20 April 2011

Kindle Library Lending: What Don't We Know?

Today Amazon announced the creation of the Kindle Library Lending. Partnering with OverDrive, patrons that have Kindles, or Kindle applications on their computer, phone, or device, will be able to check out titles from participating libraries. You can find the announcements from both Amazon and OverDrive on their websites.

As a librarian who oversees our consortium's OverDrive catalog, I found out the pertinent details for me and my libraries:

  • The Kindle Library Lending will go through the OverDrive "Virtual Branch" - aka our Digital Catalog.
  • All of our previously purchased titles will be available to Kindle customers.
  • Titles will be directly loaded to Kindles and readable there or on the Kindle apps.
  • Kindle users will be able to highlight and make margin notes, just like on purchased Kindle titles, but those won't be seen by any other patron that downloads the title. Also, if they purchase a copy of the title, or check it out again through the library, any notes will be available again.
I don't own a Kindle (but hey, any excuse for more gadgets!) so I am not up on the Whispersync technology that is referred to in Amazon's article. However, what this does tell me is that obviously Amazon stores customer info somewhere on their servers when they own a Kindle to make this stuff work. How does this apply to patron information? Is there anything that can be scooped up from the API that Amazon will get hold of? My guess is "No", but I don't know what will happen with the ebook-turned-Kindle-format-delivered-from-library-to-device.

So, let's go point by point:
  • I am glad that there will be one interface to deliver the materials. Different devices or not, the digital catalog is where we direct patrons. It is important to libraries to still have some branding in regards to that. Not that the multi-step checkout procedure doesn't have its downsides for sure, but maybe this will kickoff some more improvements with the OverDrive interfaces. 
  • We will not be purchasing an Amazon format ebook. The EPUBs (and PDFs?) already acquired will now have the capability to be read on a Kindle, besides the other devices already compatible.
  • What I am gleaning from the statement from OverDrive is that when an ebook is checked out, there will be a "Deliver to Kindle" link. Wireless download capability is great instead of sideloading, and not having to purchase an additional format will help. There are questions from the other side of the fence though, which I will get to in a bit.
  • The additional features available to Kindle users is a definite boon in their favor. I know I was extremely distressed when PDF titles I have loaded to my NookColor do not remember the last page read. 
There are lots of articles by great librarians and library advocates in regards to this issue. Many of them are asking the questions I have:
It was Hadro's piece that made me start on this post. I think "deluge" is an apt word to describe what will see when this becomes available.

I want to look at the bottom line - they say we will not have to buy another format, that all of the ebooks available and purchased will be deliverable to Kindles. The question is - how, exactly? Who is underwriting the cost of these additional formats? Whether libraries have to license them outright or not, it is still another format. OverDrive also stipulates that "the Kindle Library Lending program will support publishers' existing lending models."

To me, this means HarperCollins titles are still off the table (my consortium is not purchasing them at this time) and Macmillan and Simon & Schuster will not appear in digital format for our patrons any time soon. This also means that the "one-patron/one-copy" model will still be in effect, with that many more patrons with Kindles vying for the copies available and racking the holds ratios back up to the record highs we saw in January. We are going to have to buy more copies; with library budgets as strained as they are, I foresee longer wait times and more choices to be made about how to reallocate budgets by format.

But that is okay, right? Amazon knows that their Kindle customers (as they are always referenced in the articles by Amazon and OverDrive, not "library patrons") can shoot right over to the website and get that title if they don't want to wait that long. It is why they are Kindle customers after all.

This is going to be a topic of conversation for a while, especially as more specific information comes to light. We don't know exactly how it will all work or when we are going to get this, but I am cautiously optimistic this will be of benefit to everyone involved.

Note: I don't speak for my libraries on my blog and all opinions expressed here in this post are my own. I am on vacation, people, I shouldn't have to talk shop anyways!


  1. Very salient points! I was very excited to hear Amazon would be offering their content to overdrive initially but it certainly raises quite a few points that libraries are going to have to consider. Privacy being a very key one.

  2. @Sarah Privacy is a definite concern on the library side. However, IMO those who have ereaders (esp. Kindles, but definitely the others) have already let go some of that chokehold on privacy by owning an item that has to be synced with an account that has personal information in it already - the consumer account. So, maybe it is a molehill of an issue instead of a mountain?