Library E-Books Easier, But Still a Hassle

Peter Svensson, AP Technology Writer

NEW YORK (AP) — Libraries have been lending e-books for longer than there's been a Kindle, but until recently only a few devices worked with them. That's changed in the past few months with the arrival of software for reading library e-books on some popular devices: iPhones, iPads and Android-powered smart phones.

However, I'm sad to report that reading library e-books is still more hassle than buying them. The whole process could be smoother, and there are questions about how libraries are going about the transition to the e-book world.
But let's focus first on the good news: You can now download library books straight to your Apple or Android device. Once you've figured out the system and are lucky enough to find a book you want, it takes only a few minutes to start reading.

— First, you need a library card. Visit a local branch if you don't have one.

— Second, download a free application called OverDrive Media Console to your Apple or Android device. OverDrive Inc. runs the lending system for the 5,400 U.S. public libraries that offer e-books — a bit more than half of all public libraries.

— Third, follow the app's instructions to get an "Adobe ID" and tie your device to it. It's an e-mail address and password registered with Adobe Systems Inc. to prevent you from sharing borrowed books with the whole world. The books you borrow won't be readable on devices that aren't "authorized" with this ID.

— If you're still with me after dealing with three different parties just to get started, you can now tap "Get Books" in the app. That fires up the Web browser, where you can find your local library's website. Once there, you can search for e-books.
You'll need to enter your library card number and usually a passcode that comes with it.

There's a particular lingo to learn. Your "shopping cart" of books that you want to check out is called "My eList." The books you have checked out already are "My eCheck Outs." Most libraries have entirely separate systems for physical books, and if you blunder into that part of the site, getting back to e-books can be challenging.

Each library has a limited number of copies of each e-book to lend out. If it has five electronic copies of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," then five patrons can have the book at once. Others have to place an "eHold" on it and wait till one of the five "return" the e-book, which happens automatically at the end of the borrowing period, usually three weeks, if the borrower didn't voluntarily return it earlier.

That's right: there's no more hunting around the house for overdue books, no more late fees. That alone should make up for some of the hassle of e-book borrowing.

But the selection of e-books is small, and the limited number of copies is frustrating. Right now, I'm No. 62 out of 98 people waiting to read Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "The Black Swan" at the New York Public Library. It has 12 electronic copies, so I can expect one to free up in about four months.

The OverDrive Media Console has some limitations compared with other e-book software. You can't change page margins or the color of the page, and there's no iPad version.

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