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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Amazon Announces Kindles in Libraries

Recently, retail giant Amazon announced that e-books for its highly popular Kindle e-reader would be available for lending from public libraries across the United States.1 Let’s take a look at what this means for libraries and how libraries are reacting.

The Good
First and foremost, this is good news for library patrons. The Kindle is the most popular e-reading device, and, with the announcement of the new Kindle Fire, is sure to only grow in popularity.2 As such, many patrons have been looking for the ability to borrow Kindle books from the library. “We used to get so many calls” about Kindle books, said Rachelle Miller, director of the Troy-Miami County Library in Ohio. “Now they can download books.”3

While e-books have been available previously, they were incompatible with the Kindle, and syncing them to another device requires a USB cable. Kindle e-books are downloaded wirelessly. Furthermore, e-books borrowed on other devices are only available on that device, whereas Kindle books can also be read on patrons’ smartphones, tablets, or computers with Kindle apps. When switching between devices, Kindle books will even remember the user’s stopping point and allow them to pick up where they left off.4

Kindle books also allow readers to make “margin notes,” something that is frowned upon in standard, physical books checked out from the library. These notes will not be visible to other patrons who check out the same Kindle book; they will, however, be saved if that user should check the book out again, or if they purchase the book from Amazon.5

The Bad
And therein lies the rub. Patrons checking out Kindle books must have an account and complete their lending transaction at the Amazon website, which enables Amazon to pitch other books, not to mention all the other products they offer.6 And since patrons can check Kindle books out from the web, this may dissuade some patrons from actually visiting their library if all they want are Kindle books, which negates the benefits of a visit to the library, such as browsing and interaction.

There may also be some confusion for patrons, especially as the service first rolls out, as not all books will be available for Kindle lending, even if Kindle versions are available for purchase.7 So librarians at participating libraries should be prepared to answer questions about why certain books are available and others are not—especially if those books are offered in other e-book formats.

As this news has just come out, it’s not surprising that reactions from librarians have been mixed. While many see the positives that Kindle lending has to offer, there are still a number of questions that remain to be answered. Overdrive, which manages the program, has tried to answer a number of those questions with a blog post about what Kindle lending means for libraries. Other questions remain that pertain directly to Amazon, including what sort of data they’ll collect from this program and how they’ll use it; concerned libraries will have to keep pressing Amazon for answers on those.8

And what can libraries do to get Kindle users physically into the library? The L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library in Eau Claire, Wisconsin now offers a number of iPads that patrons can check out; perhaps other libraries will consider lending Kindles to patrons now that Kindle books are available to them.9 That’s just one option, and there’s no doubt that librarians will continue to come up with creative ways to get new and existing patrons to come through the doors.

What Do You Think?
Is your library one of the 11,000 participating in the Kindle book lending program? What are the benefits and downsides? How will you keep Kindle users coming to the library? We’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions and Kindle lending in general. Let us know in the comments section below.


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