Science and Society, Technology

On borrowing e-books from your library

e-books are fantastic.  Especially now that they’re so easy to come by, and use!


And nope, you don’t need a dedicated e-book reader such as Kindle.  You can use your tablet (eg. an iPad*), or your phone (not necessarily an iPhone, for example). Or your computer.

Of course, you can use dedicated e-book readers too, of which the Kindle is only one.  There are also others, such as the Kobo.

Which is awesome.

But, short of pirating books**, or using free e-books where either the copyright has lapsed (Project Gutenberg is good resource for this), or copyright holders have released the book _as_ free, e-books aren’t always as cheap as one might think.  Which means that there’s a huge range of e-books out there which many people cannot, or will not, access due to their cost (USD $10 is still a lot of money for some people, for example).

Society already has structures for people to be able to read books for free, and then give them back so that other people might enjoy them.  They’re called libraries, and they’re absolutely magical places.  And, apparently, they’ve gotten in on the whole e-book thing, too!

Some of New Zealand’s libraries, including Wellington City Library, now have a stock of e-books available for loan. WCL, apparently, has over 1,500 (if memory serves me correctly).

My mind did boggle initially at the idea of ‘borrowing’ digital content - mostly around the question ‘how do I give it back?!’.  There’s a solution, though - the content expires after a set time.  In this case, one can loan an e-book for 2 weeks.

I’ll admit I’m a little confused about why it’s a shorter period than one has when taking out physical books, but nonetheless - pretty cool.

Can’t believe I only heard about it today :)

And if anyone knows when this ability came online, I’d love to know!



I’m very, very pro paper-based books in many ways.  I love the way they smell and feel, for example, and that I can drop them in the bath or fall asleep on them.  However, I’m also aware that they use up an awful lot of tree and carbon footprint, and in many cases, a digital version is just as good as the real thing (and, if built properly with interactive features such as dictionaries, even better).

And I can see why art books, for example, don’t work digitally.  But for most novels?  Digital makes tonnes of sense.  Took me a while to convert, but there: I said it :)


* Although I have to admit, the iPad feels like it was designed for the sole purpose of reading comic books.  Which is a very, very good thing.  We like our comics :)

** Which is considered to be Not Cool.

  • Gold (@unifex)

    This actually came up at the Retake the Net barcamp. Some of the producers of the ebooks have some kinda retarded DRM on them. Not only the short ‘borrow’ time but also the library has to pay for a new licence to the books once loaned out a limited number of times. The number of loans that was mentioned was low too. Around 26 times was the number being mentioned.

    Big publishers of print media appear to be making the same mistakes that Big Audio made in not being able to adapt to the new technology.

    eBooks do also have the advantage of being incredibly easy to self publish with also so I don’t see that becoming an issue in the long run.

    I see myself becoming a big consumer of ebooks once I start my walk. So much less weight than carrying the actual books. :)

  • fi

    WCL introduced them about a year ago:

  • Darcy Cowan

    erm, your link to the Welly library is a wee bit broken

  • lawgeeknz

    The huge discussion/debate/argument around this is what model libraries should be buying into to obtain licences to this digital material and what royalties ultimately make their way to authors for each “borrowing” of an e-book. For example, some publishers are licensing the content through e-book providers who mandate that the e-book can only be lent out x times (where x might be, say, 26). After that, the library needs to buy a new licence in the same way that they used to buy replacement books that had worn out. If your mind boggles at the idea of “borrowing” digital books, I imagine that I’ve fryed it completely talking about them wearing out!

    And then, how is the author compensated for each loan of the e-book? Traditionally, royalties on loans of hardcopy books have been addressed in NZ with the public lending right but that is just not set up to cater for this type of regime. Many tradtiional publishing contracts also leave royalties on digital works delightfully vague. So, plenty of scope for fear uncertainty and doubt.

  • aimee whitcroft

    Gold, Rick - yes, I remember hearing some time ago about the whole ‘the e-book dies after x reads’ thing and being horrified. After all, I have no doubt that many books survive being read more than 26 times! Also, how on earth did they get to 26? It looks like a typically ridiculous gambit by the publishing industry to try maintain as much of the status quo as possible * sigh *.

    And yup, still a great deal to be worked out. My hope, naive as it might be, is that as more and more people use these resources, the issues will clarify and even, perhaps, sanity rule :)

  • aimee whitcroft

    Fixed, Darcy, thanks!

  • Gold (@unifex)

    From memory it was posited that the 26 may have been an assumed number of times a hardcopy would be loaned out before requiring replacing.

    Do we have any librarians on board? Asking them how many times a book is loaned out before being replaced (on average) would be interesting to know. Twenty six may be a reasonable number (although I doubt it)

  • Hamish MacEwan

    The public lending right is quite correctly very limited, to NZ authors, and not worth a great deal. Details here:

    The notion that authors need to be compensated for loans of their books is part of a growing trend among IP rights holders to consider they’re entitled to a share of downstream revenue they do little to generate. That they claim, often with little empirical evidence, costs them. Gaming is another frontier for the creep of pay per use:

    Given we do know *free* books often generate sales, counterfeits are replaced by genuine articles in many cases, and certainly I can point to a shelf of paper books that began as library loans, some evidence would be a pleasant change in such emotive appeals before we abandon first sale being the end of a “creators” remuneration.

    I do note that resale royalties, for Visual Artists, were championed by Judith Tizard, but both she and the idea have mostly sunk without trace.

    Perhaps we could all settle down and work for a living, instead of expecting a State enforced annuity every time someone reads a page.

  • Chelfyn Baxter

    It’s utterly ludicrous that so much extra code and effort is put in to make digital assets behave like physical ones. At every level, this boggles my mind. Why aren’t we enbracing the indestructable nature of digital copies. Why add the cost of deletion onto every copy action, just to emulate the physical world where things can be moved more easily than copied. The people behind these technologies are dangerous idiots and should be stripped of all responsibility.

  • Gold (@unifex)

    Not sure if this is publically visible but;

    I asked on G+ about longevity of books in a public library and one (Moz) who used to work in a library recalled returning books to the shelves with 20-50 stamps in them. A hardback that Adam has just borrowed has 22 loans on it he thinks that if he was to buy it from the library he’d be paying close to retail given the quality of the book. He’s also going to follow up with a friend that currently works at a library.

  • Moz

    I was talking about paperbacks when I said 20-50, many hardbacks last effectively forever. It varies a lot, holiday fiction bought before summer might only make it through five borrowers before it is destroyed (leaving books on the dashboard is harsh, and the beach is not much better. Yes, people do that with their library books).

    The library ebook problem for me is device support. I don’t buy a new reader every year, and my Sony PRS-505 is rarely supported by the DRM that libraries use. The flip side is that if it is supported and I can borrow online, I stop caring about where exactly your library is. I live in Melbourne and would happily pay $50/year to be a non-resident borrower at Wellington if there was a decent range of ebooks (for example). We will not mention the latter problem again.