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Library E-books

I love my iPad, and I’m reading more books now that I can download them instantly and read them in bed at night with the lights off, but one of the downsides (besides the difficulty of reading in bright sunlight of buying ebooks is that you can’t resell them, buy them used, or lend them to friends (unless you use the B&N (nook) eReader, in which case you can lend them to someone else with a B&N e-reader for two weeks.)

But you CAN borrow e-books—from your local library. First I checked out the Berkeley Public Library, which has a huge downtown branch and several satellite branches, but all they have are Safari Tech Books Online, no literature. Then I went to the San Francisco Public Library and signed up for a library card. It turns out that you need to apply in person for a library card, so you can’t, for example, use the New York Public Library e-book system unless you go to New York, show them your New York ID, and get a New York Public Library card. In California, you don’t have to live in the city of the library, just in the state. So even though I live in Berkeley, I got myself a San Francisco library card. There I found three databases of e-books: Safari Tech Books again, NetLibrary Books, and Overdrive eBooks. Someone on staff (a librarian perhaps?) said Overdrive works best with iPads, so that’s where I began. If you’re interested, you can watch the tutorial here.

First I found a page that says I can listen to audio library books on my iPad but cannot read e-library books from Overdrive because it doesn’t support the ePub format. Here is a list of compatible devices, including the B&N nook, the Sony Reader, and the Kobo eReader. I haven’t gotten a clear feel yet for what books are available. Through Overdrive, when I click on “Most Popular,” I get a list of authors/books that begin with Stephanie Meyer, Stieg Larsson, Dan Brown, and page after page of romance novels. Since none of these books will work on my iPad, I lost interest in searching through the database. I’m working on finding out if library e-books will eventually work on the iPad or whether, thanks for Apple’s proprietary measures, I’ll be stuck paying $9.99 for every book forever. (Does anyone know the answer to this? I’ve queried Overdrive and am waiting for an answer.)

Meanwhile, what about you? Have you ever read a library e-books on your e-reader? Which database did you use? What was the selection like? And how easy/pleasant was the experience?

By the way, for those of you who look forward to Link Love on Fridays, I am headed off on my third camping trip in five weeks today (with a toddler and an infant) and have yet to pack, so I’ll be posting links next week. In the meantime, be sure to check out Nathan Bransford and Sierra Godfrey, who always have great roundups of links on Fridays.

An in case you wonder how I spend my free time, yesterday it was learning about the different Caterpillar trucks after my toddler saw a bunch doing construction on a Berkeley street. After perusing the website, I found this one pretty cool. I know it’s not environmentally friendly, but look at the way it slices and gathers trees! Now I understand why kids get excited about trucks.

Have a great weekend!

11 comments to Library E-books

  • I've never tried to read library ebooks on my iTouch or Andy's iPad, but I have heard lots of rumblings in the Kindle forums at Amazon about how that's a feature they desperately want added/addressed. I'm sure that all the major ereader players will have to tackle it at some point…

    My library *does* let you check out ebooks on your computer, though. They use Adobe Editions, which I wasn't a huge fan of, but I read a couple books that way.

  • Kester Allen

    The Stanza iPad app can read ePubs, but I'm not sure how you'd get them onto the iPad from the library website.

  • The issue is not that the iPad doesn't support ePub, but it doesn't support DRM-enabled ePub ebooks. Also, the iPad cannot use Adobe Editions, used by Overdrive, which is Flash-based. Steve Jobs hates Flash. Apple is pushing HTML5 which can handle text as well as Flash (as for audio and video, it's not quite where Flash is)., where people can publish ebooks or any document so that it can be shared, recently moved from Flash to HTML5. Personally, I believe that ditching Flash is the long-term answer.

    Overdrive has said that they are working on iPad support. As for the Kindle, Amazon keeps that system closed.

    Many libraries and librarians are beginning to realize the problems current ebook vendors' systems represent for patrons. Libraries need to get providers of these systems to design them to serve your needs as a user, and to be as device-agnostic as possible.

    Great post. You raise issues that are make some librarians pull out their hair, these days.

  • Kristan – reading a book on my laptop does NOT sound fun!

    Kester – I've heard a lot about Stanza, but haven't tried it yet. I'll have to check it out.

    Matt – Thank you so much for the breakdown! So maybe Overdrive will switch to HTML5 and then I'll be able to read its books on the iPad? I talked to one librarian who said, "Personally, I hate ebooks so I don't know anything about them …" and I thought, "That is going to change VERY VERY soon!" NONE of the librarians I talked to knew what ebooks their own libraries offered. Each one had to ask a supervisor or look it up online for themselves. It's all such new technology and very exciting IMHO. I bet a lot of people would even be willing to pay an annual fee for access to a database of ebooks. My problem is that I rarely have time to read a book within two weeks, so if they disabled themselves that quickly, they wouldn't work for me.

  • Oooh my own whippersnapper will love that movie. He is all about trucks of every kind, too.

    (And thanks for the very kind plug.)

    I haven't read any ebooks from the library on my ereader, mostly because I didn't think they were offered! In my library system (CCC), it's a pretty extensive network but they only offer audio right now.

    It would be great though because then I could actually read a lot more. I get frustrated sometimes by the lack of choice at the library, and they often only carry one of an author's books as opposed to five or six. Still, I love the library and we go about once a week (mostly for kids books).

  • Sierra – you should try Overdrive since it works with the Sony Reader. Then give us a report! 🙂

  • Eric Mas

    I downloaded Zinn's People's History from my local library- I had to put my library card in.

    Weird- Adobe Digital format- I think the Sony can use it- but I couldn't get it going on my Itouch. So I had to read it on my laptop.

    Of course it expired in two weeks before I finished it- but at least it was free- and I got a taste for it.

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