Saturday, February 4, 2012

Going to the library without leaving home!


Today I want to share with you a tool that, perhaps, some people don't realize they have at their fingertips.

In the past, when you needed a book at the library you had to get on the bus, or drive down to the library and fight for parking. There's an alternative out there that's pretty awesome!!

There is a growing, collection of books you can borrow from your library and use on any number of devices. But you say, "I don't have an Kindle Fire, Nook Color, Nook Tablet (or any of the many other specialized readers that are out there nowadays). You're not stuck having to buy one anymore. Do you have a smart phone? According to a 2010 study, there are over 12 million advanced cell phones in the US which would be able to do the job; not to mention most desktop, laptop or tablet computers can as well.

Chances are good your library is a member of a digital system which has copies of eBooks that you can check out. You ask, "Isn't the library pirating the book if they hand out copies to everyone that wants one?" It doesn't work that way. Through the use of some ingenious software you need to "check out" a title, and the file has an expiration date with a limited number of copies; typically one or two copies at most, depending on the type of subject. An added benefit of this system is that you don't have to worry about all those late fees because you couldn't get down to the library as you won't be able to use the downloaded book once the expiration date has past.

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Obviously, the first thing you need is a library card. If you're hunting down a library that particularly offers eBooks, check their website. I'm in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have cards from the Oakland Public Library and San Jose's Martin Luther King Jr. Library. And according to their website, the San Francisco Public Library has a huge eBook collection, though I've not used it.

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You will need to install some specialized software to be able to borrow the library's eBooks. Here are some to consider:

Overdrive Media Console: Overdive has computer versions for Windows and  OSX (Apple). Additionally most of major mobile devices and tablets are covered with versions for Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone 7 and IOS (iPhone/iPad). (Note: not all operating systems support all types of books and/or media files. Check with Overdrive to see what you can access, along with any additional system requirements you have to fill). Of all the software I mention Overdrive is the one I am the most familiar with. A big plus in Overdrive's favor is that it supports audiobooks and music ,as well as the traditional written form.

Adobe Digital Editions: This software, from the originators of the Portable Document Format (PDF), is available for Windows and OSX (Apple). Unfortunately, ADE will not run on mobile devices and tablets at the present time due to (DRM) copy protection software used (Digital Rights Management).

Bluefire: Android and IOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) devices have another option. With Bluefire you can open library books, as well as eBooks you have purchased from the major bookstores, as it handles the DRM without the need of having Adobe Digital Editions installed on a computer to move the file to your device.

'txtr, which also runs on the same devices Bluefire, does not support library books, but does support purchased eBooks, and eBooks without copy protection.

Calibre eBook Management:  I mention Calibre only because it is the only program that I'm aware of that has a native linux client. Granted, not very many of you reading this will being using linux. However, just the fact they built a linux version is something I enjoy sharing. They also have Windows and OSX versions. Unfortunately, this only allows reading of eBooks that are DRM-free. However, some people have been able to use it to transfer eBooks to their phones.

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There are also many virtual libraries online that give you access to books that have been scanned because their copyright has expired and thus are in the public domain with no copy protection.

The oldest one worth mentioning is Project Gutenberg. ProjG has nearly 40000 books available to freely download, in multiple formats, and you can keep the copies for as long as you want, and pass them around to other people. While being one of the oldest, people may not have heard of them.

There's little doubt most people have heard of Google Books because of the flack over copyright issues that arose in the past few years. Google has formed a relationship with several large universities, with the intention of scanning their entire collection. While older books in public domain are not the issue, it's the newer ones the have become controversial. This is clearly bypassing copyright laws, and lawsuits have been the result. As of right now, you can search Google Books and public domain books are available for download. Other books are available for purchase, and some search results have links to libraries where you can borrow them. You will probably need a card to get them though.

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Some book publishers are now offering the ability to buy memberships that give you access to their publications by way of a normal web browser. A great example are O'Reilly Publications and Pearson Technology, who pooled their titles for the Safari Books Online portal. You get access to thousands of titles by purchasing a subscription. The bad news is that the subscription fee can get quite expensive (the all-you-can read plan is nearly $500 per year!!) and you have to have an internet connection to read them. However, the good news is that many libraries give you FREE access simply with having a library card. I access the Safari titles with my MLK card. You log into your library account from home and then read away. Pretty slick!

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I have purposely not mentioned any of the proprietary software installed on the Amazon or Barnes & Noble tablets, as I'm not familiar with their capabilities. I own a Nook Color that has been rooted since January 2011 so I could install what I wanted on it, and have never used any of the Amazon Kindle versions.

Hopefully, this has helped to expand your reading horizons at little to no out of pocket expenses, and you'll give it a try soon. While not every book under the Sun is available in electronic format, the number is getting bigger all the time, and most books that are newly published have a digital version for purchase from the first day they're released, and generally cheaper than the printed version.

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