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The eBook Dilemma for Libraries

Welcome to one of our periodic looks at how the Library chooses and acquires the materials that end up on our shelves. In this case, we’re talking about the virtual shelves that hold our eBook collection.

Here’s the latest from the acting chief of the Library’s Materials Management Division, Rachel Wood.


Disappointed with the gaps in the Library eBook collection? So are we.

Having offered eBooks for five years now and with 10,000 titles to choose from — including best-sellers, kids’ books and favorite series — you can surely find something great to read. But if you’re looking for a particular title, you should know that only a third of the top publishers are willing to sell eBooks to public libraries.

National Public Radio recently aired a valuable explanation of the issues involved.

The Library strives to obtain books that people want to read, especially best sellers, and ordering the eBook format is now a regular part of the process. But often public libraries just can’t get an eBook edition for you.

Here’s what that means using this week’s list of New York Times combined print and eBook best sellers. You’ll only be able to click on those titles that we were able to obtain for the Library eBook collection:


Non Fiction



Another issue: the Library eBook collection is hard to search.

Overdrive, the only eBook vendor to offer titles for Kindle, has its own database and it can be hard to browse. We’re happy to help you learn the tricks to finding things faster, but we want better. We’re working to pull all the titles available online into our in-house catalog, so you can find both print and eBooks in one place.


Sometimes it’s quite hard to get library eBooks onto your reader.

It can take more clicks, and sometimes even a cable, to get library books onto your eReader. Publishers call that “friction” and hope the extra effort will steer you toward buying the book instead of borrowing it. We want you to be able to download library books as easily as checking out hard copies. In the meantime, we’ll do all we can to help you with the downloading process.


Please don’t give up yet.

We’re determined to make things better. Through the American Library Association and Urban Libraries Council, Arlington Public Library is working to get more publishers on board and make our eBooks easier to use. We encourage you to let publishers know what you think, too.

We’re also watching for new and better ways to get you the content you want. We can’t reveal the details right now but later this month the Library will  have something special–and digital–to offer readers of popular magazines.

And just a reminder: If you’re a fan of classic literature, you can fill your eReader for free with some of the greatest writers who ever lived, with no waiting lists and no expirations. Thanks to Project Gutenberg, you can get to know Lincoln and “Les Misérables” well beyond the multiplex. For keeps.

Let us know.

How is the collection working for you? What changes would you like to see?

Feel free to leave a question or comment in the space below. And thanks for all your support of our efforts.


Behind the Scenes is our periodic look at how the Library works, brought to you by acting chief of the Library’s Materials Management Division, Rachel Wood.


Comments (11)

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  1. Kristen says:

    I am an e-book coordinator at a local academic library and I think this is a great article. What a wonderful idea to illustrate your point with examples from the bestseller list.

  2. teresa jones says:

    I enjoyed this article and think you do very well – given the limitations. i also noticed that recently you’ve listed as available (in unlimited numbers) some e books that are already in the public doman. I look forward to seeing you expand on that since so much is available or very inexpensive.

    best of luck

  3. Sylvia says:

    Thanks for making ebooks available. It would be nice to have an option of returning an ebook before the due date. That way I could return a book I didn’t like or that I finished reading instead of holding it for 21 days, especially when others are waiting for it.

    • The Librarians says:


      EPUB and PDF eBooks can be returned using Adobe Digital Editions software from a computer — watch video.

      For Kindle books, see Manage Your Kindle at Amazon. EPUB eBooks (and MP3 eAudiobooks) can be returned early using the mobile app on devices. OR return MP3 titles from the OverDrive Media Console on your PC.

      Unfortunately, it’s not possible to return WMA format eAudio titles early, either from your computer or media player. Consider choosing a shorter loan period for a WMA (or for any format) title when you check them out.

  4. Cori says:

    I just want to say thank you for your wonderful work.

    Also, I thought you might also like for your patrons to know that if one clicks on a link to get a book on a mobile device (for kindle) it takes you to Amazon’s mobile site; which doesn’t allow borrowing but instead “buy”. It’s easy to switch it to get the desktop version at this point so you get the “borrow” link but you have to know this trick. Hope it helps.

  5. JNCJJ says:

    a simple yet convenient step would be to let people log into their e-accounts with their library user name and i.d. (or one universal log-on) and not just their library account number. Going and hunting down my card or keys with my number is a pain.

    • The Librarians says:


      We understand completely – we have the same problem. Unfortunately, at this time Overdrive does not give us the option to validate against usernames instead of library card numbers.

  6. Bill says:

    How many “Kindle-format” books do you have in e-book and in e-LISTEN format?
    How many “IPad-format” books and e-LISTEN format do you have now and
    Where do you see the trend going?
    (Can you guess that we have IProducts and don’t want to buy a Kindle if you are going to increase IAvailability?)

    Thank you so much,


    • The Librarians says:


      We apologize for taking so long to answer your question – it’s a somewhat complicated one.

      We currently have slightly more eBooks available for iPad than Kindle. This is because the Kindle format is not always ready for Overdrive as quickly as the EPUB format (which works on iPads). In addition, the publisher Penguin no longer allows Overdrive to provide their books to Libraries because of a disagreement over Kindle availability.

      However, when we do have access to an eBook in both Kindle and EPUB format, any of the licenses we have for that book can be used for either format. So if you have Gone Girl on hold and it’s finally your turn to check it out, it won’t matter which format you want to check the eBook out in – both formats will be available to you.

      For eAudiobooks, the answer is different. None of our eAudio collection can be opened on a Kindle. So if you’re primarily interested in our eAudio, the Kindle is probably not the best device for you – unless you have another device (a smartphone, MP3 player, etc) that you use for eAudiobooks.

      Guessing where the eTrends are going is more complicated. We do know that some publishers continue to be very uncomfortable working with Amazon, so that does make it unlikely that Kindle-availability will become greater than Apple-availability any time soon.

      Will that change in the future? Anything is possible…

  7. Susan says:

    I’ve been very happy with your eBook collection for my Kindle. I have been reading more since getting a Kindle and access to your collection. Thank you.

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