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Have you ever tried to borrow an e-book from a library?

Better Connected, the organisation devoted to improving and reporting on connectivity when it comes to local authorities, has issued a report saying library services don’t take enough advantage of e-books.

People who don’t use libraries much may be surprised to learn that they do indeed lend e-editions. I tried it a while ago, though, and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t easy.

Library services and technology

Borrowing a hard copy book at a library is of course easy enough and controlled by computer, this has been the case for decades. Tracking books, DVDs and anything else you might have borrowed online is equally simple.

The issues I came across when trying to borrow a Kindle version of a book from my local public library were different. First, understandably, there’s a new registration process to go through. That’s not a problem, of course.

Second, the online catalogue of available e-books treated them like hard copy books. The volume I wanted was not at South Norwood but at another library, for example. I didn’t need to know this. Libraries within the same borough have always been able – during my lifetime anyway – to transfer books to each other without difficulty. An e-book should surely be the same but simpler; there is no physical copy, why does it even make sense to record which library held the e-copy?

When I found the book things got more awkward – I borrowed and downloaded it and realised very quickly that it was in the wrong format. My Kindle couldn’t read it and nor could my Kobo.

Let’s repeat that. The two most common forms of ebook internationally and the library was unable to supply the ebook in a readable version.

I have no doubt this was due to the license on offer to the libraries at the time. Things may even have changed a little now, I last tried the service about 12 months ago. But if it’s still the case that versions and geography are going to limit the most (theoretically) liberated version of a book you can get, it’s difficult to imagine going back for more.