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October 18, 2008


My first article in the realm of digital technology was about eBooks. It was full of enthusiasm and optimism. A lot has happened in the fledgling eBook industry over the past few years with major players in and out. While eBooks did not take off in the revolutionary explosion many predicted, there has been a steady evolution. Just as TV never replaced radio, it is not likely that eBooks will completely replace treeBooks, but eBooks are now and forever firmly entrenched in our digital culture.

Another, related consideration is that the use of computers for doing research and accessing information has caused less interest in libraries and treeBooks as a resource for information. Consequently, libraries have been busy reinventing themselves to remain relevant in a digital world.

A couple of years ago I attended a conference composed mostly of librarians on the subject of the digital native. A digital native is a person who has grown up in the digital age and takes the associated technology for granted. A digital native normally has little use for a library, has no idea what a card catalog is, and would probably rather play a video game than read a treebook for entertainment. The concern of the workshop was how can libraries reach out to the digital native and remain relevant in the community.

One of the ways libraries have retooled their relevancy is by offering digital products. But it’s not enough to offer CDs with music, books, and movies. Once the copy is checked out, it is no longer available. And, just like treeBooks, they can also become lost and damaged

A much better solution is one offered by services such as NetLibrary that libraries can subscribe to that allows patrons to download eBooks and eAudiobooks. This means that if you have a library card and a NetLibrary account, you can download thousands of titles on your computer from any remote location without even having to go into the library. Suddenly, even the smallest library can offer thousands of electronic titles to its patrons. However, the NetLibrary system is flawed in only allowing one person to view a book at a time, which misses the whole point of electronic technology.

Check out time is 21 days after which the license expires and you can no longer access it. You don’t have to worry about returning it or paying past due fines. If you want to renew it, you simply get a new license for another 21 days. Pretty slick, eh?

If your library uses WorldCat for its electronic catalog, both eBooks and eAudiobooks are integrated and clearly indicated as electronic media available for download directly from the catalog listing.

I like to take road trips, and one of my greatest delights is listening to a good audiobook to make the time pass pleasantly. I used to stock up on books on tape, then CD’s. But when I finished them, I usually had to package them up and return them to my library, which was a costly bother. Now, when I am finished listening to an audiobook, I merely delete it and download another one no matter where I am at the time.

To take advantage of this program, you should check to see if your library subscribes to NetLibrary. With a NetLibrary account, you can use your library Website as a portal into the NetLibrary site. Then it is simply a matter of navigating to the download page and choosing whether you want to acquire eBooks or eAudiobooks. You can search for specific titles, authors, subject, or genres. The categories available include

Arts & Entertainment
Biography & Memoir
Children's Classics
Children's Fiction
Children's Nonfiction
Christian Fiction
Fiction & Literature
Government & Politics
Health & Medicine
Historical Fiction
Language Studies
Mystery & Suspense
Popular Fiction
Popular Nonfiction
Reference Works
Religion & Spirituality
Science & Nature
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Self Help
Sports & Recreation
Study Aids
Young Adult Classics
Young Adult Fiction
Young Adult Nonfiction

The number of titles available depends on the package that your library subscribes to, but I believe the starter package includes about 2700 eAudiobooks and 170,000 eBooks.

I don’t know if you’ve priced an eBook lately, but they remain relatively expensive, at least as much as a paperback and can be as much as half the price of a hardback. I was always disappointed at the greed of the publishing industry for making popular title eBooks so expensive.

The eAudiobooks are almost always unabridged--no Reader’s Digest condensed versions allowed. Have you priced an unabridged eAudiobook lately? They can run $80 each or more.

When you consider the fact that these materials are a free service from you public library and the convenience of the service—virtually available from anywhere you have an Internet connection--I think you should give your librarian a big hug next time you are there physically.


NetLibrary, unfortunately, has not helped to further the cause of eBooks in my opinion. Your library must have acquired an Adobe Content Server Gateway License in order to download eBooks in PDF format. Many libraries do not have this option available, in which case you may only read the works online in your computer. You could laboriously copy each page and transfer it to a handheld device, but that is hardly worth the effort.

Alternatively, you can go to www.etext.lib.virginia.edu to download free eBooks in Palm and Microsoft Reader format. You visit Project Gutenberg at www.gutenberg.org for free eBooks in text, .html, and Plucker formats. Of course you can read Palm, text, and .html files if MobiReader, which I highly recommend. There is even a limited number of eAudiobooks available from Gutenberg.

Of course, if you want to pay for your eBooks and get more current releases, there are many sites available. My favorite is www.mobireader.com and www.ebooks.com.

NetLibrary’s choice of PDF format for eBooks is a poor one, for reading an eBook in this format is the worst possible experience. It would have been much better to select a reader such as MobiPocket that allows bookmarking, annotating, drawing, highlighting, searching, altering type size/style, color, and backgrounds plus popup dictionary definitions by merely tapping a word. This is what makes reading an eBook so worthwhile on a handheld device compared to a treeBook. PDF formatted eBooks are little better than a treeBook without most of the aforementioned features.

If there’s a book that you really would enjoy reading, it might be worth downloading it, converting it to text and then putting it into a MobiPocket reader so that you will have all the enhancements to make it an enjoying reading experience.

If your library doesn’t have the deluxe eBook package you are likely to find a collection of musty, old copyright expired works that haven’t been on a best seller list for at least a hundred years.

But, if your library can afford it, you will find many best sellers and popular titles and authors offered.


The eAudiobooks may be listened to on any device that is compatible with the WMA format. That means that you cannot listen to them on iPhone, iPod, or Zune devices because of DRM issues. But you can listen to them on any Windows Mobile device and most MP3 players.

You can choose whether you want CD or radio quality sound. You must choose CD quality for use on handheld devices. Hit the download button, and when the file has finished you can listen to it on your computer. If you wish to transfer it to your Windows Mobile device or to an MP3 player, follow the transfer instructions for your specific machine. You must also acquire a license for the remote device, which is a bothersome extra step. Why not download it in a single operation? You can use Windows Media Player for file transfer if you wish by invoking the sync function.

You can listen to eAudiobooks on your Windows Mobile device using Windows Media Player. However, you cannot bookmark where you left off in Media Player, which is a nuisance. There are, however, several audio players available that do allow bookmarking. Some of my favorites include Pocket Tunes Deluxe by NormSoft, Pocket Player by Conduits Technologies, and AudioPlayer by Vito Technologies. These players will allow you to add bookmarks for listening convenience.

Other devices

NetLibrary lists several tested devices that work with the system:

Archos Gmini 4021 Camcorder, Archos 104, Creative Zen 2/4/8/16/32 GN, Creative Zen V, Creastive Zen V Plus, Creative Zen Vision W, Creastive Zen Vision M 60 GB, Samsung YP-T7JZ, Samsung YP –Z5, Samsung YP-S5, Samsung YP-K#A, Toshiba Gigabeat S30.

I have personally tested two Sandisk Sansa devices, the Clip and the Fuze MP3 players. Both of these slim and diminutive players perform perfectly and allow bookmarking, which makes them ideal for audiobook listening and I recommend them highly.


While I appreciate NetLibrary making its services available to public libraries so that patrons can enjoy free and remote access to a wide array of eBook and eAudiobooks, its choice of formats is not the best, for it precludes some of the most popular devices such as iPods and the best eBook reader programs such as MobiPocket and eReader. Using .pdf format for eBook downloads is most unfortunate. Using only WMA format for eAudiobooks is equally unfortunate.

Consequently, NetLibrary has ultimately done a disservice to the evolution and acceptance of eBooks. It has perpetuated the myth that eBooks can only be read on computer terminals. By selecting .pdf format, readers are offered the least desirable reading experience with few of the features available that make reading eBooks so desirable in the first place. NetLibrary has made it difficult and expensive for libraries to offer eBook downloads.

These are the kind of bumps in the evolutionary pathway to the acceptance of digital media that just slows down the progress and will take longer for the public to embrace it. NetLibrary should go back to the drawing board and reinvent itself for it is poised to make a great contribution because of its distribution network, but it needs to update its formats and streamline its processes.

I do applaud the efforts of so many local libraries in their efforts to become more relevant in a digital world. It’s just too bad that they are limited in their choices. NetLibrary needs some competition. The digital literati would benefit and rejoice with many new converts along the way.

Posted by conradb212 at October 18, 2008 07:18 PM