Understanding Library eBook and Kindle Lending

This fall, Amazon and the library ebook vendor OverDrive brought two new kinds of ebook lending to the market. In September, OverDrive announced a partnership with Amazon which allowed people to borrow public library books to read on their Kindles (or through Kindle apps). (How to check out a library book on your Kindle.)

Then, in November, Amazon announced the Kindle Lending Library. This system allows one free “borrow” a month, with no necessary return date, just the condition that you return the book before you borrow again.

Since I’ve already written a detailed tutorial on borrowing library books on your Nook, I thought I’d look into the differences and details of these two new Kindle programs and put together information to help borrowers understand them and understand the fundamental difference between Kindle borrowing and all other eReader library borrowing (Amazon as intermediary).

I’m writing based on information available in mid-November 2011, so programs may change and I’ll try to keep the post updated. This is specific to OverDrive library lending and Amazon’s Kindle Library, not any other library ebook services. OverDrive is the primary player in the market today and the only one which has Kindle lending.

Brief Comparison of Each Method of Borrowing

This is a simplified breakdown of 1) borrowing EPUBs and PDFs from OverDrive for your Nook/Sony Reader/Kobo/EPUB device/OverDrive app, 2) from OverDrive for your Kindle/Kindle app, and 3) from the new Kindle library. It covers a) how many books you can borrow at a time, b) whether you can return a borrowed ebook, c) when you can borrow books, and d) who gets what information about what you borrow.

EPUB/PFD (Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, etc.) Lending Through OverDrive

This info is the same for Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo, etc. It also covers any EPUBs or PDFs you check out to read on Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) itself or on the OverDrive applications (for iPad and such).

  1. As many books at a time as your library system allows.
  2. Will expire after your borrowing term ends.
  3. Can be returned before the borrowing term ends, allowing you to borrow more.
  4. OverDrive and your library only save your information as stats. (See OverDrive’s privacy statement below.
  5. Selection based on what EPUBs and PDFs your library licenses from OverDrive.
  6. May need to put ebook on hold if popular and library doesn’t lease enough copies.

Kindle Lending Through OverDrive

  1. As many books at a time as your library system allows.
  2. Will expire after your borrowing term ends.
  3. Can be returned before the borrowing term ends, allowing you to borrow more.
  4. OverDrive and your library only save your information as stats. (See OverDrive’s privacy statement below.
  5. But Amazon does get your borrowing information and ties it to your email, name, and buying habits.
  6. Selection based on what Kindle books your library licenses from OverDrive.
  7. May need to put ebook on hold if popular and library doesn’t lease enough copies.

Kindle Lending Library

  1. One book per month.
  2. No due date.
  3. Because there’s no due date, you can keep it over a month but you have to return before you can borrow another and you can’t borrow again if you return early.
  4. Amazon, obviously, gets your borrowing information and ties it to your user account.
  5. Selection based on what Amazon enables.
  6. Should be instantly available whether or not it’s popular—assuming Amazon puts popular books in the lending library.

So What Does That Mean?

If you’re not using a Kindle or a Kindle app, no one should be storing your reading data. This is in line with basic library ethics. If we don’t save your data, we can’t be forced to give anyone your data. If we don’t save it, we won’t accidentally release it online. If we don’t save it, hackers shouldn’t be able to get it. What we don’t have, we can’t lose or release in any way shape or form.

Sure, if we don’t save it, we won’t put up helpful recommendations about what you might like—but if you’re a closeted gay teen reading a book on how to cope, you can also rely on us not to start suggesting that you might like other resources for gay teens. Or if the government decides to start tracking people with any particular reading history (and it happens) libraries have a record (for the most part) of fighting this. We will keep your secret because we forget about it entirely. You might feel completely comfortable sharing all your reading data with libraries or with OverDrive, or with Barnes &Noble, or with the government, but we don’t want to force you to.

As for Amazon…

You can use a fake email to check out books from OverDrive and read them privately on a Kindle app. Unless you somehow run your entire Kindle-tied Amazon account anonymously, however, you can’t read them on your actual Kindle (at least without deauthorizing, reauthorizing the Kindle and at least temporarily losing your library, needing to resynch later).

Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library, of course, is just that—for regular Kindles and the Kindle Fire.

What will they do with your data? One hopes for the best. But it’s entirely out of libraries’ hands now…because OverDrive agreed and we agreed that we’d let Amazon handle it. Librarian in Black has a few choice thoughts on the subject:

Should you be worried? Not more than you would be about regular ebooks you might buy from Amazon. But do libraries and librarians owe you better? I think we do.

Appendix: OverDrive’s statement on privacy

After the Kindle lending announcement and resulting privacy concerns, Overdrive issued a statement on how they handle the information they get (or may get) from patrons during the checkout (and possibly reserve) process:

When a visitor borrows an eBook or other digital item from a library or school catalog, OverDrive does not collect or maintain any personal information. In order to check out or place a hold on a title in the library’s or school’s digital catalog, we validate the status of a visitor’s library card (active or inactive), but do not obtain any information regarding their identity from this process. Library and school website visitors have an option to supply an email address to notify them if a title on hold becomes available. This email address is not shared, is protected from unauthorized disclosure and is used only to notify the patron about the title availability. [Read the entire statement.]

Of course, that’s just OverDrive, that’s not Amazon.

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1 Comment

  1. 1

    liz friedel December 16th, 2011 at 6:01 pm

    Hi,when i log in my library account (Smithtown NY) my entire lending history is listed. This is not related to my recent acquisition of a Nook as I have not renewed my library card yet and am unable to borrow ebooks yet. I’m just curious about your thoughts since it seems you are saying that libraries dont do that!

    [Ruth: That's troubling. I know that some libraries have offered this as an opt-in for people who aren't at all concerned about it. But I hadn't yet heard of one which simply does it without asking. Obviously we have the technology now where we can...but I wouldn't want to have the liability of doing it without explicit and informed (i.e. if we have your records, we may be able to be subpoenaed about them) consent.]

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