Within the Toronto Public Library’s website is a link to OverDrive, one of two virtual libraries where you can download eBooks, audiobooks, music and videos with your library card. I thought the concept of allowing patrons to “borrow” eBooks sounded neat, so I gave it a try.
As I browsed through the catalogue, I notice that the selection is small. Not a big surprise there. I doubt publishers would want their material lent out, and TPL must have paid a fortune to gain the rights to distribute the material. There were a couple of popular titles, though, such as Twilight by Stephanie Meyer, Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point and Blink. I was hoping to find a few classic fiction novels, but there were virtually none. (On the other hand, the Adobe eLibrary offers a few classics for free, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.)
I borrowed The Rolling Stone Interviews by Jann Wenner, The Accidental Billionaires by Ben Mezrich, and Be Honest -You’re Not That Into Him Either by Ian Kerner. Just like in real life, there were X number of copies of each book and some items had waiting lists. There’s also a max. of 10 items that you can sign out at any given moment. You can choose whether to check these books out for a week, two weeks or three. When the loan period is over, the books are “returned” and the documents expire. Basically, the rules of the library still govern the online bibliotheque, but it’s a tiny tradeoff for a free service where you don’t need to inhale that old book smell anymore.
After I “checked out” my eBooks, I needed to install Adobe Digital Editions to view them. This software functions as a reader and digital bookshelf, sorting your material into borrowed and purchased items, or whatever you’d like to name your bookshelf (I called mine “iRead”).
Overall, I think it’s great that TPL offers this option to its patrons because on days that you can’t get to the library, or don’t feel up to it, you can still access its materials online. The eBooks are easy to download, wonderfully free, legal and environmentally friendly. Oh yeah, and you don’t need to worry about overdue library fines anymore!
There were some problems, however, with using the eBook format. Immediately after opening the documents, I found myself wishing that I could just turn the pages with a simple click. The books are standard PDF files, which means you have to scroll down to see each page. If you’re like me, then scrolling down means accidentally skipping pages. I suppose flipping pages is more of a magazine or Ikea catalogue thing, but I believe the book structure needs as much preservation as the text.
Another issue with the eBook is that it’s obviously not convenient to read off a computer screen. My eyes get tired reading journal articles for class, let alone an entire 200-paged eBook. Most of the audiobooks allow you to store them onto your iPod, but eBooks are limited to being viewed with the Adobe software.
So is this service the future of libraries? Yes and no. Unless I’m doing research, I like my leisure reads in print format. I like stuffing my bag with books to pretend I’m occupied during my hour-long commutes. I like browsing the aisles of a library for a glossy book cover that catches my eye. I like impressing people with my book jenga skills. Most importantly, though, I like having a bookshelf with real books on it.