Forget thumbing through novels filled with indescribable stains, the library of the future will provide you with germ free digital copies that can be easily read on your e-reader. The library of the future does away with fines and books that smell of toilets and trauma, instead you’ll have pristine digital versions that time out after 30 days. Whether you’re reading these novels on your iPad or your Nook, it doesn’t matter, as the future of eBooks is all about the software and less about the hardware. Sure, you need a screen of suitable size to peruse your novel on, but once you’ve made your initial purchase you’re sorted.
Once books are fully digitized and able to be rented online from public libraries we’ll know the era of the eBook has truly landed. We’re pretty close already, as so far there are three libraries in the UK that run a virtual lending scheme- Luton, Essex and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead with more scheduled to follow suit.
These schemes are by no means perfect as they have a limited selection of books on offer and the search functions could be majorly improved, but compared to sites which only offer free eBooks (those that are out of copyright) these sites are hugely progressive, as are the counties that have funded them.
Lending libraries mainly work by using a system called Overdrive, which has already been very popular in the USA. Perhaps it’s no surprise that eBook libraries are well established there as they have had eReaders for a significantly longer timer than us, with the major player in their market being the Kindle. The Overdrive system allows you to virtually check out books which you can then read on various devices till they ‘time out’, and then you can renew them. The limited selection of authors may have something to do with royalties, but a quick browse was reasonably impressive, with the latest releases from James Patterson, Meg Cabot, and um, Fern Britton on offer.
But why should you want to use a virtual local library when you have so many other sources to get books from? Well first of all- it’s free! Far be it from me to dismiss the humble bookstore, but currently eBook prices vs. regular paper books are wildly out of whack. Many eBooks cost a whole lot more than their paper versions, and seeing as there are DRM restrictions, you really don’t feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
What do you do however about novelist like J.K.Rowling who refuses to join the eBook family due to arguments over royalties? Well a bit-torrent might be your best bet here, as a multitude of eBooks can be found floating around there, and a recent package of 200 sci-fi books only used up 2.3MB of space on my hard drive (in the name of research). File quality is questionable though, and most torrented books tend to be LIT or TXT so make sure they’re compatible with your device. They also won’t work well with the proprietary Sony Reader, so opt for a drag and drop format. If you don’t have Microsoft Reader (which works with LIT files) consider using the Calibre software to convert them into something you can place on your Reader.
The rise of eBook lending libraries would actually play into the authors favour, as there would be no reason for people to illegally rip books to a substandard quality if people know they can log on and get perfectly rendered ones for free. It would also add a community element to local centres and allow people to interact on a wider scale, adding comments about books they liked, and widening the market for improvement with regular feedback. Think of all that untapped feedback- a huge pool of eager minds researchers could use!
What’s the dream?
I dream of a day when eReaders with full colour screens and a refresh rate of infinitesimal proportions cost less than an MP3 player. I’d like eBook prices to match (or undercut) the paper editions, and the devices to rival a concrete clad marine in terms of toughness.
What if I want something more specialist though?
Check here for a list of 100 FREE eBook libraries from around the world, that deal with specialist subjects, from law to medicine.
E-ink: Positive and negative charged particles combine to create the text you see on the screen of most eReaders, and the lack of LEDs mean they’re gentle on the eyes. ‘The Power of Grayskull’ becomes important here as the levels of grayscale (sorry) available will signify how clear the text is.
MobiPocket: This platform not only allows you to purchase books, but acts as a great virtual bookshelf for categorizing your purchases and streaming RSS feeds- which you can then transfer via USB to your book
Adobe Digital Editions: Unavoidable if you choose to use the Sony Reader, and necessary to download from most eBook stores, this software bridges content from PC to eBook. I find it slightly cumbersome and RAM intensive though.
ePub: This is a standard eBook format, which integrates ‘flowable text’, that allows the reader to alter fonts, change the text size and works on most devices, including handsets.
DRM: Yes, the bane of the music industry has reared it sulky head in the eBook domain, meaning books that you buy are tied to one computer or device; meaning you’ll lose out on the joy of lending a well thumbed novel. Issues also arise if you move computers/have one stolen etc.