from the first moment I started using the Kindle. When Amazon and Overdrive announced that they were finally partnering to allow library lending on the Kindle, I was pretty excited. Sure, as a librarian I know it’s far from a perfect solution, and I don’t love the way Overdrive lending works for libraries, and I think we could do so much better, but as a patron? I was excited to be able to check out books without having to trek to the library. Anything to make acquiring reading materials easier and less expensive for me makes me happy.
Last week, when I read that lending was finally being released, I practically hovered over the Oakland Public Library’s Overdrive page, waiting for the Kindle links to appear. And when they did, whoo hoo, I was ready to start checking things out. Which is when I encountered the most annoying thing about library lending of ebooks: Holds. Seriously. I understand that Overdrive had to work with a business model that publishers would agree to, and that making these things act as much like paper copies as possible was probably a necessity for library lending of digital books to happen at all. But the fact that a library only has a certain number of “copies” of an ebook, and that I have to get in a nice long queue to borrow them? Ugh.
But that’s my whiny patron self speaking. The wait for a copy is just a fact of life of public library reading that one has to accept. It’s the cost of free books, right? It’s honestly the reason I don’t use the public library as much as I’d like to. But in the interest of experimentation, I put a few books on hold, and waited for my notification email. And I got the first one today.
Let me tell you, after several years of hearing how terrible the user experience is for library lending of ebooks, I was pleasantly surprised by how easy Kindle borrowing was. I clicked a few links, and badda bing, there was my book. The only part of the experience that wasn’t intuitive is that once you click your checkout link, the book is placed in a “cart” and you have to complete a few more steps within a particular time period before the book is actually checked out to you. This seemed kind of nonsensical to me, but I’m going to give Overdrive the benefit of the doubt and say there’s probably a good technical reason, involving how data is sent to the Amazon servers or something, for this particular step.
So, from my non-librarian, patron perspective, borrowing a library book on the Kindle was painless. The wait to read popular books from the library is the primary reason I don’t use libraries more often, so I wish there was some way we could solve this problem with digital books, but I can understand that that might be a hard sell for publishers. Frankly, from a non-librarian perspective, I want to get books wherever and however I can, preferably without having to spend a ton of money on them, because I’m a book junkie and I just don’t make that much money. I’ll take whatever lending options I have, and I love not having to schedule in a trip to the library (or even a trip to the bookstore), because I’m a busy lady.
Kindle lending from libraries makes my librarian self, though, kind anxious and nervous about the state of the ebook landscape for libraries, and whether we’re painting ourselves into a bad corner with the steps we’re taking now. I understand the potential problems and dangers, I wish we had better options, I wish we were in a better position to demand better options. That’s why I’m working with the NISO eBook Special Interest Group, to at least attempt in some way to give libraries better options. In the meantime, at least this is a step toward making library use easier for some of our patrons. And that’s not a bad thing.