Overdrive and Amazon have finally teamed up to offer MOBI-formatted e-books for the Kindle through public libraries, and Chicago Public Library is one of the systems now offering Kindle e-books. I’ve been exploring the system, and generally think it’s great. It’s nice that Overdrive includes descriptions of most of the books. The checkout process is also painless, delivering the e-book directly to the user’s Kindle within seconds.
The biggest issue is wait times. There is high demand for e-books through CPL, and the most popular books have waitlists of 20 or more patrons. Even e-books with short waitlists can take a long time to show up; I was the fourth person on the list for one book when I signed up several weeks ago, and I still haven’t received notification that it’s available.
The culprit here appears to be check-out periods for e-books. When you check out an item, you can specify if you want the e-book for one, two, or three weeks, with three weeks as the default. Most people will probably stick with the default setting, since it’s hard to guess how long it will take to read a book. There is no way to “return” an e-book before the checkout period is up, either from the Kindle or through Overdrive, and even if there was, there would be little incentive to do so: the e-book automatically disappears from the patron’s Kindle after the three weeks, so there are never any late fees.
This means that, most likely, every patron who checks out an e-book is going to have it for exactly three weeks, whether they finish it before then or not. So an e-book with four people on the waitlist is not going to be available for about three months (assuming the library owns just one copy). I’m assuming this is an Overdrive issue, not a CPL issue, and it would be easy to fix: allow patrons to return e-books before the checkout period is up, and give them an incentive to do so.
The other issue I’ve had with the e-book system is seemingly a small one, but becomes a bigger problem once the wait-time issue is factored in: there is no simple way to get a list of all the books that are currently “in” (ie, have copies available for checkout without being put on a waitlist). If you search for a keyword, you can also check a box so the search only returns currently available e-books, so you can “cheat” by searching for “a” or “e” and checking the box, but it seems like there should be a more obvious way to get a list of e-books with available copies. Again, this is likely an Overdrive issue, not a CPL issue, and again, it would be an easy fix to create an “all available e-books” menu item.
EDIT: Apparently you can return e-books early through Amazon. I maintain that the vast majority of patrons either don’t know this or aren’t going to bother to do so, since they have no incentive.