I’m pretty happy that the Chicago Public Library now loans books in Kindle format. I’m aware of some of the issues that have been raised (American Libraries Magazine, Librarian in Black) and hope that things will get better as libraries, publishers, Amazon, OverDrive, and users work through all the questions brought up by technology.

But, dang, there are a lot of confusing hoops to jump through.

I used to have a second-generation Kindle until just a month ago. It had 3G cell coverage, no wi-fi. Checking out a Kindle book from the Chicago Public Library? Not on 3G. Wi-fi, yes. So, instead, I would have to download the file to my computer (only after telling Amazon which Kindle device I wanted it to work on (because there’s also my iPhone, iPad, and Kindle application on my Mac)), attach my Kindle via USB, and copy it over.

Now I have a new Kindle Touch, with wi-fi. Except that I can’t get it to connect to my work’s wi-fi network (it’s a pretty touchy network, what with the hidden SSID, 26-character password, and MAC address whitelisting); despite a lot of troubleshooting, my Kindle remains unconnected. So, back to the download and transfer USB method.

I happen to do my online library perusing while at work, generally. My preferred branch of the CPL is just down the street from my office, so it’s on my mind. I do most of my reading at lunch time—it’s book time. Certainly, when I’m at home on my home wi-fi network, shopping the Amazon store is very easy; I just don’t borrow from the library a lot in that circumstance.

Kindle books are getting to be pretty popular at CPL. Just checking, I see that they have 6,593 titles  for the Kindle right now. 2,110 of them have an available copy at the moment. I’ve waited a long time for some of my holds to become available: I’m currently waiting for 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, patron 26 out of 46 on the waiting list for one of 65 electronic copies. I’ll have it soon, since a copy can only be out for three weeks, no renewals. In fact, this will be my third time checking out 1Q84—who could read that whole thing in just three weeks? I’ve had to wait between each checkout. The first time, I waited a couple of months; I started as patron 204 on the waiting list for the 65 copies. Sure hope I get through it this next time! It’s a bummer to wait weeks and weeks to read the next chapter.

So, when I got an email from CPL over the weekend letting me know that another popular book that I had on hold was available to download, I was ready to jump in and start reading. The Magicians by Lev Grossman is the current pick of the Sword and Laser book club. The CPL has 12 electronic copies.

I was at home, on my iPad. I browsed over to the CPL site and to the “My Holds” section of “My Downloadable Media Account,” and tapped on the link to check out. Horror! As the next page began to load, I noticed some fine print on the page I was leaving:

Due to publisher restrictions, this book in the Kindle format cannot be delivered wirelessly and must be downloaded and transferred via USB.

Yikes! My computer was at work. How would I download a file to my iPad and transfer it to my Kindle via USB?

Now I was on the checkout page. I decided to go back to the previous page and wait until Monday to check out the book on my computer. Uh-oh, the Holds page no longer showed the book. I went forward to the checkout page. It informed me that if I didn’t finish the checkout in 30 minutes, the book would be released. Darn it! I didn’t want to wait through the holds queue again (then at about 10 people for 12 copies, so likely three weeks) and fall behind the book club.

I decided to see what would happen. I finalized the checkout and was taken to Amazon to get the file, where they reiterated that I needed to download it and transfer via USB. I tapped the download link. The Safari browser on my iPad dutifully downloaded the file and presented me with only one option: open in the Kindle app. The Kindle app launched, and displayed an error: something has gone wrong, please delete this book and try to access it again from your Kindle archive.

Hmm? It’s in my Kindle archive? Interesting! I grabbed my Kindle device, went to the archive, and saw the book there. I had my Kindle retrieve it from my archive, and it opened! I’m reading it now.

So, I was able to bypass the publisher restriction on transferring via USB: I downloaded the file to my iPad, which couldn’t use it because it is locked to my Kindle device specifically, but it showed up in my archive anyway, where my Kindle could wirelessly get to it.

It was even more hoops than usual, but in this case it shows that extra publisher restrictions on Kindle books are kinda silly when the whole process of getting library books onto e-reader devices is wonky to begin with—and the extra restrictions don’t even work.

Amazon and OverDrive (owned by Amazon) are exerting great control over the library ebook world. At least they’re slowly making the process easier. Publishers aren’t helping.

I can’t imagine my mother jumping through all these hoops. She’s a recent Kindle convert, and she attended a “borrowing ebooks” event at her local public library in Naperville. She expected a few librarians to be standing around, but it turns out the place was swamped with patrons. For her, the basic library/Amazon wi-fi checkout process works seamlessly, and it’s just that there aren’t enough copies to go around.