the Kindle lending experience from a patron’s perspective “a wolf in book’s clothing”

Cuneiform tablet on Kindle
[Kindle image by Tim Spalding, thanks Tim!]

I went to a staff meeting on Friday at the local library where I sometimes work. We did some strategic planning, some walking around the building looking at stuff that could be improved, and some “how to download various digital media format” exercises. We use Overdrive via Listen Up Vermont which gives us access to audiobooks and ebooks in EPUB and Kindle formats. I’m pretty okay at this sort of thing so we clicked around and saw how stuff worked and had a few little glitches but basically stuff was okay. I’ve been following the Amazon book lending story through the blogs the past few weeks and I’ve been skeptical but more curious than anything. I don’t have a Kindle but I’ve seen how popular they are and I was curious how this would all work. Well, as some bloggers have pointed out, it sort of doesn’t. Or, rather, it seems to require compromises to our systems and more importantly to our professional values. I’m hoping these issues can be resolved, but honestly if we can’t lend with some modicum of patron privacy, we shouldn’t be lending.

This is all leading up to an email exchange I had with a reader who was wondering the best way to raise concerns with his librarian about the user experience of borrowing a Kindle book from his library to use with the Kindle app on a non-Kindle device. Apparently, while the process to obtain the book wasn’t too difficult, the process to actually get RID of the book once returned [without a lot of pesky "hey maybe you should BUY this" cajoling] was actually fairly difficult. The default settings are, not surprisingly, strongly urging that the patron purchase (not renewal, not some sort of overdue notification) the book that they have just “returned.” I’ll let the patron speak for himself on this process. His name is Dan Smith and this is reprinted with his express permission.
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My first experience at “borrowing a Kindle book from the library” has left me with a bad taste in my mouth. It did not feel like borrowing a book from a library. It felt like a salesperson had sold me a book with a “no-risk free home trial” and was pestering me to buy it at the end of the trial period.

I feel that Amazon’s commercial promotion is excessive, and imposes inappropriately on public library patrons. Would you allow distributor’s rep to stand in the hall, grabbing people on their way to the return slot, saying “Stop! Why RETURN it when you can BUY it instantly for just $12.95?”

Yes, some of the irritations can be sidestepped, and as a savvy user I now know how. But Amazon took advantage of my innocence.

FIrst, the book was all marked up! Dotted underlines here and there on almost every page. It was like taking out a library book and finding someone had gone over it with a highlighter! Amazon allow “library” ebooks to be marked and annotated. Instead of cleaning them up for the next patron, it leaves them in place, and encourages you make your own marks for other people to see. I thought this was just some misguided idea about social networking, but it’s more sinister than that.

I turns out that there is a global setting, “Popular Highlights,” which controls whether you see these marks. But it is on by default! I never knew it was there, because it is only activated when a book has lots of them, and this was the first Kindle book I’ve read that had them. The setting to turn them off is buried, and couldn’t find it right away. Blame me for stupidity, but also blame Amazon, because I don’t think most readers want their books scribbled up, and I think Amazon defaults the setting to “on” to serve their own agenda.

Second, at the end of the loan period, instead of politely announcing that the book would be returned… or offering a renewal… or possibly even sending overdue fines to the library :) … I was instead confronted by intrusive ads, both in my Kindle application and in my regular email, urging me to buy the book from Amazon.

The email made a point of saying “If you purchase ‘The Bed of Procrustes’ or borrow it again from your local library, all of your notes and highlights will be preserved.” So, that’s why they encourage readers to scribble in library books: they want to hold our marginalia up for ransom.

Third, when the book is returned, it does not simply evaporate. The title, jacket and all, remained visible on my Kindle, exactly as if it were still there, but the behind the book cover is nothing but a notice that it has gone back to the library–and a button I can press. Renewal was not an option. The only option shown is to buy it from Amazon.

It looks like a book, but it’s a wolf in book’s clothing.

Fourth, it was hard to clean that ad out of my Kindle application. I could not find any “delete” option. There is an “archive” option, but all it does is move the book into an “archived items” list, where it continued to sit, looking just like the real books I’ve paid for and might want to re-download. Except that if you click on this one, all you get is a choice of “cancel” or “purchase.” Who would want to save that? But neither I nor an Amazon rep was able to find any deletion option within the Kindle application. The rep claims that the actual Kindle device has this capability, but could not explain why the Kindle application doesn’t. I was able to remove it by using a Web browser, logging into my account on the Amazon website, navigating to a “Manage Your Kindle” page, and deleting it via regular Web access. Fine. Now I know. Twenty minutes of my life wasted finding out.

I’ve now gotten a SECOND email solicitation from Amazon urging me to buy this book. How many I more I will receive?

Amazon gets plenty of promotion just by being the only Kindle book source. Their pushy “Don’t RETURN it, BUY it” attitude is out of bounds.

ebooks and what they call “lending” a summary

You may have read recently that Kindle has implemented a lending “feature” which could really be barely called lending. I’m not sure what it’s good for, but people have pointed out that other ereaders have lending options too. Jane over at Dear Author, a romance review blog I had not previously read, compares the different e-reader lending features. [via]

stupid rules and when to break them: Netflix

I am a big fan of mild civil disobedience when it comes to some of the rules we have to deal with when operating a public library. There’s often a balance between being full protectors of copyright and providing optimal access to patrons. Some of the hoops we have to jump through can seem ridiculous and I am in favor of trying to push the envelope in many directions. That said, it’s been really interesting to me watching the general debate on libraries using Netflix to supplement their collection. I think it started with this Tame the Web guest post and the Chronicle of Higher Ed article. Then it moved to analysis by Read Write Web and then over to big media site Fast Company with the smallest of blurbs.

It was picked up by a ton of library bloggers. I was fond of Meredith’s “what were they thinking” post which has some interesting comments, most notably the comments by a few librarians that they contacted Netflix directly about their intended use and got either explicit or tacit approval.

Since Netflix does not have a way to amend the agreement in writing prior to starting the service, we contacted them through their published channels and explained our intentions for our service. We indicated which parts of the ToS we thought we would be violating (”personal use”). We indicated that we would stop our service as soon as we heard from them that they would not abide by our intention in using their service.

Further down there’s a comment from someone who may be (or have been) a Netflix employee saying that the Netflix official policy is that this is a Terms of Service violation but that the actual policy is “basically a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. We were told if asked about the idea of a library lending Netflix discs to tell the caller that it was against the terms of use and they should contact their legal department.”

The big issue is that Netflix is responsible to their main customers, the studios, so need to be keeping up appearances. So, that’s curious. Strict rule abiders don’t use Netflix, rule benders sometimes do. I see this again as a repeat of libraries testing the waters with Kindle lending. Officially against the rules. Okayed specifically by the business from time to time. Still railed against by other people. How do you decide which side of the line to come down on?

To every reader their … ebook?

Peter Hirtle looks into licensing and whether libraries can legally lend e-book readers on the LibraryLaw blog.

libraries help you save money/energy/the world

As we move more towards digital forms of information in libraries, I’m always interested in watching the “libraries as places that lend stuff” role evolve. We’ve seen tool libraries and toy libraries. Seattle Public Library used to lend reprints of paintings and, I think, sculpture. Now libraries in Arlington Virginia are lending out Kill-A-Watt electricity usage meters to help people figure out what’s sucking up all the energy in their houses.

All Arlington branch libraries now have Kill-A-Watt electricity usage meters available for check-out. You can check availability or reserve one through the normal online Library catalog. The meters are listed under “kill-a-watt” and “electricity usage meters.” The devices measure the amount of electricity used by home appliances. You simply plug the meter into the electrical outlet, plug the appliance into the meter, and take a reading after one hour.

[thanks jude!]