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Amazon to Introduce Library Lending for Kindle

Amazon.com announced today that it will make Kindle books available for library lending later this year. Its partner in the Kindle Library Lending program is OverDrive, a widely used distributor of e-books and audiobooks.

“Customers will be able to check out a Kindle book from their local library and start reading on any Kindle device or free Kindle app for Android, iPad, iPod touch, iPhone, PC, Mac, BlackBerry, or Windows Phone,” the company said in its announcement. “If a Kindle book is checked out again or that book is purchased from Amazon, all of a customer’s annotations and bookmarks will be preserved.”

How? “Normally, making margin notes in library books is a big no-no,” said Jay Marine, the director of Amazon Kindle. “But we’re extending our Whispersync technology so that you can highlight and add margin notes to Kindle books you check out from your local library. Your notes will not show up when the next patron checks out the book. But if you check out the book again, or subsequently buy it, your notes will be there just as you left them, perfectly Whispersynced.”

Despite the company’s assurance that notes would not be visible to the next patron, some observers wondered whether readers’ privacy might be compromised. “What that line from Amazon implies is that some amount of data—the annotations linked to the title and an account identifier at the very least—are stored in perpetuity,” wrote Josh Hadro, an associate editor at Library Journal, on the LJ Insider blog. “Anything tied to library patrons stored in perpetuity by a retail operation makes me uncomfortable. And I believe it should make librarians uncomfortable. Admittedly, if history is any indicator, it may not make patrons uncomfortable—but do we have an obligation to stand up for privacy rights, even if it flies in the face of self-evident ease of use arguments?”

How much Kindle Library Lending will affect or benefit academic libraries and their patrons remains to be seen. Campus-library experiments with lending Kindles have had mixed results, although the Kindle remains a highly popular e-reader. A bigger question is probably what content will be available via Kindle Library Loan and what kinds of licensing restrictions will apply. Some college and university libraries do have arrangements with OverDrive, Amazon’s partner in the new library-lending program.

In its own announcement, OverDrive said that “this integration with library, school, and college e-book collections provides a huge benefit to authors and publishers who will have millions of additional readers using local libraries to discover e-book titles.” It offered its own assurance to librarians that “your users’ confidential information will be protected.”

OverDrive was drawn into a fierce e-book-lending debate earlier this year when another of its partners, HarperCollins, decided to limit the number of times libraries may lend its e-books to 26. On its Digital Library Blog, OverDrive responded that “we are prompting publishers to consider less restrictive licensing for e-book and digital-media lending.”

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