German public libraries began issuing audio books and e-books for loan via the internet on Wednesday in a pilot scheme which they described as a first for Europe.
Coming soon to a computer screen near you!
Initially, nearly 10,000 titles will be available for download from the public-library systems in the port city of Hamburg and the southern city of Würzburg to subscribers' personal computers.
Users can check them out online at any time of the day and night.
After five days, the items expire and become unusable. The audio and video files employ Microsoft's WMA encoding and can be played on computers and other devices using Windows software.
"It's the libraries' answer to the digital revolution," said Holger Behrens, chief executive of DiViBib, the company based in Wiesbaden, Germany which devised the system.
Competing with Amazon
Online libraries will appeal to younger, internet-savvy readers
Hella Schwemer-Martienssen, director of the Hamburg Public Library System, said that public libraries in Germany lend out around 350 million items annually and that libraries needed to compete with online retailer Amazon, offering loans to customers who did not want to buy.
Borrowing materials online is expected to appeal in particular to a younger, internet-savvy audience. In Würzburg, one of the cities chosen for the pilot project, 70 percent of library patrons are younger than 40 years.
"Young users use Web 2.0," said Hannelore Vogt, manager of the Würzburg city library, referring to the popular term which describes an ecosystem of user-centered online communities.
"And they rightly expect from us Library 2.0," she said.
The pilot project will be extended to two more cities -- Cologne and Munich -- in mid-June.