Now that Amazon and Overdrive have completed their deal to make Kindle titles available through Overdrive’s client libraries, the web has been astir with commentary on the roll-out, which was announced last week. It was a much awaited moment for Kindle owners, who have decried their inability to borrow books from the public library, as their friends with Nooks, Sonys, and Kobos have been doing for years.
The announcement was met with a sense of anti-climax, though, as many of us rushed to our local library’s website to borrow a Kindle book, only to find that the roll-out is incomplete at this time. No mention of a Kindle title at my public library, for instance, until very late in the week.
Now that the system has propogated, though, folks like me are delighted to see the number of available titles. At my library, for instance, there are over 700 Kindle books with copies available. Wow! How far we have come in the world of e-books in such a short time! And with the Kindle books, the system is set up to allow patrons to have the books they borrow sent directly to their Kindles via wifi (but not 3G–see below). Oh, happy day! Unlike borrowing an ePub book and installing it manually on my Nook, these Kindle books will just appear once I check them out. Ahhh.
For Kindle owners, you will find that checking a Kindle book out from your public library will kick you over to the Amazon site, where you can pick the device you want the book sent to. I just downloaded the limit of four books, and the process works seamlessly. Another example of Amazon winning by offering the most user-friendly interface around.
It is funny to me, though, how developments surrounding the Kindle grab attention to a subject. I mean, before the Kindle itself came out, there had been e-books and e-readers for years, and a devoted crew of intrepid e-bookers who could read stuff on just about anything. But, to the general public, e-books were mostly a nonentity, until Kindle, which, er, kindled interest in e-reading like nothing else. Now that Kindle has turned up at the public library, everyone wants to know what it means, how borrowing works, and how it affects their library or Amazon accounts. Here are the three key facts that you need to know to use the new service:
1. Your library still has to buy books to make them available to library patrons. I read somewhere a reader questioning how many Kindle books would be available for borrowing through the public library. That number is ultimately determined by the number of books that your library purchases through Overdrive and Amazon to make available through the service. Despite all the chatter about new models for publishing and accessing books in the e-book era, the basics of how libraries operate haven’t changed. The library purchases books using its budget and then lends them out to patrons, whether in print or electronic formats. The kerfluffle that arose when Harper Collins told libraries through its distributor Overdrive that their e-books would be limited to 26 circulations was a conflict over terms, not a change in the basic economics of running a library. So, although Amazon makes hundreds of thousand of books available through its store, you will only be borrowing those that your library purchases.
2. The borrowing process is handled through your Amazon account, not through Overdrive or your library. This means, of course, that any patron with a Kindle and without and Amazon account cannot ultimately borrow books from the library. Not a bad deal for Amazon, which makes buying opportunities available during the borrowing process. Given the seamless and slick way that Amazon handles book transmission, this may be a small price to pay. Sometimes the best systems are inherently commercial. Think Apple. It is just a shift from the hardy, noncommercial independence of most public libraries.
3. The books you borrow can only be sent to your Kindle via wifi. It seems like a reasonable limitation, unless you have a Kindle that predates the inclusion of wifi on the device. Those early Kindles will have to be manually loaded–books will have to be downloaded to your computer first and dragged into the documents folder of a Kindle that has been attached via USB to the computer. Hmmm, not ideal. But it reflects Amazon’s growing reliance on wifi over 3G or Whispersync–the new Fire tablet doesn’t even have a 3G option–strictly wifi. So, for older Kindle owners (or should I say, owners of older Kindles), you have now officially caught up with with Sony and all the other devices that have supported this kind of borrowing for years.
But for all the schools that have been investing in Kindles for years, this is a wonderful development. Now the resources of the local public library can be used to augment the school’s collection when it comes to the very activity that seems to boost reading achievement more than anything else. And that secret activity is–drum roll please!–wait for it–reading. Kids who have greater access and greater choice in their reading get better at reading, sometimes really quickly. So, youth of America, obtaining a library card just took on new meaning. Go get one and borrow a book that you want to read on your Kindle today!