I was surprised to see this blog post this morning, over on Books on the Knob: Kindle books now available in 11,000 libraries. As expected, the library's epub files aren't converted into Kindle format — instead, the library directs you back to Amazon, where you download the ebook you just "checked out" directly from them. The file is different from the ebooks you buy only in that it has an expiration date.
There is apparently only one restriction: you can only transfer the file to your Kindle via wifi or USB. I guess since you aren't paying for the ebook, Amazon didn't want to pay for 3G transfers.
I checked my library, and sure enough, they now have separate listings for Kindle ebooks. I'm confused as to how it affects the library catalog though. I think, even though there is a separate link for checking out or placing a hold on an Amazon copy, Kindle users still have to get in line with those who are checking out the regular epub version. It's not a separate queue, in other words. But that's confusing, because it used to be a separate queue for epub versus PDF, and the library catalog would tell you how many copies and holds were on each version. Now, on epub-only ebooks, that information is at the top, but I wonder how they'll differentiate on listings that have both epub/Kindle and PDF?
If you haven't checked out ebooks from the library, or haven't checked your library's ebook catalog yet today, you probably don't know what I mean. I do encourage you to head over to your library's website and check it out.
As much as I despise Amazon (and, by association, Kindle), I am at least glad to see that they followed through on their promise to make library ebooks available on their e-reader. I do love seeing what strides ebooks are making, because it's a sign that they are becoming more accepted!