/ Technology

Ebooks could find their calling in the library

Man sat in library

Digital ebook readers have been branded impersonal, expensive and even impractical. But aren’t we missing a trick? They could transform the way we consume books, and libraries could be at the cusp of the wave.

Who’d want an e-reader stuffed full of hundreds, if not thousands, of ebooks? I might be tempted, as long as I don’t have to actually buy them all.

It’s not like I can sell ebooks on eBay or give them to a charity shop when I’ve finished with them. Instead, I’d prefer to rent them, especially if they’re free.

That’s where the library comes in. Funded by councils, there’s no reason why this country’s libraries couldn’t start lending digital ebooks.

The advantage of borrowing ebooks

I expect there are now a few questions running through your mind. Why would I travel all the way to a library for a downloable ebook? Well, precisely. One advantage to ebooks is that they can be downloaded.

As they have done in Vancouver, public libraries can start to lend digital books, newspapers and magazines on their websites – or what they like to call ‘virtual libraries’.

What’s the advantage of borrowing ebooks over paperbacks? Borrowing from the comfort of your own home, for a start. And there’s another pull – you don’t need to return ebooks. When the time’s run out on your chosen ebook, the file will automatically disappear. This also removes the risk of late fees or lost books. What’s not to like?

Teething problems for library ebooks

Still, there are two issues threatening my little ebook lending fairy tale. Annoyingly, there isn’t one universal ebook file type that’s compatible with all e-readers. This means that we’ll either have to wait until the manufactures decide on a standard file (PDF would be good) or instead libraries will have to stock more than one file type for each book.

The other problem is licensing. So the number of people who can read an ebook at any one time depends on how many copies the library has bought. This is an inconvenience that could spiral out of control, even if libraries do face the very same problem with everyday paperbacks.

Personally, I’m all for it. If the price of e-readers comes down, libraries could be at the forefront of a digital revolution, creating a much more convenient way to catch the latest bestseller.


This is such a great idea. I’m still not on board with the whole book thing as I think both the books and the readers are still well over priced but I’d love to be able to borrow them. I’d even be willing to pay a subscription for the privilege. My only concern would be whether I could read fast enough to get through it before I get locked out.

Again – a great idea, just horribly overpriced for what it is.
Even the novels are 400 – 500% more expensive than paperbacks.

Unless thats solved, no-one is ever going to fill the capacity of their machine; theres not enough money or titles to do it.

I think this is a great idea. I travel a lot, and love my eReader – I can carry plenty of books around for very little weight. Being able to download them from my local library from wherever I happened to be in the world would be a big plus.

It’s very frustrating that publishers haven’t sorted out a sensible, 21st Century solution to eBooks, copyright etc, given the long run up they’ve had to them beginning to take off. I’m very happy to pay for eBooks, but don’t see why I should be expected to pay more for the eBook than the paper format (even with the ludicrous VAT issues, surely the eformat costs less to distribute ?) So for newly published books, I would expect to pay the going hardback rate – and when it becomes a 3 for 2 paperback, the same applies.

Also, I really don’t get why the eformat of newly published books isn’t available straightaway !

Gloria Steemsonne says:
21 August 2010

Yes a brilliant idea as ebooks can be quite expensive. Surely it’s in the publisher’s interest to keep the system as complicated as possible. If we can get our books from the library they can’t sell their books. There is competition between each manufacturer too.

At the moment – I’m still buying paperbacks at about 1/5 or less of retail price from Ebay – I like rereading books after a few years – I have several 1000.

If readers come down to a very few tens of pounds – I might consider one – otherwise I can buy 100s of books for the price.

I have a smart phone,and it is a great way to read, except that the books are WAY overpriced, especially if they are drm’d so you can’t switch format unless the original seller is still online and supports the new format! You would think that the publishers would have seen what happened to music, and used the same sort of distribution models – but no. Then they will get pirated because no one likes to be ripped off, which is what they are doing at the moment! All credit to Baan Books,who are charging a decent rate, and deserve support.

This is an amazingly dumb idea. The sort of thing the coalition will seize on as an excuse to shut more libraries. Make them virtual. The whole idea of libraries is that they’re real places, where real people can get help and guidance from other real people. Anyway, will ebook publishers allow libraries to lend them cut price?

stockton library have not long started hiring e books ,even though the numbers are limited i find it a great service.