Sunday, June 13, 2010

Reading Ebooks Against the Clock

I've been reading at a frantic pace all afternoon - but not for a reason I like.

For the second time in the past few months, I've had to rush through an ebook so that I could finish it before it disappeared from my Sony Reader. It's not the Reader's fault; it's a fluke in the way the Harris County public library system regulates the use of its ebooks. Keep in mind that there are about 4 million people in this county (almost one of every six Texans lives in Harris County, in fact), so it almost always takes at least two weeks to gain access to one of the system's electronic books.

Because of the high demand for what seems to be a rather limited number of ebook copies, the library does not allow an extension of time for downloaded ebooks. That means the clock begins ticking as soon as a patron's download is finished and, after fourteen 24-hour periods, the book is killed regardless of what page a reader might be on. I get that and I undertand why it has to be that way right now. But, for at least the third time now, I have gone weeks with no checked-out ebooks only to have two or three of them become available to me simultaneously. Because the ebooks are available for just three days after patron notification, that means they have to be read within 16 or 17 days, at most.

I'm not a great fan of ebooks but I do enjoy the opportunity to download books from my library. Unfortunately, demand seems to be outpacing supply of ebooks in the Harris County system at a time when libraries are struggling to balance budgets while putting books, CDs and DVDs on the shelves.

I have mixed emotions about the whole thing, I have to admit. If the supply of ebooks can be increased only by cutting the number of real books on the shelves, is this a good thing? My vote is a definite NO.

As it turns out, I am not particularly thrilled by Mexico City Noir, a short story collection of crime fiction set in that city, and I wonder if my opinion was tainted by my rushed reading of the dozen stories in the collection. Reading against the clock is not an experience I want to repeat any time soon.


  1. The public library in the city where I used to live had a similar setup for its e-books and downloadable audiobooks (I just used the audiobooks). If I had depended on these for my reading, it would have been much more frustrating. Instead, I just sort of got used to only putting holds on two or three books and got everything else in physical form.

    One other thing I didn't like was that I couldn't "turn in" my downloadable audiobooks early, and there was a very limited number of books one could check out - this meant that I rarely checked out shorter books, because I got through them too fast and then ran out of things to listen to while at work.

  2. Another reason why I hope we never have nothing but ebooks to read.

  3. Library Girl, I wondered about the "early turn in" thing, too...we have a limited number of books, few copies of each, and no way to release them early so someone else can move up on the hold list...crazy.

  4. Kristy, IMO there will always be real books available. I predict that at some point in the way distant future, it will be a mark of intelligence to be seen with a real book and not some little electronic gizmo...a mark of sophistication.