online ebook lending library

You can buy ebooks from Amazon, Apple, Google, and other digital retailers, but why buy when you can borrow them from your local library? If your library is. You can even read eBooks right in your web browser. You can also access the collection through either the OverDrive app or the Libby app. A majority of libraries now have ebooks available. Libraries win, even in the area of ebook lending, despite the challenges they face.

Online ebook lending library -

Why Libraries Win: Library Lending vs. E-book Subscription Services

byTroy Lamberton October 21, 2015

Over a year into Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, the book subscription service touted as the “Netflix for books,” the book landscape has changed. The service claims to offer over 600,000 titles in an all-you-can-read format for $9.99 a month. Such subscription services are not new. Scribd and Oyster, similar services, have been around for a while.


Photo Credit: Amazon

At the same time, the relationship between libraries and publishers has changed. A majority of libraries now have ebooks available. According to the American Libraries Association 2014 Report on the State of Libraries, by the end of 2013 all of the major publishers were offering e-books to libraries, whether directly or through distributors like Overdrive, Axis 360, and 3M .

The relationship is still troubled, as issues of pricing and availability remain, not to mention the ever present concern about digital preservation. This is understandable considering the current troubled state of the publishing industry. Authors, small presses, and the big publishers alike are concerned about earnings and profit, and instead of embracing libraries as partners, often see them as the enemy. They often assume every book borrowed from a library is one the borrower would have purchased otherwise, so is thus a lost sale. Instead, they should be  looking at the way libraries can help their bottom line.

As community centers, libraries also reach out to local writers. The rise of self-publishing has added a new dynamic, and blurred the lines of what constitutes a “real” author. However, programs like the Soon to Be Famous author program in Illinois seek to address these while still Spotlighting Self-Published Authors.


Photo Credit: Flickr

What do book subscription services have to do with libraries? Well, in a Forbes article, Tim Worstall suggests we “close all of the libraries and buy everyone a Kindle Unlimited subscription.” Using his home country of the United Kingdom, the author argues such an action would benefit the public in the long run. Are subscription services library killers? Here are some simple reasons why not.


Libraries are publically funded, and therefore essentially free to the public. Even calculating in the costs of property tax levies and local sales taxes, libraries cost patrons much less (per capita) than the $120 dollars annually it would take to enroll each patron in Kindle Unlimited or one of the other subscription services.


Even though your local library might (only?) have 20,000 titles in stock–a small number when compared to those 600,000–the difference is in the titles themselves. For instance, many of the classics, including The Complete Works of William Shakespeare, books by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and countless others are not available on Kindle Unlimited or either of the other subscription services.

Where does Amazon get their astounding number of titles? From their pool of self-published and small press authors who offer them exclusive rights to their content for a certain amount of time. Many other factors affect whether a book is available for “borrowing.” Publishers deal with these services much like movie studios deal with services like Netflix or musicians deal with Spotify or Pandora.  Not every book (or movie or artist) is available because the vendor has not brokered a deal with them to offer licensing of their work.

So while libraries wrestle with publishers, subscription services face many similar obstacles. Not all content or even most of the content readers want will be available in digital format.


Photo Credit: Pew Research


The other factor is print. In 2013 according to a survey conducted by Pew Research, 28% of adults had read an ebook in the last year, up from 23% in 2012. But 69% reported reading a print book, also up from 65% the previous year. More than 54% of adults visited the library for one reason or another the previous year.

So while e-reader use is on the rise, and ebooks are becoming more popular, a large number of readers prefer print.


Preserving knowledge is a huge part of any library’s mission. While there is some controversy over whether or not digital preservation of ebooks is actually taking place, the preservation of print materials, and the digitization of other parts of library collections, is a constant priority.

Community Centers

Patrons count on libraries to do more than just lend books. They visit for free Wi-Fi or even computer use and research assistance from knowledgeable staff. Often such services include assistance with job searches, especially for those who do not have reliable internet service at home.

Many libraries around the world offer innovative ideas to get print books and technology into the hands of readers, from mobile libraries to delivery services. The New York Public Library even offers remote answers to simple research questions through their ASK-NYPL program.


For years, the Big Six (now Big Five) were the “gatekeepers” of the publishing world. For the most part, they kept the bad out and let the good in. Smaller presses offered some opportunity, but self-publishing was obscure, frowned upon, and often perceived as an exercise in vanity. However, with the rise of Apple iBooks, followed by Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, the number of books published tripled in a decade, and rises exponentially annually.

As a result, classification and quality screening become more critical than ever. A smaller, more selective ebook collection accompanied by competent staff and a collections management plan makes for a much better user experience.

Ebooks will not replace paperbacks entirely anytime soon. Subscription services will not replace libraries and the community resources they provide. Libraries win, even in the area of ebook lending, despite the challenges they face. But the challenge won’t likely come from any kind of subscription service, at least for now.

Tags: ebook sales, ebooks, ebooks and libraries, future of libraries


So, you’ve got yourself an eBook reader, smartphone, tablet, or other portable device and you want to put some eBooks on it to take with you. There are many options for obtaining free eBooks as well as purchasing, borrowing, or even renting eBooks.

We’ve listed some sites that allow you to download free eBooks directly or be notified when eBooks are available for free or for a discounted price on popular eBook sites. If you can’t find the eBooks you want on the free sites, there are several sites that allow you to purchase current, best-selling  eBooks singly or through a monthly service. There are even special sites for lending and borrowing Kindle and Nook books with other readers across the U.S. We’ve also listed a couple of sites dedicated to searching for PDF eBooks, documents, etc.

Free eBooks

We’ve previously shown you how to find thousands of free eBooks online using sites such as Project Gutenberg,, DailyLit, and FeedBooks. You can even find free eBooks on Amazon. We’ve listed additional sources for free eBooks here.

Internet eBook and Texts Archive

The Internet Archive Text Archive contains a wide range of free fiction, popular books, children’s books, historical texts and academic books. offers unlimited free access to eBooks in HTML format and access to five eBooks each month in PDF and/or TXT format. Download books from all-new, rising authors and independent writers. Many categories of fiction and non-fiction books are available. If you’re a writer, you can also submit an eBook.

VIP memberships are available that provide unlimited access to PDF and TXT formats, as well as the HTML format. As a VIP member, you can also download unlimited books in the MobiPocket and ePub formats, get first access to new books, priority customer service, and storage space for your favorite books. You can pay $7.95 monthly (renews automatically), pay $39.97 for a year, or currently (as of the writing of this article) buy three years for the price of 40% off two years, $49.97.

eReaderIQ is a free service that provides price drop alerts for Amazon Kindle books and watches your favorite titles to let you know when they are available for Kindle. You can also view a regularly updated list of all non-public domain freebies on and sign up to be notified by email when a new free book is released.

eReaderIQ also offers a superior search engine that allows you to search the Kindle Store by genre and keyword, and define the price range, reader age, language, and more.

Hundred Zeros

Hundred Zeros is a collection of best-selling eBooks that are currently free on Amazon. You can download and read any of these books on your computer, mobile phone, tablet, Kindle or inside your favorite web browser. The list is updated every hour.


BookBub is a service that keeps you updated on great book deals. They notify you about free or deeply discounted books, sometimes discounted as much as 90% off the original price. Only high-quality content is listed, books that are best-sellers, from a top-tier publisher, or have received top reviews and ratings from critics and readers. You can specify which categories you want to get notified about so you won’t get emails about deals you don’t want.

NOTE: The deals you receive from BookBub are only available for a limited time, so be sure to act quickly.

Free Par-TAY

Free Par-TAY offers links to free, quality eBooks from many different genres. The free eBooks on their site can be downloaded on specific dates posted on the site. You can also sign up for their newsletter to be notified of which eBooks are going to be available for free. Signing up for the newsletter automatically enters you in a drawing to win $100 in Amazon Gift Cards and in a drawing for a new Kindle.


Freebooksy posts a free eBook at least once a day. The eBooks cover multiple genres, so everyone can download something they like. The eBooks are free for at least the day they are posted, and sometimes for a few days beyond that. The dates the eBooks are available for free are posted.

Non-Free eBooks

Getting free eBooks is great, but sometimes you can’t find the book you really want for free. There are many ways to purchase, or even rent, current, best-selling eBooks. We list some of the more popular sites for buying and renting eBooks here, some of which also offer monthly subscription services.

Amazon Kindle Store

The Amazon Kindle Store offers over one million eBooks, including new releases and New York Times bestsellers. You can read the first chapter of most books so you can decide if you want to buy the book. As mentioned earlier in this article, there are also many free eBooks available on Amazon, including popular classics.

Of course, you can buy the Kindle devices on Amazon, but you don’t need a special Kindle device to read Kindle books. Free Kindle apps are available for every major smartphone, tablet, and computer. Once you buy a Kindle book, you can read it on any device that has the Kindle app installed. Using Amazon’s Whispersync technology, you can automatically save and synchronize your furthest page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights in your Kindle books across all your devices. That means you can start reading a book on one device, and pick up where you left off on another device.

Some libraries offer a service that allows you to check out eBooks, and you can have them delivered wirelessly to your Kindle app.

Barnes & Noble – The Nook Book Store

The Nook Book Store by Barnes & Noble offers something very similar to the Amazon Kindle Store. You can purchase eBooks for Nook devices and free Nook software for mobile systems and computers such as Android, iPhone, iPad, PC, and Mac. You can also sync books you are currently reading across devices, just like Kindle books.

Fictionwise is committed to providing the Internet’s most comprehensive collection of fiction and nonfiction in many popular eBook formats. They offer award-winning and high quality eBooks by top authors in all the major genres and are working towards making Fictionwise the most technically advanced eBook website, including providing a sophisticated search and sorting options. offers a large range of eBooks in every subject category in multiple formats for your Apple or Android device, Nook, Kobo, PC, Mac, etc., so there’s something available for everyone. The software required to read books from is free. You can search for eBooks by subject, title, or author, or use the full-text search to search by keyword.

If you want to find out when new eBooks become available in your areas of interest, you can sign up to receive free email alerts. offers eBooks that are carefully prepared to maximize the reading experience. They focus on delivering quality eBooks for a wide range of mobile devices. Their eReader software is free for all of their supported platforms and devices.

Google Play Book Store

The Google Play Book Store offers millions of books to choose from in every imaginable category for reading on Android smartphones or tablets, iPhones, and iPads. You can also choose to download your purchased books as ePub or PDF files for use on other eReaders or for reading on your computer.

Books purchased from Google Play are stored in the digital cloud, which means you can access them from any compatible device, whenever and wherever you want. You can start reading a book on one device, continue reading it on a different device, and maybe even finish it on a third device, as long as each device has an internet connection.

Powell’s Books

Powell’s Books offers competitively priced Google eBooks, Adobe Digital Editions, and DRM-Free PDFs for reading on your iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android phones and tablets, your computer, and a variety of other eReader devices.

eBook Lending, Borrowing, and Renting

There are online services available that make it easy to lend and borrow Kindle and Nook books. You can loan any Kindle book that has lending enabled (not all books are lendable) to one other user for 14 days. At the end of the loan period, the title is automatically transferred back to your Kindle. While the book is out on loan, you are not able to read the book. For more information on lending and borrowing Kindle books, see the Amazon page about lending Kindle books. You can also lend out your Nook books and borrow other users’ Nook books. For both services, any book you own can only be loaned once.

You may not find every book you want to read, but you can borrow a wide selection of books from these websites.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

The Kindle Owners’ Lending Library allows you to choose from over 145,000 titles to borrow for free as frequently as a book a month, if you own a Kindle device and you have an Amazon Prime membership. There are no due dates on borrowed books. Available titles include all seven Harry Potter books and over 100 current and former New York Times bestsellers.

NOTE: This only works with the Kindle devices, not with the free Kindle apps on other devices.

Kindle Textbook Rental

Amazon also offers a Kindle Textbook Rental service that allows you to save up to 80% off the list price of the print textbook. You can choose any length of time to rent the book from 30 days up to 360 days. You only pay for the exact time you need the book. Extend your rental time or decide to convert the rental to a purchase. You don’t need a Kindle device to rent textbooks. You can rent and read the textbooks on a PC, Mac, Kindle, or a mobile device, such as a smartphone or tablet. If you make notes or add highlights in the textbook, they are accessible to you at anytime, even after the rental expires, at

Library To Go (and other libraries lending eBooks)

Now you can check out library books as eBooks without ever setting foot in a library. The Library To Go website mentioned here is for libraries in the Northern California area. Go to the website for a library near you to find out if they offer eBook lending and how to borrow eBooks from them.

Library To Go uses the Adobe Digital Editions software for eBooks and OverDrive Media Console for audiobooks. You can borrow eBooks in Kindle format (for U.S. libraries), EPUB, and PDF. Kindle books can be delivered to both Kindle devices and Kindle reading apps on other devices. EPUB eBooks have “reflowable” text that fits any screen, so they are good on most mobile devices. PDF eBooks have fixed text, but you can zoom in on the text to create a large-print eBook.

Library To Go allows you to check out up to three titles and your cart will hold up to 15 titles. This differs, depending on the library. For example, the Ventura County Library in California (powered by OverDrive Media Console) allows you to check out up to five titles and your cart will hold up to seven titles. The lending period can vary from title to title. Titles are generally removed from your cart after 30 minutes so that other users can have the chance to check them out.

On the Library To Go site, you can place up to four titles on hold at one time. They send you an email when a title becomes available. You have five days to check out your hold after we email you notification that it is available. On the Ventura County Library site, you can place up to five titles on hold at one time and you have four days to check out the books on hold once they become available.

NOTE: Use the OverDrive service to find a public library in your area that allows you to check out books on your eReader. This is a relatively new service, so not all libraries are connected, yet. Check both the OverDrive site and your local library’s website to see if eBook rentals are available at your library. Also, be sure to check out the eBook lending policies for your local library.

Open Library

Open Library is an open, editable library catalog, building towards a web page for every book ever published. Once registered on the Open Library site, you can borrow up to five eBooks for two weeks each from the growing collection of mainly 20th century titles available now. Each title in the library can be borrowed by one user at one time and can be read in a web browser, or in Adobe Digital Editions, as a PDF or ePub.


eBookFling makes it easy for readers across the U.S. to borrow and share their Kindle and Nook eBooks. Earn credits by lending your eBooks, and use those credits to borrow eBooks from other users. The eBooks are automatically returned in 14 days. If you don’t want to lend an eBook, you can pay to borrow one.


Lendle allows you to lend and borrow Kindle books easily for free. You can lend Kindle books to people you know through Amazon, but Lendle also allows you to lend and borrow Kindle books with any U.S. Amazon Kindle users. Earn Amazon gift cards when you lend your Kindle books. A Kindle device is not required; Lendle works with the free Kindle apps for the PC and Mac computers, as well as mobile devices such iPad, iPhone, Android, and other popular devices.

Lendle pays all users a small credit for every book they loan through Lendle. The price we pay for each book varies based on the price, demand, and supply of that book. Once you’ve loaned out a book, Lendle waits the full 21 day loan period (seven days for the borrower to accept, and then 14 days for the loan) before crediting the lend. Once you reach $10 in credits, Lendle pays out a $10 Amazon gift card. The gift cards are paid in bulk, twice a month. is a website that matches lenders and borrowers of Kindle eBooks.  To participate in lending and borrowing Kindle books, you must first register as a user on the site or connect using Facebook Connect. Registering on creates a profile, which you can access from the top, right corner of the screen. Your profile page allows you to review the status of your loan offers and requests, initiate loans, and delete loan offers and borrow requests.

eBook Search Engines

The following web pages contain search engines specifically used to find free PDF eBooks, articles, documents, and almost any kind information stored in PDF format.


PDFGeni is a dedicated search engine for finding PDF eBooks, manuals, catalogs, data sheets, forms, and documents you can download and save. You can also preview the PDF files you find. Either search from the website directly or install the provided plugin (see the link in the upper, right corner of the search page) to add PDFGeni to the Firefox search bar.

You do not need to sign up to use the PDFGeni search engine.

PDF Search Engine

PDF Search Engine is another easy-to-use search tool for finding PDF eBooks and other PDF files. Sometimes the results give a direct PDF link. But, in other cases, you might need to download a torrent using a torrent client.

RSS/Twitter Feeds for Free eBooks

If you use an RSS reader to stay up-to-date on your favorite websites, you can also keep current on the availability of free eBooks with the following RSS and Twitter feeds.

NOTE: If you find other Twitter feeds about free eBooks that you want to view in your RSS reader, see our article about viewing Twitter feeds in your RSS reader.

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Books Online — Free, Borrow, Purchase

Unless you monitor the Internet almost continually, you are probably unaware of the huge number of books online including literally millions of books containing genealogical information. For example, if you go to Google Books and do a search for “genealogy” you will get over 6 million results. If you add the word family then you still get over 700,000 results. Even though there are some huge websites with digitized books, they are scattered around the Web and it takes some searching to find them. Some of the websites allow you read the book, right there on the website. Others offer PDF copies of the books. Some of the sites have multiple book formats for eReaders such as the iPhone, iPod, iPad and Android devices and other formats such as the Kindle. Many millions of these books are available for free, but there is also a growing trend to allow eBooks to be borrowed, just as you would borrow a book from a brick and mortar library.

First we need to understand the terminology. Digitized books are copies of paper books that have been scanned or photographed. The resultant images are combined into an eBook or electronic book. The images are stored in a variety of file types allowing the reader to read the book on a variety of electronic devices. Here are some of the file formats used for eBooks:

  • PDF or Portable Document Format is a data file developed by Adobe Systems that is independent of any particular applications software. Although it was originally a proprietary format, it is presently freely available for any use. A PDF document has all of the information necessary to display text, fonts, and graphics.
  • JPEG or Joint Photographic Experts Group, is a common method of storing photographs.  Some eBooks are stored as a series of JPEG images and take the form of a book through software applications.
  • ePub or electronic publication is a free, open eBook standard from the International Digital Publishing Forum. Files have the extension .epub.
  • Kindle, a series of eBook readers developed by Software developed by to read their eBooks is available for Microsoft Windows, iOS, BlackBerry, Mac OS X, Android, webOS, and Windows Phone.
  • Daisy or Digital Accessible Information System is a standard used for digital talking books based on XML or Extensible Markup Language.
  • Full Text is a method of converting printed books to computer readable ASCII text. Text versions of books lose all of their formatting and can be downloaded to any word processing program.
  • DjVu is a file format designed to store scanned (digitized) documents with a combination of text, line art and photographs.

To read an eBook you need a physical device, such as a computer, smartphone, or tablet and the software to read the eBook’s file format. Most of the eBook publishing companies or those repositories scanning books, store the resultant scanned files in many formats to accommodate a wide range of devices. As you can see above with the Kindle example, if the company wishes to sell as many books as possible, it is in their interest to make the eBooks available in a wide range of formats. But there are still more eBook formats other than those listed above that may not have as wide an acceptance and will work with only a very specific type of software on a specific device.
There are some very large online resources with very extensive collections of digitized books or references to the location of the books. In searching for digitized books, use the search terms “books, digitized” as well as the subject such as genealogy. Here are some of the larger online resources. Books

Google Books is easily the largest collection of digitized materials on the Internet. Their offerings include books, magazines and scholarly journals among other types of printed matter. As you can see from my example at the beginning of this post, Google Books has a huge number of books. Books are presented in three different categories as follows:

  • Free eBooks view — with the complete content searchable word by word. Books that are no longer subject to copyright claims.
  • Snippet view — you can search for specific content but the view will only show a portion of the text. Books that are no longer in print and are still subject to copyright. These books may be available for sale or in a library.
  • Preview view — Books that are still for sale and subject to a claim of copyright. The amount of the book shown varies with each book.

If a book is available in a library, when you search for the book, there will be a link on the left-side of the screen to “Find in a library.” Clicking on this link takes you to the next valuable site,

This huge online catalog has references to over a billion items in thousands of libraries around the world. If you search for an item, you have to look carefully, but will give all editions, including any eBooks that may be available with a a link to the eBook repository. None of these websites are perfect. They may be a digitized version of a book online that does not show up in Google Books or in

This huge website has over 3 million digitized books, some of which are not available any place else on the Internet. The search engine associated with the site is not a good as it could be and you may wish to do a general Google search for books that will show up on this website. has an associated website called the Open Library. The Open Library has over one million eBooks online with an active lending library. After registering, you can check out a book for a period of time and which time your copy expires and will have to be checked out again.

HathiTrust Digital Library

This online source of eBooks has over 5 million volumes. Some are readily available as out of copyright, but others will tell you where the book is available, usually at a university.

In addition to these huge online sources, you might check with your own public library. Many libraries are initiating online borrowing services. You download free software and then you can check out the books for the time period specified by the library.This article was written by James Tanner

Any recommendation, evaluation, opinion, or endorsement of a specific product, brand, work, practice, or entity in this post, or the comments following, reflects the sole opinion of the author and not those of FamilySearch, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or their affiliates.


Overview of responses in our online panel

Our online panel, unsurprisingly, was a relatively tech savvy group. The vast majority of library patron respondents owned a desktop or laptop computer, as well as a cell phone. Over half owned an e-reader, and about half owned a tablet computer—far higher than the 19% of the general population who own such devices.

A large number of the respondents discussed how technology is used in many parts of their lives. “I live on the internet. My devices keep me connected to friends and family. I also do a lot of traveling so the ability to take service with me (instead of relying on wireless connections) has been really key.”

Many of the more tech-savvy patrons said that they like gadgets, but usually wait for price to go down (and bugs to be worked out) before purchasing. “I like for things to be on the market a while before I buy. I do a lot of research and listen to other people’s experiences before I jump in. Once I’m in, I love it,” one e-book borrower told us. Another described herself as a “gadget lover on a budget. I usually get last year’s model.”

Many also mentioned that since they use computers all day for work, they enjoy using e-readers and tablets in the evenings as a change of pace. “I work in technology, and tend to not want it in my personal life,” one said.

Among the online respondents who did not see themselves as very technically inclined, many mentioned that while they are not usually an early adopter, they now love their e-reader. As one put it, “I am very techno-challenged!! But I love my Kindle, don’t know how I would live without it … I am a bit intimidated with technology but definitely see the need for it. I just need to take my time to learn new things.”

Another patron wrote, “I’m not a Luddite, but I tend to cringe when new technologies are introduced. Thank goodness for our rural library staff who assist me in downloading e-books. I feel like I am a bit behind the curve of technology, but am aware of what is ‘out there.’ I use my smartphone for everything from surfing the web to social networking to emailing, playing games, and research. The free apps I’ve been able to download help me identify prescriptions I have been prescribed, identify possible illnesses by listing symptoms,” as well as “figuring out how much of a tip to leave at a restaurant, reading QR codes, calculating, taking notes and keeping lists, mapping a trip, shopping online auctions and much more. Gee, maybe I am ‘with it’!”

Many mentioned having a spouse, child, or friend who is more tech-savvy than them and serves as an inspiration or teacher:

  • “My husband is a techno-geek; I follow his lead.”
  • “I’m naturally a slow adopter of new technologies, but I’ve been pulled along by my faster technology adapting friends. I only got my first laptop a few years ago, but now suddenly I have a laptop, iPhone, and NOOK. And I love them.”
  • “I spend most of my work day on a computer and hate having to learn new things/programs. I depend on my college age child to help me with keeping up and cleaning up my devices. I LOVE my e-book reader (constant companion and my preferred way to read books) and I use my iPod almost exclusively for listening to audio books.”

Checking out e-books

How they find out about the process

The patrons who responded to our online questionnaire generally learned about e-book lending at their library either at their library’s physical branch or through direct online communication from the library. One patron learned about e-book lending from signage inside the library, but added, “Our library director uses the Facebook page to communicate, which works really well for me.” (About seven in ten libraries use social networking tools such as Facebook, according to the ALA.) Additionally, many patrons heard about e-book lending from their library’s newsletters (both print and email).

Some patrons saw announcements on their library’s websites—especially patrons who were already using the library’s website regularly to reserve books. Still others simply noticed the option for e-books in online catalogues by chance. “I heard libraries starting to lend e-books in the general media, so I went to my library website to see if they offered that service. The library doesn’t communicate with me very well, except for overdue/pickup notices,” one e-book borrower in our online panel told us, adding that she wished the library would make use of social media. “I want to feel more connected to what is happening there, but don’t find out about anything until I visit the branch and see posters on the walls.”

Others learned of the program through word-of-mouth or local newspaper ads. “A friend told me,” one patron told us. “In a small town word of mouth is always the most effective way to communicate.”

Finally, many had been unaware of whether or not their library offered e-books, but started seeking out information on e-book borrowing once they had purchased an e-reader (or were thinking of getting one).

Many librarians told us that they wanted to increase their advertising efforts. “I’d like to partner more with local business to get the word out and do some more in-house advertising,” one said.

Another librarian pointed out that while the local library system publicized its e-book collection on the library’s website and social media accounts, these methods were best at reaching patrons who were already “plugged in” to the library’s services:

“We publicize on the library website, the library’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and in house. The trouble is that libraries don’t tend to have money available for marketing. We’d love to spread the word in places where we might catch the attention of people who don’t regularly use the library; we just can’t afford to.”

Another respondent described the struggle to reach new audiences:

“I think by now most patrons realize that we offer e-books. However, my greater concern is all the people in town who aren’t patrons and don’t come to the library. We have a low rate of card holdership in our working-class, immigrant-heavy small city, especially compared to the surrounding libraries in our mostly-wealthy county. I think if more people here knew we offered e-books we could drive up our card-holder and usage stats. We need more marketing and outreach outside the building, but we’re seriously short-staffed at the moment and certainly don’t have any [money] to spend on advertising.”

For some e-book borrowers, however, system labels and nomenclature was not necessarily intuitive. One patron wrote, “I was with a friend at the branch who told me. I then picked up a card with the URL. The name of the program is OverDrive which makes no sense. I would have had no idea of what it was if the person I was with had not given me the hint.” A librarian also mentioned that awareness was not everything. “I think most patrons know about the services, but some are not quite sure how to go about actually downloading titles,” he said.

Finally, though many library staff members said that they could do more to raise patrons’ awareness of e-book lending, some said that there was no need to bring in more e-book borrowers until their e-book holdings could handle them. “I am concerned that demand so far outstrips the availability in our community that I will create too many dissatisfied users with more publicity and no more funds or availability of titles,” one director told us. Another respondent added, “At this point we are almost able to keep up with demand for titles with no special promotion. There is no plan for a special promotion until collection is larger.”

The checkout process

Among the librarians who took our online questionnaire, the most common platform for e-book lending mentioned was OverDrive, although many said they used services such as TumbleBooks, NetLibrary, and Project Gutenberg.

Some patrons gave an overview of the sometimes complicated process and their reactions:

  • “The e-book has to be ‘checked out’ from the library website, downloaded to my computer, opened with Adobe Digital editions, and transferred to my NOOK.”
  • “Borrowing e-books in Kindle format is incredibly easy. Most are downloaded through wireless connection, while a few publishers have restricted downloading on their e-books and that must be done through downloading to a PC and then transferring to Kindle. But even then is easy and quick.”
  • “I download the books on my home computer. I ‘borrow’ them from the library’s website, which then sends me to my Amazon account, where I can download the book. Because my Kindle is an older version with only 3G and not wi-fi (the Kindle 2), I need to download the book to my computer and transfer it via cable, which is perfectly fine with me.”
  • “In one word: UGH. I download at home, and have to transfer them to a device. With audio, I browse and checkout on the computer and then download directly on my iPhone.”
  • “Painful! It’s hard to find out what books are available as e-print, it’s hard to know if they are available for check out, and the actual check out process involves multiple steps. Borrowing an e-book from the library is very convoluted as opposed to one-click purchasing from Amazon or Apple.”

Most respondents said their e-books could be checked out for two or three weeks on average, and many could choose how long they wanted that period to be (one, two, or three weeks). In general, our e-book borrowers said that 21 days was usually enough time to read a book, but many wished for the ability to renew. Many also mentioned that they can’t or don’t know how to return e-books before the check-out period is up, which could contribute to longer wait lists for other patrons.

“Most books [can be checked out for] two weeks, which is plenty of time,” one patron told us. “I don’t work and can devote many hours a day to reading if I want to. Most books, of average length, I can finish in a few hours of reading time. Some of the very popular books are one week, which is enough for me.”

Some respondent were ambivalent about the two-week check-out period at their library. “Depending on the book, that can be somewhat short,” one e-book borrower wrote, “Especially if one has to share the iPad with a spouse who’s always Angry Birding or something when you’d like to use it to read something.” Another added, “[Two weeks is] not long enough because there are so few e-book copies available that I almost always have to place a hold first and then inevitably, 2-4 come available at the same time and between work, school and family, I can’t get through them all in that time.”

As one patron said, “you are constantly watching the calendar, because if the checkout period expires while you are reading it, it could be months before you are able to check it out again.”

Borrowing e-books: The good, the bad, and OverDrive

Selection of e-books in libraries

In our nationally-representative phone survey, the 12% of e-book readers who borrow e-books from libraries are generally positive about the selection they are offered. Among those who borrowed e-books from a public library in 2011, almost two-thirds say the selection at their library is “good” (32%), “very good” (18%), or “excellent” (16%). Some 23% say the selection is only “fair,” and 4% say it is “poor.”

Though the samples of subpopulations were usually too small to do detailed analysis, the people who were most tied to their libraries and felt most strongly about the library were more satisfied with the selection of e-books that was available to them.

All this evaluation by patrons comes amidst growing demand for e-book lending by libraries. According to the “2011 E-book Penetration & Use in U.S. Libraries Survey” by Library Journal and School Library Journal, 66% of public libraries “reported a steep increase in e-book requests” in the previous year; they generally expect e-book circulation to double in the coming year.

Issues patrons have encountered

We asked those who borrowed e-books whether they had experienced several of the difficulties that could be associated with such borrowing and found that:

  • 56% of e-book borrowers said that at one point or another they had tried to borrow a particular book and found that the library did not carry it.
  • 52% of e-book borrowers said that at one point or another they discovered there was a waiting list to borrow the book.
  • 18% of e-book borrowers said that at one point or another they found that the e-book they were interested in was not compatible with the e-reading device they were using.

For the sake of comparison, we asked in our December 2011 survey if those who had read an e-book in the past year had experienced several e-book problems at bookstores or online retailers and found that 30% of e-book readers found the store or website did not carry the e-book they wanted and 8% found that the store/website version was not compatible with their digital-reading device.


The most common complaint among those who checked out e-books from their public library was lack of availability, with 56% of e-book borrowers saying that a book they wanted to borrow was not carried by their public library.

Our online patron focus groups frequently spoke of wanting more e-books available at their libraries, especially for bestsellers—“More copies of books, more books available, longer checkout times,” one suggested. However, despite patrons’ frustrations, they were often aware of the constraints (budgetary and otherwise) their libraries faced. One respondent wrote, “The collection could be improved, but I trust the collection will grow as the technology becomes more ingrained into society.”

The average public library has 4,350 e-books available for check-out. As OverDrive spokesman David Burleigh told the Washington Post, it is possible that the relative scarcity of digital titles may be unavoidable due to the rate of technological change. “Libraries have had decades to build their physical catalogues,” he said, while the demand for e-books is a relatively recent phenomenon. For instance, at the Chicago Public Library, Computer World reported in January that “there are currently 6,443 e-book titles for borrowing, comprising about 3% of the total collection.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, availability was a less of a problem for e-book purchasers. Among all e-book readers, 30% had found that an online store did not carry a particular e-book they wanted to purchase.

Waiting lists

Even when a library has a digital title in its holdings, the e-book may still be unavailable for quite some time due to long wait lists. In our survey, 52% of e-book borrowers in 2011 had found that there was a waiting list for an e-book they wished to borrow from the public library. Of course, it is often the case that popular titles in printed books are also subject to wait lists.

Among the library staff who responded to our online questionnaire, a majority said that on average the waiting lists for the most popular books were a few weeks, although many also said that waiting lists were often several months for the most popular titles.

The DC metro area offers one example of how the high demand for e-books is creating extremely long waiting lists. In Fairfax County, for instance, “officials more than doubled the inventory of e-book copies from 2010 to 2011, to more than 10,000, but demand for the books tripled in that time,” according to the Washington Post, resulting in an average wait time of about three weeks. The article cited Elizabeth Rhodes, collection services coordinator for the Fairfax library system, who said that while up to 85% of the system’s e-books are checked out on a typical day, this percentage grew to 98% after the holiday gift-giving season—a time period when tablet and e- reader ownership nearly doubled among American adults.

The patrons in our online panel had encountered many wait lists for popular titles. “I don’t think I’ve ever found a single book I wanted to check out without a waiting list, and my tastes are pretty broad,” one told us. The waits were not necessarily very long for some titles—“a week or two generally”—but they make it that much harder to find something available now. Some patrons said they often put holds on a number of books with long wait lists, only to find that many of the books become available simultaneously: “Wait times are long for popular titles, no way to stagger requests (if waiting on 5 titles and all become available at once, it’s use it or lose it), and the selection isn’t real great.”

Many patrons found the specific restrictions on digital content counterintuitive. One mused that it “seems absurd that there is only ONE copy of an e-book in demand and that only one person can use it at a time. That makes sense for a print copy, but not for an e-book.”


With the wide variety of e-book reading devices and e-book formats available, compatibility between devices is a major concern for libraries with digital collections.

One way this issue is managed is by partnering with an e-book distributor such as OverDrive, which manages an array of digital content for 18,000 libraries and schools in 21 countries, including 15,000 in the United States. OverDrive generally charges public libraries a set fee for use of their checkout system, as well as a fee per title for patrons to borrow. The OverDrive catalog for libraries now includes 700,000 copyrighted e-book, audiobook, music, and video titles in 52 languages. Some 35 million digital titles were checked out via OverDrive in 2011.

Prior to 2011, e-book borrowers were able to check out several formats of e-books from their local libraries—including ePub, the free, “universal” e-book standard set by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF) since 2007, used by Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Google Books. However, e-book borrowers could not check out books on Amazon’s Kindle, the predominant e-reader at the time. In 2011, however, Amazon partnered with OverDrive, and in September 2011 library patrons who own Kindles were able to borrow Kindle books from public and school libraries in the United States.

At the end of 2011, compatibility with the patron’s e-reader was not the most prominent problem among those who borrowed e-books from a public library in the past 12 months; about one in five e-book borrowers (18%) said they had wanted to borrow a particular e-book from their public library and found that it was not compatible with their e-book reading device.

For many in our online respondent pool of e-book borrowers, tracking down the right file format was an occasional but persistent headache. “The muddling of different formats can be a pain,” one wrote, “Especially if a book you want is available, but not in your preferred format. I always have to set my searches to leave out audiobooks, since I rarely am interested in those.” Others found it difficult to locate the correct copy. “On numerous occasions I was not paying attention and checked out the wrong format for my reader,” another respondent said.

The library staff we interviewed said they often found themselves helping patrons find the right format, particularly patrons with limited technical experience. One librarian said he encountered issues with “[t]he concept of DRM, differences in formats (ePub, PDF, AZW) and trying to explain the one-copy at a time, one patron lending model,” adding that for most of the library’s patrons, “digital means copy freely.”

Similarly, e-book compatibility was not a major frustration for e-book purchasers: Among all e-book readers, only 8% had found that compatibility was an issue when they wanted to download or purchase an e-book from an online store.

Other issues

Many patron respondents said that the e-book check-out process is relatively easy. They appreciated features like wishlists and lists of recommended e-books, the instant access, and the lack of overdue fines, as well as not having to physically return to the library when a book was due. Said one: “The site can be used with minimal learning, which is good for someone like me who is not tech savvy. It is a very quick process, which is good when I want to get a book to read right away.” Similarly, librarians often cited the ease of lending, the lack of overdue fines, and the ability of patrons to check out e-books from home as major pluses. “There is also 24 hour access to the e-books, so patron do not have to wait for the library to be open to check out a book,” one director pointed out.

However, the difficulty of browsing e-titles was a major issue for many in our online panel. A common thread in the responses was a frustration with library websites’ search and browsing capabilities. One librarian told us that “patrons often have a hard time finding titles and then downloading them to their particular device. It is a cumbersome, nonsensical, multi-part process in which we lose too many people along the way.” Many of the patrons in our panel had hit upon a workaround in commercial interfaces, which often include reviews, recommendations, and other ways of discovering new titles: “I will sometimes go to Amazon to find titles I might like, then search them in OverDrive, since Amazon’s interface is so much more reader friendly (tells you what else you might like, etc.)”

The process for checking out an e-book, which usually involved multiple services and log-in screens, was also unpopular. (As one patron put it, “It requires a lot of clicks and a lot of waiting.”) A librarian noted that, “with ePUB format the patrons need a PC in addition to their e-book reader; they also have to create an Adobe Digital editions account and download the software; with Kindle they are transferred to their Amazon account”—and for a library with multiple e-book vendors, patrons may have to go to even more sites to find their e-book. As a result, many respondents (both patrons and librarians) longed for e-book titles to be integrated into the main library catalog in order to streamline the process.

One thread that ran throughout the responses to our library staff questionnaire was the ever-growing incidence of being asked to help patrons learn how to use their own devices. Issues ranged from patrons’ inexperience with technology (such as setting up and remembering their email address) to the shifting gadget landscape, which made it even harder for librarians to stay up to speed themselves. “It takes a long time to explain and walk patrons through the downloading process—about half an hour from start to finish most times—and we often feel rushed at the public assistance desk because there are often other demands on our time,” one staff member told us. Another wrote, “Many people who purchase or receive e-book readers as gifts have never turned them on before coming to the library to check out e-books. … Getting these patrons up to speed can be overwhelming.” (For more on this topic, please see Part 8: Final thoughts.)

How to improve the process for the future

Many patrons mentioned wanting more titles and more copies available to decrease wait lists for popular books, as well as longer lending periods for the e-books they did check out. Some wanted more input into the selection process for new titles, while others wanted to help out directly. “It would be great if people could donate specific e-books to the library,” wrote one. “I have a couple favorites that I would love to see added to the collection.”

Some patrons also disliked having to go through external sites such as OverDrive and Amazon. Most cited problems with the inefficiency of the process. Others raised privacy-related reasons. They also mentioned wanting more ways to discover content, especially improved search and browsing of e-book catalogs, including mobile browsing. (Some 15% of library websites are optimized for mobile devices, according to the ALA’s 2011-2012 Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study, while 7% of libraries have developed smartphone apps for access to library services.) Many patrons also said that they would like to have more staff members available to answer questions about e-books, similar to Apple’s “Genius Bar.” Overall, however, the patrons in our focus groups were not frustrated at the libraries themselves for issues related to licensing or lack of funds. “They’re doing all they can,” said one.

We also asked patrons what their vision of e-book lending at their library would be. “Fast, easy, plentiful,” was one common response. Patrons’ answers usually mentioned increased availability, unlimited access, access to all formats, and a more streamlined discovery and check-out process:

  • “That the libraries would be able to loan e-book readers to patrons, that the children’s section would have greater technology resources that introduces them to e-reading at an early age.”
  • “That every book ever published would be available, both as audio books and as lavishly and colorfully illustrated e-book versions.”
  • “To have all books that are available in hard copy be available as e-books.”
  • “All books would be available at all times. The process would be easy. I’d like to see the library focus on media and less on ‘books’ only. I like that they have videos and music too.”
  • “Expand access to specialized and expensive research books that are super expensive on Amazon and not available in most libraries, and make easy access to great collections of books and manuscripts at places like the British Museum, Yale, etc.”
  • “The ability to check out tablet readers (all models) to test, and having training sessions for all models.”

The library staff members in our focus groups had similar dreams for e-book lending. They wrote of a world of “no holds,” integrated catalogs, unlimited tech support, even an “e-book reader petting zoo” for patrons to experiment with devices.

One librarian said that her ideal vision of e-book lending would be “books and e-book readers/e-books living in harmony.” She added, “Books are essential, because the power can go out. They are our special collections and cultural heritage. Digital access to books is incredibly important. Libraries must adapt to technological development and welcome e-lending as microlocal demand changes.”

However, many library staff respondents identified larger concerns related to the rise of e-content, and noted that some of these issues went beyond budgetary concerns:

  • “Money is not the major obstacle for us; the major obstacle is the lack of publishers and titles in OverDrive. We are purchasing NOOK devices and loading them with bestsellers to add to our OverDrive titles.”
  • “The obstacle right now is our confusing and unclear copyright and intellectual property laws, which can’t be fixed with money alone.”
  • “Overall, periodical databases and e-book licensings mean that the library no longer owns the copies. Once we cease a subscription the material is gone. Until publishers and the library community are able to work out fair deals that also benefit patrons, e-book lending will be a problem.”

Library ebook lending surges as UK turns to fiction during lockdown

They may have been closed for months during lockdown, but amid long days and many on furlough it has emerged that the nation turned to local libraries for cultural sustenance – with a surge in the lending of ebooks, and crime thrillers in particular.

In total, more than 3.5m additional ebooks were borrowed between the end of March and mid-August, according to the charity Libraries Connected, an increase of 146%. Adding audiobooks and e-comics, there was an increase of 5m digital items borrowed.

Gillian Galbraith’s Blood in the Water, the first of the Alice Rice mysteries featuring the Edinburgh detective, and published in 2007, was the most requested adult ebook. The former first lady Michelle Obama’s memoir, Becoming, was also among the most popular lends. The comedian and TV show judge David Walliams claimed three of the top 10 slots in most-borrowed children and young people’s ebooks.

Library online membership in the UK increased more than six-fold during lockdown, with demand for ebooks and audiobooks one of the main drivers.

“Library membership has surged,” said Nick Poole, the chief executive of the UK library and information association CILIP. “The increase in registration for online membership cards was huge, between 600 and 700%, which is amazing.”

With library buildings closed for up to four months, and people at home, services had to move swiftly online. A survey by Libraries Connected found audiobook checkouts increased, overall, by 113%, magazines by 80%, newspaper by 223% and comics by 497%.

There was growth in digital offerings across many areas including rhyming and reading sessions for young children, instruction sessions to access online services, author-led events, school readiness programmes, and jobs and arts clubs.

More than 75% of libraries delivered online services during lockdown. Some reached more than 20,000 views, according to Libraries Connected. One toddler reading event, which was staged on Facebook, had a 400% increase in views.

While the borrowing of physical books still massively outnumbers that of ebooks, a report by the charity suggests digital borrowing is not just an early lockdown “fad”. After experiencing an initial surge, the higher level of demand has been sustained.

Licensing around ebooks means they are more expensive and fewer were initially available, in particular for young people and children because there had been little demand previously.

Libraries Connected said its analysis suggested the increased cost of providing this unprecedented access to online lending could exceed the current £4m annual spending on such resources.

Heads of library services are concerned this additional investment may not be sustainable, particularly as budgets come under pressure. As the licensing model for digital services continues to operate restrictively for public libraries, public expectation of availability may outstrip supply, the charity said.

“One of the brilliant things that happened was publishers really stepped up,” said Poole. “Ebooks cost a lot of money. Publishers, during the lockdown, said they would either waive or reduce licence fees so they really helped us out in terms of making ebooks available.”

Isobel Hunter, the chief executive of Libraries Connected, said: “Libraries have a proven track record of rapidly adapting to ensure that local communities receive the support they need. While local restrictions remain in place, the need for our digital services will only increase. That’s why we’re working with publishers to urgently improve the availability of audio and ebooks to libraries to meet this growing demand.”

Looking to the future, Poole said the challenge was how to sustain new-found interest in ebooks along with the physical stock.

“People might think we don’t need the physical places any more, which obviously we really, really do because the library is doing so much more to support the community than just reading,” he said, adding: “Yes, absolutely we have found this new digital audience [but] we also need to continue supporting [the] face-to-face audience.”

Top 10 most loaned adult ebooks

1 Blood in the Water (Gillian Galbraith)
2 Vengeance (Lee Child)
3 First Thrills(Lee Child)
4 A Small Weeping (Alex Gray)
5 Becoming (Michelle Obama)
6 The Mirror and the Light (Hilary Mantel)
7 The French House (Nick Alexander)
8 Normal People (Sally Rooney)
9 The Guest List (Lucy Foley)
10 Troubled Water (Gillian Galbraith)

Top 10 most loaned children and young people’s ebooks

1 Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (JK Rowling)
2 Diary of an Awesome Friendly Kid (Jeff Kinney)
3 The Boy in the Dress (David Walliams)
4 My Babysitter is a Robot (Dave Cousins)
5 Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling)
6 The Beast of Buckingham Palace (David Walliams)
7 Slime (David Walliams)
8 Armadillo and Hare and the Very Noisy Bear (Jeremy Strong)
9 Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
10 Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (JK Rowling)

Lists based on data from Libraries Connected



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