Last Updated Mar 28, 2011 6:03 PM EDT
Libraries sometimes get a bad rap for being antiquated, but get this: Approximately two-thirds offer access to e-books, up 38 percent from three years ago.
Recently, though, this trend has been facing headwinds. HarperCollins Publishers has overturned its agreement with libraries, according to The New York Times, saying their digital editions will no longer be available in perpetuity; the library's e-copy can now only be checked out 26 times before expiring, at which point the library has to re-purchase the e-book. There is concern that other publishing houses may follow suit. The new limitations are causing some libraries â€" which, like the publishers, are grappling with financial constraints â€" to bypass HarperCollins' e-books altogether.
Amazon Kindle owners, meanwhile, need to look elsewhere anyway. Most libraries use e-book distributor OverDrive, which is compatible with desktops, laptops, iPad and iPhone, Sony eReader and Barnes &Noble's Nook - but not the Kindle.
Fortunately for consumers (and Kindle owners), there are other ways to find free e-books. I'd suggest beginning the search at your local library, since libraries can use all the support we can give - but if you come up dry, consider these 8 alternatives:
Borrow from a friend (on the Nook): You can borrow and lend books for your Nook device or application through Barnes & Noble's LendMe technology. You can lend books only once to a single person for up to 14 days. You can loan several different e-books to the same person, but you're only allowed to lend the same e-book once.
Borrow from a friend (on the Kindle): Eligible books on Amazon's Kindle can be loaned once for a period of 14 days. Titles that are eligible for lending will have a message on the product detail page. Scroll down to the "Product Details" section and look for "Lending: Enabled."
Read the classics: Did you skip Jane Austen in high school? Amazon offers several books for free on the Kindle - and they are mostly classics and out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books. If you're looking for more contemporary fare, There are also free limited-time downloads (usually for a few days) that you can keep forever. See the list of Top 100 Free eBooks on the right hand side of the Kindle e-books homepage.
eBookFling: This third-party Web site lets you swap, borrow or lend thousands of e-books from other readers across the country for free for 14 days, through Kindle and Nook devices and applications. Each time you lend a book you receive one credit that can be used for borrowing a book from the site's inventory. If you don't have any credits, borrowing costs $1.99.
BookLending: Formerly known as KindleLendingClub, this Web site - still in beta format - matches lenders and borrowers of Kindle e-books for free. Users must first register on the site or connect with Facebook Connect.
Lendle: A conflict with Amazon led to a recent temporary shut down of this e-book lending site, but Lendle is now back in business. Much like eBookFling and BookLending, you can lend and borrow e-books with friends for 14 days for the Kindle and Kindle compatible devices.
Project Gutenberg: This Web site is the oldest producer of free e-books on the Web with 33,000 free e-books formatted for your Kindle, Nook, Sony eReader, iPhone, iPad, Android, desktop, you name it. If you're not sure where to start check out their Top 100 page. The database is best known for its selection of classic books and authors from Shakespeare to F. Scott Fitzgerald - but I couldn't find Harry Potter or the Twilight series.
DailyLit: Picked as the No. 1 book Web site by The Sunday New York Times, DailyLit e-mails registered users bite-sized installments from books they've selected to read. You can manage your settings to receive bigger or smaller installments and to set the frequency of the installments. For example, you may choose to get a small 5-minute installment five days a week. You won't be able to keep the book forever, but at least you can read it at your own pace, which may end up being longer than the two-week limit other sites require.
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