A bunch of things have transpired since our original post. Here are three updates that have info we think might interest you before getting to our original comments found after Update 3.

Update 1: “Kindle books are at 11,000 libraries — but any you want to read?” (via LA Times)

On one hand, the headline could be better (and many only read headlines) but on the other hand the actual story does a good job pointing out something I mention below and (and other press stories don’t report correctly) that all BOOKS are available via the OverDrive/ partnership.

Update 2: Here’s another example from “How to Borrow Library Books on Your Kindle

A much better headline, but the overall article leaves the impression that today’s launch came out of the blue. You would have thought this long awaited service would have had everyone in the library world counting down to its launch with homepages announcing the news. The Time reporter found nothing when he looked for it and I checked a bunch of public libraries and also found nothing on either library home pages or their eBook gateway pages.

So, we now have a new issue. It’s not the end of the world, but why wasn’t the launch planned better to maximize impact and why did it not include a press release that contained more info. Many tech companies pre-brief reporters from places like ars technica, TechCrunch, Time, etc. Not sure if this happened but my guess is that it didn’t. Why not? How about a press kit?

Yes, I know it’s a beta but come on, do users know that? Do they care?

Finally, OverDrive’s software page has been updated to reflect Kindle availability. However, the OD page listing compatible devices (and linked to on OD pages where users search for books) still does not list Kindle. This page was last updated three weeks ago. Example: You can find the link in the left margin on this OD page for the New York Public Library.

Update 3: Kindle e-books not actually available at all 11,000 libraries yet, but soon will be (via TeleRead)

Chris Meadows points out something we missed. The news release (what a lot of the press is writing from) makes it appear that the service is available now, today.

“Starting today, millions of Kindle customers can borrow Kindle books from their local libraries,” said Jay Marine, Director, Amazon Kindle.

However, as Chris points out, the OverDrive news release says,

OverDrive ( announced today that it has begun adding Kindle compatibility to all of the U.S. public and school libraries in its network and expects to have all sites updated within days*.

So, again, more confused users and potential users. Why do the Amazon and OverDrive announcements say different things? Was there any coordination between Amazon and OverDrive? This is also might be a reason why the libraries we checked today might not be mentioning the service.

***A tweet from OverDrive says the Kindle service will be available within a week.

Now, to a our main (original) comments.

Years ago I thought I would be a very happy info pro today with the Amazon/OverDrive news. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’m actually concerned.

I hope OverDrive partner libraries and consortia are getting ready to provide access to more copies of books for online borrowing.

What we’ve personally experienced with OverDrive loans has been far from positive in terms of finding books that we want to read when we want to read them.

In most cases, when we’ve found things to read, they were not available to access electronically for anywhere from two to four weeks (if not longer). Friends and family across the U.S. have told us they same thing after we’ve explained that this service was available from their local library.

We all know we’re living in a time when users want the content they want/need when they are looking for it and don’t want it if it takes to long to get, even if it might save them money. Generally speaking, they’ll either take what they can get or go ahead and buy it.

If demand continues to increase (as it surely will after Kindle access becomes available) MANY unhappy library users are likely to be found throughout the US who want something they can’t have for some period of time. This will likely reinforce the belief that all of this is just to much of a hassle and it’s just easier (and faster) to purchase the ebook direct from  Who needs the library these days?

Shirl’s note: Maybe Amazon is counting on this as a sales tool. Cynical? Who? Me?

More Concerns

Also, today’s official news release from (which the press is going to pick up on) makes no mention that not every book Amazon sells is going to be available for free from their local library, and that every book in a library that’s physically available might not available as an eBook from Amazon/OverDrive. AND — if it’s available, it still might take weeks to obtain since demand often outstrips supply. We predict confused (and perhaps disappointed) users.

Another thing not made clear to the press/public thus far — and it’s not made clear in today’s news release — is that the phrase “local library” means (in most cases) a public library. I wouldn’t be surprised if people who have access to academic libraries, school libraries, etc., will begin asking these libraries for access when they don’t offer the service. Of course, the academic library can direct these folks to the local public library, but this also means more demand that library might not be able to handle.


Note, the news release uses the phrase local libraries but the OverDrive news release mentions public and school libraries in the first paragraph. What about academic libraries? Also, I hope the OverDrive Library Lookup database gets an overhaul. It can be confusing and force several extra clicks that aren’t really necessary.

Perception Means A Lot

As I said earlier, not being able to accommodate users plays into the idea that libraries (of all types) are really not all that useful/vital these days. We know that’s an incorrect statement but does the media? Do the masses? Do library users and non-users alike have a solid understanding that Google and Amazon aren’t libraries? And that libraries of all types are not only about books but also encompass many other media, tools and services, including organization, preservation, digitization, etc.

Also, Google Books may have many believing (including those who write the checks) that there is no need to pay for books in the first place. Google Books has plenty for free and will offer more for free, perhaps all books for free, sometime soon.

Shirl’s note: Ya think?

Finally, as far as the public is concerned, a library is a library is a library. Given that the average person does not differentiate between library types, a bad experience at a public library reflects poorly on all libraries.

Today, could be a very exciting day for the library world and we hope that things turn out well in the long run. However, today’s new service absolutely has the potential to do the opposite of what many are hoping it will do. We need to be prepared so this does not happen. Interesting, too, that service launched just a couple days after testing began at two libraries in Seattle. Libraries might have been able to learn a lot with a limited rollout at an excellent library and library system

Of course, today’s news will likely add fuel to the continuing discussion about what libraries (of all types) are about and what services we should be offering.

Update: The Salt Lake City Tribune reports that the Salt Lake Public Library did buy additional titles in anticipation of today’s launch.

Via INFOdocket


  1. I hope we aren’t overlooking the goodness in this event: library ebooks are now (or shortly will be) available at any libraries which currently only provided epub/pdf through the clumsy Adobe DRM method. Now you can borrow library books and they arrive directly on your Kindle (which the majority of people have) or on your Kindle app — like on your iPad, Android phone or computer screen.

    Will it be a sales opportunity for Amazon? You betcha! And there is something wrong with that? Amazon is lending its infrastructure in exchange for eyeballs and the ability to enhance the reading experience for its existing and future customers. That is a win for everyone.

    Will wait times lengthen for patrons on popular books? Yes, that’s possible. If libraries want to continue to service their customers, they need to reallocate investments where the readers are. Surely, when they get around to that, that’s a win for everyone as well.

  2. The Lee County Library System also bought extra copies to meet increased demand from Kindle users. We’ve been building our backlist of titles by popular authors for several months as well.

    You are correct about perception — we have an excellent collection of ebooks compared to many libraries, but patrons new to library ebook lending expect that we have a digital copy of every physical book we have. So no matter how good it is, it is not good enough in the eyes of a new library ebook user.

    However, we have an excellent start to our digital collection, we will continue to grow it, and we will continue to encourage our library colleagues to invest in ebooks to remain relevant in this changing library world.

  3. I feel the need to chime in. This discussion is far from reality. I found my local library consortium has added the Kindle option to many of their existing ebooks already. So if the collection offered to digital copies of one title, practically overnight they have added a third option for users. All titles have not been updated for Kindle yet, but many have. In my opinion most libraries will not be able to shift a massive amount of funds to ebooks as they still serve their large community of non-ebook users, and can not afford to cater to the massive number of Kindle owners showing up to use their Overdrive platform in a single week.
    Up until this week most libraries only had a few thousand digital titles available (including audiobooks) in the first place. I chose to sign up for the Philadelphia Free Library card ($35 yearly fee required) in addition to the use of my own libray’s free borrowing privilages to extend my access to digital borrowing, and this has worked beautifully for me so far. Often both sites lacked an available copy of the title I wanted, so I placed a hold for when it became available. If 20+ people are ahead of me in line I will consider buying a book I ‘have’ to read now. Usually I wait, and am happy when I get the email notification that the book is being held for my download.

    Now that ‘millions’ of Kindle owners may become borrowers compeating for the popular titles offered by these libraries, we all may become frustrated in our hunt for ‘free’ access to best sellers and popular genre titles. (Currently there is an enormous selection of paranormal and vampire books readily available for you fans. Rush right over and clear those shelves please so they stop popping up in every search I run!)

  4. Popular printed books often have long waiting lists at your local public library; eBooks are no different.

    Anyone who expects instant gratification just because it’s e- hasn’t been paying attention to library funding cutbacks.

    Amazon has for the past few months been asking publishers setting up new titles to make them available for library lending. Overdrive owns the library interface business, by dint of hard work over many years. All of this news was completely predictable.

    By the way, libraries have been lending eBooks for ten years or more.

  5. This nonsense about Libraries having to buy multiple copies of eBooks is hilarious if it were not so ridiculous.
    There is no earthly reason for libraries to buy multiple copies except to satisfy outdated business models and blinkered thinking.
    Multiple, unlimited eBook titles could just as well be lent by libraries, with agreed royalties passed to the Publishers based on lending statistics. It’s all there on the computer system. Waiting to be used.

  6. It would be good if interested library users who do also buy books would contact Macmillan and also Simon and Schuster, as both publishers won’t offer any of their e-books to public libraries.

    And we know that HarperCollins is making a tough economic situation for libraries even tougher by requiring licenses to be used only 26 times before they expire and libraries must pay again.

    Amazon has something like 900,000 e-books, only about 30,000 of them free classics. That latter figure goes between 16,000 to 30,000 depending on how much weaning Amazon is doing of duplicate offerings of classic, as seen in exaggerated form at Free Google Books (which are counted in BN and Sony catalogs), but Amazon has been more on top of the duplication of error-filled scanned and OCR’d books this year.

    Most discussion on Kindle forums involve people who know very well that, as with print books, the libraries don’t carry all books. Why would an e-reader crowd not know this. That’s why libraries always ask people to recommend titles they’d like carried, within the library’s financial resources.

    One library in Salt Lake County shows 13,500~ Kindle titles available now with 10,700~ ePub ones. Most libraries have far less. Library users shouldn’t need special statements that libraries can’t buy all titles. But it would be a good reminder, since many feel that digital offerings should just be available from the air.

    I saw quite a few lead stories on thiis in mainstream magazines online. Kindle owners (and those trying to decide between Kindles, Nooks, Sonys, Kobos) have waited on this for over half a year, after the announcement in April. It’s a very complex set of system interactions with sophisticated features not seen with other e-reader library lending, and Kindle users are expressing a lot of delight on the various forums.

    Amazon said “Starting today …” — they’re ready, but it seems Overdrive, which must coordinate updating systems affecting 11,000+ individual libraries, needed to get their side of it completely in place and they said, “within days” all would be on. Where is the problem?

    As for cynics, realists understand that Amazon is not a non-profit agency and they have to make a business case for features customers have long requested. I don’t know why people expect e-books to be readily available without limitation when all my life I’ve had to wait for any of the new books out, which are the most borrowed.

    As for what libraries are involved, Overdrive has a section which clearly shows which institutions are partnering with Overdrive and always has had that.

    People complained because Amazon didn’t seem interested in public library lending. Now that they show some time and labor has been put in so that it’s not the complicated dance it has been for so many library users and that they’ve added ease of transfer and extra features that are great for book clubs (annotations on one’s own private web page that can be copied or printed and kept for your perusal even after the e-book is gone), the focus is on how all this now makes things harder for people who want to borrow books?

    I follow many e-reader forums and there’s a mixture of excitement and caution expressed because for the last year or so, people have found how long one does have to wait for popular e-books. It’s not a new issue. Question is: what do we need to do to make this a smaller problem?

  7. Howard,
    True. But libraries will buy licenses for book titles – and the customer will just have ‘delivered’ to them the format readable by their device.

    A lot of people have expected libraries would have to get two of everything when considering the popularity of ePub and Kindle (mobi) formats. But, no, any title request is treated as one, and each bought-title can be lent one at a time (or whatever agreement exists) with the chosen format not a matter for concern. The online store involved would have to carry that e-title in the first place though.

    Overdrive has been clear about this in public online statements since April. It’s others who have worried about it.

  8. Howard – a couple of reasons.

    Library budgets. Per-view payments would be harder to anticipate and control. I’m sure there are better solutions, but emulating physical books has the advantage of being blindingly obvious. (At least, once you realise it’s a separate collection). Overdrive don’t need to sell libraries on a new accounting system.

    Publisher monetization of new books. If every other household has a reader, and every library infinite copies of Harry Potter 8, it’s harder to sell it at a high price on release. (See also: pricing of software and electronic components). If you set library “royalties” at a level to compensate for this hypothetical worst-case, libraries will find the costs unjustifiable.

    With p-books, libraries bought more copies of the popular book, anticipating that it would continue to see high demand. You can emulate that too. You avoid complete log-jam, while still throttling the free availability.

    Though I may be guilty of picking an exceptional example in HP. And I don’t think emulation is a perfect solution, by any means. I’m not sure it’ll cope with demand for popular e-books, if they’re available to all residents without visiting the library. (There’s a tendency for digital access to make it easier to look for the popular X you’ve heard of, and less likely to browse the surrounding X you haven’t heard of).

    I guess you could use an infinite rental model if the fee was low enough. Sort of a half-way house towards the Baen Free Library. But I suspect it’d work better as a flat subscription.

  9. The Overdrive Kindle UI is just plain awful – searching must be done using the “advanced search” option else you’ll get all the Overdrive volumes, not just Kindle.

    I doubt if any of the designs at Overdrive ever use it.

  10. On Thursday, when Overdrive supposedly was offering Kindle books, my public library’s website announced that the contract had not been signed yet between Overdrive and Amazon. Then on Friday, when I checked the website after seeing the announcement that 11,000 libraries had started circulating Kindle books I checked my library again and found that I could now check out Kindle editions of books. Unfortunately, the books I wanted to check out through Overdrive are not available and I have had to place holds on the titles I want. And I have no idea when those titles will be available to me since there are very limited “copies” of these titles available.

    I wonder if Nook readers experienced the same problems when Overdrive launched at their public libraries?

  11. I contacted my County library when I found they were the only ones that I checked on who didn’t have access to Overdrive Kindle eBooks on the day of the Amazon announcement. I was told it would be 2-3 more weeks. I asked for them to contact Overdrive and then was told we would have Kindle books in the next week. We were up and running with Kindle eBook loans by the end of that afternoon. My feeling is that no one at our library was really paying attention.

    It would be nice if Amazon would have been more forthcoming and truthful about the difficulty of using all the older Kindles with the new Amazon/Overdrive eBooks system. It is much more involved than using Adobe Digital Editions to download an Overdrive ePub book loan to a nook or Sony.

    A lot of people who are not computer savvy are going to have problems. The Kindle forums are being hit with a lot of people who don’t have clue what they are doing. Amazon made it sound like using a USB cord to transfer a Kindle book loan was an optional choice. If you don’t have the current Kindle3 model, the USB cord is not optional. It is a requirement.

  12. My North Suburban Library system here in the Chicago area has Kindle books available to borrow. However after scanning through the available titles and the atrocious wait time’s do to “holds” this option is not yet viable for me…if ever.

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