How it works:
Click on the link to the "OverDrive Downloadable Library."
Browse for a book, or search by title and author.
Add the title to the cart.
Proceed to checkout and enter your Boulder, Broomfield, Longmont, Louisville, Westminster or Loveland library card number.
On your first visit, the system will direct you to download software that manages e-book titles.
Once the software is installed, available e-books can be checked out for one to three weeks at a time.
Learning the ropes
The Boulder Public Library, in conjunction with Barnes & Noble, will host a free demonstration of the OverDrive e-book software from 3 to 5 p.m. Tuesday at the main library, 1001 Arapahoe Ave.
With nationwide sales of e-readers expected to boom this holiday season, the Boulder Public Library has launched a new service in an effort to capitalize on the trend and remain relevant in an increasingly digital world.
The library has opened a free online e-book service, which allows patrons to check out digital copies of a growing collection of popular books that can be read on computers and mobile devices.
The service is available from home or at the library, and it requires only a computer and a valid library card issued by one of the six participating city libraries: Boulder, Broomfield, Longmont, Louisville, Westminster or Loveland.
The digital transition may be a big leap for an institution that's built around the hardcover, but library officials are embracing the change.
"It fits in our ethic of connecting people with information," said Melinda Mattingly, reference and collection manager for the Boulder library system. "The people in Boulder are pretty much wired."
E-books have several advantages for the tech-savvy library patron, she said, including their ease of use, instant availability and accessibility from any computer with an Internet connection. For libraries, the advantages include that electronic copies can't be stolen, they don't have to be put back on a shelf, they don't wear out and they cost about the same as a paperback.
Mattingly said she decided to turn to electronic books for the first time last winter, as the popularity of e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle began to take off.
"People want to read," she said. "I don't really care about the format as much as I care about people reading."
The six-library coalition decided to share the cost of developing the Front Range Downloadable Library. The online portal is powered by OverDrive, an Ohio-based firm that specializes in distributing electronic media.
The firm is among a handful of companies working to bring digital books to libraries. Mattingly said it's often difficult to convince publishers to make e-books available to libraries because of fears that they will take away business from paid services.
Mattingly dismissed that theory, pointing out that libraries haven't hurt booksellers.
"If you wanted it right away, you're probably going to go buy it," she said. "We think it's going to be the same with e-books."
The downloadable library is designed to prevent abuse of the service. Titles can only be "checked out" to one person at a time, for one to three weeks at a time. After the checkout period ends, the title expires on the mobile device and is automatically "returned" to the online system and made available to another user.
Titles can't be copied or transferred to other users.
The Boulder library has quietly been starting up the service since Nov. 3, and library users have already embraced it. About 90 percent of the initial collection of 154 titles have consistently been checked out, Mattingly said.
The most popular title, Stieg Larsson's "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," has seven people waiting to download it.
Other titles, including a James Patterson novel, have been checked out up to five times in the last few weeks -- which Mattingly said is a very high rate of checkouts and an indication that people like the service.
With an additional $2,000 worth of materials purchased Monday afternoon, the number of titles now available online tops 300. More titles will be added each month as the service grows, officials said.
For now, the e-books can be read on Mac and PC computers, the Sony e-reader, the Barnes & Noble Nook, the Kobo eReader, the Literati Reader and the Pandigital Novel.
The service is not yet available for the iPhone, iPad or Android smart phone, although an app for those platforms is expected to launch soon. The service is not available to users of the Amazon Kindle -- one of the most popular e-readers -- because the library could not acquire a license for the proprietary platform.
The Kindle issue illustrates the commercial battle for the growing e-book market, Mattingly said.
Even Internet giant Google has gotten into the game, launching an e-book service Monday that offers more than three million titles -- many for free.
Peter Hildick-Smith, president of the Codex Group, a book market research company based in New York, said the increasing availability of free e-books is only helping drive the demand for e-readers.
"We've pretty much seen interest double" in the last few years, he said. "Over a third of book shoppers will have one of these devices in the early part of next year."
Sales of e-books accounted for about 12 percent of all books purchased in November, he said. And that number is growing as the price of e-readers drops.
Hildick-Smith said he sees the potential for up to 60 percent of all people who regularly buy books to embrace both electronic and print formats in the coming years.
That could be a blessing for libraries that embrace new technology early.
"As print books become less available, libraries are going to have to come to terms with digital systems," he said.
But people like Boulder resident Mary Janty might also have to change with the times.
Janty was checking out a hardback Monday at the main library downtown. She said her family has found itself in the transition between print and electronic books.
"I would call us a divided family," she said.
While her husband uses a Kindle to download the latest titles, Janty said she doesn't want to rely on charging something before she sits down at night with a good story. Still, she said, it's a nice option for the library to offer.
And, she said, she probably can't stay clear of e-books forever.
"They want to get me an iPad for Christmas," she said of her family.
Contact Camera staff writer Heath Urie at 303-473-1328, or firstname.lastname@example.org.