Amazon Unveils Kindle Lending With 11,000 Libraries: Does This Mark The End Of The Local Library?

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Today, Amazon announced a new feature for its Kindle e-reader called Library Lending, which will enable users to borrow e-books from more than 11,000 libraries in the U.S. The feature will launch later this year, and be available for all Kindle generations.

For Kindle users, this will open a trove of free e-books to borrow on-the-go. For publishing as a whole, it marks yet another sign that in an industry of paper and hardcovers—even those stored in the basements of old, dusty institutions like libraries—the transition to the digital age is all but inevitable. How are libraries going to cope with this transition?

According to a recent report by Library Journal, libraries across the U.S. are gearing up for this transition by licensing e-books just as they would purchase print copies for their collections. The survey of 781 US libraries found that 72% of public libraries offer e-books, with more their 1,500 on average in their digital circulations. Of the other 28% that do not offer e-books, roughly a third plan to make them available in the coming year. What's more, when asked why they're supporting e-books, 64% libraries cited patron request, and 77% cited projected usage.

Perhaps that's why Steve Potash, CEO of OverDrive, which is providing Amazon with its library borrowing experience for the Kindle customers, sounds so optimistic: "We hear librarians and patrons rave about Kindle, so we are thrilled that we can be part of bringing library books to…[the] Kindle."

Publishers, however, have not been so thrilled by this trend of public e-book lending. Major publishers like Simon & Schuster and Macmillan have yet to make their e-book collections available to libraries. Other publishers are also hesitant about e-book lending, worrying such a feature could cut into sales from one of the industry's fastest growing areas. HarperCollins, for example, will require libraries to repurchase e-book licenses after they're loaned out 26 times.

While many might wonder why we need physical libraries to carry digital books, libraries on the whole recognize benefits of e-books, according to the report: e-books do not suffer damage, don't need to be replaced, cannot be lost, and can be accessed or served to even the most remote of users. Amazon Kindle director Jay Marine also sees benefits, pointing out that unlike physical books, e-books enable customers to make notes and highlights on their borrowed editions without hurting the original copy.

So perhaps there is life for libraries post-Kindle. At least that's what Library Journal hopes.

"As interest in and a preference for e-books grows in the culture at large, libraries need to follow suit," concluded the report, which found that e-book circulation in U.S. libraries is expected to increase by 36% in the near year.

[Image: Flickr user Unhindered by Talent]

Read More: Google's Digital Library Failed—Can Academics Succeed?

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12 Comments

  • Kathy Dempsey

    Absolutely not. It's just the beginning of yet another new era in the way they deliver what customers want.

  • Kathy Dempsey

    This article is misleading, and it doesn't even make sense. If Amazon sees libraries as such a great ebook market, why would ebooks be spelling the end of public libraries?

    This author clearly doesn't know the library world at all. And reading (more likely skimming) one report in Library Journal doesn't change that.

    Public libraries (and other types) are vibrant places that millions of people visit not only for books (in all formats - print, electronic, audio, Braille, comic, etc.) but also for computer classes, coffee, community, continuing education, and a host of other services that don't begin with "c". Libraries have been around for more than 5,000 years, surviving changes like the printing press, TV, and the Internet. Now you think they'll be put out of business by ebooks? Ha! That ain't nuthin'.

    Fast Co editors, how about doing more fact checking and less sensational-headline writing? Please?

  • Jody Wurl

    Others have posted eloquently about the value of libraries here. I second Jim's concerns about Amazon's approach to privacy and my own concerns about its give & taketh away history with eBooks. I'd also like to add that public libraries serve as bridges across the digital divide for the have and have nots. Not everyone can afford electronic gadgets, fast Internet, etc. Libraries are vital to the health of a community.

  • Ruth Coates

    To imagine the future of libraries, it’s helpful to widen the analytical lens and observe them from the beginning. By doing that, we realize that library spaces have been continuously evolving for centuries in response to developments in media type and user skill. They started as economic record repositories, but have transformed over time to provide access to stone tablets, paper scrolls, handwritten manuscripts, mechanically printed texts, newspapers, books, online databases, internet research, blogs and downloaded media! According to Yale University Librarian Emeritus Scott Bennett, today’s amount of information is actually making a new paradigm of library spaces possible: one that is learner-centered — demanding proactive discovery — rather than passive information regurgitation.

  • Jim Peterson

    It's already been said that you missed it with your "old, dusty institutions" remark, so we'll let that lie. My concern with Amazon is in regards to patron privacy, something to which Amazon has repeatedly demonstrated a flippant attitude.

  • Bobbi Newman

    Unfortunately you're way off the mark on this one. Local libraries do SO much more than offer ebooks! They are learning and cultural institutions for their communities. While libraries are embracing the digital age by offering electronic services and content its important to remember that many of the services and resources they offer aren't available online.

    This isn't the end for local public libraries its validation that they are key players in electronic content delivery and access.

  • Ruth Coates

    Libraries have been evolving for centuries. To imagine their future, it’s helpful to widen the analytical lens and observe them from the beginning. By doing that, we realize that library spaces have been continuously evolving in response to developments in media type and user skill. They started as economic record repositories, but have transformed over time to provide access to stone tablets, paper scrolls, handwritten manuscripts, mechanically printed texts, newspapers, books, online databases, internet research, blogs and downloaded media! Read the rest of my thoughts here: http://www.millerhull.com/blog...

  • Steven V. Kaszynski

    Austin, you proliferate an unfortunate stereotype when you refer to libraries as "old, dusty institutions". You're correct in your assessment that there may be "life for libraries post-Kindle." Kindle, like all eReaders, is a tool for access, not a library killer. Libraries are essential cultural and educational institutions, even if your local library really is old and dusty (and I doubt that it is). They facilitate growth and connectivity, offering many types of services and programs, and aren't merely about turning tax dollars into books.

  • Courtney Walters

    I agree, Steven, and cannot phrase it any better. It is unfortunate that popular media stories about libraries feel the need to perpetuate the stereotype of libraries being "old, dusty" and outdated.

    Austin, I highly recommend that you visit your local library to see what is going on. In addition to more resources and services than just "old, dusty" books, I'm positive you will find engaging librarians at the many branches of the Brooklyn Public Library.

  • acarr

    Thanks all. I think most of you were a bit ruffled by the title, but this article is specifically about how libraries were coping with the transition to the digital age. Are they incorporating e-books into their collections? How are publishers licensing e-books? Are librarians optimistic about the future, in an era of Kindles, Nooks, and iPads? etc. etc.

    We are well aware of the benefits of libraries and librarians, even those in Brooklyn.

    Good discussion -- keep the comments coming.