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Where to find thousands of e-books -- free

When you think of the library, you may envision driving to the nearest branch. But what if all you had to do was log on to the library website?

By Stacy Johnson Sep 20, 2010 5:02PM

This post comes from Stacy Johnson at partner site Money Talks News.


You know e-books have arrived when the president of the United States is writing one.


On Nov. 16, President Obama's third book will debut. But unlike his previous two -- "Dreams From My Father" (1995) and "The Audacity of Hope" (2006) -- this one will also be available as a digital download. Called "Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters," it's described as a children's book about "13 groundbreaking Americans and the ideals that have shaped our nation."

But the book itself is part of a trend shaping our nation. E-books are no longer high-tech innovations for early adopters. This summer, Amazon announced that it is selling more e-books than hardcovers -- 143 e-books for every 100 hardcovers. And by the end of 2011, Amazon says, its e-book sales will eclipse paperbacks.


E-books are not only reshaping the way we read, they're also changing the way we use the library, not to mention how much we spend on books.


Check out this recent news story I shot at my local library, then meet me on the other side for more.

So, it's time to stop thinking of the library as a place that requires getting in the car, driving to the nearest branch, finding a book, then waiting in line. Now the library is a place where you can hop online, do a quick search and simply click "download."


As I said in the video above, that's now happening with thousands of books at thousands of libraries around the country. It's a whole new world of convenience -- and one that may appeal to a whole new type of library member -- younger, tech-savvy readers who may not have considered the library before, but now see that free e-books and instant downloads make the library a better alternative than iTunes or Amazon.


Today there are two potential drawbacks when it comes to downloading e-books free from the library versus paying for them from commercial sources. The first is that library e-books don't work on all e-readers -- notably the most popular e-reader, Amazon's Kindle.


Many libraries use a company called OverDrive to supply their downloadable audiobooks and e-books. Here's a look at compatible devices for OverDrive. You'll find a lot of devices that handle audiobooks, but not as many that handle e-books. Another big distributor of both e-books and audiobooks to libraries is NetLibrary. You can see their list of compatible hardware here.


To summarize what you'll learn on those sites: You can probably listen to audiobooks on most anything -- most Apple devices, including the iPad and iPhone 4, as well as many other smart phones. You can read e-books on the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and a few other readers -- and of course on any computer, either PC or Mac. 


The second potential problem when using your local library as a sole source for e-books is that they probably aren't carrying a complete catalog -- at least not yet. The reason? As I said in the video above, some publishers aren't playing ball with libraries because there just isn't enough money in it for them. According to this article from The New York Times, MacMillan is one major publisher not providing e-books to libraries. And another is the publisher of my latest book, "Life or Debt 2010," Simon & Schuster. 


But, according to the librarian I interviewed, these problems will ultimately be ironed out as the demand for e-books continues to expand and publishers work out a profit model that works for all parties involved -- publishers, libraries and authors.


But here's the moral of this story: The best way to save more is to find ways to do it without sacrificing your quality of life.  And here we have a textbook example. You can now download many of the same e-books free from your library that you'd have to pay for at an online bookstore.


E-books aside, don't forget your library is a wonderful source for virtually every kind of entertainment, from books to music to movies. As I said in the video, your tax dollars have already been spent to buy and store all this stuff. Why would you go out and pay for it? Spend a few minutes today at your local library's website and see what you've been missing.


More from Money Talks News and MSN Money:

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