On September 21, Amazon delivered on its promise to enable Kindles to borrow library e-books and a few days after that, my local public library was able to lend theirs out. Skimming through the collection today, I’d say the public response was enthusiastic because almost every nonfiction e-book has been checked out and many of them have holds on them. My library says it has 373 nonfiction e-book titles and only 61 of them are available as I write this, which suggests that 312 of them (84%) are checked out. Fiction? 669 e-book titles in the system, 84 available at the moment: 585 (87%) of them are checked out. I have no idea what this library’s statistics are for print book circulation, but if 84% to 87% of that collection was out on loan, I think I’d notice the empty shelves when I walked through the stacks. Yay! The e-books are popular and they’re generating statistics the library can brandish as it seeks funding.
So why am I an ungrateful wretch? Because even though this is so much more than I had a week ago, mostly what I’m doing is finding fault with the system. For instance, just getting an e-book sounds like it’s going to be a challenge. Oh, not the downloading part (haven’t even attempted that yet); I’m talking finding an e-book to check out. Unlike popular print titles, no e-book title I saw had more than one “copy.” If an e-book I’m interested in has eight people waiting for it and they each keep it for the maximum time allowed of three weeks, it’s going to be almost six months before I get a crack at it. And that’s assuming I find something I want to read. My library’s entire collection of e-books appears to total 1,042.* That’s small compared to other public libraries in the area, much less compared to the millions of titles available from Amazon.com itself.** Nor does it help that I’m being done in by my penchant for titles from the long tail.
I’m not coming up with a simple solution. I’m sure my library can’t afford a larger e-book subscription (either more titles, or more “copies” of the titles they’ve got already) without cutting funds from some other part of its budget. It’s not like I want them to lay staff off, close a branch, or stop buying print books. Even if the price of e-book readers is dropping, there are many out there who can’t afford them even now, and many who simply aren’t interested. The economy continues to suck, so I’m not expecting my library’s budget to be increased any time soon.
So what am I doing? Well, I’ve submitted a form to a neighboring library to become eligible to check out their e-books. I should gain access in another week or so. Meanwhile, I’ve just bought another e-book to read until that access comes through. The irony is not lost on me that even though I bought my Kindle contingent on its being able to utilize library e-books, I’m likely to end up buying most of the titles I want to read anyway.
*I could very well have an incorrect count; I’m working from numbers in the catalog, not official library statistics.
**Hennepin County Library, which had over 10,000 titles available when I mentioned them in July, now may have over 19,000 titles if I read the numbers right.