Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fingal Library Service add eBooks to their range of offerings

I was excited to see the new eBook lending service from Fingal Libraries service so I thought I would write a short review. I am a big reader and am normally in the middle of reading at least 2 or 3 books in a variety of different genres at any one time. Although I buy quite a few books, my reading habit would be unaffordable if I had to buy all of the books I read - therefore I am a big user of the Fingal Library service (in fact I am the long serving mayor of Blanchardstown Library on Foursquare).

The library is really great service and amazingly it is free. People who complain about the level of taxes we pay should at least ensure that they take advantage of the services that these taxes fund.  As well as providing a large selection of books available for loan, they also have a large selection of DVDs, Music CDs and audio-books to choose from. They even provide a facility to borrow paintings for a period of up to 3 months (although I have never availed of this service myself).

Some people dismiss the library as an institution from the past which is doomed to fade away in the internet age. I disagree very strongly with this view and I feel that the concept of a public lending library is an important one that we ought not to forget in the debate about the balance between the rights of creators and consumers of content. It is important that we maintain public lending libraries if we want to ensure that everyone in society has an affordable opportunity to access the educational materials they need. In fact the free internet access in the Library can be a vital service to people who might otherwise have  access.

Although I am a big fan of technology, many people are surprised to find that I have not yet embraced eBooks. I thought I would use an Android tablet that I received as a present for reading eBooks. Although I initially read a few eBooks on the device, I found myself in the situation where I could easily gain free access to paper books, but I had to pay substantial costs to have the slightly less convenient experience of reading the electronic version  those books.

Therefore I was very excited to learn a few weeks ago that Fingal library had added eBooks to their range of offerings. To access the eBook lending service you go to their eBook portal and sign in with your library card number and PIN number (this is the same PIN number you use to log into the regular library web page). If you don't have a PIN number then you can get one by calling in to your local library.

When you start using this service you could be initially a bit confused because this is not a web site run by Fingal Library service as such, instead you are accessing a global web site OverDrive but the cost of your access is being covered by Fingal county council. I am not sure exactly how the financial details work, but luckily I don't need to. I suspect that the books on offer to me are a selection bought by Fingal library service rather than a global selection because there seems to be an unusually large number of books with themes of Irish interest. The service is quite easy to use and any problems I did encounter were easily solved with assistance provided by the operators of the Fingal Library page on Facebook.

The eBooks in the library are available in two different formats. One format is compatible with Adobe Digital Editions which is usable on your computer. The other format is compatible with the OverDrive reader application which is available for a wide variety of mobile platforms. I used the OverDrive Android version on a miScroll tablet and found the reading experience to be very pleasant. I also installed the application on my phone - while the software worked perfectly, I can't imagine I would read an entire novel on the small screen of my phone.

There is a version of the OverDrive application which works on Amazon Kindle devices, but apparently the OverDrive site has placed restrictions which stop books borrowed from libraries outside the USA from being read on the Kindle. I can't see the logic behind this unfair regional restriction, but I guess I would get more worked up about it if I actually owned a Kindle.

When you borrow a book from the library you are free to read it on any compatible device you own, but you can't simply transfer the file from one device to another (which I initially tried to do). Instead you must download the book directly from the web site by selecting the "Get Books" option from within the application. I am not sure why this is necessary, but I assume it is something to do with ensuring you are not trying to bypass the usage limitations.

Each user is allowed to borrow up to three books at a time. When you borrow a book you can choose between a borrowing period of 14 days or 21 days. If you choose the OverDrive format you can return the book as soon as you are finished reading it, but with the Adobe format of the book you can't. This means that you would probably best to choose the shorter loan period because the book will be counting against your loan limit even though you have finished reading it. If one of your borrowed books has expired you can always download it again (unless someone else had borrowed it in the meantime). If you have not deleted the book from your library your stored bookmarks will be maintained.

What did I borrow:

by Dick Francis

I picked this first because I expected the content to be undemanding. I was pleasantly surprised by how enjoyable I found the  experience of reading the book, both in terms of the physical experience of reading an eBook and the fact that Dick Frances is clearly a very skilled writer. I did not know what the ending was going to be until I reached it, but I knew from experience that it was going to be a happy ending.
Breakfast with AngloBreakfast with Anglo
by Simon Kelly

The second book I chose was an account of the recent Irish property bubble as told by a property developer who was personally involved in the centre of the action. It was different from the previous book in that I knew in advance what the ending was going to be and that it was not going to be happy. Nevertheless I found it educational to see how things looked from the point of view of someone who was personally involved.

The last chapter was devoted to what lessons he learned from the experience. I know that hindsight is always 20:20 vision, but anyone considering getting involved in property speculation would be well advised to read this chapter.
If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your NameIf You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name
News from Small-Town Alaska
by Heather Lende

The third book I chose was different again. It was an account of what it is like to live in a small isolated town in Alaska. The author worked as an obituary writer for the local paper and the stories in the book seemed to be mainly derived from the information she learned while researching these obituaries. Irish papers tend to only publish obituaries for prominent people, but it seems that in Alaska they publish obituaries for all people who die. This meant that the stories described an eclectic selection of people who lived very different lives. 

It was ironic to be reading a modern format eBook about people leading an austere life with little access to modern technology, but overall I found it enjoyable.

In short, I really like this new eBook service. I don't think I will give up reading paper books yet, but I will definitely supplement my reading materials with regular borrowing from the eBook library.


  1. I have enjoyed Dick Frances for years. He gets you deep into the English country life of the horsey set, with lots of mayhem and intrigue.
    Hammond Innes is another good read,as I like nautical adventures in forlorn cold oceans.
    Have not ventured into the e-reader yet, as I am a lazy reader and have so many unfinished books collecting dust.
    Your observations on the library system ,is spot on. I just wish the free wi-fi hogs would frequent the local library,and not the comfy chairs at Starbucks!
    John Dooley

  2. Wow that's great to know! now the question is when would I find the time to read.. lol
    joke aside this is great to know, had plan to give to my eldest son a kindle, I may go for the 8" tablet since they are as cheap as the kindle..!
    THX for sharing that knowledge Brian! ;-)

  3. I have installed the app on the Samsung tablet, works great!

    One thing that needs to be mentioned is that all users need to have an Adobe account (it's free) to be able to download the actual ebook. What you download from the County fingal library is only the "Key" to the book (ascm extension file), the key will allow you to get the ebook through the "Door" (Adobe Digital Editions portal) either directly from desktop using ADE or through the OverDrive reader mobile app.. ;-)

  4. Thanks for the information Fred. There is an excellent article about the EPUB format which has just been published on DeveloperWorks which you might find interesting