E-books trial proves popular

Aucklanders can borrow a book from the local library -- and read it -- without leaving home. A pilot scheme at the city's libraries has seen 500 electronic books issued over the past six months.

Aucklanders can borrow a book from the local library -- and read it -- without leaving home. A pilot scheme at the city's libraries has seen 500 electronic books issued over the past six months.

Auckland City Libraries electronic resources co-ordinator Janet Rumming says that's with minimal publicity. "It's still a trial at this stage."

After several years of watching the e-book scene, it was decided to hold a pilot, she says. "As the market broadened out and new interfaces came on to it, it was felt we should test the waters and see how customers responded."

The library bought the rights to 120 titles -- reference works that wouldn’t normally be read from start to finish -- from US e-book provider netLibrary, which solicits titles in electronic format from publishers, packages them in its proprietary software and provides the titles to libraries. Publishers retain copyright to their titles and revenue is split between the publisher and NetLibrary.

Library members can access the e-book catalogue and check a title out if they have cookies and JavaScript on their browser, Rumming says. They get the e-book for 24 hours, after which it is automatically returned to the library.

The library opted for a home PC-based e-book trial, rather than one involving portable e-book readers, because of standardisation issues with the latter, she says. The trial started in July and will run until the end of June, after which it will be evaluated and possibly expanded.

Feedback from users has generally been positive, Rumming says. "We've had requests for a greater range of titles and for a portable handheld device service."

One user suggested a particular title be included in the e-book catalogue and others said they would like more screen space for pages, with headers and function menus taking up less room, she says.

NetLibrary-sourced titles come with copyright protection which allows approximately 10% of a title to be printed out or transferred to other files in a borrower's PC, she says. The user's actions are recorded. "If you try to print the whole book out, a prompt warning that you're breaching copyright will come up and if you keep trying after that, netLibrary will contact us."

At present netLibrary only allows one copy of an e-book title at a time to be borrowed, mirroring the physical library system. Rumming believes that amounts to under-utilising electronic technology. "The whole thing with electronic data is that it has that capability."

NetLibrary's website states it is "reviewing different access models that meet both library demands and publisher needs".

Auckland City Libraries intends to step up marketing the e-books facility by means of an email campaign, says library marketing manager Kay Forrester.

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