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September 20, 2011 at 11:38 AM

NEW: Kindle library lending starts in Seattle, goes national

Seattle-area libraries on Tuesday began testing the long-awaited Kindle feature that lets patrons transfer borrowed library books to the electronic device.

This morning (Wednesday), Amazon.com announced that the program is now available across the country, at more than 11,000 libraries.

Amazon agreed in April to work with OverDrive, a Cleveland company that provides electronic book lending services for numerous libraries, but the companies didn’t provide many details of what to expect. Amazon’s website had promised the service was coming to 11,000 libraries.

The beta test version of the service offered by the Seattle Public Library and King County Library System lets people select and place holds on Kindle versions of books.

Libraries have offered digital downloads of books and other materials to various devices for years, but the Kindle has been notably absent from the options.

“It’s a big deal for us because so many of our patrons have purchased Kindles, and they’ve been asking for the longest time,” said Bill Ptacek, director of the King County Library System, which began offering the service Monday.

Ptacek said digital book lending has grown about 150 percent over the past year. Kindle lending is one of several digital lending services it offers, and additional partnerships are in the works.

But Ptacek is expecting Kindle usage in particular to proliferate after the company launches an expected color tablet version this fall. Checking out library books will apparently be relatively easy for buyers of those devices.

“We understand that the new Kindle that’s coming out … will make it possible for those folks to think of their library as their content provider in this arena, which is great,” Ptacek said.

He said the county and Seattle library systems so far are the only ones testing the system, “which is an indication of where we are in regard to having Amazon in our community.”

On Tuesday, Amazon’s Kindle spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment, and a Seattle library spokeswoman referred questions to OverDrive. They were apparently waiting for Amazon to issue its press release today.

“Libraries are a critical part of our communities and we’re excited to be making Kindle books available at more than 11,000 local libraries around the country,” Jay Marine, Kindle director, said in the release. “We’re even doing a little extra here – normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no. But we’re fixing this by extending our Whispersync technology to library books, so your notes, highlights and bookmarks are always backed up and available the next time you check out the book or if you decide to buy the book.”

“We’re thrilled that Amazon is offering such a new approach to library ebooks that enhances the reader experience,” Seattle’s city librarian, Marcellus Turner, said in Amazon’s release.

While the service is a convenience and added benefit for owners of Kindles, users will sacrifice the privacy and direct service offered by their libraries.

To check out a Kindle book using the new service, you select the book from the library’s website, then log in to an Amazon.com account. There you can “redeem” your loan, at which point the book is transferred into your Kindle library for the duration of the loan.

kindlelibe1.jpg

Amazon said the service lets people read books in their Kindle software which is available for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry and Windows Phone and through web browsers.

Amazon will email a message to you three days before the loan expires.

The arrangement doesn’t mean there is an unlimited supply of digital copies of books available now. Libraries have a limited number of Kindle “copies” to lend, and popular books at Seattle’s library are already checked.

“The Help,” for instance, has 147 people on the waiting list for 91 Kindle copies.

Seattle’s online catalog lists about 25,000 Kindle books, compared with 644,325 results for “book” presented by its online catalog. The county library lists 11,815 titles.

Libraries have made digital books available to other e-reader devices for some time, including Barnes & Noble’s Nook and the Sony Reader, but the download procedures are more complicated than buying books from their built-in wireless stores.

Marsha Iverson, spokeswoman for the county library, noted that library patrons don’t need a Kindle or Nook from Barnes & Noble to download electronic versions of their library books. Patrons can download the Kindle and Nook reading applications to a computer, smartphone or other device and use the digital lending services.

Libraries also offer electronic versions of books and periodicals without routing their lending through online retail systems. Seattle, for instance, lends books directly in OverDrive and Adobe formats. They can be read on a PC or device running free applications available here from the library’s site.

The debut of Amazon’s library program was first reported earlier today by AOL’s TechCrunch site, which noted discussion of the service at Amazon forums, where there were complaints that the service requires Amazon’s proprietary AZW format instead of Adobe’s ePub format.

In a quick test of the service offered by the Seattle Public Library, I had to futz a bit to get a library book on to a Kindle DX.

You can’t use the 3G wireless service to load library books, so you have to connect via Wi-Fi or a USB cable to a PC. The book I checked out was available on the device for 21 days, and I can check out a maximum of 25 books on my account.

The downside, from my perspective as a fan of public libraries, is that the process requires you to visit Amazon.com to borrow a book and have commercial offers interjected into the process. But then again, you’re opting to consume a public library book via the world’s largest e-commerce business, on a device optimized for selling books.

I hope libraries are getting a deal on the service and the Kindle editions they acquire, because Amazon will benefit from the traffic and profiling opportunities generated by the public libraries, not to mention the big improvement in the Kindle’s utility and appeal that library lending brings.

At the last page of the checkout process, the bottom half of your PC screen is filled with pitches to buy various books related to the one you’re checking out and others based on your history with the company.

Here’s a walk-through of the process to check out a library book and get it onto a Kindle device.

Comments | Topics: Amazon.com, amazon.com, Kindle

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