I wish I could remember the first book I borrowed from Cambridge Children's Library, then at the rear of the Guildhall, opposite the Corn Exchange. I must have been four or five. I can remember the books I borrowed most frequently until I asked to be allowed to move on to the adult libray at eleven years old. The statutory age to be let loose with the D.H.Lawrences was fourteen. The books I read included most of the Tintin books, translations of the Aeneid and Odyssey, some Jennings stories, some books on birds whose titles I can't remember, some of John Verney's books, illustrated by Ardizzone, and so on; there must have been more, but the charging cards and pocket-tickets of the Browne issue system left no record.
More than fifty years later, I have just borrowed my first e-book from East Sussex public library. I decided to start reading the work of this David Foster Wallace chap, of whom the fashionable young people speak. Some of his novels were avaiable in hard copy, but I saw that one, the Pale King, was also available as an e-book. While I have been reading e-books for many years, since I first discovered Project Gutenberg in the mid-1990s, I have yet to borrow one from a library. So this is how it went:
- I find the book in the East Sussex catalogue. I click on the link to the e-book and it takes me into a parallell world, the East Sussex Digital Library. There's a link to add it to my basket (how I hate the supermarket metaphor); I do so and am asked to sign in with my ticket number and PIN and there's a link to download it. Hurrah! That was easy.
- I should have known. The link doesn't work. At the foot of the page is a link to the Overdrive app. I can't read the book with iBooks, or Stanza, which I already have. I have to use their proprietary software. Oh well, off to the App Store....
- The Overdrive app installed, I return to download again. This time the link opens the app. Do I now have the text? No, that would be too easy. Now it wants my Adobe account. Have I got one? Blowed if I can remember. I try to register but it seems I do already have one, so I enter my e-mail and some possible passwords. One of them works.
- Finaally, I have the text. I have twenty-one days to read it. There's nothing to say whether I can renew or not.
It was easier when you took your books up to the beehived young ladies behind the desk. I'm delighted to be able to borrow an e-book, but why make it so difficult? I can see that two levels of authentication are necessary, one to verify my membership of the library, and one for my Apple ID for iBooks. All the rest, Overdrive, Adobe and so on, seem to me utterly superfluous.