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.