This past year, most of my reading (for better or for worse) has been done online. When I visit my local library it is to check out DVDs, or to take my son to story hour, or to use the library’s free wireless. When I am there, I notice that many of the other patrons are there for the same reason. There’s always a waiting list for the computers and a line of patrons with arms full of DVDs waiting to check out.
It’s no surprise that libraries are looking for ways to extend these popular digital offerings in order to better serve their patrons and to stay relevant in the digital age. A recent article in Technology Review by Michael Hill reports that libraries have, “considered the needs of younger readers and those too busy to visit,” and are beginning to offer downloadable digital audio books. “This is a way for us to have library access 24/7,” says Barbara Nichols Randall, director of the Guilderland Public Library in suburban Albany. As an added bonus, you never have to worry about late fees. Here’s how it works:
A patron with a valid library card visits a library Web site to borrow a title for, say, three weeks. When the audiobook is due, the patron must renew it or find it automatically “returned” in a virtual sense: The file still sits on the patron’s computer, but encryption makes it unplayable beyond the borrowing period.
“The patron doesn’t have to do anything after the lending period,” said Steve Potash, chief executive of OverDrive. “The file expires. It checks itself back into the collection. There’s no parts to lose. It’s never damaged. It can never be late.”