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BYU suspends Kindle program over legal concerns

By Marc Haddock

Deseret News

Published: Monday, June 22 2009 12:15 p.m. MDT

BYU's Harold B. Lee Library had been loaning out Amazon Kindles to faculty members instead of interlibrary loans.

Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

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BYU's Harold B. Lee Library is suspending a short-lived pilot program using Amazon.com's electronic book, the Kindle, as a substitute for interlibrary loans.

The program, which has been available to faculty members for about a month, created some buzz on library-related blogs for breaking ground in the uncertain area of lending books on the Kindle.

Although BYU had verbal permission to proceed with the program, Roger Layton, communications manager for the library, said the program is on hold until the university has a clearer picture of Amazon's legal concerns.

"We are playing it safe," Layton said. "Two people here said we have verbal permission. But if we don't have it in writing, that's a different thing. We don't want to do anything that Amazon doesn't completely agree with."

Under the pilot program, when a faculty member at BYU requested a book that was not part of the library's collection but was available in the Kindle format, the library purchased a digital copy of the book from Amazon and downloaded it onto one of the nine Kindle devices the library owns to lend. The Kindle, which is shaped like a book but only about one-third of an inch thick, is more convenient than a laptop and has a 6-inch-wide display.

Layton said the Kindle can be a great timesaver over interlibrary loans, which require contacting a library that has the title available and arranging to have it shipped to BYU, then shipping it back after the patron has returned the book.

"We are pretty fast on the interlibrary loans, but it still takes days," Layton said. "With the Kindle, we can have a new book available for someone in a matter of minutes."

The library announced the pilot program to faculty members June 5, but a story in the Library Journal last week put the program in the spotlight.

"Hotdog, someone has started a much needed plan to get e-books part of the ILL program," Sue Polanka, head of reference at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, wrote in her blog, "No Shelf Required." But she warned, "Verbal permission was given from Amazon, nothing in writing. Highly recommended to speak with Amazon before you delve into loaning out Kindles."

The Lee Library pursued the program after Gerrit van Dyk, the library's document delivery services manager, was told by a representative of Amazon that the Terms of Use agreement prohibiting distributing Kindle material to third parties applied to for-profit uses, not for public or university libraries.

With more attention focused on the library's pilot program, the university decided Tuesday to suspend it until it has Amazon's approval in writing.

"We are not comfortable doing the thing until Amazon is 100 percent behind it," Layton said.

E-MAIL: mhaddock@desnews.com

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