New E-Book Lending Program Launched by Open Library

open library

Open Library (a group of more than 150 libraries led by the Internet Archive) has announced its latest plan to lend e-books, according to Publishers Weekly.

The website plans to begin with a collection of mostly 20th century books over 80,000 strong. Under the program, users will be able to borrow up to five e-books at a time, for up to two weeks. Readers can choose to view the e-book in a browser version (using the Internet Archive’s BookReader web application), or in PDF or ePub versions. This will make the experience not unlike that of the format agnostic Google eBookstore.

E-books have become a thorny issue libraries who normally would buy books and other products, own them, and lend them out. But with frontlist e-book titles, libraries no longer buy the books, but license them, and currently, there is no in sales model for library e-books on the major platforms. Libraries have had little choice but to use third-party vendors, like OverDrive, to supply e-book titles to patrons.

For now, Open Library has made backlist books available, though there are some titles that are still in copyright. And while this latest venture by the site is a modest attempt to impact the e-book market for libraries, Internet Archive founder and “digital librarian” Brewster Kahle has been vocal about the broader implications for libraries.

Soon, we could soon be moving from a system where libraries buy books and curate collections for the public to a system where libraries instead serve as access points when permitted by rightsholders. No doubt this will be a major shift in the way libraries work but I think there’s not necessarily anything wrong with that.

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