Can you borrow e-books at the library? Most don't know

A recent Pew Internet poll finds that 62 percent have no idea whether their local libraries lend e-books to patrons. Even if they do, of course, they're rarely easy to get.

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Do you know if your local library lends e-books? If not, you're in good company.

A full 62 percent of people recently polled by Pew Internet admitted they had no idea whether they could borrow electronic books from their library system. Even among active library card holders, 58 percent expressed the same confusion.

Only 22 percent of those polled said they know their library carries e-books, while 14 percent said they know their library has no such program.

Even those who would take advantage of e-book lending are unsure of their library's policy.

More than half (55 percent) who said their library is "very important" to them don't know if it lends out e-books. Among those who own e-book readers, such as the Kindle and Nook, 48 percent are unaware of their library's e-book lending policy. And 47 percent of people who had read an e-book in the past year don't know if they can get one from their local library.

But borrowing an e-book can present certain challenges.

Among those who had tried to borrow an e-book, 56 percent said the library didn't carry the title they wanted, while 52 percent said there was a waiting list. And technology reared its sometimes ugly head as 18 percent said the title they wanted to borrow wasn't compatible with their e-book reader.

A lack of tech savviness also seems to play a role in whether people are able to borrow e-books.

Almost half (46 percent) said they'd be very or somewhat likely to borrow an e-book reader preloaded with a book they wanted to read. And 32 percent expressed an interest in taking a library class on how to download e-books to their devices.

Pew culled its results from a few different surveys. The main survey reached 2,986 Americans 16 and older by phone and was conducted from November 16 to December 21 of last year. Follow-up surveys were conducted this past January and February. Pew also sent online surveys to library patrons who had actually borrowed an e-book.

Many libraries around the country have been trying to introduce and expand e-book lending. But the publishers don't always make it easy.

Certain publishing houses limit their selection of e-books to libraries over fears that people will have less incentive to actually buy the books.

However, some are seeing the light.

Penguin Group USA, which last year halted its e-book sales to libraries , has decided to step back into the market.

Yesterday, the publishing house announced a pilot program in which it would make e-books available to patrons of the New York Public Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. Users will be able to access the books remotely through library-compatible e-readers. Titles would be available for borrowing six months after initial publication.

"I applaud Penguin's decision today to re-start e-book sales to libraries so that we may again meet our mutual goals of connecting authors and readers," American Library Association president Molly Raphael said in a statement. "One key area is to leverage the library's role as a place of discovery to find new authors and titles. Having immediate access to titles from first-time and niche authors, for instance, presents a win-win-win for publishers, libraries, and our library users who buy, as well as borrow."

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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